Every Day Love

Every Day Love

Carli and I celebrated Valentine’s Day much like so many other couples. Carli gave me a lovely card and a gift certificate for a massage.  We went to the jewelry store to pick up the little paw pendant I ordered for Carli. We picked up a pizza and a salad on the way home and spent the evening enjoying being together.

But my question is what is so special about the love we celebrate on this one day of the year? Is it special because we buy cards and flowers? Cards and flowers are sold other days of the year, right? What about the every day things we do to express our love to each other that makes our lives beautiful? What about the cups of coffee that I prepare for the two of us every day at 4:45am? Do we do enough to acknowledge and celebrate every day love, or do we rely on this one day to pick up the slack for the rest of the year?

When Carli came out to me as transgender the emotions I experienced were so intense and complex they are difficult to describe. Guilt, fear, anger, grief, wonder, awe, joy, love, all taking their turn. Some of the emotions I felt early on have subsided, replaced with others that are just as powerful.  The one constant, the one unwavering, exponentially increasing, unquestionable emotion that clings to my very soul is love. Love every day.

Being married to a trans woman certainly provides a slew of every day opportunities to love each other that other couples may not experience. Reminding Carli to do the exercises her speech therapist gave her, and pointing out when I hear a feminine voice on the other end of the phone line when we talk.  Understanding that sometimes a 50 year old trans woman just needs to cry at a commercial that she wouldn’t have batted an eye at a few years ago.  Being patient when your wife isn’t quite ready to take the 29 year old wedding picture off the wall just yet. Answering the question “does this look okay” for the 10th time before we head out the door for dinner.  Okay, so that one probably happens to plenty of married couples, trans or not!

What about the love we share with others we are not married to; our children, coworkers, neighbors? The initial reaction from one of our sons was to be protective of Carli, and of me, wondering how he could possibly help keep us safe in a world that is often openly hostile to transgender people. As I’ve said here before, coworkers have been accepting and caring, asking questions so they may educate themselves on how to support Carli.  Neighbors have gone out of their way to express their acceptance and support of Carli, inviting us to share in community and church events.  Aren’t all of these every day gestures borne of love? Love not only for Carli and I but for humanity.

Yes, we do celebrate Valentine’s Day in the good old fashioned American way.  We spend money on things we could get for each other literally every other day of the year. Every other day of the year, days that are filled with little bits of love that we need to pay attention to, nurture, and acknowledge as wildly important to our well-being.  Carli meeting me in the kitchen with a glass of bourbon after a day that didn’t go quite as I planned. Helping Carli pick out the best blouse to wear with that particular pair of jeans. Carli doing the dishes every day.  Watching Carli snuggle a puppy; a puppy with big brown eyes who helped ease the pain of losing a beloved 16 year old lab mutt. Making coffee at 4:45am.  Love definitely happens every day.

First Hair Cut

First Hair Cut

When a family is transitioning there are so many firsts….first time in the appropriate restroom, first time trying on the correct clothes, first manicure, first time walking in high heels, first time wearing lipstick in public, and the list goes on and on.  Even though Carli has been living full time for 7 months she is still experiencing new firsts. Last week she had her first feminine hair cut in a salon. And she is beautiful!

Carli’s stylist took her time, making sure she understood Carli’s long term goal for her style.  She was kind and patient, explaining everything she was doing and teaching Carli how to style her hair at home. She told Carli if she just wants a refresher on how to style it, come back in and she will go through it with her again.  Everyone in the salon was so warm and accepting, we couldn’t have asked for a better first hair cut experience.  Carli left feeling pampered, confident, and beautiful.  Most importantly, she felt accepted by every single person. This is how all transgender people should feel after every “first.”

More often, however, firsts are fraught with anxiety and fear, sometimes for both of us. I vividly remember the first time Carli walked into the women’s restroom by herself. Up until that point I always accompanied her, and to be honest I did sit right outside the door, probably looking like a stalker myself, feeling more than a bit anxious and ready to jump into action if she was being harassed. What would that woman who walked in behind her say to Carli? Would she yell at her to get out, cause a scene, call the police or store security? We knew I wouldn’t always be there so both of us had to takes steps to overcome the anxiety and move past the fear. The anxiety has eased over time, but still occasionally sneaks up on me, especially when we are visiting new places.  The fear is still there, just beneath the surface, but as I’ve said before we refuse to give in to it and force Carli back into hiding.  Instead we allow it to simmer quietly, using it to our advantage to remind us to maintain a healthy awareness of our situation at all times.

