Loss and promise

Like the ocean, my experience of time comes in waves and tides.

Some hours, days, weeks, even months have tumbled me in the break, leaving me in fear of being caught in its churning maelstrom as I struggle for gasps of air, fearful of my thrashings coming to sudden end by being dashed upon the rocks. Others slip by in almost imperceptible cycles of advance and retreat, advance and retreat, leaving me to look up with a jolt from building my sand castles and realize the hour is late.

If most of 2016 was spent in the break for me, the past couple of months have been spent sitting on the beach, dazed from my ordeal of near-drowning. I’m only now realizing the tide has come in on this year and it’s time to really plan the future.

There’s a tangible surreality to life after being shaken to your core. The life you thought you were living fractures away from the one you are, and you grasp after it, but it glides away with a sickening inevitability because it doesn’t exist. It never did. It was only hopes and dreams now foreclosed forever.

What remains is loss and promise.

The loss is real. Dreams have their own tangibility, even if only brief flights of fancy, and their fading leaves a void. I’m still coming to grips with everything I’ve lost, including my marriage, my job, and my male privilege. That I fundamentally didn’t like them doesn’t matter. They’re gone, and even though they are burdens removed, I still feel a loss.

The promise is real, too. Giving myself permission to be myself was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. In 2017 and beyond, I can simply be myself. There’s a whiff of terror in that. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What am I going to do next? I’m still working on answering those questions.

I’m also thinking about those I met in the surf this year. A few of you I kicked in the head in my struggles. I’m very sorry about causing you pain. I wish I hadn’t done that and I ask your forgiveness.

Others, we’ve helped each other out. Thank you for being there. For every kind word, encouragement, and piece of advice, thank you. I wouldn’t have made it to shore without you.

Looking at the sun and the moon today, it is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Our days will get longer. Winter will ride it’s sleigh until giving way to Spring and its promise of Summer.

In my heart I know that the next few weeks can be extraordinarily tough for many trans people, with the days filled with more reminders of loss and rejection than promise and acceptance. You are not alone. May 2017 be your year to sit on the beach, gaining your bearings and planning your future, which always has promise if you look for it.

Be safe. Be well. Move towards happiness and sunlight. If you’re in darkness, wish upon the stars. If you can’t see the stars or the sun, as long as you can imagine them, they will never leave you.

©Heather Coldstream

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Week 149 – Fight on

We have always had to fight to be ourselves. There is nothing new about today. Fight on.

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11 questions for evaluating a gender counselor

If you’re in crisis because you think you’re trans, contact The Trever Project at 866-488-7386 (they also have text and online chat support,) or Trans Lifeline in the US at 877-565-8860 or in Canada at 877-330-6366. Besides being a sympathetic ear, they can direct you to local trans support resources.

Gender counseling is not required for a succesful transition but is often one of the hoops you have to jump through to access other care you need, like hormones and surgery. It can also be a lifeline during a very hard part of life when it can seem like no one else is willing to support you. It can fuck you up or help you figure out what to do next, depending on the person you see, so selecting the right person is critical.

I’ve seen five gender counselors, five or six ‘general’ counselors for other life shit, three marriage counselors across two marriages, and have sourced two and counting counselors for one of my kids over the years. The first gender counselor I saw dismissively told me I was ‘just a crossdresser’ when I said I thought I might be trans. This set me back years. I’d like to save you time and emotional energy so that you won’t have the same experience.

For full disclosure, my being white and living in an urban area means that I’m unable to fully address specific issues relating to access for people of color or those in rural areas. I’ve both paid out of pocket and had insurance for counseling, and while I touch on billing issues, how to pay for or get someone else to pay for counseling is not covered in this post. This information is also US-focused.

How to find a gender counselor

The best way to find a qualified pool of counselors to evaluate is to ask other trans people. Trans people will generally be happy to refer you and tell you the pros and cons of each. Since much of successful counseling can rely on personal chemistry, take recommendations and criticisms with grains of salt.

You can ask trans people on the Internet in places like Reddit’s asktransgender or on Twitter using the #girlslikeus, #transgender, or #trans hashtags.

Asking people in a local gender support group has the added advantage that you might make a friend or two. Google is your friend here to find a group. If you’re in an area that doesn’t seem to have any gender support groups, PFLAG has a support group locator and Laura’s Playground also has a group locator, though it skews towards crossdressing resources. (Note: Don’t count out crossdressing resources. Many in that community can also provide referrals and there tend to be more crossdressing groups than gender groups due to historical reasons.)

Psychology Today has an online counselor listing for the US and Canada and has a specific Transgender filter, (look under the ‘Issues’ list). A cursory glance at listings in states that aren’t considered trans-friendly turned up several providers.

If you live in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, or Seattle, MyTransHealth is a great listing for mental health, medical, crisis, and legal services that have been vetted to be trans-friendly and supportive.

If you’re in or near a college town, many colleges have LGBT groups who might be abe to refer you. Other college resources are women’s/gender/sexuality programs, usually located in the Psychology or Sociology departments. Skimming their web pages or dialing down the faculty list can usually provide some other leads to follow up on.

Another option is to ask your doctor, at a local clinic, or your school’s clinic. The medical community can be hit-or-miss, usually leaning towards the clueless side the further from urban areas they are, but it can be worth asking, especially if you’re expecting to coordinate transgender medical care.

If you have insurance plan or an employment benefit with mental health benefits, calling them and asking for referrals will usually turn up a few names. This way also helps sort out part of a billing point before you even contact a counselor.

Eleven questions for evaluating a gender counselor

Once you have a list of people to contact you’ll need to make some phone calls to interview them. When dealing with counselors and health providers in the Gender Industrial Complex, remember that these people are service providers – you have choices and options, and if they aren’t meeting your needs, find someone else.

Remember that you are interviewing them for fit. If the phone conversation feels awkward, it’ll probably be awkward in person. This is someone you’ll be telling most of your deep thoughts and secrets to. Their job is to listen sympathetically and be supportive while getting you pointed in the right direction. If they come across as distracted, argumentative, or lacking empathy on the phone, it’ll only be downhill in person.

Most importantly, you should never be charged for an initial call to evaluate if they are a good fit for you. If they want to charge you for that first call, run.

These initial calls usually won’t go past 15 minutes. It helps to be in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, to have your questions written down, and to take notes. Notes are important so you can compare counselors easily and so you can focus on the conversation instead of trying to remember everything. I tend to use email on my phone or laptop so I can jot down the answers and them mail them to myself so I can find and refer to them later.

Once you’ve talked to everyone, compare your notes. Ask yourself how you feel about each and if there are deal-breakers. Sometimes seeing someone who isn’t a perfect fit is the best you can do for the time being. I had one counselor that was very helpful and practical up to a point and then the appointments turned into gossip so I stopped seeing her and found someone else.

Here are some of the questions I’ve asked. You should consider what’s important to you and adjust accordingly.

  1. Do you consider the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) Standards of Care (SOC) guidelines or rules? If they don’t know what the WPATH SOC are and they put themselves out as a gender counselor, that’s a big red flag. While the SOC are guidelines, many counselors do treat them as rules. Depending on where you live and the choices you have, you may or may not be able to use their stance as a screening criteria. Knowing where they stand on this tells you right up front if you’ll have to jump through hoops, (wait three months for hormones, for example,) to get what you want.
  2. Where is your office and what are your office hours? Even if the counseling was free, if it’s hard to get there and be there during the available time windows, that’s going to be challenging.
  3. Do you support phone or video appointments? The counselor I see now does this and it has been helpful when my schedule made it impossible to see her in person.
  4. What is your billing process? This is going to vary from ‘I bill insurance and then follow up with you for anything they don’t cover’ to ‘payment is due before the appointment’ and everything in between. If you have insurance, it’s good to know what they cover so you can determine if you have to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed or if there are co-pays. If you don’t have insurance and are paying out of pocket, you should ask…
  5. Do you have a sliding scale? A sliding scale is them adjusting how much they charge depending on your financial ability to pay. Some do, some don’t, and the scale can vary wildly. If this is an issue for you and you can’t afford them, ask them for a referral to someone who does sliding scale.
  6. How do you code the bill for insurance? For every service, there is a corresponding billing code a provider submits to insurance. For privacy reasons, especially if you’re on someone else’s insurance, you might not want your insurance company to have a record that you’re seeing someone for gender counseling because sometimes the code shows up on the bill or statement. If this is a concern, ask if they are willing to code you for something more generalized like depression or something else.
  7. What is your missed appointment policy? Some give a free pass. Others don’t. It’s good to know what it is before it happens.
  8. What is your gender counseling experience? This starts to get into if it’s a core focus of their practice or not and how long they’ve been doing it. A good followup question here is if they attend any gender conferences for continuing education.
  9. What percentage of clients do you see for gender issues and do you have a ‘typical’ client? This helps determine if gender is something they do to supplement their practice and who they are used to seeing. If you’re a student and the counselor mostly sees older people with families, it’s not that they won’t be able to help but more that it may be harder for them to provide guidance and resources for your specific situation. Given your physical location, gender as a component of a practice might be the best you can get.
  10. What is your treatment methodology or philosophy? Gender counseling is a specialization on top of general counseling and while gender will be the main area of focus, it also intersects with family and personal behaviors. If they have a family of origin (how your family influences/has influenced your behavior) background, expect to spend time talking about your family. If they have a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) background, you’ll focus on immediate issues and how to address them. There are also spiritual and other methodologies. Philosophies can be grounded in feminism, scientific rationalism, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. There is no ‘best’ methodology or philosophy, but knowing what they are can help frame what you’re likely to encounter and help you determine fit.
  11. Do you have any areas of specialization? Some focus on family relations, others on workplace issues, still others on sexuality. Again, this is more of a fit thing given your needs.

