Did you see that Facebook post that was going around not too long ago? Somebody would give you a number, like 6, and then you were supposed to name 6 things (or 7, or 2, or whatever) that most people might not know about you. Little snapshots of your life. I didn’t participate in that game, but I did think about how I might respond to the question. There are a number of approaches to choose from:
I could, for example, tell you about something unusual but relatively unimportant from my history. There was that one time in Scotland when I hitched a ride on a sewage truck. Nothing bad happened during the ride. And, I made it to my doctor’s appointment on time.
If I wanted to keep it light, I could tell you about something unusual that I either like or dislike. E.g. applesauce and peanut butter; I eat them together in a bowl. The brown, multi-textured mush looks unappealing, but tastes sooo good, especially when the applesauce is warm, and has been homemade by my mom.
If I wanted to tell you something important, I could tell you about a difficult time in my life, although that might not be the most appropriate material for Facebook. In my case, I was really shy throughout my teenage years and my early twenties. Really, painfully shy. I’m much happier now, and more at home with myself and with other people, but during high school in particular I hardly spoke to anybody, and got some version of “The Shy Girl” award in every school activity awards ceremony. There was the “Silent Sentinal” award in cross-country. The “Phantom of the Opera” award in theater. In my last year of high school I got the senior class award for “Most Quiet Girl.” I was very awkward back then, and I understand why people would have wanted to give me those awards. But I’m still angry at my school’s faculty for thinking that it was in any way okay to push those painful shortcomings in my face like that. I’m also disappointed in myself for agreeing to participate with the yearbook staff when they asked me to pose for photos. I don’t know who the Senior Class Most Quiet Boy was, really, but I’m disappointed in him for agreeing to participate in that as well. I threw out that yearbook after high school, with its picture of the two of us standing wide-eyed, our hands clasped over our mouths. Everybody has weaknesses, but we should never allow ourselves to be defined by them. And we should never, ever allow others to label us in ways we don’t like — even when the label is disguised as an accomplishment.
If I had to tell you something about myself, I could tell you about one of my actual accomplishments, something I’m really proud of. Me — I’m proud of being a hiker. Yeah, it’s just a sport, and unless you also love hiking, it’s not even a glamorous sport. But I love it. I love the way maps of the western U.S. are more than just strange shapes on a piece of paper to me now. Instead, they’re memories. The black silhouettes of ponderosa pines, interspersed with patches of stars. Pale green leaves on paler cottonwood trees, sitting quietly in a red-rock canyon. The semi-translucent bodies of fairy shrimp, swimming in a bowl of water and sky. I love the confidence I’ve found in myself just by picking up a backpack and choosing my own direction. I love the feeling of having a healthy body, and I love the way food tastes better when I am active. I love knowing that I am strong enough to walk 2300 miles across three states, which is what J and I did in 2009 when we backpacked most of the Pacific Crest Trail. I love knowing that I’ve hiked hundreds, or maybe thousands, of additional miles on other lesser known trails, and even in places where there were no trails at all. I love to think that there are many thousands of hiking-miles still to come in my future. I love to think that my children will also grow to love, or at least appreciate, this thing I love called hiking.
If I had to tell you something new, I could tell you that life isn’t simple, or straight-forward, or (frequently) anything like we imagine it will be. But you probably already knew that. I could tell you about my life today and how it exemplifies the unpredictable. And since I have J’s permission here, I will:
I am the spouse of a transgender person. I guess that’s the correct way to say it. I’ve written before about my husband’s cross-dressing, but there’s more to it than that. I didn’t fully understand, until recently, just how much more.
I think the conversation began when J ordered some books off of Amazon by Jennifer Finney Boylan: “Stuck in the Middle with You” and “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.” I’m a huge bookworm, so when I saw J reading, naturally I took the first opportunity to pick the books up and look at them myself. They were the memoirs of a college professor, husband, and father who had felt trapped in the wrong body his whole life and who finally, after 40 years, underwent hormone therapy and had a sex-change operation. The memoirs spend a lot of time discussing the effect Jenny’s transition had on her wife and two sons. J and I ended up reading the books out loud to one another, and we had a lot of interesting discussions as a result. That was also the first time J expressed an interest in becoming a woman, although as I recall there were a lot of “maybe’s” and “I’m not sure if’s” and “not if you’re not comfortable’s” involved. I went away from that experience not exactly expecting the worst, but not blind to it, either.
Once the conversation was out in the open, J and I returned to it sporadically again and again. Sometimes J would research something online, or sometimes I would, and then we’d talk about it. Oddly I’m not sure what my thoughts were during this time, but I knew I loved J, and I wanted to support him as he figured this out for himself.
Things really came to a head just after Thanksgiving this year. We were having the Conversation again, but this time J was more confident than ever when he said he wanted to become a woman. “Only,” he added, “I don’t want to do something you can’t live with.”
I responded the only way I could, which was to say that this is a decision he has to make, and that I want to be with him no matter what. And it’s true: I can’t imagine wanting to be with anybody but J. He’s one of my best friends, and we share and have shared so many experiences together. Do I have worries? Yes, but for now there’s still plenty of time, and we’re continuing to talk.
At night when I curl up next to J in bed, I lay my head on his chest, listen to his heartbeat, and feel content in our cocoon of blankets and dark. J may change his body in the years to come, but the person he is inside will still be there. Thinking about this as I look ahead, I feel, on the whole, very positive. J and I have plans to go to our first LGBT group meeting this weekend. Beyond that we’ll just have to do what we always do — wait and see.