Chapter 6 – Family Transitions

Chapter 6 – Family Transitions

When I reached home, I felt invigorated from the ocean trip, opened my laptop and started catching up on my online students’ work.  I had to get back to the  face to face classroom in the morning, so my time would be limited very quickly.   The job I had come back to Maryland for had turned into a part-time position, then ended the next summer. Luckily, I had been able to apply to my old district, and they hired me as a Computer Education Middle School teacher in one of our Title 1 schools.  My face to face teaching kept me busy during the days and then at night I was teaching Computer courses to online high school students across the country in another online school that had hired me.  So my life was completely full. I had been grateful for both positions as it enabled me to pay the mortgage on my own, and even catch up on my almost missed mortgage payment.  Thank heavens the house was in decent shape and didn’t need any repairs at this time.    But as I faced reality, I wondered if I even had time for dating?

That’s how I explained it to John, my online colleague as we talked during the week.   I had virtually met him at the beginning of the school year when we both had to take online training.  With my past experiences with online work, the training was doable for me, but challenging for him.  So we had exchanged phone numbers, and I had walked him through many of the training activities, as we learned together.   He was a year or two younger than I was, and single, but starting a new career after being in finance for many years. He had accepted a position at a face to face school in Nevada, at the same time he had taken on this online teaching. So his learning curve was huge, but we had very similar circumstances.  I had been a life saver for him in talking him through being a new face to face teacher as well as an online one, and he was my confidant as I worked through the transition from being married to being single. As I explained why my marriage had fallen apart, he had asked questions about not only the transgendered issue, but also teased answers out of me about my own sexuality, and how I could have missed the signs of my transgendered spouse.   Through his cajoling and teasing, I started coming out of the closet about the issue, and really thinking through what had happened.  Of course, I was still attending support group meetings as well, which gave me a base of people who had been through something similar.   However, explaining it to someone I had never met, helped me bring a form of closure in accepting that there was nothing I could have done differently.  I remembered trying to tell my family and friends about my husband as he was coming out of the closet. Most of the conversations had sounded like this:

 “Kurt and I are separating because he has decided he is transgendered.” I would say to a friend or family member.

“What does that mean?”, the friend would ask with a puzzled expression.

“It means he wants to be a woman.  He’s transitioning to become a woman.”

“Is this a joke?” my friends, family or acquaintances would demand.

“Unfortunately, no.  He is taking hormones to grow his breasts and wants to wear women’s clothes, makeup, etc.” I would explain. 

“Why?” the friend would ask again in disbelief.

“I don’t know.  He says it’s been this way since he was a kid. He used to wear boy clothes when he went to Junior high school, but hid girl clothes at the church, and would change and walk back home as a girl.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“No, I’m serious.  I’m in the process now of trying to decide whether to divorce him/her or stay together,” I explained.

“When did this all happen?” my friends or family would ask.

“S/he says it had always been this way, but it came to a head when he was out in Denver by himself, and I was here dealing with Mom.  He started attending support groups for transgendered people and said he felt like he was one of them.”

“And he got all this from the support groups?  You should have prevented him from going. Are there support groups here?”the friends would query.

“Not just support groups.  He supposedly went to two counselors, one a psychiatrist, who tested him and said that he has a strong chance of being trans.  And yes, s/he has found a support group here as well, although it seems these are younger trans people than the one in Denver.”

“You still should have prevented him from going.”

“I wasn’t there!  I was here taking care of Mom.  And at this point, he’s felt like he couldn’t be himself for the last 60 years, so I’m asking him if he wants to be happy for the last 20 or 30 years he has left, and how he wants that to be – as a woman or as a man.”

“So are you going to stay together?” the friends would question.

“I haven’t decided yet.  My support group brings up reasons we should and why we shouldn’t. Kurt wants to live together as two women.  I feel that I would not be comfortable being seen as lesbians. Yet, he’s my best friend, the one I’ve talked everything over with for the last 30 years.  We have lots of history together, including adopting and raising two challenging kids.  He’s been a great husband, father,  son-in-law, brother-in-law, etc.  So part of me wants to stay together, but the other part just shudders to think about living as two women.  Besides, does that mean I have to do without sex for the rest of my life?  We haven’t had sex for at least 10 years, but do I want to be sexless for the next 30 as well?”

“Why no sex for the last 10 years?”They’d always inquire.

“He couldn’t perform.  Said it was because of his diabetes. Now I know it was the hormones he’s been taking,” I had explained.

“Where’d he get hormones?  What kind?”

I would explain, “Female hormones to grow his/her breasts. At first, it sounds like s/he ordered them through the mail.  S/he said s/he was getting them from Argentina, and ordered them in Spanish.  When s/he was in Ocean City with the business there, s/he ordered them through the internet at the internet cafe we had there. Now s/he’s getting us from the psychiatrist s/he is seeing.”

“You mean all those times we were together, he was really a woman?” Each friend would ask about specific times we’d spent with them. One male friend was particularly upset when he realized every time they were under a car fixing it, he was lying next to a woman and didn’t know it. He shuddered just thinking about it.   I knew that each of our friends needed time to digest all of this. I let Kurt tell his special friends about it, but I told our joint friends about it.  Most of our friends were open-minded and stayed friends with me.  Some of the ones that Kurt spoke to were upset with him/her and others stayed in touch, and were willing to meet with him.  Others just stated that Kurt/Kelly’s lifestyle was just very different from ours, so they had no interest in getting together with him/her.

Telling my brother and his wife had been a little easier.  Soon after Kurt and I returned from Colorado, I had made a date to go to their house for dinner. After getting through most of the same conversation with them as I had with my friends and other family members, my brother asked, “What are you going to do?” 

“I’m still not sure.  I don’t want to hurt K/K (as I’d started thinking of Kurt/Kelly as), yet I’m very uncomfortable with things as they are now.  S/he doesn’t have a job yet, so can’t support him/herself. So I don’t want to push him out into the cold.”

“Maybe you should give him a time limit to make a decision, and get himself out,” suggested my sister-in-law.

“And you can start that timeline now, by separating your bedrooms,” my brother had stated. “Particularly since you can’t be sure he’s not sleeping with someone else when he goes to those meetings.  And with the challenge of AIDS, you have to protect yourself. It’s a reasonable excuse to separate bedrooms and will get him/her used to not sleeping next to you.  Should be a wake-up call if nothing else.”

The thought of separating bedrooms as a first step appealed to me.  I would need to get used to sleeping alone as well.  And even though I knew I had no chance of catching AIDS, it was a good argument to make. 

           However, following through was very difficult.  When I had broached the subject with K/K, I had just found hormone pills among his things in the bedroom.   I approached him one afternoon by asking, “Are you still taking hormone pills?”

Kurt had answered, “Yes, why?”

“So that means you are definitely considering coming out as a woman, right?”

“I’m leaning that way strongly.  I feel more myself that way.”

“Well then, I think it is time to separate bedrooms to get you used to living as a woman by yourself. After all, if you are developing relationships with other trans persons, I don’t need to be exposed to any diseases, etc.  And it will give you time to really feel part of the consequences of your decision.”

“So there’s no chance we can stay together? And you know you can’t catch anything,” s/he had sarcastically stated.

 “How can I be guaranteed of that?  You never know when you will develop a new relationship.  Let’s separate the bedroom for now, and in a couple of months, we’ll see where you are in your feelings. If you are still on hormones, no.  I can’t live as a lesbian.”

“I will stay off the hormone pills.”

“Let’s just separate the bedrooms, and you can prove that to me in the meantime.”

So we had moved his belongings to the spare bedroom. K/K spent the whole time we were moving his belongings and clothes crying, and saying “I really didn’t want this to happen.”

My relationship with John was the closest I had gotten to dating so far.  We had talked several times a week since September, and by New Year’s Eve had had a strong friendship.  We both were going to be alone on New Year’s Eve, so we decided to have a “virtual” date.  We both rented the same movie Slumdog Millionaire, a movie about a young man from the Indian slums who wins the millionaire lottery and how his life changes.  It made for a good discussion about cultures, chance, and life.  It was probably not a movie I would have seen by myself, but having someone to talk with about it during the movie was fun.   We both had our favorite wine, mine was a wine cooler, and snacks, and stayed on the phone together throughout the whole movie.  He was in Las Vegas and I was in Maryland.  Our discussion was invigorating and cemented our online friendship more.   However, there was little hope we could ever get together and meet personally due to our work schedules.  We did have virtual meetings together with the other online teachers and our principal, done by conference call, but no physical meetings ever took place.

When I returned from the Ocean City trip, I naturally shared my feelings with John about how cathartic the trip had been.  I talked about how I still wasn’t ready to date yet, though.  He didn’t sound like he wanted to date as he had to focus on his career.  As a first-year teacher, I understood that his time was extremely limited.  He had to create new materials which can be time-consuming, as well as do the grading.  He was working two jobs as well, and I had a lot of respect for his efforts as I was doing the same thing.

During our many long personal conversations, John had asked how I had gotten K/K to finally move out.

I shared how once we had separated bedrooms, I started encouraging him/her to get a job just in case s/he had to support him/herself.  S/he eventually got a contract position delivering auto parts with the van we had bought in Colorado for trips.  S/he continued to visit the support group, usually dressing as a woman, but trying to change into women’s clothes when I wasn’t around.  And s/he also changed back to (or sometimes just wore) what I called uni-clothes (uni-sex clothing) like jeans and a tee-shirt that could be worn by either gender.   His/her hair was growing longer during this time, but that didn’t bother me because we had gone through several periods in the early ’80s when long hair was in, and Kurt called it his hippie style. Who knew?  Maybe s/he was really not a hippy but manifesting his inner “woman” way back then.

I told John about the time that I sat at dinner on our sun porch with K/K who had been to a meeting earlier in the day in those Uni-clothes. S/he was sitting eating dinner and talking about our marriage with tears running down his/her cheeks and mascara running with the tears because s/he hadn’t removed the makeup s/he had put on.  At that instant, I felt I was having dinner with the “other woman”.  Which was true!  This “other woman” was stealing my husband.  But did I want to fight for that “husband” at this point? 

           That was a turning point in my thoughts about trying to save the marriage.  In addition, about a month later, while cleaning the extra bedroom while Kurt was working, I came across more hormone pills which I noticed had just recently been renewed. It hit me that Kurt was NOT planning on stopping the hormones and was heading for the full transition.  There was no saving the marriage.  It was NOT a midlife crisis as I had hoped.  And in thinking back on our conversations, I remembered that K/K had said it went back to at least middle school.  This was NOT something I could help or cure, or even live with. 

           That evening I gave Kurt an ultimatum.  S/he needed to move out. I tried to be kind about my request. 

           I pointed out, “You probably have another 20 years to live if you go by your parent’s life span. Do you want to live the next 20 years staying hidden?  Or would you rather be yourself during that time?’

           Kurt/Kelly had answered, “I’d rather be happy as a woman than keep hiding.  Why?”

           “Because if you stay here, you would have to keep hiding your true self. It would become very complicated. I suspect you’d have a better chance of developing the new you if you were out in that world.”

           “You are saying that we can’t stay together?  So, what’s the plan?”

           “You have a job that may not make a lot, but now you can go out on your own.  I will give you 6 months to find a place and move out.”

           The conversation concluded with a few tears and “I didn’t want it coming to this.”

           “Yes, I know, but I think you will be much happier and free to be you.” So finally s/he found a roommate and moved in November into a shared apartment with another transgendered person.  Although s/he took some belongings and furniture with her, we eventually had to work out a divorce agreement in the next couple of years later to divvy up the remainder of joint possessions.

During the time period that John and I  were teaching together, and I was working through all my feelings about the transitioning for both me and K/K,  another family complication arrived.  At 4 AM on a Sunday morning, a knock came at my door.  It was my daughter and two grandchildren. April claimed that the father of her children was snorting drugs and she had left him, and they needed to stay for a while to figure out what to do.   Since I had a spare bedroom, they stayed in that bedroom.

The presence of my family was a mixed blessing.  While I loved being part of their lives, it was a particularly sad time in my daughter’s life, and April spent most of her time on the phone alternately cajoling her significant other and taunting him.  While I was at work, I assumed that April cared for the kids who were both too young to be in school as one was 2 and the other 4 years old. However, as soon as I came home the kids monopolized my time, which became challenging.  I had to make meals for us all, then teach my online classes.  And April would spend most of that time on the phone, and I behind closed doors trying to teach my classes.  The kids were left to their own devices, and frequently argued and became loud.  I would have to open my door and request quiet (hard for two young kids with no adult supervision to do).  The conflict led to some feelings of angst inside me trying to juggle it all.   After six weeks of this,  April and the children’s father decided to give it another try, and they went back to North Carolina.

I breathed a sigh of relief that we all could get back to our own lives.  In particular, I wanted to get back to my two jobs without interruptions, as well as working on my doctorate which I had started a few years earlier.  I had finished my coursework and was working on my dissertation which is a step that is done mostly alone, with supervision from an adviser. I had lost one adviser as we couldn’t agree on where my research was going. I had to find a new adviser, and/ or a new topic, and with all the challenges with life, I was having a hard time getting anything done towards that goal.  I discussed this challenge with John and he asked if I could take a leave of absence from the program.  I found out from the university that I couldn’t take a leave, but I could put it and my tuition and student loans on hold.  However, I still had a time limit that I had to finish the dissertation, and the limit was not on hold.  So, I chose to take the hold, which made the financial challenges a little more difficult as student loans would have to be paid during this time, and not be deferred.

But another thing I wanted to explore was what did life hold for me in the romance field?  Would I have a chance of finding another partner, or a soul mate, or true love at this late stage of life?  Did I have what it took to navigate the dating world?

I thought about the fact that I had never had the urge to have an affair, or even to look at other men from that standpoint.  I had been happy with my life with Kurt, and no other man had made overtures toward me or even flirted with me that I was aware of.  Was that because I had never put out vibes?  Or were there others that were interested, and I was just in my own world and oblivious to their efforts?

In the six months since Kurt/Kelly (as he was now calling himself) had moved out, life had been so busy with holding down two jobs, my daughter’s situation, and just adjusting to living alone again, as well as taking care of a house to think about dating.

 More from  Stormy Transitions : The  Memoir of a Str8t Spouse of a Transgender Person

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