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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Changes

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

Posted in coming out, gender transition, LGBT, observations, personal history, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just keep smiling

I have these days, a year and a half after transition, where I feel like a fraud.

‘Do you have a towel I can borrow?’

‘Of course; I already put one in the bag for you.’

‘Thank you!’

My girlfriend is the bestest.

This body I’ve changed the shape of, the hair I’ve removed and grown out, the smoother skin, the clothes, makeup, and jewelry I wear, and the purse I carry feel foreign when I feel like a fraud. They’re like things I picked up thinking they were a good idea at the time and now I wonder, ‘Why do I have these things?’

‘This is the first time I’ve been swimming post-transition. It’s been at least a couple of years now. It took me forever to find a suit that worked for me.’

‘I like your swimsuit, Heather. You look good in it.’

It feels like I’m carrying these things to an unknown destination for an indeterminate amount of time and everyone is looking at me asking themselves, ‘Why is that person carrying those things? I can’t tell if they’re a man or a woman. They look ridiculous.’

The swim skirt feels extra-short on me, but we’re driving to the pool and it’s only a short walk from the parking lot.

Then I feel like a ridiculous-looking fraud and I think everyone sees I’m trans and I think if they’re being nice to me it’s only out of pity. That makes me feel depressed.

‘Two please.’

‘Thanks for paying.’

‘My pleasure, Heather.’ Her smile warms me.

Then I feel like a depressed, ridiculous-looking fraud who has the haunted look of someone with a backhoe digging deeper into the hole of existential sadness. That makes me feel doomed to spend the rest of my life where it’s easy to kick dirt over me and make me disappear.

There’s no one in the locker room and we put our stuff in a locker and head to the pool.

Then I feel like a doomed, depressed, ridiculous-looking fraud.

I get into the pool as fast as I can. We paddle around for an hour or so with some kisses thrown in for fun and pleasure. The lifeguard announces the pool is closing. We climb out and head to the locker room with the other women.

That exacerbates the self-pity, and I feel pitiful. Those people who took pity on me? They must be right because I’m pitiful in my dysfunction.

My girlfriend and I take our towels out of the locker and rinse off in the shower. Still in my suit, I’m drying myself off and trying to ignore the other women around me changing when a woman and her toddler daughter, both naked, come out of the shower together. The daughter says something funny as they pass by us on the bench. I smile at her and make a funny comment back. The girl and her mom smile back at me and the mom says something about little kids to me.

I’m a pitiful, doomed, depressed, ridiculous-looking fraud and I wonder why in the world anyone loves me and how in the world I’ve escaped the wrath of society.

We’re driving back to my girlfriend’s apartment. I sitting on a towel, but I’m still soaking through, getting the seat wet. My swim skirt and bikini bottom underneath it hold more water than I expected. ‘That was my first time in a women’s locker room.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. I think it went alright. I was kinda anxious.’

‘It obviously wasn’t a problem. That mother and her daughter talked to us.’

‘Yeah. It wasn’t a problem at all. I’ve got to stop over thinking things.’


©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

Posted in coming out, gender transition, LGBT, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

OMG! (Deadname)!

One great thing about my new girlfriend is meeting her friends and expanding my social circle. My girlfriend’s best friend (GBF) lives in the Columbia City area of Seattle and we went down Friday night so I could meet GBF and her family.

GBF was great and also sings with a band at times. Part of the reason we went Friday was because there was a cocktail hour/backyard band and birthday party for the bassist, who I’ll call Walker. Walker’s house is your typical South Seattle large Craftsman house, and the back yard has a large concrete patio with two, huge mature fig trees on either side.

When we arrived the band was already playing and as we came around the corner of the house, we saw them on a low stage up against the fence. They were talking playing a jazzy sort of hip-hop and sounded good.

My girlfriend and I hung stage left under a tree because the back yard was crowded and we didn’t see any open seats on the garden furniture. We also didn’t know a soul there other than GBF. GBF went off to say hello to people they knew and the hostess while my girlfriend and I enjoyed the music.

Eventually, we moved up towards a covered porch when some seats opened up next to GBF. On our way up, we ran into the hostess, Tonya, who is married to Walker.

GBF stood to introduce us, and as Tonya and I introduced ourselves the back of my brain went, ‘I know this woman from somewhere. Is she someone I used to work with?’

As my gears ground trying to place her, I could see she was doing the same thing.

As I became more sure I used to know her and that she was someone I’d be happy to see again, her face dawned with surprise and a huge smile and yelled, ‘Oh my god! <Deadname>!’ while throwing her arms around me in a big hug.

We knew each other for sure, even if I still couldn’t place her. The band was loud-ish, but anyone within ten feet could hear her, including my girlfriend and GBF.

I returned the hug and as I pulled away, I said, ‘It’s Heather now, not <Deadname>.’

I’m fortunate my deadname is gender-neutral or it could have been more awkward.

She put me out of my memory misery by mentioning mutual friends from my past and it all snapped in. Our mutual friends were a contractor I’d hired twenty years ago and her husband. (Sonya and Chuck.) We had become friends through my first wife, who met Sonya at a user group meeting.

Not only did I know Tonya and Walker, I’d had dinner and drinks with them many times, and we even went on a group camping trip together.

Nineteen years ago.

As we marveled at the randomness of meeting, I was also aware that she had not flinched or been surprised to see me as me. It was a pleasant surprise, but it shouldn’t have been because Tonya is an accepting person and Sonya was one of first people I’d ever told about my gender struggles, and I’m sure Sonya and Tonya talked.

Tonya had to host her party and we promised to talk later. My girlfriend and GBF wore bemused faces, and my girlfriend commented that I knew more people at the party than she did.

After a while it was time to go and I hadn’t yet talked to either Tonya or Walker, so I waited until Walker wasn’t mobbed and re-introduced myself. He seemed somewhat confused when I introduced myself as, ‘Heather <Lastname>. You used to know me as <Full Deadname>.’

‘Oh. <Deadname>! How are you?’

‘It’s Heather now,’ and etc.

‘Oh. Good to see you,’ and that was that.

My girlfriend and I caught Tonya on the way out, she deadnamed me again, and I corrected her.

‘So it’s Heather now? You’ve changed your name?’

‘Yes.’

‘Ah, nice to meet you Heather,’ she said with a smile. We promised to connect again and we left.

On the way home I reflected on how small Seattle can still be, the random chances that led me to Tonya and Walker’s house, and how I dealt with what could have been a distressing situation.

There used to be a time when a loud deadnaming like that would have made me want to melt into the ground. With my girlfriend and GBF standing there, it could have been mortifying.

It’s a testament to how far I’ve come because it didn’t rattle me. Maybe if Tonya’s reaction was different, it might have been different; I don’t know. As it was, how could I be uncomfortable with a friend deadnaming me who only knew me from lifetimes ago as a different person?

The whole episode was a reminder of how life flows on, how impossible it is to leave my past entirely behind me, and how comfortable I am in my own skin now. Tonya’s welcome and swift acceptance of the current version of me was also very empowering and how it should be for everyone.

I don’t know who else I’ll run into from my past in the future, but I’m ready to meet them again. Even if they deadname me.


©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

Posted in coming out, friends, gender transition, LGBT, observations, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments