I’ve struggled with writing this article multiple times. OK eight times. Each of these times the article tried to deal with only my emotions. There was so much disappointment, hatred and anger that I could not bear to publish any of those versions. Much of my anger was directed toward someone I love very much, my youngest son. I also was the target of my own anger. In this version I will detail more of what happened and leave most of the emotions in my rough drafts.
Earlier this year I had come out as a transgender woman to my family, friends and finally at work. Many of the discussions I had during this time were so supportive and helped me grow so much. Discussions of my feelings which I had locked away for so long were finally common place. My many fears of rejection, embarrassment, and not being accepted as myself were being swept aside. In September I came out at my workplace. The last place where I was still wearing the costume of who I thought I had to be. Things were going well for me. Things were going well for my son also. Near the beginning of September he and his girlfriend made the announcement that they were engaged. The wedding was to be on the 14th of December.
My son had been quite surprised by my coming out news. When he shared his happy news, we discussed that I would like to be in attendance at his wedding. I felt as though I expressed that I, Dana, would want to be in attendance. More discussions followed. I could feel the hesitation at having me attend their event. It would be the first time many of my family would be able to meet me as Dana. We both felt this may take away from the celebration of the happy couple. It was suggested that I might be able to attend for a short period of time and excuse myself if anyone started to shift the attention to me rather than the attention being on my son and his bride. Even this did not seem to sit well with him. Eventually I made the suggestion that I might be able to to attend as the old me. This was my mistake. I should have never made this offer. How could I have suggested that I go back to being the person I had worked so hard to stop being. I had found such joy in finally being myself. My only answer to this is I made the suggestion based in the love I have for my son. I did not want him, his wife or the family members to become uncomfortable with me. We decided that he would take all the information I had given him about my situation and they would make a decision of who would attend his wedding, Dana or the old me.
I figured my son and his bride to be needed at least a week to make this decision. The first week passed. I got busy with something or other. I’m sure they were very busy planning and making arrangements for the wedding. Two weeks go by, we again did not reconnect.
During this time I had discussed the situation with my therapist. We discussed the many feelings I had about being part of a wedding. Among the many questions I came up with were these.
- If I attend as the old me, how would I be seen by those who knew I was now Dana?
- If I attend as Dana, how would I be seen by those who did not know?
- Would I be asked to be in photographs regardless of my gender expression?
- Would there be dancing?
- Would I be asked to dance with my son or new daughter in-law?
- Would I have to attend as the old me?
- How long could I wear my old clothes?
- Would I have to be intoxicated to cope with the stress?
I spent pretty much every waking moment obsessed with variations of these questions and many more!
I also discussed my situation with my wife, with the peer support group I attend, and with my friends. I received varying degrees of suggestions on how I should handle the situation. These ranged all across the board. Here are the basic four categories the responses fell into.
- Not going and cutting off communications with my son who appears to only partially supports me.
- Going as me and drawing attention to the fact I have changed and will only be seen as Dana now.
- Going as the old me and when the stress level reaches its peak, changing into Dana.
- Going as the old me and only staying until the stress level reaches its peak.
Putting aside the emotional and dysphoric factors these four categories it seems quite simple, anyone should be able to perform any one of these. Oh were it that simple! I have always been an emotional person. Add on the fact I have now been on hormone replacement therapy for 9 months and the situation becomes extremely complicated. Add on my dysphoria and the scale becomes exponentially complicated.
The reason I am undergoing hormone replacement therapy is to treat gender dysphoria. I am a woman who just happens to have male sexual characteristics. The hormones will finally help my body and mind come into agreement with this simple fact. Along the way my body will take on a more feminine appearance. As it does, I am also becoming much more comfortable expressing myself as a woman. One of the recent changes I made in this expression is to rid my closet of almost all my male clothes. I kept only a couple pair of pants and a couple dress shirts. I did this in case I would be asked to attend the wedding as the old me.
The removal of male clothes from my wardrobe was so freeing. I began to wonder if I would ever be able to present as male again. As the decision regarding my attendance was being made, I decided to try on my old guy’s pants. I built up my mental strength. I told myself it’ll be like wearing a costume. I stood in my closet staring at the pants. Putting one foot into the pant leg didn’t seem to be to bad. Then it hit me. I shuddered with anxiety, and a new fear came over me. I feared that I would have to hide being myself again. I would never be free to be me. The tears instantly flowed. I sat in the closet sobbing with my guy pants in the corner in a heap. When I regained composure I reached for my favorite skirt. Putting it on brought back the comfort I had searched for my entire life. This is me. I am a woman.
A few days more passed. My son and I finally were able to catch up and speak to each other. The call came as I was parking my Jeep before a scheduled therapy session, how convenient. The phone call was with him and his fiancé. A decision had been made regarding my attendance. The news was relayed and I was crushed. They had discussed the situation with a few older family members and they all had decided I should be the old me for the wedding.
They all decided! THEY ALL DECIDED! How could they do this without reaching out to me to understand the situation fully. Am I also not a part of the decision? I provided information to my son about my situation. This was conveyed with much emotion which the others did not have the benefit of experiencing. This was how my first onset of my rage began. The second was that I became furious at myself for even suggesting the option. I plead my case one more time on the call. Expressing how out of place I would feel, and not knowing if I could even do what was being asked. My reminder alarm for my therapy appointment went off. I had to end the call and go.
I walked from my Jeep to my therapist’s small office in her backyard. I was holding back the tears the best I could. The instant her door opened I began to cry. We discussed only the decision for the entire session and then some. Over the next few weeks I attempted to enlighten my son. This went nowhere. I had to come up with a plan and a few options which I could live with.
- I would not attend the wedding festivities at all. I felt this would hurt or relationship. Perhaps even instilling in him more misunderstanding of what it is like to be transgender. This could be overcome with time and education.
- I would attend as Dana and defy their wishes. This would definitely harm the relationship and perhaps forever drive a wedge between us which I feared may never be removed.
- I would attend for as long as I could as the old me, while maintaining a small token of my femininity intact. Perhaps jewelry, keeping a fabulous manicure or having my hair done.
Having my options in place, I set out to make my decision as to what I would do. A month went by. Knowing I would be overly stressed as the date approached, I had a made an appointment with my therapist for the Wednesday the 11th before the wedding which would be on Saturday the 14th. I began the session by explaining where I was in the decision process. I had still not made a full decision. I would already not be allowed to see the actual ceremony, as it is a religious one and I am not found worthy in the eyes of the religion to enter the building where weddings are performed. I had decided I would not attend a family dinner as I know I could not present as the old me for very long, if at all. That left the reception. I was holding out on this decision until the last moment. Perhaps even until I walked in. I did not realize it but my stress and anxiety was showing in my voice and mannerisms. My therapist had me stop everything and examine where I was mentally, emotionally, & physically. Mentally I was a mess, all over the map. Jumping from one train of thought to the next with little or no warning. My emotions were not much better. I was filled with rage, remorse, sorrow, empathy, and love all at the same time. The combination left me physically tense. My body so tight that I was in pain. I was shaking, and wringing my hands.
Have I mentioned I LOVE my therapist! She is capable of seeing exactly what I need and helping me to get there. With her help. I was now realizing the state I was in. We knew something had to be done. Discussion of meditation was brought up, including vagus nerve stimulation.
I had heard about this previously but never really understood it. All I knew was it was part of some meditation techniques. One of the easiest way to stimulate the nerve is through breathing. Deep breaths in, slow controlled breaths out (trying to exhale for a count of 6). I would also slowly focus on relaxing portions of my body, my hands, arms, legs, etc. In addition to this I was to find a pleasant memory to focus on. Some time in my life when my gender dysphoria was not as prevalent a force.
OK lets think about this for just a moment. Many months previous to this appointment I had finally accepted I was gender dysphoric and truly a transgender woman. It was then I began to examine my entire life. Trying to find the point where I “knew”. The searches I had performed of my life were extensive. I spent months sifting through my memories. Replaying the situations and examining them. the results I had found so far indicate I have always been dysphoric. I just didn’t have the words or the knowledge to label it.
My search for a time when I was truly happy with who I was and not concerned with my gender was difficult. Locating my pleasant memory took a little time, but I finally found one. As a child my family regularly went camping at Meadow Lake, near Gilmore ID. We would climb the mountain across the lake at least once during each trip. My memory was of one of these climbs. A storm was passing while we were near the ridge. We knew how to take shelter from storm especially if there were a chance of lightning. As the storm approached each family member found a small crevices in the boulder field which would provide the shelter needed. We would remain in shouting distance if someone needed assistance but we, in essence, were alone on the mountain. It was in the solitude of this memory where I found my comforting image. The mountains and valleys around me were being blanketed by the sheets of rain from the storm. The vantage point I held allowed me to see the storm, a rainbow and the sun shining among the rugged beauty of the mountains all at the same time. It is at this point in my life where I found solace in being alone, knowing a storm was raging nearby, but that it would pass and I would soon feel the calming warmth of the sun.