Not sure if you should transition? I think You should start transition.

Good luck!

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Week 148 – Papers, please

Post-2016 election, I’ve been working to get my government identification sorted out with name and gender marker changes, and this week I made two big steps forward by getting confirmation that my driver’s license and passport have been updated! The last piece I’m waiting on now is my amended birth certificate. 🙂

dol passport

If this is something you’re considering, the National Center for Transgender Equality has a great ID Documents Center that breaks down what you need to do on a state-by-state basis along with Federal IDs and records. Healthline has a good article laying out why getting your ID in order is a good idea before January 20, 2017 and if the paperwork is daunting, Trans Law Help can connect you with a lawyer for free. If you need help paying for a new passport, contact Carl Charles as his Trans Lives Passport Fund is collecting funds for people who can’t afford the application fees.

If you’re in the Seattle area, the Gender Justice League is also raising funds to help people for all sorts of documentation changes and had a clinic in late November to help with paperwork and is expected to have more in December.

(My “Papers, please” reference reaches back to 1941’s Casablanca, which used 1938’s Nazi Germany as inspiration for how documentation is used to segregate and control people. While getting my driver’s license and passport updated is really great, I’m not thrilled that my desire to do so is to ensure that my rights as a human being are as protected as possible and so I have the documents I’ll need to leave the country if that is the only way to secure my and my family’s safety because I’m trans.)

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Week 147 – Queer Girl, Part 1

Her nickname was Wolf, but her real name was Hailey.

Hailey’s dad was a former California Highway Patrolman, which I discovered when I picked her up at her house and he opened the door to reveal his service commendations hung on the wall in the entryway. I was nervous to begin with, and this was the ratchet before the ratchet of his pop-quiz interrogation about me and my life.

She lived out in the then-boonies of Duvall, Washington off of a twisting, long paved-over logging road that snaked through a canyon of third-growth Douglas Firs that connected Redmond and Duvall. The entrance to her subdivision was guarded by a ramshackle collection of mailboxes that marked their service duty in varying layers of algae, lichen, moss, and needles. The gravel road served the 20 arce parcel that had been chopped up into various sub-parcels over the years and my doubts began to grow about the date as my station wagon’s suspension surfed from mud puddle pothole to mud puddle pothole as I avoided the larger forest sentinels crowding the road.

The splashed mud would help hide the rust on the sickly brown-organe exterior but I was deeply concerned about the exhaust manifold. It had been working itself loose at most inconvenient times, like at stoplights and on the freeway. This meant I’d have to find a suitable place to pull over, get out my leather gloves, shove the exhaust pipe back onto the manifold opening, and then tighten up the connecter with a crescent wrench from the fully-stocked toolbox that travelled everywhere with the car.

Slowing to turn on the dome light and check the directions of which Y to take which way in, I drove into a pothole in my distraction. Hard. Hard enough to pop the exhaust pipe off, unleashing the unmuffled growling thunder of a mid-1960’s General Motors V8 engine into the woods. Fortune was with me, as the only thing in sight was the forest swallowing the roar whole.

Even the flattest part of the road had ruts in the gravel, so I found the highest spot to pull over at and figure out what the hell to do while the hot metal cooled down in the damp December evening air. There was no way to complete the entire reassembly procedure without getting completely smeared in mud, so I gambled that getting it back together without a tighten would hold it until it could be done properly.

Removing my shirt and donning my headlamp and gloves, I did my best to crab walk under the car on my shoulder blades, trying to keep my ass off of the wet ground with marginal success. Struggling to connect a hot hanging pipe above your head while arched from your shoulder blades to your feet is a hell of a core workout. By the time I was back in the car, sweat combined with liquid earth was running down me in brown rivulets. I mopped and cleaned myself to be as presentable as possible for a first date, only to find myself sweating again in the entryway of a huge, new-ish house tucked back in the woods that only ex-pat Californians and Microsoft millionaires could afford in the late 1980’s.

