Yesterday Karl had his first appointment at the gender clinic down in London; the next significant step in the journey. As part of this he had to get the paperwork out evidencing that he’d been living the “real life experience” which in plain English means giving proof he has been living as a male full time. In going through this material he saw that it was a year to the day yesterday since he came out at work.
I know that he intends to write something on the subject, explaining how he has found the year, on his blog at some point and during the year I’ve given some posts about my feelings on this blog. Today I want to look at it slightly differently to when I’ve talked about the feelings and making sense of the journey side of things and talk a little about what it’s been like practically for me living with somebody going through the journey.
First subject I want to approach is clothes shopping. Initially this was a hard experience and I found myself getting a bit indignant on Karl’s behalf when there were changing room issues, for example. However, we quickly found strategies to deal with things – a key one being that we were careful to know measurements and be certain about what we wanted. We’d buy with a we can always return this after we’ve tried it on at home approach. Obviously for somethings like under wear this doesn’t apply and so if it is something where we can’t try the item on and return/ exchange it if it’s not right we’ll buy a single item and/or cheaper style first and then invest in the better quality one when we know it’s what Karl wants/finds comfortable.
Mail order is something that can be useful if you know what you want but in many ways we have found it useful to go round and continue to shop locally. I don’t know how much of that was influenced by Karl’s initial order for a binder being impounded by customs along the route but I think actually it’s because in many shops, where staff are well trained on customer service, if you explain the situation you can be helped on the journey. One example of this is where I was going shopping for a pair of slippers for Karl fairly early on in the journey. Karl has relatively little feet and so shopping for male items can be an issue. The lovely lady in M&S said that she didn’t have any male slippers which fitted apart from the children’s, which weren’t appropriate but there was a pair in the women’s section which were plain navy and unisex in style. Thus, we were able to get around the problem and it is something which has continued to be the solution when looking for shoes other than trainers. We find very plain dark coloured footwear which they do in almost identical styles for men and women, it means Karl can have shoes which fit but which are still masculine in style.
Another area which we have learnt to deal with is toilets when we go out. Karl will make judgement calls as to whether to use the male or disabled toilets dependant upon how much hassle he is likely to get and whether there are disabled customers around who will need to use the disabled facilities, thus meaning he really needs to use the male toilets even if he thinks some level of personal safety risk is involved. It’s complicated but again it means we think about where we go and the facilities available. One pub for example is somewhere where the level of risk involved for Karl is quite high but also you have to get the key for the disabled facilities and this is something that he sometimes has issues getting – as people don’t understand there is a good reason behind it. We try to avoid being in this pub for too long in anyone go and are likely to use other ones in the area if possible. It was weird initially for me getting used to Karl using different loos but now it seems quite normal.
Other people’s reactions is something I am still getting used to and needing to judge how to handle different people – knowing whether to correct them when they talk about him with the wrong pronoun or not. Often because I don’t feel confident challenging them – because we all get pronouns wrong sometimes, myself included – and what I do is just make sure I put in his name to emphasise it is him.
I know when there have been odd issues which have arisen Karl has not told me because he hasn’t wanted me getting either upset or indignant, (and I could go either way). This has been fine but I do want find it useful to know and not just hear about by overhearing his conversations with others who he is more comfortable talking to these things with.
Another issue which has really hit home is the importance of healthy eating. I know that for surgery to be offered and successful health is important and that Karl needs to lose a bit of weight to get his BMI down to what it needs to be. As the person who does the shopping and majority of the cooking in the house that has laid a responsibility on me that I need to introduce changes in both our diets. It’s a journey, over the next few months things will need to step the changes to diet/ portion size up a gear further and get more exercise included in our routines in order for Karl to get to a point where he can have the surgery he needs.
Like so many other things that last point is something beneficial to us. Thinking about what you eat and being more careful in choosing your clothes, etc are not bad things. They can take more time and effort but they are positive changes which are benefiting both of us, trans or not. My own views on clothing have changed slightly too. I am getting very good at looking in well known quality stores, where I know staff are excellently trained and have good customer service, as their sales are coming to an end in order to find the right clothes at a properly affordable price.
A final issue for me has been the level of myth and uncertainty around the journey and what happens next. Trans people and their families in many ways are expected to be the experts with the answers when to be honest they don’t always have all those answers themselves. When Karl got back yesterday I was reassured in many ways because he’d raised some of our joint concerns with the doctor and had gotten clarification on a few things. One problem we have found is that myth and exaggeration can creep in to an extent they become accepted fact when actually things are sometimes slightly different and what is actually described is the worst case scenario rather than the norm.
We know that whilst not always easy our journey, and Karl’s first year of real life experience has been far better than most people’s and that is in a large part because of the way in which he has been supported by a range of people including others in the trans community, his employers, his church and beyond. I have also been grateful for the support I have received from others in the trans community, some of whom I guess it might have been a bit difficult for – seeing us as the happy couple when many of them are single. I have also been so lucky that I have been able to take time listening formally and informally to a local trans expert who has advised the FA and others on trans issues. For me one of the most useful things has been going to see her give presentations and listening to her talk about trans issues in a way which has been depersonalised. It has helped for me to be able to look at the issues involved, and what Karl is facing, in a far more objective way.
For me the key to the last year has been communication and confidence. One aspect has been learning to say what I’m worried about or what I don’t understand in a sensitive way. When things have become difficult it’s often been because one or other of us hasn’t felt comfortable saying what we’re feeling – in the aftermath of arguments it has become clear on those occasions that we were talking about aspects of the journey at cross purposes. One was expressing a fear they had whilst another was expressing a completely different fear. (Doesn’t help here when you have a scientist and a humanities/ social studies person talking using totally different frames of reference).
I still view myself as a gay woman, he views himself as a straight guy. Our relationship doesn’t fit into having the binary labels normally used because there isn’t a label to properly fit it. In many ways that it quite liberating and something I have become more comfortable with as the year has progressed. It has also helped that our confidence and the strength of our relationship have both grown through this. It forces you into a place where if you are to live in fullness rather than fear you have to face things as they really are rather than how you wish they were. We have found you also have to be ready to ask the question “can I do this?” with the possibility the answer may be “no”. Our own answer is, “we don’t know, but we’re going to have a damn hard try at it.”
So it’s been a challenging year, and the year to come will be more challenging as Karl moves on to starting the hormone treatment and he visually starts to change even more. The lesson we have both perhaps learnt is that on this journey we need to simply be ourselves and use the strategies we already have from our wider lives. Both of us have experience of getting through without fitting in and not always meeting the perceived norms – this is just another example of that.
So that’s where I’m coming from and how I’ve found it – when Karl has written his side I’ll post a link on here.