Armed with my memory I began the breathing technique. At first I struggled and gulped for air. Soon with my therapist guiding me I was beginning to calm down. The entire process took quite a while. I may not have this much time to devote to calming myself at the wedding. My therapist knew this and suggested I talk to my physician about a prescription for Xanax, which I did.
I was prepared for the reception. I had my best & favorite supporter, my wife, going with me. We decided our puppies would also provide me comfort, so they came along also. I had supportive family members who would also attend the reception. I had a calming meditation technique. I also had pharmaceutical help.
It was Friday Dec 13th the day before the wedding. We began our drive from Denver to Salt Lake City. We decided to drive I-70 through Vail Colorado instead of I-80 through Wyoming due to high winds being forecast. Travel in Colorado during the winter is always interesting. One moment can be clear and the next you could be engulfed in a blizzard. We made it over Vail pass just before it was closed due to snow. Upon arriving we settled into our hotel, ate dinner, and I began my breathing meditation. It didn’t take long and I was calm, so calm I was asleep.
The day of the wedding had its minor ups and downs. Trying to find a dog park that was open, arranging some name change processing at my bank, etc. We ended up at my dad’s house before the wedding. My very supportive older brother was there. He was so very excited to meet his new sister & I was excited to meet him as myself. Another brother and his family arrived to attend to my dad’s social needs. Soon it was time to begin dressing for the wedding. I took my Xanax, and began my meditation. I slowly began to feel at peace.
The bathroom. So many times in my youth I hid in the bathroom and wore my feminine clothes. I was being forced (partly due to circumstances of my own making) to hide my femininity once again. I took off my leggings & blouse. I stood there in my bra and panties, looking myself in the mirror. I saw the woman I am looking at me, desperately pleading to not be hidden. I did another round of meditation, reassured myself it would only be for a very short time. With tears running down my cheeks I hid. I hid my makeup, my bra, and tried to hide my breasts. I let myself wear dangly earrings up to the parking lot. I also kept my necklace but wore it as a bracelet. I did this to show myself I am STILL Dana. I am a strong woman who loves her son so much that I would willingly hurt myself for his benefit.
The feelings I experienced when hiding myself were not over yet. I remembered our puppies would be in the Jeep with my feminine clothes. I would have to hide the clothes under the seat to keep them from being chewed. The very thought of this brought me again to a near breaking point. I offered a quick explanation to my wife of how I felt I was hiding myself again before asking her to hide my feminine clothes for me. I felt awful. The dread of having to ask someone else hide my secret which should not be a secret anymore was tremendous. I attempted the meditation again on the ride to the reception. Let me just say meditation while riding passenger in Utah traffic is not advisable. I did meditate some more in the parking lot before going into the church building. When I believed I had again found my calm, my peace we went inside.
It was not long until the feelings I was experiencing were showing signs of returning. I was so focused on hiding myself and the anxiety it was causing that I didn’t even notice if any of my hundreds of other fears about the reception were coming to pass. The level of my discomfort was rising. I sat with family who is supportive, still it rose. We discussed topics of family, work, and enjoyable activities, still it rose. I noticed I had begun to wring my hands. I was realizing I had reached a point where I needed a break. Not knowing if I would be able to return, I cut in the receiving line and called out as I did “Parental Privilege!” I said my hello to my son and daughter in-law, gave them hugs then retreated to the Jeep and our puppies. The family I was sitting with followed. My nephew and his wife were among them. They happen to have a weimaraner puppy also. We talked for a few moments then I decided I had experienced enough and needed to leave.
As we left, my wife asked if I needed to change. YES! Into a gas station we went. Straight to the bathroom I dashed. Within seconds I was again looking more like myself. Before leaving the gas station my wife asked what I wanted to do with the guy clothes. A short discussion ended with the clothes in the trash.
I made it through! I did what I thought would be a near impossibility. As I look back at it now I understand a few things better.
- I should have never offered to present as the old me, something which I had a doubts I could accomplish.
- I have many people who love and support me.
- The time and effort I spent in thinking through the hundreds upon hundreds of scenarios was utterly wasted. When it comes down to it I may have only though of one thing that I could have been prepared for. I should strive to only live in the present and not try to forecast how my presence will affect any situation.
- Self care is extremely important. If you can not be there for yourself then you can not have the presence of mind to ask for help.
- Asking for help is a good thing. No one does anything alone.