Pushy Deadnaming

‘What was your name then?’

If you’ve changed your name, this question pops up now and again. I deflected.

‘That isn’t relevant.’

It isn’t in my trans job description to educate every person who asks me an inappropriate question about a facet of my trans-ness. But some people are persistent, and need schooling.

‘It is, because I want to address that child.’

My current therapist is not a gender specialist. I sought her out because I was looking for someone to help me process the grief I experienced around my mom’s death. She sometimes blunders about in gender stuff, but I course correct her and we keep going.

‘It’s rude to ask a trans person their old name. We call it deadnaming.’

Often I’ll give her more context, but last week I was on week six of either processing and moving the contents of my mom’s condo to prepare the property for sale or being a full-time mom to two kids on vacation, and one of them is special needs. I was tired. And worn down. And had fragile emotions from all of that work and the previous thirty minutes of intense talk therapy about all the emotions stirred up by selling the family home.

‘But I want to talk to the you you used to be.’

When she’s been confused in the past I’ve set her straight. This is the first time she’s pushed back. I’m at an ebb. I’m not getting paid to educate her when I’m vulnerable; I’m paying her.

‘Call her Heather.’

She attempted to generalize.

‘I don’t care if people call me by my maiden name or don’t call me doctor, even though I earned my Ph.D.’

I stared at her. She tried again.

‘But I want to talk to the person who was born a boy…’

The phrase stuck in my mind. It bothered me, but I couldn’t remember why right then. I was too tired, too sad, too wrung out.

‘Just call me Heather.’

She looked somewhat put out. My recalcitrance threw her off, and the conversation shifted.

Much later, at home, I remembered I wasn’t born a boy. I was assigned male at birth. I’ve always been Heather; me and others around me just didn’t know until a few years ago. It bothered me I couldn’t remember during the appointment.

‘I don’t owe anyone an explanation of or justification for my existence,’ I thought to myself. ‘Fuck her.’

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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What I tell myself when I’m having a bad moment

What I tell myself when I’m having a bad moment:

Step back from the ledge.

This broader world <waves hands> can really suck, but what about your internal world?

Look how far you’ve come.

You are Heather.

You made it; you found her and brought her to life.

Recognize all you went through to walk out of a state of confinement a free woman.

As a free woman, you are now free to pursue happiness however you define it.

Sometimes that means you do things in the pursuit of happiness that disappoint your friends and your family. And sometimes you disappoint yourself. Bitterly.

Some disappointments are big and some are small.

But they’re the price of pursuing happiness. No risk, no reward.

I see you’re very unhappy now; maybe even despondent.

You are strong.

You are a survivor.

You are brave.

And you are having a bad moment in time.

It will pass if you let it by.

Let it go by like all the other bad moments of the past, and think of the one thing that brings you the most peace.

Remember that late spring cluster of alder sapling, dappling golden sun into shifting green in a whispering rustle of viridescent lenses? Remember watching the sunset glisten purple on the mountaintops as it grew stars? Remember sitting on the porch and how the bat caught gnats or mosquitos from above your head with each pass?

Please sit down somewhere safe and consider that most beautiful moment in time.

Time is funny. That moment is in the past, but at one point it was in your future.

Take this bad moment, catalog it, acknowledge it has happened, set it aside, and contemplate that most beautiful moment.

Let yourself idly wonder if a better moment is still to come in your future.

But remember that day. It happened. Beauty and peace exists.

Much love,

💕 Heather

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Which mom is your biological mom?

‘Which mom is your biological mom?’

The question hung in the air from one of my kids’ friends to my kid, who hesitated before answering.

We were at a local restaurant to celebrate my kid’s birthday. I was sitting in a booth across the aisle.

My stomach clenched. How would this conversation unfold?

‘______ is my biological mom.’

‘Who’s your dad?’

The knot in my stomach got tighter.

I resisted the urge to butt in; it wasn’t my conversation. I also wanted to know how my kid would answer.

The questioner was the same semi-clueless, spoiled, and entitled kid who dropped, ‘I didn’t know you had two moms,’ in loud, shocked surprise on my kid in class last year when my ex and I both attended a school play.

‘I don’t have a dad.’

The kid’s brain seized up at that and they screwed up their face. My kid oiled their gears.

‘My dad became a woman.’

The kid’s eyeballs nearly popped out. They glanced nervously my way. I pretended to be very interested in my pizza.

‘You mean they had surgery and stuff?’

There you have it. Nine year-olds now know transgender people can have surgery. I didn’t even know transgender people existed when I was nine.

‘No, you don’t need surgery for that. They took medicine.’

I was pleasantly surprised. Either they remembered the conversation we had a few years ago or they’ve been studying. My kid glanced at me for reassurance. I smiled back.

‘Whoa.’ The other kid still looked unsettled and nervous.

Their conversation shifted. My thoughts shifted to being resigned that yet another parent will know I’m trans.

Such is life.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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April Fools’

1 April again.

My second transition anniversary passed less eventfully than the first. I mowed the lawn with the push mower and cut down a dying spruce and dead rhododendron. The day before I cut down two dead fir trees, a bush I’ve hated since I moved in here, and started to clear the invasive Himalayan blackberries and English ivy from a corner of the garden.

It’s felt good to be outside moving my body and seeing the riotous spring hues of green. A baby tree frog in the cut grass caught my eye and I picked it up after it tried to hop away towards longer grass. Its wet, yellow-green skin pulsed in fear as I moved it out of harm’s way.

The weather was pleasant; overcast and cool. The sun came out for the last few minutes of my labors, making me sweat and laugh at my good fortune to be here to enjoy it. Leaving the grocery store later in the afternoon my kids and I dashed to the car through hail while the mountain passes saw six to twelve inches of snow. Spring in Seattle!

Clearing away the old to make way for the new seems to be my current jam. It’s way overdue.

The other week I purged old computer gear and cables I’ve been schlepping around for years, consolidating four bins down to one and a half. Clothes on my hangers that don’t fit, or I haven’t worn in forever, or have energy that doesn’t belong in my house anymore go in the donate pile. After patching a few dents in a wall put there by an angry kid I’m pairing over the dull tan with a bright green.

My mom’s car was towed away Friday for the donation auction, and I’ve shredded enough paper to fill a forty-gallon lawn bag and have started filling a second. The garage is slowly being organized into the new shelving I’m building, helping to accelerate the purging process and making way for the vision that is my new business, which will require a more organized space with space to grow for supplies out there.

Things I thought about myself, or that I thought I should have thought about myself, that don’t align with how I want to live my life are falling away. Sometimes it’s a relief and other times it feels like peeling off burnt skin to leave a raw patch and hoping it doesn’t get infected before it heals.

The self-reckonings of some past words and deeds leave me in fear of flesh-eating bacteria. The shedding of expectations placed by those dead or otherwise gone leave me shivering like a bough sloughing snow in spring. It’s a give-and-take situation for sure.

The life I used to lead two years ago and that sustained me for a quarter-century, tech dude, feels like three lifetimes ago. Now I’m a single, unemployed, part-time mom, living off my dwindling retirement funds as I struggle to care for my eldest.

Their autism is starting to intersect with puberty in ever more challenging ways, and I’m scared to death my mostly-work-from-home-business-so-I-can-be-there-for-them won’t bring me enough cash fast enough to stave off having to sell the house. But I’m a risk-taker and if I can transition, I can start another business and make it work. I always seem to find a way. Even if it is the dumbest, most painful way.

While I don’t have all the past I wanted, I do have the opportunity to make a past I do want from the now into the future.

How lucky am I to be a fool?

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Things change. They change all the time.

There–did you see it? Something just changed.

I’ve changed a lot over the past few years and I’m still changing.

Most of my changes were obvious.

The clothes I wear. The shape of my body. The length of my hair. How I carry myself. My name. My job. My marriage. My relationships with friends and family. Which bathroom I use. My level of depression.

The other changes have been hard to see, but they’re no less impactful to how I move through the word.

My outlook. My threat assessments. My sex drive. My sexuality. My patience. My hopes. My dreams. How people treat me. How I think the rest of my life might go. My level of happiness.

Last night I had a reminder of those changes.

My autistic kid has a regular counseling appointment and tonight it was a whole family session with my ex and both kids. In a previous session my kid mentioned they just wanted a regular life with a mom and dad. The counselor thought a family session would be a good time for all of us to discuss that because she didn’t know how much we had talked about it as a family.

So we did, after a fashion. My ex said a couple of ludicrous things I think she actually believes. My eldest left the room after five minutes because he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

All the way through it, it was impossible not to know we were there right then doing that thing because I changed things. In changing myself, others had to or decided to change.

The changes I made were the right ones for me. I couldn’t not change without losing myself.

But those changes weigh on me when I hear my kid be sad or angry that the father they knew is gone. In their eyes and my ex’s, I killed him, forever changing their lives.

Change rolls on.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Similarities between used Porsches and trans women’s bodies

  • Cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars
  • Needs tender, loving care to stay in top condition
  • Are desired by men
  • Sometimes end up wrapped around poles
  • Simultaneously provokes anger and instills desire in some people
  • Relatively rare due to limited production
  • Frequently pulled over by cops
  • Often come with customized livery
  • Can be temperamental
  • Those earned through hard work are loved the most
  • A type of person celebrates when they get wrecked
  • There are collectors
  • Some hardly go outside
  • Qualified caregivers are hard to find
  • High-mileage ones have the best stories to tell
  • Many have been desired since childhood
  • Often acquired during a life crisis
  • Hard to keep up with when operating at top speed
  • Newer ones apply the experience of older ones and the benefits of contemporary technology
  • The woman who has one is someone you want to meet
  • Require regular maintenance for proper operation
  • A joy to use daily
  • Works-in-progress still have more character than other manufacturer’s marques
  • Are objectified
  • You might know someone with one who doesn’t want you to know they have one
  • Are in many countries but banned from some
  • People just leaning to drive one can be mercurial
  • People who’ve been driving one for a long time can be mercurial
  • People who’ve had one for a long time really love theirs
  • There are holy wars over which model is best
  • People who want one but don’t have one envy those who do
  • There are clubs and support groups

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing it with others with attribution and linking back or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Happiness, the now, and the opportunity cost of time

A street-side altar in Chaing Mai, Thailand

Content warning: suicide

Opportunity cost
The loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
– Oxford Dictionaries

Being trans put me into a state of suspended time for years. I did many things that pushed me out of the now because dwelling in the now brought too much emotional pain. The now reminded me of the cruel burden of my unrequited desires to be myself. I observed people and things change around me at a remove because I felt I couldn’t close the gap between the future I wanted and the now.

I spent the now on futures I wasn’t sure would ever come. The activities I pursued to escape the now and flee to the future might sound familiar to you.

In my teens and early twenties, I had an unconscious death wish.

I clocked more miles over 100mph/160kph in cars with questionable maintenance records than I’m willing to admit. I drank and blacked out many times, and poisoned myself once. I took stupid physical risks, often after drinking. I ran to exhaust myself and bring on physical pain to blot out the emotional pain I felt. I threw myself into work and relationships to avoid having to commit to myself.

From my mid-twenties to mid-thirties, work and marriage and the rewards they could bring in the future pulled me forward. Alcohol was ever-present as a way to numb myself from the grind of my reality as I became hyper-aware I was trans. The life I had constructed made getting to myself that much harder due to the massive responsibilities I piled on myself. As I flirted with being myself, I also sought comfort in food, and the combination of being overweight, an alcoholic, and over-stressed gave me panic attacks. I thought I might die, and that didn’t seem so bad some days.

From my mid-thirties to my mid-forties, I shed pounds and a marriage that was unhealthy. I ran marathons and uncovered a male body that brought me satisfaction in its ability to endure the miles but no comfort within when I was at rest. I married again and had kids, a quintessential future-focused activity.

Then the past I never wanted caught up and bulldozed me. It built a berm around me and put the future out of view. The now could not be ignored and demanded a choice: let the past bury me, struggle up for something undefined in the future to distract myself with again, or deal with the situation in the now.

The opportunity cost of time never felt so acute.

But cost of what? In what unit is my time measured? How do I make a life-altering decision like that?

I came to realize I viewed life as a continuum from existing to living and I had spent most of my life existing. Existing was compartmentalizing my true feelings away, avoiding emotional connections that could cause de-compartmentalization, and distracting myself from the pain of the now. Living was when I was happy and engaged in the moment, like when I was running or having unguarded moments of emotional closeness.

From there, I categorized the passage of time in my life as either existing (distraction) or living (happiness). Happiness came from being in the moment, the now.

My opportunity cost of time was happiness or distraction.

Living in the past? A distraction from the now. Living for the future? A distraction from the now. If happiness only happened by living in the moment and I wanted to be happy, it was time to live in the now.

Getting from that now to now’s now had excruciating moments; there’s no way to sugar-coat it. Transition can be hard. Most of those moments came from letting go of things binding me to the past or chaining me to futures I didn’t want. Things like identifying myself with my work or being a husband.

Living in the now is hard. It requires never-ending practice and focus. But the rewards and pursuit of happiness are worth it.

Live in the now. Pursue happiness.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by sharing my work with others or buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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