Another memorable first for me, Carli and I telling her story to her new primary care physician during her first appointment at the recently established local transgender health clinic. I cried when I told the doctor that I fell in love with Carli all over again as I watched her emerge from 50 years in hiding.  Even the doctor was a little misty eyed.

The first time Carli visited me at my office, my coworker’s reactions were overwhelming.  They welcomed her literally with open arms, accepted her unconditionally, wrapping us both in warmth and love. I’m not sure if these people truly understand how deeply they’ve touched us, or how much they are appreciated. To them it was a logical, simple act of acceptance but to us it was……and continues to be…..a gift for which we can never adequately express our thanks.

As parents we treasure our children’s firsts, documenting each step, each new tooth, each newly mastered skill religiously in photos, videos, memory books, and we eagerly share these with our friends and family.  Watching Carli experiencing each of her firsts feels very much like this for me, but with one heart breaking difference.  Many of Carli’s firsts were experienced before she could live openly and authentically, so she didn’t get to share these with other people, we had to keep these precious moments between us.  Like the first time she sat on the patio wearing a dress, enjoying the sunshine on her face.  Alone. I watched her, cried, and I was simultaneously overjoyed and heartbroken. To see her so happy flooded me with joy, but knowing that she missed 50 years of joyful moments is crushingly sad.  This image left a permanent mark on my heart.

There will be many more firsts, but never again will Carli have to keep them a secret. This is how all transgender people should be allowed to live.  In the open, sharing the excitement of new experiences with friends and family.  Not in hiding, avoiding the sun.

How Many People Make A March?

How Many People Make A March?

Overwhelming, peaceful, profound..
Overwhelming, peaceful, profound..

We didn’t attend the Women’s March in Indianapolis last Saturday, although we had every intention of attending when we woke up that day.  An unfortunate emergency home repair found my wife, Carli, in the crawl space for several hours instead. She can fix anything!

Attending the march would have been a challenge for us; neither of us are fond of large crowds, but we wanted to do this for all the reasons anyone else wanted to march.  Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, underrepresented minority rights, basically ALL human and civil rights are legitimately being threatened by an administration we do not understand.

Living in Indiana we are acutely aware of what Vice President Pence believes and we’re frankly terrified of what might come in the next four years.  However, we decided early on that we would not let this fear overwhelm us or drive Carli back in the closet.  She is truly, deeply content for the first time in her life.  No one is going to take that away from her, or me!

We started to feel guilty about not attending the march, but it occurred to us that perhaps we might have been just two more faces in a crowd of friendly, like-minded individuals.  Was this going to do anything more than make a statement that might resonant for a couple of weeks and then be replaced in the media by the next argument over policies, legislation, or poorly worded tweets by the Commander in Chief? While we truly want to be part of the wave of social change, perhaps there was a way we could do this that would touch people other than the friendlies we would have mingled with at the march.  They already know us and our community after all, maybe this is equivalent to preaching to the choir.  We don’t care to have our faces on tv, we aren’t very creative when it comes to making signs, and megaphones are terrifying. So, what did we do?

We went to a food festival, of course! We spent 4 hours strolling from booth to booth, most of them staffed with people from right here in uber-conservative Trump/Pence loving Indiana. There were “make America great again” hats on several heads.  I wore my safety pin and #i’llgowithyou pin.  We tasted everything from rhubarb liqueur to gin, cherry chili beef jerky to corn chowder. We sat with a mother and her teenage son who were enjoying brownies and gumbo. We learned how tequila is made and were amused by the elderly couple who were sneaking extra little tastes during the demonstration. We chatted with dozens of people who may or may not have interacted with a transgender person before in their lives, that they are aware of at least.  Not once did Carli get misgendered.  Yes, there were some sideways looks thrown around and we really have no way of knowing if people guessed Carli is trans or not, but chances are pretty good that a 51-year-old trans woman who is in early transition is fairly easy to spot yet.  Overall, we were treated with civility and courtesy.  And we had a marvelous time! Every person we interacted with is another person who may have left that day thinking that trans people are A-okay.  They aren’t freaks of nature, or fanatics, and they can have spouses who love them more than life itself, the way I love Carli.

