Friday, September 23, 2011

Parents Again

I told my parents the news last weekend and now I’m heading back to spend another weekend there to answer the first set of questions I’m sure they have.  I leave alone this time.  M is not with me, I figure this will give my parents a chance to ask questions or bring up sensitive topics without her around.  We plan on M taking the boys there in a few weeks to give them time to talk to her without me around.

The flight is less stressful this time, there’s less unknowns over what will happen.  I rent the car and drive out to visit my parents for the second time in a week.  The last time I was there was 3 years ago.  Now I’m back twice in one week.

Again I arrive with a bottle of wine and dinner on the table.  Once again we make small talk and retell the same stories as we have every time we see each other.  I catch up on my bothers’ lives and we go over my parents’ health.  Mostly what I want is to answer their questions.  I want to talk about the elephant.  I want them to know this is important to me.  To know M and the boys will be OK and we will always be a family.  To know it’s not going to go away.  I want them to know that I waited a long time for this.  I want my mom to not think any of this is her fault.  I want my dad to know I’m worried about disappointing him.

From a selfish point of view I want to talk about the elephant so that I know they care.  So that I know they’ll try.  That they’ll try to do what it takes to see me through this journey.  I, more than them, can see the path before them.  M just went down it.  I know what’s about to happen to them and what they are soon to start thinking.  I saw how hard it was for M and how hard she works at it each and every day.  I want to think they are able to go down this path.  I want to think they will try and stand by me as I transition.

I know that soon, sooner rather than later, I’ll need to tell my brothers.  I also know I’ll likely lose one of them to the righteousness of his religion.  And that I will be putting my parents in a position to choose between me and his religion.  I know sometime soon I will make them uncomfortable.  I know the easy path.  I want to think they will try for the harder path.

Again, I can feel my Mom is uncomfortable with the whole thing.  She’d prefer to not talk about it, I’m not sure if she wants me to go back to the other coast and pretend all is well or if she just wants to put the transition part of all this behind and just jump to the end of the story.

I ask a few times during my stay if she’s OK, if there’s anything she needs, and each time she pushes it aside.  Then at the end of my visit, after my Mom has gone to sleep I get a few moments alone with my Dad.  It’s the end of the day and we are on our way to bed.  The house is dark and locked up for the night.  I ask him if he’s OK, and if Mom’s OK.  He sits down in his big easy chair in the dark and chooses his words carefully.  And so starts a three hour long conversation on the whole process, what’s ahead for me, how M and the boys are doing,   He wants to know how my work is taking the news, how my life has changed.  We talk about my Mom and my brothers.  He tells me he can’t and maybe never will understand what I’m going through.  That he struggles with the ‘Why’ of it all.  I tell him I’ve been working on the Why for 45 years now and still don’t have the answer.  We talk for three hours in the dark.  Three hours of a real honest, open and true conversation.  I learn more of my dad in this one trip then the 30 years since I left home.  I’m sure he learns more of me then he even could guess existed.  I keep from crying the whole time, yet feel the weight of 50 years lifted off my shoulders.

The next day arrives quickly and I have to leave their small town in the country for one of my weeks away at a city across the country from the both of us. I hug them both and tell each of them I love them.  I leave closer to my dad then I have been since I was a child.   I leave worried about my Mom, I’m worried it might all be too much for her.  I’m worry about my Dad and the choices he’ll soon have to make to keep his family together.

I know I’ll always be their child.  I have two myself and I know they will always be mine.  But I wonder if it might be too late now to take this all in.

I wonder if they are up to the path ahead and if they’ll make the effort required to see me as their child, Dana.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More On My Parents

If Sunday was one of the harder days on this journey, Monday was one of silence.  After years, decades actually, of therapy one thing M and I have learned is to talk about the elephant standing in the room.  He isn't going away so you might as well learn to ride him.

Rick told my parents the big news Sunday night after dinner and now it’s Monday morning and I’m looking in the mirror.  Dana looks back and smiles at me.  She’s happy to be back.

So there I stand in the guest bathroom looking at Dana thinking I’m going to have to go out there and make my entrance as Dana.  I’ve struggled with this my entire life.  I’ve hidden Dana from my parents for 50 years.  I spent the first 20 years ashamed of her.  I’ve lived in fear of them finding my secret up until last night.  And now I have to go out and audition for the part of Dana to my parents.