It was all peaks and dormers and angles that surely bore the weight of the insults and curses the tradesmen hurled at the architect and apprentices who cut accidentally reversed pieces of studs and drywall. The irregular slate flagstones of the entry were topped by a rich, dark wood wainscoting and trim. It immediately reminded me of a house I’d helped remodel a few years earlier when I worked in the trades where the rich owner had an entire just-laid walnut floor ripped up and re-laid with a different glue because she was sensitive to the smell.

Though I hardly passed the threshold, I’m certain its cabinetry and kitchen was amazing, the bathrooms had luxurious fixtures, and just off of or in the den was a large gun safe.

Hailey’s dad was a mustachioed, solid-torso, five-foot ten guy wearing a tucked-in polo shirt. He might have been wearing a Speedo and flippers, but I was afraid to break eye contact. His buzz cut hair and mustache had gone to grey and white from its original blonde, which I spied in a photograph over his shoulder where he was smilingly receiving a service award in full dress uniform, shaking the hand of some anonymous to me suit.

While Hailey finished primping before coming downstairs, her dad quizzed me on what I did for a living, (worked at a pet store while going to school,) where I went to school, (the University of Washington,) what I was studying, (political science,) where I grew up, (not too far away,) what my family did, (military, pipefitting, foreign service, insurance, software, real estate,) and apparently having passed the test, we fell to small talk.

He’d retired and moved north to get away from California and the bad influences on his daughter, which he was unspecific about. I was busy bolstering my bonafides somewhere between an exposition about my salt of the earth grandfather the ditch digger and my sterile and evil stepmother who wrote cruise missile targeting software when Hailey came downstairs.

Hailey and I met in a noisy bar with a dance floor about a week earlier while I was out with three friends, Joe, Kyle, and Jeff, celebrating Joe’s birthday. The birthday boy was attempting to do what he almost always did, pick up women. He almost always struck out, oftentimes spectacularly, which the rest of us always gave him rations of shit about.

That night, Joe had his eye on a very attractive and impeccably dressed and made up blonde woman sitting in a booth with three friends, one of which was Hailey. He first approached the blonde for a dance and was rebuffed, so bought her a drink and asked again, and was rebuffed again. This pissed him off so we ordered him a drink. Then one of the blonde’s and Hailey’s friends headed over to our booth and asked Kyle to dance, eliciting stifled laughter that exploded from me and Jeff once they were on the dance floor.

A couple of songs go by while we listen to Joe complain bitterly about women until Kyle came back to announce he’d given her his number, sending Joe off on another tirade. Hailey and I were making eyes at each other across the bar and apparently a game was afoot, as the other of the blonde’s and Hailey’s companions, Stacy, came over to ask me to dance.

Me? The trans queer girl who was trying very hard to pretend she wasn’t a girl and also trying very hard not to wish she was the one wearing a dress and had no idea she was queer because she was attracted to women but who thought she was straight because she was attracted to women? Um, okay.

After dancing awkwardly, I did my duty and awkwardly gave her my phone number before sitting down because Kyle had done the same thing and it seemed like the right thing to do. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of Hailey. She was tall-tall, maybe as tall as my six feet, had raven-black hair and bright, hazel eyes radiating bright beacons of veiled wickedness I felt from across the room as I matched frequencies. I was hooked.

Noticing her voluptuous figure straining to escape from the black dress she wore above her knee-high black boots, my mind did what it does and mentally erased every other human from the room, leaving us sitting alone together across the bar from each other with a very loud sound system blaring dance music before we…

She was one of those fantasies that skip around the brain after being delivered on a happy cosmic ray you never really remember except for whatever warm fuzzy feeling it brought. And. She. Was. Sitting. RIGHT. OVER. THERE.

So of course being totally overwhelmed and maybe even blushing, I probably stared into my drink and tried very hard not to look in her direction while looking in her direction. Being a complete failure at just about everything, I failed and looked, and she motioned me over.

Me? Really? What? Holy shit.

“Okay, don’t blow this,” I told myself as I excused myself from the table and motioned for my seatmate to hop out so I could, too.

“Hey, where are you going?” one of my friends asked.

Nodding towards her table, “Uh, over there.”

“What?”

“Be right back…”

And all of a sudden there I was, happily presenting myself after being beckoned from across the room. I am not the type of girl to respond to a beckoning from across a room unless I know the person well, but I guess I am because there I was.