My question then becomes, how many people does it take for it to be a march? 500,000 in Washington, D.C. or 30 in Antarctica or 2 at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis?  Carli and I were kept from participating in the organized march but did we all accomplish something important, something with the potential to change the world even if it’s just one person at a time

?  I like to think we did.  

Not done yet

Not done yet

sewing-machine

When Carli went full time in July one of the first things she did was empty her closet of all the boys clothes, other than a couple of androgynous shirts she has to wear on occasion for a handful of people who have yet to fully accept her for who she is. (That’s a story for another day.)  I remember the relief on her face as she packed away the remnants of that person she never really was, filling her closet instead with pretty blouses, skirts, and feminine pieces that fit her personality and style much better! Boxes and boxes of clothes were piled in a spare room, waiting to be donated to local charities.  As we went through them months later we realized that many of the shirts were just old work shirts or casual shirts with lots of wear on them.  They simply weren’t in good enough shape to donate.  The only reason Carli had kept most of them for so long was because she simply hated shopping for new boy clothes.  They never felt comfortable to her so she avoided purchasing anything new unless she absolutely had to.  So, what to do with a bunch of worn XL men’s shirts?

Make a quilt, of course!  A coming out quilt!  A way to pay  homage to a beautiful person who doesn’t have to hide anymore, but who did the very best she could while hiding.  It’s not done yet; this project is time consuming, frustrating, and there is no guarantee the quilt will turn out anything like the picture I have in my mind. I was meticulous with my measurements, cut every tiny piece with precision, and still ended up with pieces that aren’t perfect.  I sew them together and sometimes have to rip them apart and try again.

Seems a lot like life in general.  You take what you are given, piece it all together, and hope that it turns out okay. Sometimes things go a little sideways and you have to make adjustments before you can move on.  You learn to overlook small flaws, accepting that it’s okay to be less than perfect.

Less than perfect definitely describes my quilting ability. I’ve only put together a couple of quilts before, nothing fancy or special.  But this one is very special.  I am transforming Carli’s old boy clothes from something she hated to touch into an heirloom we can cherish.  The pieces of material she was required to wear because of our flawed concept of gender are assembled into a functional, beautiful quilt that will last a lifetime.  The quilt also has tiny pieces of new pink material stitched alongside the old blue stripes, denims, and plaids, blending old with new.  Carli’s previous life in hiding is being acknowledged, hopefully in such a way so she knows I loved her then, even though I didn’t know she was in hiding. And I love her now.  The best parts of the old Carli blending beautifully with the new Carli.

I’m using Carli’s grandmother’s antique Singer sewing machine to piece the tiny two inch squares together, deliberately forcing a needle to make tiny holes in the fabric so it can be stitched back together with fresh white thread. I have an intense sense of nostalgia using this particular sewing machine. It’s almost like I can feel extra love being channeled into every stitch. Call that goofy, I don’t mind, but remember I also use Carli’s grandmother’s antique stove to do all of our canning.  I swear it makes the food taste better! Using this sewing machine and stove reminds me that we can still be connected to our past while we continue to move forward.  We take pieces of our lives apart that aren’t working anymore and put them back together in a way that makes more sense, more beautiful, more useful, more authentic. Sometimes other people or circumstances force the pieces apart and it’s not always what we wanted, but we still pick up the pieces and put them back together our way.

It’s not done yet but the quilt will eventually be finished. When do you suppose people are “done?”  Do we get to a point in our lives where we think we are done, we have nothing to learn or change, no room for growth? What about our country? Did we think our country was “done”; that we shouldn’t expect big changes to happen anymore, good or bad?

Nope, not done yet. I think we’ve only just begun.