So much of this path is mental.  The E changes you.  Yes, it changes your body, but it transforms your mind.  As I look in the mirror and see Dana, I see her as a woman sees her.  My view of the world has changed from one of greys to one of colors.  I’m a woman because I see the world as a woman does, not because I wear her clothes.  But for my parents it will all be visual.  I’ll be a woman because I look like one.

This first impression is going to tell them more in 30 seconds then the entire night the night before.  If it goes well, it will tell them that this transformation is going to work.  It will tell them that we can go out in public and I won’t embarrass them.  It will tell them this is me, and I’m comfortable as Dana.  That Rick is gone, and I’m happy as Dana.  That I am happy, a happiness I never thought possible.

I turn the corner and my Mom say’s ‘Good morning M’.  I smile at her and she sees Dana for the first time.  There’s a tiny bit of shock in her eyes and she hugs me.

My Dad says ‘Good morning, can you get me some coffee’.  And there it is.  The first thirty seconds are done, 90% of their opinions are formed and the real process of telling them starts.

We spend the rest of the day walking around the elephant.

This transformation has been hard on M.  She’s watched Rick die, and be replaced by Dana.  Every day she has had to process this transformation and learn to let go of Rick.  Learn how to love Dana.  She has worked hard every day for the last year and half on this journey.  This is not something you do in one day.

So our plan all along was to tell them on a weekend, fly home to work the week and fly back the next weekend to continue the process.  This would give them time to process the news and let the mind see clearly.  We’d follow this up a month later by staying the week.  But this transformation is not one you do in a week here and a weekend there.  My parents live a continent away and I can’t afford to fly out to see them every weekend for the year and a half it’s going to take.  So we leave.

We leave with no big blow up, no tears, no hard questions and no plan.  The elephant is standing in our room and we’re ignoring him.  At this point my Dad seems OK with it, life just goes on.  My mom seems distant and worried.   I hug my Dad, and for the first time in years he hugs me.  We say our goodbyes and I work a week from home 3000 miles away.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not Enough Wine

Sunday was one of the harder days in this whole journey.  M and I flew across the country and then drove another hour to go back home again.  Home, to see my parents.  Home, to visit and catch up with things.  Home, to share a few meals and drink some good wine.

Home, to tell my parents their first born son is becoming a woman.

The closer we got to my parents place, the higher the tensions between M and I.  We started the trip before the sunrise on the west coast and M slept most of the way on the first flight out east.  She woke up somewhere over Texas jolly and light hearted.  I, however, was nervous and getting more so as the trip wore on.

Our plan was for me to change into Rick at the Starbucks near their house.  Head to the house, eat the good meal I’m sure my Mom would cook, and drink some very good wine I had brought.  All of this as Rick. 

The only thing about this plan I wasn’t worried about was the wine. 

As we drove that last few miles M did her best to keep me sane and smiling.  Starbucks is a great place to change from one gender to another because most of their bathrooms are single stall bathrooms with a lock on the door.  It’s been a long time since Rick was out and changing back into this abandoned persona was harder than I had planned.  More and more as I look into that mirror I see her.  I see Dana looking back, I see the face I think belongs there.   In that Starbuck’s bathroom mirror I see Rick, the old, tired man I used to be.  To think I could just change my clothes and have his face stare back at me was a shock.  My eyes swelled up and tears started flowing.  E steals your ability to control your emotions; once the tears start it’s hard to stop them. 

So Rick and M drive the last ten minutes to my parents with red puffy eyes and a nervous smile.  As usual my Mom has dinner ready as soon as we walk through the front door and we go right to the kitchen to eat.  I pull out the bottle of wine I brought with me to celebrate the news and grease the gears.  I had forgotten how much my Dad knows about wine and one look at the bottle told him this was not an everyday bottle of wine, this was a bottle to mark a big day.

Dinner went well, the steak and potatoes my Dad still loves.  I’ve given up meat long ago to get my body in shape for this path, so I didn’t eat much.  That and my nerves were killing me.  As dinner neared the end there was a break in the conversation, and with some hesitation I finished the wine in my glass, and I told them the news.

Then, just like every other time, stunned silence. 

The news was clearly bigger than they could process and all my Dad could say was he loved me no matter what and it would all be fine.  I had given up my position in the family as the first born son and as much as I hate the expression, became their only daughter. 

We didn’t have enough wine.