She could have said she wanted to know what my name was. Should could have said she had a bet with her friends to see if I’d come over. She could have said I was the most freakish looking person she’d ever met. She could have said my fly was open. She could have said Look out! before a knife plunged into my back.

I didn’t hear a word of it because my brain was frozen in combat for its attention to focus on either symbolically processing her spoken words or madly attempting to chase away further fantasies that might cause me to spontaneously combust by keeping my eyes locked on hers so they wouldn’t wander to her cleavage or (heaven forbid) one of her friends.

I probably looked like a maniac. Or a lunatic. Maybe both. I must have been her type because she handed me a piece of paper with her phone number on it, which I gratefully took. Some coherent mumbling of thanks must have escaped me because she smiled before I floated back to my table.

“What was that all about?” Kyle wanted to know.

“Yeah,” Jeff chimed in.

“She gave me her phone number.”

“What?” Joe sounded incredulous.

“She gave me her phone number.”

“Bitches. They’re all the same,” Joe said to no one in particular.

No Joe, they’re not, I thought as I stood in the entryway with mud on my ass and doing my best to avoid turning so my date’s dad wouldn’t see how muddy I was as she came downstairs wearing a different tight black dress and black boots that I’d seen her in earlier. Her boots put her a couple of inches above me and I swooned with how much I liked that.

My desire for her was matched by my desire to be her and it sent my queer brain into its usual oscillation between projecting what it would be like to have a body like that and trying to figure out what the fuck I was expected to be doing as the nominal guy on the date. It was time to get out of there.

She gave her dad a peck on the cheek and told him to stop interrogating me, he gave me that look that let me know he knew that I knew he had a gun safe, and I attempted leave backwards, stumbling over the threshold enough to draw him outside and catch his scowl at my rusty land yacht.

Of all people, my grandmother had coached me on how to treat women, so I opened the car door for her to get in, shutting it when she was settled. Shuffling backwards, I gave her dad the friendliest wave I could muster before putting steel, glass, and his daughter between us in case he changed his mind.

Things went sideways fast.

Hailey and I exchanged first date nervous pleasantries as I eased away from her house and caught a pothole just beyond the paved pad in front of her garage, and the muffler popped off again. Hailey thought it was funny as I embarrassingly shouted that I’d get a bit further away from her house before fixing it.

Of course my shirt had to come off again and seeing as how I didn’t want to have to keep doing this, it was time to tighten it fully. After explaining the situation, she cheerfully handed me the crescent wrench while I was under the car, saving a few minutes.

Now maybe guys might engineer this sort of situation or at least take advantage of it as an excuse to take off their shirt in front of their date, but I’m not a guy and I was mortified. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for sexytime, but taking off your shirt and rolling around in mud before dinner and six margaritas seems like premature foreplay to me.

I was queer enough to where it didn’t even occur to me that she might like to see me with my shirt off. So when she told me she did after I was back in the car putting my shirt on, it distracted me on the drive to the restaurant so much trying to figure out how to leverage her interest to my advantage that I didn’t notice I was speeding until the cop flicked on his lights to pull me over.

Fortune can pity fools, and besides a stern talking-to in my left ear and giggles in the right, the citation for lack of insurance was as good an outcome as I could hope for.

To be continued…

©Heather Coldstream

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HRT update – November 2016

I’m getting closer to my 3-year hormoniversary and I’ve become a bit lackadaisical about getting my levels checked. With my insurance ending it seemed like this would be a good time to see where things were at.

I upped my dose to 8mg estradiol/day back in June, split across AM/PM doses, and it’s definitely done the trick with getting my estrogen level up where I like it. My free testosterone seems to be creeping back up so that’s something I’ll talk to my doctor about when I have my physical next year.

All in all, things are stable and good here.

hrt-nov-2016

 

Reference ranges*:

Serum estradiol Serum testosterone Free testosterone
M range 7.6 – 42.6 348.0 – 1197.0 6.8 – 21.5
F range 12.5 – 498.0 8 – 48 0.0 – 2.2
units pg/ml ng/dl pg/ml

* I am not a doctor and the reference ranges are taken from my lab results. You should talk with your doctor about what reference ranges should be appropriate for you, taking into account your medical history and your goals.

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Week 146 – My Happy Childhood

[Content warning: physical and verbal abuse]

Good

It’s hard to remember the really good
When good was the absence of bad
And really bad taught you things you can’t forget
– Heather Coldstream

Earlier this year a friend pointed out that my personal childhood story sounded pretty bleak and that I should re-write it to include the good stuff. When good memories have a hard time escaping the gravity of bad memories, good memories tend to be the absence of the bad. Some day I’ll achieve escape velocity.