With Resolution

With Resolution

hearts

Resolution

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because the word and the action have been diluted by overuse and the almost universal failure of people to keep doing what they resolved to do.  However, with 2016 being the most unusual year I’ve experienced in my lifetime I feel the need to go into 2017 with resolution.

Starting the year “with resolution” is not the same as making a New Year’s resolution.  I won’t make hollow promises to lose weight or exercise more or write more handwritten letters or turn off my cell phone more often.  I’m talking about being resolute in what I believe, advocating for people and causes, doing whatever I can to make a positive difference amid the ridiculousness that is going on in the world. It was the collision of several events that created a spark of energy, making me feel a responsibility to humanity in ways I had not before.

Love is love

2016 brought the beginning of my new life as the wife of a transgender woman.  Grief over the loss of my husband turned into gratitude for having gained a happy, healthy, confident, strong, beautiful wife. June 12 was arguably the best and worst day of the year, the day we were overcome by the outpouring of love and acceptance we felt as we marched in our first Pride parade, walking with new friends who welcomed us into the community without reservation or judgment.  We choked back tears listening to the crowd shout messages of love and encouragement; we laughed out loud when we realized the police were blaring their sirens at the corner to drown out the bullhorns booming with hatred wrapped up in misdirected religious fervor.  It was a life-affirming event, for both me and Carli.  Later that day we watched the horror unfolding in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in United States history, and we were again overwhelmed with emotion but now with a deep, crushing sadness at the loss of so many people in the LGBTQ community, many of them Latinx.  The realization that this community, the group of people who have shown us unlimited love and acceptance, had been deliberately targeted by a disturbed young man to be murdered in the name of making some strange, twisted statement. This could have been any one of us.  Our son or his friends.  We went from extreme high to extreme low in the matter of hours, and suddenly the sense of belonging was accompanied by a terrifying sense that we were now members of a unique club that might forever be targets of hate and violence.

The next day we attended a memorial service for victims of the Pulse shooting.  Among other speakers, we heard a Muslim community leader express the same deep sorrow we all felt.  We were in awe of her strength and courage, to stand with us in mourning, side by side in support and true fellowship.  Later we listened to Lin-Manuel Miranda accept a Tony Award for Hamilton, saying “love is love is love is love is love….”  These words brought it all together for me.

People are people

Of course, the Pulse tragedy was just one in a long series of events that define 2016.  There was a tidal wave of violence based on fear, racism, ignorance, and political slant.  I don’t care what you look like, where you live, how or if you worship, what you do for a living, who you love; I can even look past the fact that you are not a dog lover.  As a fellow person, I am on your side. I refuse to be afraid of you and will not give you any reason to be afraid of me.  I will not assume you are a criminal based on the color of your skin, your manner of speech, or the fit of your clothes.  I will treat you with kindness, respect, and consideration.  I will assume you will treat me with the same.  Someone will surely try to take advantage of this approach but I’m smart enough to know it, and not afraid to keep trying.

What I cannot do is “unite” with people who are deliberately disrespectful, people who wear ignorance as a badge of honor and use it as an excuse to cause harm.  The electoral college elected what is potentially the most destructive administration in American history.  I say “potentially” because I can’t predict the future but based on track records, past words and actions of administration picks, we have legitimate reason to be concerned about LGBTQ equality, education, the environment, and foreign relations.  I cannot stand by with a “wait and see” attitude, nor can I just let someone else fix things.  It’s time to own up to my responsibilities to humanity, to do what is within my power to do.

In 2017 I will, with resolve, speak out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, or whose voices are ignored or minimized.  My legislators will get to know me and will witness the love that exists among my LGBTQ family and friends.  I will call out hatred, bigotry, misogyny, racism, and transphobia when I see it. I will intercede, interrupt, redirect, discuss, educate…whatever it takes to support, protect, defend, and uplift.

In 2017, I will, with resolve, expect my wife to receive as much respect as my husband did, and I will no longer accept anything less, from anyone.

When you think about it, my message is strikingly simple at the heart of it.  People are people.  No one is more important or less important than anyone else.  Love is love; not only do we deserve love, we thrive on it.  Love. People. Love.

May 2017 bring you sheer, utter joy and peace, dear friends.