I was asked to contribute to a collection of essays by and about partners of transgender and other non-conforming people. More on the book when it’s published next year. We decided to use a reprint of my Boston Globe article from 2011, and I would add an epilogue. While organizing my thoughts for that, I realized I was feeling a little stress that I hadn’t articulated. Funny how writing brings out those things. Here’s what I wrote a few days ago:
I’m writing this, coincidentally, on the 4th anniversary of the day that Lina came out publicly as a woman, in 2010. We hadn’t even thought about the date, but her mother sweetly called to wish her daughter of four years a “happy birthday.” Lina was out on an errand, so the message was relayed through me – “send him my greetings.”
“You mean her?” I said with a laugh, offering my mother-in-law a light-hearted correction.
Indeed, years into the process, I sometimes get it wrong too. Lina and I take it in stride. While I can’t seem to forget the old pronouns, I can hardly remember my former husband. One day recently I asked Lina to send me a photo of the two of us in front of the first house we bought together, in 2003. When I opened the file, I was shocked to see myself sitting on the porch with a man. In my mind, I’d pictured myself with Lina – even though until recently we still displayed a wedding photo of husband and wife in our bedroom. While the physical images of my mate, past and present, are a jumble, what remains constant is a feeling of love, warmth, and safety. I suppose some would call that a soul.
Over the years, I’ve written several articles about us for large publications, always worrying something bad would happen. It never did. A religious cousin seemingly disowned me, and my car mechanic stopped flirting with me, but otherwise life carried on. The biggest hassles have been administrative and legal – name changing, document updating and the like. But as for our daily life, I joke that we’re just two middle-aged dykes. In many ways, I wish that were the whole story.
In 2014, we embarked on another life change – we moved to the Netherlands to be closer to Lina’s family and culture. She’s Dutch and had planned to work in the U.S. for only a few years before we met. Some people assumed we were moving to a country known for its tolerance because Lina is transgender. In fact, several trans laws are more generous in the United States, and Dutch people are no more used to seeing or necessarily accepting trans people than Americans are, from what I can tell.
For me, the move has brought an unexpected stress – who to tell when, if ever. While Lina’s colleagues and family know the full story, I’m in the process of making new friends. I’ve told them I have a Dutch wife, so they’ve categorized me as a lesbian. Most of them haven’t met Lina yet. What happens when they do? Will they figure it out? Even if they don’t, do I share our past? I’m still working through these feelings of caring what people think and of balancing our privacy against wanting to be open and intimate with others, which is my usual way of forming friendships.
And then there’s the advocacy component – the path to acceptance is through personal stories, just as I’d written about in the Boston Globe in 2010 regarding the director of the New England nonprofit who was reluctant to open up to reporters. Later, director Nick Teich did decide to discuss his personal transition and invited journalists to visit the awesome camp he started for gender-questioning youth. Since then, Camp Aranu’tiq has received fantastic positive exposure and expanded in amazing ways.
I realize my tension surrounding who to tell what and when will be a lifelong challenge, but the more I examine it, the more tolerant I become of other people’s differences and fears – and of my own. All of us are souls, worthy of embracing.