Protecting the truth:
Once upon a time I fell in love. I was 24 years old and I had loved twice before but, as these stories predictably go... This time was different. The guys I had dated prior deeply impacted my life, as all loves do, but, neither of them felt like falling in love this time. Meeting this love was different not just because the moment we met I swear I felt a bolt of lightning shoot straight from my head to my feet, but because until that point Kristen hadn't exactly been my type.
Falling in love feels like whirlwinds of excitement balanced with waves of comfort: learning about each other, figuring out how to fit in each other's lives, playing, exploring, snuggling, laughing, arguing, occasionally crying, and sharing identities with each other. It’s an inimitable electricity. This time, however, I couldn't just enjoy those blissful feelings of falling because I was also absolutely paralyzed with fear. Fear of judgment, rejection, and this insidious feeling that I was doing something wrong for loving someone who just happened to be born into a female body.
For a long time that fear motivated me to hide our love from my friends, from my family, and for a while from myself. Things I would say to protect my truth included but were not even remotely limited to: "We're just friends", "I'm getting some exploring out of my system", and my personal favorite, "It's just fun but, it won't amount to anything". These were conversational shields that I employed to keep distance between other people and my authentic experience of this relationship. They were damn effective tools for a while. They gave me enough space to sort through my own feelings without others’ judgment constantly intervening. The problem with these shields, as effective as they were, is that they helped me hide. And helping me hide reinforced the idea that what I was doing needed to be hidden.
What’s interesting about my particular coming out scenario is that I live in an overwhelmingly liberal part of the country, with exceptionally loving parents, and mostly liberal and accepting friends. Very few, if any, of them would have cut me out of their lives, or told me I was going to burn in hell, let alone physically harmed me- Realities which are all too real for so many. So, my situation seemed perfectly safe, right? Well, physically, yes. Emotionally, not so much.
Despite the safety that the metro Boston area provided me, I still encountered daily reminders that my relationship didn’t match up with the norm, and therefore, neither did I. Between unintentional moments like coworkers asking “Do you have a boyfriend” or being invited to parties and being the only non-heterosexual couple, to the outright insults and slurs directed at my significant other, I was in a constant state of awareness about my newly obvious ‘otherness’: Is this a place where we can hold hands? Is this a place where we can kiss? Is this server going to be kind to me? Will my friends squirm when I talk about sex? Will I have to explain to them that yes it’s still sex even though a penis isn’t in my vagina? When we dance at a wedding will people look at us and wonder who will lead? Will my very existence all of a sudden make my family members uncomfortable? Will I still be able to live the kind of life they had imagined for me? That I had imagined for myself? How many times will I be introduced as “the sweet friend” because being referred to as a female’s girlfriend is embarrassing for them? What does all of this mean about how lovable I am? How valuable I am?
None of these situations ever resulted in my experiencing physical harm or outright discrimination but, that isn’t really the point. (Also, how pathetic is it that physical harm and outright discrimination are the bars by which our society measures the difficulty of a group’s experience). The point is that all of a sudden a significant portion of my awareness previously devoted to delighting in the euphoria of a new relationship became primarily focused on assessing whether or not a situation was emotionally safe. So, the shields stayed up. I had become adept at hiding my real experience. For a long time my friends and family truly believed that what was easily my deepest experience of love and belonging was nothing more than an experimental fling. And why wouldn’t they believe that? It’s what I was telling them. I was so convincing that I even started doubting myself. I’d go a hundred mental rounds each day questioning what I was feeling. Am I really in love? If I am does that mean I didn't love my exes? (Because surely I couldn’t love and be attracted to both male and female bodies). Who do I love more? I simply couldn’t shake the feeling deeply twisted into my gut that I was doing, thinking, feeling something wrong.
As all of this identity questioning was going on within my personal experience, Kristen stood with me fielding all of my emotional grenades as expertly as one of those Yankees players she loved so much fields a pop-fly. My insecurities had me wound so tight that a bad hair day, humid apartment, or overflowing laundry hamper would spring me into an absolute fit. She gritted her teeth through my meltdowns, she comforted my fears, and she held faith in the legitimacy and strength of our relationship when my doubts told me not to believe. So, when it was time for Kristen to come out again, this time as transgender, I wanted to return all of that love and support.
In the best way I knew how I tried to help our friends and family use male pronouns and discontinue the use of Kristen in favor of Andy, my affectionate nickname for his chosen name Andrew. To know how it all went, you’d really have to ask him because his experience isn’t my story to tell. From my perspective, I could have done better but, I also could have done worse - I did the best that I could at that time given what I knew and what I felt. Which is really all any of us is doing, right? Our best. During his transition, I had expected that any changes would be entirely focused on him - Especially from the perspective of the outside world. I was surprised to find that all of a sudden my identity was being questioned again as well. “Well, if he’s a guy then you’re straight again”, some would say. Again. As if I had lost something valuable and someone had returned it to me. This kind of thing drove me bananas. I’M WITH THE SAME PERSON HOW COULD MY SEXUALITY CHANGE?! Why is my identity dependent on another person’s? Does this mean my identity isn’t just mine? The constant questioning was exhausting and the blurring of boundaries between my identity and his was ultimately damning.
As could be expected in the middle of an identity shift, Andy threw his fair share of emotional grenades into our relationship. I’m not as avid a baseball fan as he is and I didn’t always field them with the same steadfast conviction as he did with mine. A few years, two new apartments, six pets, a stunning diamond engagement ring, and one hundred thirty printed Save-The- Dates later, I felt like we had been fighting a years-long war to protect our relationship from the judgment of the world and from the inevitable emotional fall out brought on by changing identities. We found ourselves depleted and despite all of our love and some high quality therapy, we couldn’t keep fighting.
I’ll never forget the night we called it quits: The buffalo chicken sandwich I ate at a bar without him, the eucalyptus mint candle I blew out in a fury spraying wax all over the coffee table, sitting in my car in our driveway just to avoid sleeping in our bed alone. On his way to work the next morning, he kissed the top of my head to acknowledge the pain but the coldness in a gesture where warmth once lived only further broke my heart. It was really over. Throughout the day the numbness of disbelief was only interrupted by the crushing feelings of failure, loss, and fear. Who would I be without him? What would my life look like? Would I love again? A couple days later I slid the ring off my finger and put the platinum, the diamond, and all my old hopes for the future into its little blue box.
I cried for days, weeks, months, years even. It’s been almost three years since that night and every once in a while I still cry about it. Despite the incredibly heavy sadness, I still went to work, still cleaned my house, still went to weddings and birthday parties. After six or seven months I pretended to date again. I did my best to check in on my friends even though I’m certain it wasn’t nearly as much as they were checking on me. I shuffled through my life as if walking through a fog- Trodding along without a clear path.
People have asked plenty of times what got me through it. The truth is, I don’t know if I am through it. I think it’s that way with any kind of loss. Loss isn’t a finite situation that you can be ‘done with’. It’s something you carry with you forever and the only thing you can do is change your perspective on it or your relationship to it. I imagine what people mean when they ask me what got me through a cancelled wedding and a broken heart is 'what sustained you during that time'. The answer is: a rockstar therapist, Gloucester beach days with a friend who also knew the sting of heartbreak, best friends who text me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. and listened to me say the same things over and over and over again, Frank Turner songs, my sister sleeping over for my entire birthday weekend so I wouldn’t celebrate it alone, my parents taking care of wedding cancelations so that I didn’t have to think about it, the city of Manhattan, badass yoga instructors, my passport, Red Fire Farm CSA deliveries, Gilmore Girls, bourbon-based cocktails, a precious three-year-old named Chase, sarcasm, crochet hooks and yarn, an inordinate number of cookbooks, my ridiculous pets, financial privilege, and a whole lot of pizza.
Those were some of the things that kept me moving through that fog of sadness and disillusionment. I needed them all and they did in fact sustain me. What really lifted that fog though was twofold: First, was spending every Monday morning with that rockstar therapist cracking open the barrel of neurotic monkeys that had high-jacked my psyche- Figuring out why I had been so afraid and how my fear thought it was protecting me but actually made things worse. Learning not to take ownership for things that aren’t mine. Giving myself permission and space to feel whatever it was I felt and remembering that those feelings would be impermanent. And letting go of the expectations I had of what my life should or shouldn’t look like (still working on that one). Second, was Andy himself. A little more than a year after our split, we were able to meet for lunch and we caught up. First it was small talk, then it became processing, and eventually we found ourselves sharing what we had learned about ourselves in the absence of the other and each took responsibility for our own missteps. It was one of the most impactful moments of my life to acknowledge our pain together in that way and I will always be grateful for it, and for him.
I’m not entirely sure where Jen and Anna are going to share my story on their website. Maybe it’ll be the divorce/breakups section, maybe under coming out, maybe under identity questioning, maybe in life stressors. I guess it doesn’t much matter, the important part is that now it’s shared. At the beginning I talked about the ways in which I hid behind denial and justifications to “protect my truth”. At the time, I really thought that’s what I was doing. What I didn’t realize is that while I may have been temporarily shielding myself from the judgement of others, I was damaging not only my relationship to someone I deeply loved but also my relationship to myself. If there is anything we can learn from You Are, from my story, and from each other, I hope it’s that the only way to actually protect truth is to share it.