Life went on…

When I blogged my letter to our friends and family on Friday, I genuinely had no idea what to expect. I knew I was taking a bit of a risk sharing something so personal on the internet but, let’s face it, my blog dwells in a quiet corner of the web where few wander and I figured it wouldn’t be stumbled on by many people other than people I know through social media. As it turned out I had Kim Kardashian’s oiled-up bum to compete with for hits anyway, and who can compete with that? Our decision to share our news in that way that we did was borne from a need to tell as many people as possible, all in one go. In doing so, we hoped to avoid a situation whereby we’d have to ‘come out’ repeatedly over a period of weeks and months, telling the same story over and over again. We figured that doing it this way would mean that everyone could hear the news, react, and ask questions in the following days, and that we’d then be able to get on with it. Last Friday morning, as we prepared to tell our children and then our wider group of friends and acquaintances, I still couldn’t even imagine a time when everyone would know. It was like my mind didn’t dare imagine what would come next. Friday was the climax of what had been months of worry, discussion, contemplation, decision making and many, many shared tears.

In terms of reaction, I think I probably anticipated mainly awkward silence. I had visions of tumbleweed blowing through my blog as a dog barked in the distance. I figured we’d probably encounter some unpleasantness from the odd troll, but I didn’t fear that because words on a screen can’t break me. I’d prepared myself for the worst in the hope that any surprises would be good ones… A surprise was exactly what I got! The response was overwhelming: we were flooded with love, support and encouragement from family, friends and strangers. We were shown understanding and acceptance in a way that I hadn’t dared dream of. So far, more than 4,500 people have viewed that letter and I haven’t received one single negative response. Not one. Sure, some people who know us have chosen to remain silent and that’s fair enough. I’m enough of a realist to know that there will be criticism, though. I know that there will be disapproval, and lack of understanding, and gossip, and unpleasantness. Most of it will take place where I can’t hear it, and that’s fine – people are entitled to their opinions. On the occasions where I’m faced with it, I’ll draw strength from the love and support that I know Jess and I are surrounded by, and I’ll rise above it.

My overwhelming feeling now is mainly one of relief. It feels like we’ve carried this secret for so long now, that finally unburdening ourselves of it is liberating. It’s done, and I won’t have to spend another single minute of another day wondering over and over and over again what to do. Never again will I lie awake at night wondering how people react, because now I know. I’ll never again have the reactions of the children weighing on my mind, because I’ve seen their reactions. It’s early days, but so far our respective children have been incredible. People did try to tell us that children are far more accepting and understanding than adults, but we didn’t dare believe them. Needless to say, we’re only just starting out and there will doubtlessly be bumps along the way, but we could not have hoped for a better start.

That letter was going to be my first and last blog post on the subject. I had absolutely no intention of sharing any further details of our journey – of our highs and our lows, our challenges and our triumphs – online. However the number of people who contacted me to say that they’re in a similar position to mine, or that they’ve been here and had nowhere to turn, or that they’d previously had completely misunderstood what being transgender meant, has reminded me how much I struggled to find advice, support and information in the early days. I remember trawling the internet for hours on end, desperate for hope and encouragement and finding nothing but tales of misery, isolation and, ultimately, decimated relationships. Reading and rereading all these articles was so counterproductive, and made my own personal journey to acceptance so much longer and more difficult. I knew there were others out there; people who’d walked this path before me and emerged happy and fulfilled, but there was no trail. The least I can do, having been shown so much love and support by others, is to leave a trail behind me- a trail which, hopefully, will lead to a destination of love, acceptance and fulfilment.

To every one of you who offered us your support – thank you. I doubt you will ever know how much that meant, or how I will carry it with me for many years to come.

Dear friends and family…

Dear friends and family,

We write this because we have some news about our lives that we’d like to share with you. We hope that, by sharing it with you in this way, we’ll be able to explain the entire situation fully and without interruption. It means you all get the same information at the same time, and you all hear it directly from us. Are you sitting comfortably…?

Many of you will already know that Justin is transgender. This means that he has been diagnosed with a condition known as Gender Dysphoria (GD). GD affects approximately 1% of the population, and can often be difficult for the remaining 99% to understand. In very simplistic terms, it means that the gender a person is on the inside does not match the physical gender they have on the outside. GD is not a sexual preference, a lifestyle choice or a fetish, it is a medical condition (it’s probably relevant to mention at this point that it’s not considered to be a mental health condition, it is regarded as a physical condition. The cause is unknown, but thought to be related to hormonal or cerebral development of a foetus). GD is an extremely difficult thing for someone to live with, and the only recognised cure for it is gender transition.

Without going into too much background detail, we have tried possible methods of trying to deal with Justin’s Gender Dysphoria. However, he has reached a point where managing it has just become too difficult. After much thought, soul searching and discussion, we have made the decision as a couple that Justin will now begin his gender transition and live as female. By the time you read this, our parents, close families and respective children will all have been told about this decision.

The next time you meet us, you will meet Pauline and Jess. Some people have already asked us if we’re staying together, and the answer to that is a resounding “yes”. In short, we each love the other for who they are on the inside, and how we look on the outside is secondary to the individual personalities we both have. This is a long journey into the unknown for us, but regardless of the physical changes Jess has ahead of her, she is still the same person on the inside that she always was. In fact, that’s the whole point of transition – for Jess to change her physical appearance to match the person she has always been on the inside. These last few months have been very challenging for us as we’ve taken this huge decision followed by the tentative first steps of our journey but, as we thought might be the case, it’s made us closer and stronger than ever.

We know that some of you will be concerned for us as your friends, and that most of you will understandably be concerned for how this will affect the children. Please be assured that we have prepared ourselves as well as we possibly can for the journey our children will make with us, and we have already made sure that there are support mechanisms in place for them. Not only do they have us, but they also have their other parents who are fully informed and will work with us to support the children. The professionals we have spoken to, along with families who have gone through this before us, have told us that children usually deal surprisingly well with this change. They also told us that the attitudes and support of the adults around them directly affect their attitude to it. We hope that those of you who choose to stay in our lives will help us to support them. Our children are loved and cared for, and we are confident we will continue to provide them with the loving and happy home they have had until now.

So, that’s our news. We understand many of you will never have come across Gender Dysphoria before, or known someone who is transgender. We are always happy to answer questions about the condition itself or about the transition process (provided it’s nothing too personal!). To the friends and family who have supported us through these difficult early days, we owe you a debt of gratitude. The unconditional love and friendship shown to us by you has been truly overwhelming, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

With much love,

Pauline and Jess

Dear Pols…

Life has been interesting lately. Actually, that’s an understatement. Life has been a roller coaster lately. Highs, higher highs, lows, long slow climbs that you just know have an enormous drop on the other side but aren’t quite sure how far the drop is, and a whole plethora of emotions. I haven’t blogged about any of it because, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I ever want to be able to revisit most of those places in the future. I do know from conversations with lots of people, though, that I’m not the first to be where I was, and I’m certainly not the only one to be in that place right now.

As you all know, I’m partial to the odd trite saying. I love a cheesy cliché, I do, and recent times have been no exception to that. Naturally, my corny catchphrase of choice of late has been “this too shall pass”. It got me thinking… It WILL pass. Of course it will. Everything does. But where will I be when events of the last few months are filed under D for Distant Memory? I guess the answer to that is that I don’t know (who does?) but I’m thinking best case scenario here, and having a word with the me who emerges from this in twelve months’ time…

Dear Pols (aged 34 and just-over-a-half),

How are you? With any luck you’ll be reading this in the same place I wrote it: at your desk in the office at home, looking out at the children playing in the garden. They’ll be bigger than they are now but I don’t expect they’ll have changed much otherwise. This past year will have been tough on them at first, but I suspect the children you see in front of you now will have adapted nicely; they’re tough little cookies and they have your (our? This whole writing-to-yourself thing is kind of weird) strength of character. It’s that thing Dad used to say, isn’t it? Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. It has been tough. Horrendously tough. Unexpectedly and unpredictable tough. But we’re tough too, and so are those children, and that’s why I can write this knowing we all got there in the end.

You’ll have learned a lot in this past year, I expect. One of the lessons I’ve already learned is that sometimes there is just no right way to handle a situation.Or, if there is, it usually comes with the benefit of hindsight. I guess everyone in life is just muddling through as best they can. Maybe other people would have chosen different ways or different paths, but I did the best I could and I hope the road I chose for us has brought you to a destination where you’re happy. I’m pretty certain it has. When I look around me now, I see the green shoots of a promising future. The clouds have been many, but the silver linings have been plentiful too and I hope they’ve long outlasted the clouds.

I’ve been working harder on being kind to myself, so hopefully I’ve made that job easier for you. I’ve learned recently to take the lessons from the times I could have handled things better, and let the rest go; chuck them in that proverbial fuck-it bucket and move on. I’ve also learned to stop taking responsibility for the way other people deal with situations. I hope that’s worked out well for you. People react to stuff in their own way; it’s not your job to work through that for them or to accept responsibility for how they feel. Nor is it your job to guide them to the truth, or to explain yourself.

You have some really wonderful friends, Pols. People whose support and love has been unending and unconditional. I hope you have the opportunity to repay that to them one day. Meantime, they know how much they mean to you because I’ve told them. You should know who your friends are by now, because I’ve pretty much figured out who’s in it for the long haul, and who isn’t.

I know this will find you in a house full of happiness and love, because that’s what I’ve been building for you. A wonderful, crazy home with laughter and fun and a never ending source of strength. You’re loved, you’re wanted and most of all you’re utterly fabulous. I know that last bit because someone we know told me. Your future is bright, and anything else will pass.

Be happy, Pauline. Let me know how it goes.

Love,

Pols (aged 33 and just-over-a-half)

A personal one…

“I won’t be a Mom any more”

We went to see The Fault in our Stars last night. I’ve recently finished the book, having read it at weird times of night when I couldn’t sleep, and I enjoyed it but didn’t find myself reaching for the Kleenex. I figured the film would probably be the same, so naturally I didn’t bother to take any Kleenex (other brands of tissue are available, obvs). Needless to say, I cried like a baby. It was that line, you see. That “I won’t be a mom any more” line, which was gasped by the mother of huge terminally ill protagonist at some touch-and-go point in her illness (she survived that particular setback, if you’re interested).

I know why that line got to me. It got to me because it was my children’s weekend with their dad, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how 50/50 contact makes me feel like 50% of a parent. It struck me, as people around me blew their noses (having prudently remembered their Kleenex) and sniffled about the tragedy of huge story, that my children were somewhere else and I had no idea what they were doing or how they were. It’s hardly comparable to the situation the mother in the movie found herself in, but it occurred to me that I feel so completely rubbish as a parent when they’re off at their dad’s. Like I’m not a mum when they’re not with me.

I’m pretty certain they were having a typical Saturday night in their dad’s house. The toddler would most likely have been asleep, and the boys would either have been battling with one another or plotting against their dad. All fairly typical of what happens when they’re with me. That wasn’t really the point, though. The point was that I’m so used to being around them 24/7. I’m used to seeing, hearing and being involved in the minutiae of their every day lives. I knew about every grumble and every laugh; I flushed the unflushed loos and kissed skint knees. Suddenly, half of their life is a complete unknown to me and that has really, unexpectedly hit me hard.

I mean, they’re with their dad. He’s a good parent, and he’s been a stay-at-home dad for almost two and a half years, so they’re used to having him around. He knows what they like to eat and he’s more than capable of kissing skint knees and flushing the loo. They’re safe, they’re well and they’re happy. That’s all good. But they’re not with me and I miss them so much it makes me feel physically sick.

I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder if my toddler is awake. I wonder if she’s looking for me, asking for Mummy Milk and wondering why I’m not there. I wonder if the boys are missing me, and if they really feel it when I’m not around. The best and worst part of it all is that I think they’re doing just fine.

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Remember to see the beauty in the everyday things around you, and find joy in the little things. Always look for the best in people, but offer your trust wisely. Trust your own judgement; your gut instinct is rarely wrong. Don’t engage in gossip, and remember that when people gossip about you it says more about their character than yours. While small minds indulge in idle gossip, great minds ask questions in search of the truth.

Be true to yourself, because when you’re alone with your thoughts there is no hiding from the truth. When others doubt you, you will find comfort in your clear conscience. Before you judge others remember that you only see them where they are now, and you were not there to witness the winding path of their journey. Be tolerant and compassionate, and challenge your own views. Never allow a cry for help to go unanswered, and never be afraid to be the one in need. There is no shame in weakness, and there is strength in vulnerability. Value those around you. Money is the currency of the world, but love and friendship is the currency of life: spend time, save memories. Cherish those precious moments, commit them to memory. When times are tough, these memories will wrap you in the comfort of better days.

Sometimes, your love and friendship will be misplaced. Betrayal may hurt, but don’t allow it to break you. Accept that you can never change the past. Park it, take the lessons you need from it, and continue your journey free from the burden of things which have gone before. Turn and face the sunshine, so the shadows are always behind you. Dream big, and don’t be afraid to make those dreams a reality.

Live fearlessly.

Laugh freely.

Love completely.

Love. Love transcends everything. Tell people that you love them, because sometimes it will the the one thing they really need to hear. Offer your love without conditions. Allow your love for others to consume you. Bask in the warmth of being loved. Show people that you love them, because your actions will speak more than your words will ever be able to say. Love is more than a single emotion; love is an experience. Share it.

Carpe Diem. Seize the flipping day.