Monday, October 22, 2012

A Loss

I have a story to tell, but I'm afraid to tell it—afraid of how I will hurt, afraid of missing the mark, afraid of finding more questions than answers. But I'm terrible at sorting these things out in my head, at least once they've aged this long and grown this tangled. What am I good at? Telling stories. So.

I have a story to tell. It's a story about a family, and about how terrible things happen to nice people. It's a story that is full of pregnancy- and mortality-related triggers, so I advise you now: read with caution. It's a piece of my story. Specifically, it is how I exited denial.

In the spring of 2005, a beautiful baby girl is born in San Francisco. The birth is not easy, and her mother struggles to recover and to endure the strain of new motherhood. A fiery little creature, she takes much attention and minding as the months pass and she begins to crawl and climb and walk and run. She tweaks people as easily as she charms them, then charms them all over again, and so the family grows together in its way, quirky, imperfect, but loving.

I am one of that little girl's mothers and also her father; this is the story of how our family grows from three to four.

Around my daughter's second birthday, we conceive our second child. It had taken some time to get over the memory of her first pregnancy, but my wife wanted the children to be relatively close together in age, and so family planning wins out over reticence. There's that first heartbeat, and then the ultrasound, where a little peanut of a person shows-up with a beating heart. [I'm freaking-out, right now as I write, desperate to understand why I'm doing this to myself, why am I re-living this? WHY? How many tears do I want? How many is enough?] Proud, anxious newly-expectant parents, all over again.

One battery of fetal-health tests pass, then another. We see a tiny human begin to form on the ultrasound, and it moves. Then we see genitalia—a little girl. A little sister. We are thrilled.

Then a test result from the second battery is reported as being borderline. Could we get more tests done? Of course we can. We have a more precise nuchal fold measure taken, and full body stats revise the date of conception later by several weeks. The numbers are insignificant by themselves -- nothing manifestly abnormal, only borderline, but there are enough of them askew that our Ob/Gyn orders more precise testing. It is too late in the pregnancy for a CVS, so an amniocentesis is performed.

We wait for the results with a horrible sort of dread; somehow our new, beautiful little girl has slid in an eyeblink from future joy to immediate fear. The nightmares that every newly-pregnant couple puts to rest as soon as possible—that WE had set aside—are all of a sudden hiding just out of sight.

I receive a summons: “The clinic called; come home, please.” I leave my half-completed voice lesson and hurry the five blocks home.

She was there on the couch.

I don't remember the precise words; I mean, I do—heaven help me, I do—but I'm incapable of the internal review to organize those particular memories to my usual precision. She was in tears:

“Triploidy. They say she's triploid; three of every chromosome. It's terminal.” “Oh god. Oh my god. How … What …” “I want this baby” “What do we do?” “What do people do?” “I love this baby” “Our baby girl …” “I really want this baby.” Not one of those fragments, handed back and forth between us, was delivered whole. Each was punctuated by sobs, gasping sobs, voices cracking, shaking. And yet I will never, ever, ever forget them.

Like the moment JFK was shot. The moment, for us both, that our second daughter began to die.

We call our parents. Mine hurry into town, collect our little girl from her day care and bring her, briefly, home. And here is another moment seared into my memory: My wife suddenly collapses, sobbing, into my mother's arms, her postponement of grief failing catastrophically, and our 2½ year-old daughter looks up at them from a few feet away, transfixed. She is in shock. Her little jaw opens slightly as her world lists, one particular pillar having just crumbled before her eyes. For almost two years afterwards, she will make a habit, throughout mornings and evenings, of regularly, repeatedly checking on our emotional condition: are we happy? are we sad? are we tired? are we okay?: Every question an aftershock.

My parents take our daughter for several nights, we take bereavement leave from our jobs, and the snarl of questions unravels into ruin. We google “triploidy”—after all, my brother has trisomy-21, and he has led a loving, if slow, life.  It is absolutely, unequivocally, fatal: miscarriage, or a few weeks of painful, failing life. One girl, the longest-lived on record, survived almost half a year, and I'm moved to tears by how hideously cruel her parents' outspoken belief in sanctity of life feels as I read of it.

We visit our clinic and meet with a genetic counselor, who gently summarizes what we already have learned: a painful, weeks-long life if she survives to term, serious danger to the mother: risk of death in delivery or sterility from molar complications. Terror grips us. We come to a conclusion.

We will terminate. We meet with a surgeon. I ask … but no, some things are inessential. [And some pain I still husband alone.]

It is a D&C. We learn what this entails and go numb. Our daughter could be born into brief and inchoate agony and threaten to end her mother's life, or … could gently enter a final sleep in utero. This is no choice. And yet, we cannot shirk our agency—we do choose. Oh, God. We choose.

We begin grief counseling. The termination happens. We continue counseling. We return to our jobs, going through what motions we can. Months pass, little more than a blur in my memories.

We grieve all through the winter. I teach myself to knit, and construct an absurdly sophisticated, crazily geeky scarf.

We get the medical okay to try again, to risk another conception, another devastation. Eventually, we achieve the courage to try, and conceive our third child immediately.

I find a route to expiate my grief and my new terror, to focus the love that found itself horribly adrift, the love that could not save my tiny, broken child. I will make a baby blanket, of course. Every stitch will be cast with this love. Every ounce of affection that what remains of her spirit might accept, will be offered there. Every stitch will catch a mother's and father's love, and as our third child grows and we discover who it is—who it might be—the new love growing will be caught as well. And when her spirit fully departs, when her time is truly past, what love is left will mingle with this new love to finish the blanket that shall warm and comfort her sibling.

What an animistic concept to spring from the heart of an agnostic, deeply apostate, permanently lapsed Catholic. But there is a gaping, bleeding hole in my psyche, now: The data strongly suggest a dyandric origin to the triploidy. Either my sperm was broken, having improperly undergone mitosis, or a second sperm also fertilized the egg. A cell from my body, that should have given my child life, took it instead. I have blood on my hands, and a gravid heart that must somehow be delivered of its unreleased longing and warmth before they sour and turn to rejection and bitterness. And so, to mend my soul before loss could cripple me, I knit.

This third pregnancy progresses. A heartbeat. Simple measurements. As soon as viable, we schedule a CVS. We wait for results.

That day, that glittering-bright and amazing day, I receive a phone call. “The results are: healthy, karyotypically normal, male!” We leave our respective offices on foot and meet midway across town to hold each other and cry tears of relief, tears of joy, tears of hope that our nightmare might be drawing to a close.

There are weeks of gladness, now, and we recenter ourselves towards a normal gestational routine. The blanket progresses, the loves now blending into sweetness as the soft, daisy-yellow stitches gradually amass.

And then a shadow grows. A nagging worry lingers, somewhere just out of sight. A little boy is coming. I've fathered a little boy. A little baby boy. I fathered a boy. A beautiful boy. A father. A boy.

I start sleeping poorly. There are dreams I cannot recall that leave me exhausted. I wake abruptly from dreams of fighting with my parents, the final shouts voiced fully in the dark of the bedroom. Once I punch my sleeping partner in the arm, struggling as a dream-child to defend my dream-family against an abusive captor/abductor. I begin to fear sleep, and the insomnia begins. Thoughts whirl about me in the dark hours, thoughts I grudgingly consider, robbed as they are of dream-expression. I start to write, and I begin to voice questions.

How can I model male for this boy? How can I be something I'm not? How can I exemplify something I've never accepted being? Who will he see when he looks at me? Will he see me, obscured as I'll be by the trappings of all the role into which he will grow? Will he know me?

Will I know my child?

Will my child see me?

Can I hope to share all my love?

There is a fear I call the isolator-fear. It is a bleakness, and a distrust. It is the panicky urge behind every camouflage defense, propping-up every shell, every mask. It is the lie that we, any of us, might truly be unlovable to anyone. It is the lie that the surety of affection to our faces could ever be preferable to even just the possibility of affection to our hearts. It is an insidious serpent that makes islands of us, stony and barren, by threatening to cast us adrift. It devours our relationships and gives us certainty—the certainty that we must always hide.

And at last, in a shifting of darkness, the isolator-fear stirs, feeding greedily on this flood of insecurity. I mustn't rock the boat. There's nothing here to consider; surely I know precisely what I am: a genderqueer man with some complex fetish and much needless angst. It's so simple, how could I let myself be conflicted? I need sleep. This has to stop.

