Week 170 – Are you the spouse?

“What is your name?”

“Heather Coldstream, your honor.”

The Commissioner looks confused.

“Are you the spouse?” she asks.

“Daughter. My name change order is attached as Exhibit A. It matches the name on the will.”

“Ah.” She flips to take a closer look and cocks an eyebrow.

“Is there a surviving spouse?”

“No, your honor.”

She flips through the rest of my Petition for Probate.

“Do you have a copy of the death certificate?”

“Yes, your honor, I do.”

I hand a certified copy to the clerk who passes it to the Commissioner. My new name is on it. She skims it and inserts it into the sheaf.

“Do you have the original will?”

“Yes, your honor, I do.” I pass it forward.

Satisfied, she inserts it and reaches for her stamp.

She signs off and amends a statement.

“I’m going to make a small change here to note that you’ve changed your name. It will have your old name, then ‘now known as’ with your new name.”

She passes the paperwork back.

“Take the Petition upstairs to the Clerk’s office and they will issue the Letters Testamentary.”

“Thank you, your honor.”

We smile at each other, and I thank the universe for the small comfort of not being outed in open court.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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Week 169 – Chop wood, carry water

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.‘ – Zen proverb

The companions of the depression afflicting me the past few months has been household clutter and cleaning tasks I’ve put off because I could. Paperwork and random stuff has migrated from location to location without disposition or a permanent location to reside. My floors have been grimy and the carpets received only cursory vacuuming. My charges of children, tropical fish, and a turtle have been suffering the unrecognized indignity of environments bordering on unhygienic.

The good news is that spring is here and I’m slowly coming out of my funk and tackling the things that need to get done in a burst of Spring Cleaning energy. After this winter’s record rainfall in the Seattle area, the sun broke through the other week and it lit a fire under me to get the house in order for hosting a birthday party for one of my kids.

Last weekend was a frenzy of mopping floors, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, decluttering the living room, family room, and kitchen, and cleaning the downstairs bathroom and kitchen before noon last Sunday. I had hoped to change the water and scrape the algae in the tanks but ran out of time.

As a further spur for more cleaning, I invited a neighbor couple to come to dinner last night. This drove more vacuuming and scouring, but again my fish tanks were neglected.

Today I had planned to take care of paperwork for my mom’s estate. Instead I ended up binging on Netflix while I changed water in my 125 gal/470 L tank and changed water, scraped algae, gravel vacuumed, pruned and thinned plants, and redecorated my 30 gal/110 L tank.

I spent all day doing these two things. I wanted to get ahead of the care curve and prep the smaller tank for new plants when the rest of my new LED lighting system arrives late next week. The before picture for the smaller tank is too embarrassing, so here’s the after shot:

A 30 gallon freshwater fish tank

Tomorrow I’ll attack the large tank’s algae and take care of Yoshi the turtle’s 75 gal/280 L tank.

Tending freshwater tropical aquatic fish and plants has been a lifelong hobby and passion and been my career twice. My custom hose/siphon rig makes water changes quick and that’s about all I’ve done with the tanks for months, so it felt really good to only focus on them for the day.

But this is a blog about gender, not a Spring Cleaning and tropical fish and plant blog. You might be wondering what they have to do with gender stuff.

Nothing at all.

The quote above speaks to being present during the tasks you perform during the day and not letting other things intrude while you’re doing them.

Cleaning the house, mowing the yard, and tending to my tanks are just some of my, ‘chop wood, carry water’ tasks. By focusing on the task at hand, I am not being trans, I am being.

Enlightenment and transition are similar. They are not destinations or achievements, but never-ending processes with moments of transcendental insights, with each insight accreting to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the universe and your place within it.

Don’t forget to chop your wood and carry your water while you transition.

‘Before transition; chop wood, carry water. After transition; chop wood, carry water.’ – Heather Coldstream

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections. Thank you!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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

Week 168 – Unexpected donations

Spring is my favorite season. The days here in Seattle become noticeably longer, plants burst from buds into infinite shades of green, and the weather can change from hail to sunshine to rain in ten minutes. It also heralds a change in wardrobe from winter browns, darker reds, grey, and black to the bright yellows, pinks, and greens of spring.

Last week I began to rotate my wardrobe by packing my winter clothes into a storage bin. During this process I realized there were many tops I hadn’t worn at all since the winter before. This puzzled me as they still fit well and were basic styles always in fashion. It took me a while to realize they all had three things in common: they were gray, bought pre-full time, and pulled double-duty for me in boy and girl mode due to their somewhat androgynous styling.

I bought them with the intention of being able to use them pre- and post-transition. Many trans people buy clothes before and during transition that are passed along or donated after hormones have done their magic to change the shape of the body. It’s just part of being trans and transition. A new wardrobe can be a large expense and shopping at thrift stores before and during transition helps minimize the cost for clothes that many only fit for a few months.

But I’ve been on hormones for over three years and while I’m still filling out at the edges somewhat, these clothes I hadn’t worn still fit. I know this because I tried them on.

So why hadn’t I worn them?

After thinking about it, I realized they reminded me too much of my pre-transition phase and they also didn’t fit into my evolving style. I found them uniformly dull.

My pre-transition phase felt like it lasted a very long time and as I considered each article of clothing in turn, memories welled up. My ex scowling at this one. My frustration at waiting for my body to fill in and make that one fit better. The top I didn’t buy because it was too femme and this was the consolation prize. The stress of buying that one hoping the clerk wouldn’t smirk at me.

Of course I didn’t want to wear these again!

Relieved at my understanding, it was easy to put them in my donate pile and not look back. With this newfound understanding I culled through all my clothes, casting away items with too much freight.

The biggest surprise for me? It felt like a larger milestone to me than when I donated my guy clothes. Getting rid of the guy clothes was a checkbox—I had no more need for them.

This was something different; it was moving on from an era where I felt forced to live a half-feminine life into one of being fully myself and having all of my clothes reflect that.

Farewell, pre-transition clothes! May you find another life to help across the threshold.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by 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 clothing, coming out, gender transition, LGBT, observations, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Week 167 – What other people need to update when you change your name

Being trans is rarely easy and in the hustle and bustle of my name change updates last year I overlooked an important type of name change: things that only other people, usually family, can update. This discovery came on the heels of the death of my mother earlier this month and it’s already causing me some friction.

While my mom mentioned we should update the bank account I’m listed on as the beneficiary, as I’m the executor of her estate, we never did. It turns out nothing connected to her estate was updated with my new name. This included the will and all of the financial-type accounts she had.

If you legally change your name as a part of your transition like I have, you’ll find there are many, many places to update. Some are easy, requiring just a phone call or web form update. Others are more complex, requiring a certified copy of the name change order from the court. Sometimes they even want a supporting affidavit and/or a third-party letter or two.

I’m finding that settling an estate is on the more complex and annoying end of things.

Most firms want to see a certified copy of my name change order. One bank is even insisting they need, “the original name change order,” and seems impervious to understanding a certified copy is equivalent because the original is on file at the court. (I’m still working my way up the management chain on that inanity.)

Then there’s the fun of getting outed over and over. My brother and I validated the will and the lawyer looked really confused trying to reconcile my old name with my new look. The phone calls where I’ve had to explain my name has changed remind me of when I was changing my own accounts.

It’s tedious, tiring, and sometimes demoralizing because my phone voice doesn’t always sound very feminine. As an example, I attended a meeting at a bank and was asked, “Was that your brother I talked to on the phone?” and having to say, no that was me, and getting the puzzled look from the banker.

Worst so far has been spreading the news to her friends. My mom had a very small group of friends she stayed in regular touch with and they all seemed to know my name had changed, but friends of hers from high school and college who knew she had two boys are a different matter. One lady seemed very confused when I said my mom had died and asked me if I was my mom’s granddaughter.

To save you some of the same heartburn, here’s a list of things that other people should update with your new name. The good news is that generally they can just update these without any documentation or involvement from you.

  • Will and estate planning documents
  • Beneficiary information for life insurance, brokerage accounts, etc.
  • Joint bank accounts and safety deposit boxes
  • Emergency contact information
  • Auto and health insurance (if you don’t pay the bills)
  • Friends of the family

I post I wrote a while back, Name change and gender marker change resources, is now updated with the list above. Let me know in the comments here or there if I’m missing anything and I’ll add it to the lists.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying a poetry collection of mine from the Kindle store!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Thank you!

Posted in coming out, family, gender transition, LGBT, personal history, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Week 166 – Misgendered to the end

The last person my mom ever misgendered me to was the hospital security guard who came to notarize a durable power of medical attorney listing me as the responsible party. As usual, her misgendering was unintentional. I didn’t correct her because it would soon be moot.

‘Who are you designating?’ he asked.

Gesturing at me, ‘Him,’ she said.

He looked momentarily confused until he connected the dots and then looked embarrassed and awkward. By that point I was used to it. It still sucked. He beat a hasty retreat once done with his task.

My brother and mom’s boyfriend didn’t seem to notice. They stood in opposite corners of the intensive care room lost in their own thoughts. A couple of hours earlier mom had firmly reiterated her decision to a doctor to stop all curative treatments for her lung cancer, emphysema, and pneumonia, saying she was ready to die.

Even though her living will was in order, I had asked to have the power of attorney before she went on the morphine drip that would slip her into death – just in case something went sideways and a decision needed to be made.

The misgendering and deadnaming from my family felt relentless in those last few days of my mom’s life. It made an already emotionally grueling time that much more unpleasant.

In my brother’s defense, it was the first time he’d ever met me as me. He’d been very good in the beginning at catching and correcting himself. As our mom’s situation worsened, discussions with the doctors and nurses shifted into harder conversations and they all started slipping more and more along with fewer self-corrections.

In times of stress we often fall back into deeply laid, predictable grooves of routine, and these people who had known me my entire life defaulted to their memory of who I used to be. Mom had been admitted twelve days prior and the misgendering and deadnaming slowly became worse and more annoying. Each time I’d correct them with, ‘her’, ‘she’, ‘hers’, and, ‘Heather’, and each time they’d apologize.

On the bright side, the hospital staff was always courteous to me, even when they knew I was trans or had come to the realization like the security guard after a misgendering. This turned out to be a huge relief and I never felt like I wasn’t listened to or taken seriously because I was trans.

Even though my mom misgendered me to the end, I know there was no malice behind it and that she loved me. She just never quite made the full cognitive leap to replace the old with the new in her head. For me, it does not take away from the times she introduced me as her daughter to the nurses and didn’t mess up.

Being trans requires making your own cognitive leaps to accept yourself and decide what to do about it. It also asks those around you to make their own leaps. Some will fall short. That’s just how it is.

Mom never fully understood why I transitioned and was resistant to it at first, but she did come around to support and respect me. That meant a lot to me, even though she couldn’t keep my pronouns straight right up to her end.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying a poetry collection of mine from the Kindle store!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Thank you!

Posted in coming out, family, gender transition, health, healthcare, LGBT, observations, personal history, relationships, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Week 165 – My one year transition anniversary

In some of my darkest pre-transition days, loneliness stalked me and often hurled barbs that burrowed and injected poison like bee stings when I tried to pull them out.

It would whisper things like, ‘Nobody will want to be around you if you transition. Who wants to be around a freak?’ and, ‘You’ll never be happy and no one wants to be around unhappy people,’ and then mockingly jeer, ‘Your wife will leave you if you transition and the only people who will want you are fetishists.’

This internal narrative was often hard to ignore when I felt like a freak, was almost constantly depressed, and chasers with their dick pics would pop up online like diseased mushrooms.

My one year full-time transition anniversary was April 1 and I am now very, very far away from that dark place.

There are days when I still feel lonely, but I can call a friend and they welcome doing things with me. There are days I get down, but it’s no longer a state of being. While I’m not in a relationship now, I did have one for a while post-transition and have also been on some dates; I am not un-lovable or unwanted.

Deciding to transition was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life and many of my fears came true.

My wife did leave me, but that’s a good thing as I was trying to lean on her in a way she couldn’t support. Now I’m free to find someone who wants to be with me instead of tolerate me.

I still get unhappy sometimes, but instead of falling into the dark pit of despair it’s more of a cloudy day.

The dick pics still show up, but they are gnats I brush away in my confidence that for someone special, I’m worth getting to know for reasons beyond my genitalia and trans-ness.

Transition works for gender dysphoria but sometimes it was like chemotherapy where getting to the cure is a rough ride. I had a very rough ride but my life has been transformed for the better.

It was all worth it and I look forward to the years ahead.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Thank you!

Posted in coming out, gender transition, LGBT, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Week 164 – ‘my sister’

‘I’m here with my sister now, so I gotta go soon.’ I motioned to my brother for the car keys and went and sat in the car while he finished his call.

We had just finished lunch while discussing my mom’s lung cancer diagnosis and early estate planning. As one of my besties pointed out, it was a huge moment. For him to acknowledge me as his sister to someone I don’t even know when compared to past behavior is really amazing.

It’s another sign of how what used to be extraordinary is becoming ordinary. The past week has been a rough one, so that was a bright spot.

My mom went into the emergency room last Thursday with shortness of breath and a CT scan revealed a large mass pressing on her bronchial tubes. She had a bronchoscopy Saturday and the biopsy results reported non-small cell carcinoma lung cancer.

The good news is yesterday’s PET scan revealed the cancer hasn’t spread beyond her chest so she’s stage 3 instead of stage 4 and there’s a hope for a cure. The bad news is it showed some pneumonia and the five-year remission rate for her cancer is 14%, with the overall cure rate being 33%.

These are not good odds. She’s smoked for 60 years, so while I’m sad about her diagnosis, the only surprise is that a heart attack or stroke didn’t get her first.

She’s resting as comfortably as possible with pain medication and supplemental oxygen. Radiation treatments start this afternoon. Chemotherapy should start about a week out after she’s stronger and is breathing easier. After the initial chaos of the ER and waiting for a diagnosis, we’re now down to waiting on treatment and seeing how she responds.

I’m marked on her hospital room whiteboard as, ‘Heather – daughter’ and none of the staff has misgendered me. My mom and my mom’s boyfriend have been misgendering and deadnaming me about 75% of the time, and my brother about 25%.

I chalk it up to stress—there’s no malice on their part. I correct them each time and they’re apologetic every time. While it’s an annoyance, especially when they’re referring to me with the medical staff in the room, it’s really a small thing in the grand scheme of things right now.

Its been helpful to have my brother here. He lives overseas and just happened to be in town for a business trip. That’s saved having to relay information on a time-delay and I know he feels better being able to quiz the staff directly. It’s also a relief to not be the only person shouldering the patient advocacy duties. My mom’s boyfriend is not very confrontational or pro-active and I know this would be a much rougher process for her if it was just him.

For now, I wait and advocate.

©Heather Coldstream

Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store!

2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

Thank you!

Posted in family, gender transition, health, healthcare, LGBT, personal history, relationships, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments