Chapter 2 – Coast to Coast Transitions
As I waited for the group to arrive at the hotel, my thoughts strayed to my journey these last couple of years. Settling into the spare bedroom of my sister’s small mobile home, which I was sharing with my college student niece and two cats, I had hoped that my stay was going to be temporary and that some of my job-searching would bear fruit. I wasn’t sure whether to hope to get a job in Colorado which I had fallen in love with despite the job challenges of the last couple of years, or to hope that I was returning home for good. But I had determined to enjoy my stay here, eat all the seafood I possibly could, and enjoy the time with my family. I’d hoped to be able to get all this sorted out in a short time period.
I was slowly able to convince Mom that she needed help on a daily basis and talked her into having a caretaker come in several days a week to do laundry, shopping, and taking her to the doctors. That planned short time period had blended into the months of August, September, and October. I was looking forward to watching the leaves turn glorious colors because I had missed that while out west. However, that year the fall foliage was a disappointing lack of color due to the “drought” that summer. I thought how even the term drought was relative, as drought on the east coast was totally different from one in the desert where I had come from.
I had been able to have two interviews for jobs while caretaking Mom, both in the immediate vicinity. One had seemed encouraging, but when the expected phone call for a third interview didn’t come, I decided to take a quick trip to see my daughter and grandkids in North Carolina since I was much closer here to them then I had been for the last several years. Mom was doing ok, and that week-long trip would give us all a chance to see if the caretaking situation would work. Besides, my brother from Indiana had planned to visit Mom to see how the situation was for himself, so I could concentrate on enjoying my grandchildren. Things seemed to have worked out for Mom during that short time away, so I had decided that the action to take was to drive back to Denver. If the job offer came through, I’d at least be there to grab winter clothes and pack belongings to head back more permanently before the weather became really bad. If I didn’t get the job, I’d be able to stay in Denver and job search and be with my husband again.
The last several conversations on the phone with him had been challenging. All summer we had had to have quick conversations because my cell phone service would cut out frequently as I got to my sister’s trailer. I wasn’t sure if it was because of all the metal in the trailer, or the location of the trailer nearby to a government secured army base, that probably had signals that could scramble other services. We’d spend most of the 20-30 minute time on the phone with him telling about all the challenges he was having with the dog and cat in the small apartment or his job-searching challenges. When he’d finally run out of things to talk about, I’d have only a few minutes to catch him up on Mom’s situation or my own job search before the cell phone would cut out. We couldn’t afford to talk during the day for long periods because we were already paying an exorbitant amount for the service due to all the phone calls. And the land-line that my sister had would add up the long-distance charges very quickly. Our financial situation at this time depended on my unemployment check. He still hadn’t located a full-time job after five years of being unemployed. With not working for any length of time in Colorado, he wasn’t eligible to receive unemployment. But during the last several conversations he mentioned that he was seeing a counselor for his depression and that we needed to talk. He didn’t want to talk about it over the phone, as it was too personal, so I needed to head back there to help him work through this depression.
However, when I had finally arrived in Denver after another three-day trip feeling like a pioneer, the conversation took a different turn than I had expected. He seemed to want center the talk around on his visits to his counselors, whom he claimed was a special kind.
“Where did you find these counselors, and what kind are they?” I’d enquired.
“I met them at a support group meetings I’ve been going to,” he’d replied.
“Support groups for being unemployed?”
“No, I’ve been going to a different kind of meeting.”
“What type of meeting?” I didn’t get why he seemed to be beating around the bush.
“They are meetings of people that feel like me. I fit right in with them and feel right at home,” he’d replied.
“What kind of people?” I asked, perplexed.
“We are transgender,” he’d calmly replied watching closely for my reaction.
“Transgender? What does that mean?” I’d asked.
“It means that I have the parts of a man, but inside I’m a woman.”
Still confused I asked, “What do you mean that inside you are a woman, and how do you know this?”
“I’m not sure if I am or not, but I’ve been to some meetings with transgendered people, and their stories are similar to mine. Besides, I’ve now been seeing two counselors, and they both think that it’s a strong possibility that I am transgendered.”
“I still don’t get what transgendered is… do you mean like a cross-dresser?”
“Not really, a cross-dresser just likes to wear women’s clothes, but I feel that inside I was meant to be a woman, and the clothes make me feel like my real self”.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around that one. I knew that he was depressed, and figured maybe it was a part of a “midlife crisis”, although a little later in life than it usually occurs, so while I had a slight feeling in the pit of my stomach, no alarm bells were going off. I had felt that I was a liberal person, and if he wanted to explore the “feminine side” of his nature, then I would be supportive. And I had stayed supportive of his “transition” throughout that week while I received a phone call to return to Maryland for another job interview.
So we had packed my little Toyota to the gills, put the cat on top of all the clothes and drove 1700 miles in the hopes that a job offer would come through. The whole 1700 miles the conversation centered on his transgender “issue”. I kept coming back to the question, “Why do you want to wear women’s clothes?”
He would respond, “I feel more comfortable in them.”
“But why are women’s clothes more comfortable? Sometimes men’s clothes are less restricting and better made. That’s why I like to wear your sweaters. But that doesn’t make me a man.”
He’d responded, “Because they fit who I am inside”.
I’d thought about that one for a while before getting the courage to ask, “What do you mean, fit inside? How does a woman feel different from a man inside? Aren’t we all just personalities?”
“I don’t know… it just grabs hold of me, and I feel more like it’s me when I wear women’s clothes.”
“It grabs hold of you? You aren’t in control of it?”
“No, it controls me.”
“Why haven’t you ever talked about this before?”
“Because I wasn’t sure how you’d respond. I was afraid of the conversation we are having now, and that I might lose you.”
“How long have you had these feelings?”
It floored me when he’d responded, “Ever since I was a kid.”
“Did your parents know you felt that way?”
“I think my grandmother did at one time because she caught me hiding my cousin’s clothes under my pillow. But I never really said anything.”
I thought about how strict and straight-laced his grandmother had been and how the woman I had known ruled his side of the family with an iron fist. I bet he had been shaking in his shoes as a young child and was surprised when she didn’t make a big deal over it.
“She said nothing?”
“Well, she did say those clothes are for girls, and I should be wearing boy clothes.”
I could imagine the voice his grandmother had used. It was formidable.
“How did that make you feel?”
“I just went along with it, and tried to change.”
Yeah, you didn’t go against his grandmother without hell to pay, so that probably did make him hide it. We’d gone over the same questions several times during the long three-day ride, and at the end, I had still felt that this situation was temporary, and a side effect of his depression and joblessness, so I hung in there with my support.
However, the supportive feelings kept doing a roller coaster inside of me that week. I did have the third interview, and I was hired to start working in a week or two. We decided to shop for a house to move back east. We contacted an old friend who was a real estate agent, who set us up with houses to visit. Usually, we had very similar tastes in houses, and because we had been married so long, he knew what I liked and I knew what he liked, so I was able to narrow down which properties to visit. During those visits, however, I had chosen houses with garages, because he had always insisted he needed at least a two-car garage, preferably a two and a half car bay because that gave him room to work on a car if needed. He had an extensive amount of tools and had most of the time being able to fix our own cars.
I knew that age was slowing him down and he had less desire to do the harder pieces, but I was totally floored when he said, “We don’t need a garage, because I’m not going to work on the cars anymore. It’s gotten too hard to work on ours.” That was the response he gave me in front of the real estate agent, but later he stated to me. “I’m not going to work on cars because women don’t do that. And if I’m transitioning, I don’t want to do that.” In fact, he finally admitted that he didn’t want a house at all because he was done with taking care of a property.
I thought he had just gotten spoiled by living in the apartment that last year. Before that, he had always been proud of owning his own home and making his own repairs. As a matter of fact, the house we’d built before moving out west, he had wanted to act as the general contractor, and in a way had had to do that, as our builder got himself into some troubles, so he had had to follow behind the builder by checking up on the sub-contractors. I knew lately he had enjoyed being able to call the super at the apartment complex to fix things but figured he probably would miss doing it on his own eventually. We finally settled on a house close to Mom’s complex, which had a one-car garage, however, he kept insisting the house was too much to take care of and didn’t want to move there. He was relieved when the bank came back and said that due to his lack of income, the house had to be put all in my name. He went back to Denver to get our belongings, which were in storage and had a moving truck full sent to me at the new place by Christmas week.