But the powerful, aching love for two dear children, one now nine months dead, one yet unborn and curled quietly within the woman lying beside me, is now furiously ablaze. Every morning, with every stitch, I consider words to share with my son. Every night I rest in bed, sometimes for hours, fiercely brandishing my sorrow in two needles, making a thing of tenderness and nurture, calming and relaxing each twitch of tension in my hands. It is more consuming than any fear.

And as that serpent, in those late, dark pre-dawn hours, winds about my every worry, it cannot help but brush against the firestorm of emotion I have been nursing. Touched by flame, drifting askew in confusion, it catches briefly alight. And in that fleeting illumination, I see the hypocrisy. I see the life that its dusky coils chain me away from. I see the final moment of the interior of the closet all around me, as its walls disintegrate and leave me exposed in a strange new land.

And my world changes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Here. Now.

This night, I went out.  I went out as me.

Now, I didn't do full-dress (sadly, it's trigger-y).  I didn't wear makeup (also trigger-y, plus: don't know how & don't own any).  I didn't pass.  And that, that used to be trigger-y, too, but tonight?  Tonight I couldn't give a f**k because tonight rocked.

All this, of course, is not to say I went out in drab.  I wore a cami, even though it probably wasn't necessary, and my best soft black stretch top; my hair was (well, until the music kicked-in) immaculately brushed back into a long streaming ponytail, tied twice in green and pink.  What skin I showed (hands, neck, face) was free of any male traces.  I was uncommonly comfortable in my body.

I was sirred at the door, of course.  Curiously, I didn't even care.  Tall women with thinning hair, squared jaws, and deeper voices are sirred all the time.  Funny, that never seemed to comfort me before.  Perhaps it wasn't tonight, either—perhaps I'm just in a different place, now.  Either way, I was fine.

My friend met me there, as the first opener finished (a bouncy hip-hop ska-ish bunch).  We hung-out in the back patio until the second opener (a super-fun IDM crew) was done, then moved back to the stage area as the Minibosses were warming up.

It was awesome.  I had the best time.  I got on stage at one point to belt a vintage cartoon theme (long-running inside joke for them) in exchange for the 11-minute Mega Man II medley and the super-thrashy Castlevania II medley.  I even heckled (shouting requests for My Cooking Mama and Harvest Moon).  It was an awesome geeky crew.

It was my first time out, not in drab, feeling "Rachel".  I've been out before in my male-feminine best, but still consciously feeling the guy-mode.  It was … wonderful.  Sure, I didn't pass—but sometimes, sometimes that's not necessary.  What mattered was that I felt like me.  That's an amazing thing, and the best birthday present I could possibly give myself.

Because Friday is my birthday.  At thirteen minutes past noon, Pacific time, I will enter the latter half of my fourth decade of life.  At thirty-four (for yet a few more hours), I have already received the gift I promised myself four years ago: that I would begin transition in earnest (hormones, and a schedule & plan for FT) before … before today.  Here it is.  I made it.

This was the perfect event to celebrate it, to tell the truth.  The Minibosses are a rock/metal band whose fame is that they play nothing but music from games from the original NES (Nintendo Entertainment System for readers who were/are not gamers).  It's quite literally something that, had I told my 12-year-old self about tonight, I would never believe it (although I'd think it an awesome idea).  And if I were tell 12-year-old me that I would today, at last, be growing into womanhood … I'm positive I would not have believed me then, either.  And yet I am!  And, too, not only do the Minibosses exist, but they're even better than the recordings I have heard, and incredibly fun performers.

Tomorrow, I will have lunch with a friend whom I have not seen in over a decade.  I doubt I will be able to keep the topic away from my present life, and I'm very very done with hiding and dissembling.

So there's another birthday gift for me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The self survives

The marvelous thing about a well-kept journal is how present it can make one's past.
The miserable thing about a well-kept journal is how present it can make one's past.
Memory is fluid so that we may be as well.

Can it really be only four years ago that this began? Reading the entries, I cannot believe how distant, how uncertain this voice sounds. I feel old. I feel weathered and bent and hardened and somber, like an old pine stooped low atop a windy ridge. Not that I don't also feel like a new bud at the break of spring, leaning gently in a breeze every time I feel my smooth hands, with every breath that stretches my tee around my nascent chest. But we are manifold creatures, we humans. And so … so I am old.

When was it that I aged? I think I might guess. I aged every time I cried, every time I sobbed at the endings that had come to stories I thought I was still writing. I aged the night I broke under her denial, broke my possessions in despair and fury, broke my promise to leave her to her choices, her silence, leaving both our hearts broken on the floor. I aged when I saw what I had done and swore myself new oaths, with bonds too tight to chafe. I aged when I surrendered our past and wept for our present. I aged when I asked for what I needed, and received it, when I decided to grow, when I impaled my thigh on 1½" of 22-gauge surgical steel and, gently, died. I am so weary. I have been and been and been: filling those terrible moments with days of worry and fear, pouring seasons of grief into minutes and hours of wailing dissolution. We are manifold beings and we live so brightly when we burn in the dark.

How is it that we can live so much in so short a time? Even with the goad of mortality, reminding us of the finality of every loss, every change, it is not fear that kindles my anger at falseness. Nor is it a looming end that ignites my need. I grow and change because I cannot do otherwise and survive. This is a new-kindled drive: until the closet disintegrated, survival—persistence—was rarely so central. Perhaps our transitions—not just our bodies and our persons, but our worlds and words, our homes and our others—are the bulk of our lives, to date. Perhaps the wonder is not that these few years grip us so but that those few decades before them held us so terribly little.

Those selves we shared—who joined and fled families, built or pursued careers, raised and lost children—how, exactly, did they grow? Where were we when they lived fiercely? Were we there, too? Did we fuse for those fiery moments, out of need and love and joy and desperation, into chimeras of presence and embodiment? Maybe we cling so resolutely to these moments of brilliance and terror in our closeted past because they are our own: lived briefly for ourselves and not for any other. I may, myself, only now be waking, but I have stirred so many times during that long, quiet fever-dream of survival.

I think that must be why the man in this journal feels so distant in his fearful and morose reflections. He was only just ceasing to be that man, and his perspective was that of a frightened yet hopeful child who knows only how little she understands. As a youth thrust forth into independence, she struggled and grew as only the survivor-child (Walker's gifted child?) can. She found children in her heart, loved them, nursed them, and grew; she found herself in a career, accepted it, built it, and grew. She found a partner in her life, loved her, held her, lost her, and grew. Four years, and a recapitulated lifetime: such a gulf separates the man I was from the woman I am becoming.

And now comes the reflective denouement where, embracing anecdotes at last, we recant our hyperbole and repent of our metaphors. Of course I am no binary man-girl chimera—and never was. I have ever been blessed with a single voice, even when I have consciously partitioned it by name (in high school, I once tried to name six! they were all boy-selves or neuter, though …). The search for authenticity could only begin once I surrendered those partitions and accepted this. But the idea of multiplicity is what coalesces most clearly when I try to paint the transitional identity in words.

Similarly, the self that lived my pre-transition life was every bit as much me as the self I am now. However, who we learn as has so sweeping an effect on what we can recall and retain that the concept rings true. And yes, I do find that I am starting a new life, and I find no issue with the idea of many fractional selves populating my past. Every role I have filled, every context I have inhabited, is a part of me—though some I may wish to deny. I do not so much change as allow a more authentic self to blossom and overcome all its peers.

For truly I am a manifold being, and today I am alive.

'anima, ex multis; inde, superstes' : from the many, a soul: thence, a survivor

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Seasons and Seasons

Another season, another change, and on we go.

I'm writing, again, and deconstructing the remainders of the temporary closets that carried us through the last few years. HRT began on August 2nd, 2012, and my world is in a quiet-yet-delightful disarray. New essays, here, soon (I've two drafts under edit at present), but diary entries look as if they'll be confined to @rmei's twitter stream these days. Or not! Time will tell.

Meanwhile, since this is linked from my twitter bio, and I'm beginning to follow around and reach out ...

Welcome, Stranger!  If you seek the voyeurism of a public diarist, feel free to just read from the beginning.  If your time is more valuable than that, and you want something to read and consider and digest, try the "Essays" links in the sidebar (I'm especially fond of "Naming..." and "Images...").