My many years-older brother used to torture me.

Being so much younger and smaller made me an easy target. Because he’s family and had regular access to perfect his technique, he knew exactly how to maximize my distress. His mixture of delight at being in control and expression of anger varied from day-to-day.

The good news is that this was not a daily occurrence. The bad news is that my body remembers enough of it for it to have left permanent scars in my bones and my psyche. To this day, should someone attempt to playfully smother me with a pillow or someone holds or bops me on the nose, my flight-or-fight response kicks in something fierce.

Using his advantage of weight, my brother would kneel on my elbows to pin my arms down and then slowly sit on my chest while holding my nose and mouth so I couldn’t breathe.

This usually happened after he’d made me cry about something, so not only could I not breathe, I was also struggling against the spasmodic jerks of my sobs and congestion in my head.

‘You’d better stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,’ his angry face would say as he let his hands away and leaned up.

I would gulp what air I could for another attempt to try to writhe away before he’d slap his hand back, cutting me off mid-breath. Usually there’d be a ‘sissy’ or two thrown in for good measure.

My shoulder blades would grind down onto the hard linoleum floor when he leaned forward, pulling my deltoid muscles away from the bone. My right shoulder still dislocates easily and I can’t sleep on my right side because my arm goes numb in just a few minutes. I’m reminded of this every time I wake with a numb arm.

My memory says he’d slap me, but I’m not sure I trust that memory. What memories I do trust have a general haze of pain about the face, but those could be just from him clapping his hands to my nose and mouth.

When he wasn’t angry he’d pin me down and tickle me with a big smile on his face until I could hardly breathe from the wiggling laughter. Then he’d do the typical mouth/nose trick with his hands.

I can’t recall how often he did these things or when he started. It happened enough to make me always sit where I can see where people are coming and to keep a large personal space.

I used to go across the street from my housing division and hide from my brother in the undeveloped, third-growth woods. They were my refuge in the summer and I was happy there.

There was a small drainage with exposed clay where the land had slumped away from a small drainage culvert that collected from the neighboring development. This runoff contributed to a small brook where I whiled many pleasant hours building dams and breaking them down, uncovering rocks for salamanders in the same color as the iron-rich and rusting clay, listening to the trickles of the water and calls of robins and starlings and finches amongst the rustling, viridian to bottle green alder leaves.

There were also scattered vine maples whose leaves made me think of the maple syrup I’d pour into each cell of my frozen waffles when my mom could afford to buy them or she had the energy to make them herself. Second-growth western redcedars with their peeling bark were more rare and bore witness to their progenitors who stood in silent, massive stumped decay with their rotting, red heartwood spilling upon the forest floor.

Being there meant I could look up at my pleasure through the canopy at snatches of blue sky instead of being forced to look at the sparkling popcorn ceiling that glittered as far away as the stars while trapped against the Earth by my brother.

In the winter or when the rain was too cold to stand, I’d hide in my room with my books and toys, which transported me far, far away from the growing menace outside my door. I learned that out of sight often meant out of mind, and it removed me from the crossfire between my mother and my eventual teenage brother when they argued about his truancy or when he showed up stoned or drunk.

There were so many books and authors that were my friends! Paddington Bear. The Great Brain. Bridge to Terabithia. The Chronicles of Narnia. Watership Down. Jules Verne. Walt Morey. Judy Blume. Beatrix Potter. Black Beauty. Where the Red Fern Grows. Winnie-the-Pooh. Kids encyclopedias. Science books. Ranger Rick. Animal cards. Mad Magazine. Comic books. And so many more.

Every story transported me away from a fatherless home, an overwhelmed mother, and an angry brother. I read about rockets and stars and animals and chemistry and physics and electricity and the body and inventors and discoverers. Those facts and people helped ground me to an endurance I developed. I learned life could be long and if I could only just bear a few years of my situation, there was a future out there waiting for me.

There were the joys in running or riding my bike to school and the exhilaration of knowing I could go places by myself and rely on my body to get there and back. I’d run to school in first grade and be winded when I got there but it was a good tired.

There was a satisfaction I gained when I realized that if I had a big enough head start, my endurance could outlast any person chasing me. This served me in good stead by middle school when I had to outrun my bullies and their taunts of ‘sissy’ and ‘pussy’. That made me happy.

There were many happy days at my grandparents. They lived in a 1950’s flat-roofed, single-floored rambler with radiant heat. On winter mornings, I’d dash through the cold house from warm spot to warm spot on the tiles and eventually learned how long the furnace had been going depending on how warm a given location was.

My grandparents had blueberry bushes in the back yard. On summer mornings I’d forage with my grandmother, dropping the berries into white plastic Cool-Whip tubs. We’d wash them, freeze some and put the rest into cut glass bowls, pour cream over them and then dust them with sugar for breakfast. There were grapefruits with sugar we ate with serrated, pointed spoons that had bamboo handles they’d bought in Brazil and poked my tongue in a way I liked and didn’t like.

My grandmother taught me to cook. How to use measuring spoons and cups. That you pack brown sugar but sift flour. That milk will scald if you’re not careful. How to spread mustard and mayonnaise to the crust for perfect sandwiches. What browning was. How to whip and fold egg whites.

We canned pickles after running them through the gentle cycle on the top-loading washing machine with the top up to watch them bounce around. I helped measure horseradish and put garlic cloves and dill in Ball jars, then stuffed the cucumbers in before my grandmother added the brine. We’d rinse and wipe the jars off before placing them in the back of the cabinets to age and we’d pull them out months later and consume the zest in them. That made me happy.

There were clamming expeditions with my grandfather in the frigid tide pool waters of Puget Sound. Rock crabs, sculpins, chitons, barnacles, tube worms, sand fleas, anemones in cold pastels of blue, green, and pink, muscles, Dungeness crabs, sand dollars, sand collars, broken bricks, bottles, polished glass, and concrete aggregates were there to examine and explore, and every rock turned over was universe unto itself.

My job was to fish around in the sandy slurry for the white- and gray-banded Manila clams we sought for the pail while returning the orange-red-brown ridged cockles. I’d carry the bucket back and we’d rinse them off and submerge them in fresh water with cornmeal, waiting a few hours for them to spit out their sandy guts before we’d boil them alive and then dip them in butter before slurping them down our gullets. That made me happy.

My grandfather had a shop that was a big converted garage he used as a refuge and hobby space. He taught me how to use a drill press, table saw, miter box, bench grinder, and various and sundry other tools. The boiler was in there and in winter it would roar and throb with oil-fueled fire, sounding like it was in continual explosion because it was.

In the back corner there was a freezer stocked with chicken pot pies, frozen chicken, blueberries and strawberries, all manner of meats, and fudge bars, vanilla ice cream bars covered in chocolate, or popsicles given the season. I’d sneak back there and steal a bar before lunch or dinner, greedily enjoying my purloined treat. That made me happy.

We’d travel places together to visit their friends and I was often the, ‘what a lovely granddaughter,’ that required an explanation. My long hair and shy demeanor gave me away when I didn’t know I was trans and now it seems like everyone knew but me and then when I did know everyone pretended they didn’t know. Families are like that.

When my brother also came to stay our grandparents, we’d fight. Better put, I’d try to run away from him and fight him when he caught me.

The worst ever was an angry tangle on the back lawn and my grandmother shouting something that I didn’t hear because I was fighting for my life. Then there was the loudest CRACK I’d heard so far in my young life as the bullwhip broke the speed of sound above our heads. The next stroke laid a terrifying sting on our legs and instantly set us in opposite directions. We would have run off screaming but you wouldn’t have been able to hear us above our grandmother’s screech of rage at being ignored that froze us in our tracks.

There were definitely a bunch of happy times at my grandparents when my brother wasn’t around.

My mom did her best. She was a mostly full-time single mom that struggled at times to put food on the table. I’ll aways remember the shame I saw in her eyes when a social worker came to evaluate our house to see if we qualified for food stamps. We did.

The first few times we used them were awkward. The cashiers in the suburban Safeway in our neighborhood we frequented weren’t familiar with them, so they often required additional assistance from the manager, which brought additional attention. Albertson’s cashiers took them in stride so we shopped there more and more, even though the quality of the food and choice wasn’t as good.

The TV was almost always on when I was at home. The amount of time I spent with the TV pouring into my head instead of doing something productive is something I regret in the way I feel about the video games I’ve had to intentionally delete so I’d stop playing them. Exceptions were watching the last moon landing in 1972 while my adult relatives got slowly drunk in the other room, science shows, and The Muppet Show. Those made me happy.

My mom would take me to the zoo or the aquarium and one year she even subscribed to the symphony, which I really liked but often fell asleep at, defeating or maybe making the point she was trying to make with it.

We took a few road trips when I was younger, but they became more infrequent as I became older and money became tighter. We’d go to Cannon Beach or Ocean Shores and stay in cheap motels with sheets that smelled of bleach and Lopez Island to visit a friend’s property and stay in a tent. All three of us went to Memphis for a cousin’s wedding in 1976 and everyone thought we were from Washington D.C.

I got to buy a new shirt for the wedding and it was country-style with little while flower shoulder patches on it and I loved it. We went to Disneyland Anaheim afterwards and that was just as magical for me as you’d expect it to be for a kid wearing their favorite new shirt. That was a happy memory.

My brother moved out when I was eleven and I claimed his larger room and the peace of not having to worry about him any more. That made me very happy.

I was able to come home to a quiet house and relax until my mom got home and then settle in for some TV with her as we ate dinner and she drank wine and smoked until she fell asleep on the couch. I’d rouse her when the show I wanted to watch was over.

On the nights she was more alert, it’d be an earlier bedtime for me but I’d wait until she left my room and sneak reading a book by flashlight under the covers.

She was single until she briefly dated a fat, balding, sweaty optometrist she went to high school with and then a man who wore a toupee came to live with us for a few months. He owned a boat and a small plane, and we cruised the San Juans and flew to Yakima and Bellingham. I even got to steer the plane a couple of times.

He drove a black 1979 Corvette Stingray that I only rode in once when my mom and I went to Albertson’s. She set off the alarm after we’d done our shopping and didn’t know how to turn it off, bringing a large crowd of men around to direct my mom on how to turn it off. She never drove it again.

I resented the man with the toupee because I had been kicked out of my brother’s room to make a spare bedroom for his kids who only came on the weekends. They only stayed a couple of nights total and I think the real reason I was moved was that my brother’s room was next to mom’s room and they didn’t want me to hear them having sex.

He disappeared not long after he yelled at me about mowing the lawn while I was mowing it. I don’t know if that was the final straw for my mom or if there was something else but he was gone a few weeks later and I got the larger room back. That made me happy.

Middle and high school and puberty were hell. Being at middle school sucked. I was bullied. A lot. That’s a whole other post. I was happy when I wasn’t at school.

I was an unwitting trans gal and I tried to play a regular dude, but I didn’t do it very well because I was a girl and didn’t know how to boy other than what I’d seen, and I usually did it terribly and you know how boys are during puberty. Ugh.

But there were happy moments here and there with friends. It was no random coincidence that I hung out with other outliers in school like the OCD dude who had to wash his hand three times before leaving the house, the Muslim dude who was always the designated driver, the devious psychopathic dude who was more slippery than an oiled eel, and the artist dude who sketched horror scenes non-stop, leading people to worry about him and who turned out to be a mid-list Hollywood makeup effects specialist.

We had teenage hijinks on golf courses, competing schools football fields, malls, basements, and office parks across the Eastside. My best friend’s girlfriend’s parents owned a movie theater and a laser disc player and we watched Warriors until I couldn’t stand that movie and watching them dry hump any more. She had Star Wars so we watched that instead, which had the side benefit of distracting my friend from dry humping his girlfriend in front of me.

After a series of young crushes where I had no fucking idea what I was doing and then deliciously caught oral herpes during my very first kiss, I met a girl and lost my virginity. That made me really happy because who isn’t happy having companionship and teenage sex when you’re a teenager? She also had a vagina and I was really, really interested in vaginas because I really, really wished I had one, wishing out loud many times that I wished we could swap.

This was after I had realized I was trans but I never told her. There were some really good times there that made me very happy. But we were teenagers with old soul wisdom in bodies with hormones that were doing things to our brains so we broke up.

The knowledge I was trans really, really sucked because transition felt like it was an impossibly so I lived vicariously through the girls and women around me. It was like being chained underwater. I could see the sun above the waves but no matter how much I wished I was above the surface, there was no way to escape the deeps.

Late high school was pretty happy.

My school schedule and homework wasn’t very demanding. I had beater VW rabbit with a windshield that leaked and a heater that barely worked that I drove like a manic and I’m happy I didn’t kill myself in some stupid accident. It required me to scrape the inside as well as the outsides of the windows when there was a frost.

I had a girlfriend and friends and we all had even more hijinks. I built a series of platforms in the alder trees that grew in the back yard and laid on them and read in the summer sun. I went to the beach with friends and ogled the girls in their bikinis while wishing I could wear one and have long hair like them.

For being a transfeminine femme queer girl, it could have been much, much worse, but my closet had closets with tidy little boxes to put things in so I managed.

Happy childhood? Not by a long shot. But there were definitely moments.

©Heather Coldstream

Posted in coming out, family, observations, personal history, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments