Three years have past; Three summers, with the length of three long winters! and again I recall my mother, lying in her deathbed with a soft late-season snow beginning to fall outside.

Mary Jo and I were talking last night about my moods and she said, “you know what, I bet the season of your mother’s death has something to do with this. Didn’t she die around this time?”

I lay in bed, picturing her gravestone I had just examined today on a trip to my hometown, and although it didn’t register at the time, yes, she died on March 12th, three years ago today, in the deepening dusk as an the first taps on the window signaled the beginning of an unseasonably late snowstorm. The room was filled with family and friends, my sister on her right side and me on her left. I wrote about this moment in December in a reflection on her hands and my hands, but I have not thought about it since.

I don’t know how this date could have escaped me, but it did. It’s not that I haven’t thought of my mother or my father, who died two years before her — in fact, I was thinking that the current president of my PFLAG chapter reminds me a great deal of my mother, and I was imagining that she would have supported me in this transsexual transition.

I don’t know if my mood swings have anything to do with family grief, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that they contribute to my ups and downs. Still, I think they have mostly to do with how hard it is to tweak all my social relationships, all my personality characteristics, and all of my preconceived notions of how life was supposed to work out. If those don’t occasion grief (at least from time to time), I don’t know what would be considered legitimate. I continue to turn my eye made quiet by the power of harmony to self-understanding, aiming for the deep power of joy and the hope that I may see into the life of things.

Intense days, these. Crying almost every day. Sobbing grief at every turn. Where’s that light at the end of the tunnel, again?

Mary is astounding. We’ve had such intense talks, honest and revealing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship like this. I know I haven’t. The funny thing is that I don’t think it has anything to do with gender and everything to do with being honest with myself and someone else.

I feel as if everything has fallen down around me, and everything I thought I knew, everything I was certain about and confident about, has turned out to be wrong. I’ve been using the metaphor of walls or barriers that I have built over the years to protect me, and I think I’ve come to realize that not only did they protect me and my secrets, but they isolated me. It may have been common sense to others, but I am surprised at the realization that I have lived a very lonely, isolated life. So it’s no wonder that this new openness, which is really the only survival tool I have right now, feels so, well, open. It’s different and vulnerable, of course, but it’s also surprisingly empowering.

This past week was really hard, having been reading She’s Not There and having visited my hometown on Wednesday for a meeting. I’m not accusing Jenny Boylan of messing with my head, but this book helps to bring issues to the surface. I think my hometown reinforces my feeling of duty and perhaps makes me feel trapped.

In any case, on Thursday it was way down in the dumps, absolutely miserable, unable to sleep, woke up at 3:30 and just paced the house until sunrise. It was a lonely, sad day, one of those really low times when everything is tired and confused.

However, Friday, with Mary gone to an out-of-town event, I slept well and got a little lift, working at school in the morning and getting some action on getting a new doctor.

Home by lunch, I found myself standing in the closet looking for a shirt to wear, and all of Dad’s old work shirts just fit like tents, given my weight loss and my loss of muscle due to hormones. So I began looking at each one, kind of inventorying what to do about them, and decided I’d take them to the vacation place next time.

But the feeling I had at that moment was déjà vu, and it was just like walking through Mom’s house with it empty and her dead and trying to decide what to do with her things. Part of me wanted to say, she wouldn’t want me to mess with her things, while another, pragmatic part, said, she’s dead and there’s no point in keeping this stuff around.

I felt the same thing looking at my clothes, my unwearable underwear, my ancient makeup that our Amy and her mom packed up along with everything else when we moved to the country.

I felt horrible grief — sadness at a loss, helplessness at the uncertain future, anger at having been dealt this hand.

When you’re in this situation, you sort of drift from belonging to belonging, no particular search pattern in place, listening to the story of the item or wondering what its story might have been. Why did Dad ever buy this pair of boots? I remember when Mom wore this thing. Did we ever eat off these dishes? And the energy gets sapped out of you and you kind of shuffle things around and tell yourself that you’ll deal with it later, that it’s too monumental to deal with today, and thus enervated from the exploration, you close the door and vow to face it later. When you finally do manage to move things to give-away piles or to take-home piles, it is with some relief, but also a feeling like you’re betraying your parents, like you’re giving up on them. It’s as if you could keep alive the possibility of their returning to you if you just keep their things where they left them. Once you sell them or divvy them up, you destroy that possibility.

In taking inventory of my own life, my own clothes, my own belongings, I felt almost the same feeling. I’m not dead, but to hear some transsexuals talk about it, I’m killing off my George Baily, my male persona. He has a past filled with interests and loves and frustrations and accomplishments and failures — and it feels like a betrayal similar to the one above to think of pulling the plug on him. He didn’t do anything wrong, really, other than try to hide his difference, and it seems cruel to impose a death penalty on him. However, prolonging his agony is not unlike trying to keep my parents alive by refusing to clean out their belongings.

It’s not just George, either. I looked through the makeup drawer, the big collection of all sorts of lipstick tubes, powder compacts, eyeshadow cases, and nail polish bottles that Amy and her mother loaded up to help us finish moving from town a couple of years ago. And this drawer, like my parent’s house and my own closet, is an archaeological experience. There are crusty bottles of nail polish that have no business on this earth, tubes of pink lipstick I must have worn during a fluorescent streak in the 90’s, eyeshadows that aren’t fit for anyone but a 16 year old. I culled through my things and threw them away, along with underwear and socks that didn’t belong to me any more.

The grief is also for the past, Mary’s and mine, because that, too, is shimmering with uncertainty, like an old TV on the fritz that may, at any moment, blink out of existence with no hope of recovering the signal. These clothes, these makeup tubes, these images are all of the past, and I grieve for the past.

I’m also grieving about the future in an odd way. I found myself anticipating being at some point in the future, looking back on this day and grieving about what has been lost. In this way, this future-grief is a telescoping event that never ends — it’s a worldview that sort of dreads what living is going to feel like later on. If you let this take over you, you’ll be paralyzed with fear.

I think you have to have a mind to the two kinds of grief, the sadness at what’s lost and the anticipation of future loss, without allowing either one to dominate your life. You’re balancing the two, not wanting to ignore one or the other, but not wanting to put too much relative weight on either side, as well. If you are always looking backwards at what you’ve lost, then you’re hopelessly nostalgic, unable to see the world around you. However, if you never look back, then you’ve killed your history, your stories, your heritage, so that’s not an option to ignore the past, to stamp out the grief. On the other end of the time spectrum, if you dread the future and anticipate the future feelings of loss, you’ll be unable to step forward, and you’ll do harm to yourself and your family, afraid to take a step. But if you don’t think of the future, you’re ignorant and blind, for lessons do repeat and anticipating the future is a good thing.

I bought a digital video camera Saturday and began trying to capture the events of the present before they’re gone. We have done so-so at documenting our lives and I have a horrible fear that the boys won’t have any documentation about what their life was like when they were little. I want them to see that they were loved, even in the midst of turmoil, and that they had fun and that their parents laughed and lived. If my transition ends up causing them horrible embarrassment, then I hope they can look back nostalgically on these times and say Well, at least we had our youth, and if it weren’t for Dad, we’d have happy lives.

I feel as if I’m holding water in my hands trying to prevent change, watching our current existence, which feels normal and safe, trickle through the gaps, no matter how tightly I close the hands. I know you can’t stop change. If it’s not a sex change, then a disease, or an accident, or a natural disaster. The boys will grow up and will have their hearts broken by their first girlfriends. One of their parents will die unexpectedly. Something will happen to rock their faith in people, or government, or education. I don’t know how videotaping 2007 will make a difference, but I feel like it’s something. These are such tumultuous times that a little objective evidence couldn’t hurt. But I wonder if we’ll look at these movies in 10 years and snicker at just how stupid and naïve I was, how nothing I could do or could have done would fix the gaping wounds I’ve created. Will the videos be ironic, pathetic, and helpless documentaries of someone trying to stop time?

I’ve always thought about my life and its complexities, but quite a bit more so while working with my therapist this past six months in relation to my gender identity issues. I believe that my identity in general has often come from others — from others’ expectations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we don’t live in a vacuum, after all. We understand cultural expectations and values — when I was little, it was clear that being a doctor or lawyer was what good, bright people were expected to do. You heard these things and you internalized them. But when I say my identity comes from others, it’s more than this cultural definition of happiness, success, or ambition.

For me, it’s very hard to separate or distinguish or understand when an action of mine taken in the past, however small or big, was undertaken for me in some kind of intrinsic action or rather to gain someone else’s approval. I believe it’s the latter. And when I think on it, it’s a very weird or sad dichotomy, but I think it turns out that if I have no inner core, if I have always taken actions to secure the blessings and approval of others, then I have no free will. I’m a puppet, perhaps a very gifted one who’s able to satisfy many people and lots of different expectations, which I think is certainly my case, but a puppet nevertheless.

If that’s the case, then I have a strange, pathetic existence, and right or wrong, I feel that that describes me, the motivation through fear of rejection and the seeking of approval.

And it comes up at this time through therapy, insight and just generally thinking about myself, through this question of what’s essential and “what must I do?” to keep my sanity or to keep my existence.

And I look back on things I’ve wanted — what I’ve had a burning desire for, what I’ve really wanted — and it’s hard, and maybe I’m just picky with words, but when I think of dreams (as in when people ask you “what have you always dreamed of doing? What do you desperately want to do? What’s your highest priority?), I think of these things as belonging way out on a scale of desire, maybe with 1 being abhorrent, 5 being indifferent, and 10 being highest desire. I myself have certainly enjoyed doing lots of things: hang gliding, owning a business, going to graduate school, but I’m not sure I ever had a desperate dream (a 9 or a 10 on my scale) to do those things at all. I never had a desperate dream to be a professor. I look at the activities I engage in now and I am not sure if any of them came about because I desperately dreamed about them, like being a parent or being married.

But having entered into these things, I really enjoy them and go at them and try to be my best, to learn and try to improve on being a husband, a professor, a business owner, and whatever else I’ve ended up doing. I think I’m blessed (I guess it’s a blessing — maybe a curse) with the ability to acquire passion for my activities, whether I sought them or they just fell into my lap.

But when I think on what I ever desperately wanted or dreamed about, what would constitute a 9 or a 10 on my scale of desire, there are only two things that come to mind that I ever, ever dreamed about ever since I was young. One was being female and the other was playing music. Those two things were always, always part of my inner being, I think always meant something to me different than other things, other “normal” things.

And I think it’s interesting looking at my life and analyzing my activities, how I seem to have deferred or avoided taking steps in those directions. Maybe “deferred enjoyment” might be the kind of psychological term we’d use to describe it, or “delayed gratification.”

Instead of majoring in music or pursuing my gender identity disorder when I got off to school on the west coast, where there would have been ample occasion to do so, I simply dabbled, put my foot in the water, then backed away. So I suppose there’s always been an understanding, but pulling the trigger, taking action, those are things I’ve never been able to do.

The thing is I know about myself, I have a persona or a veneer of not caring what people think about it. In some regards, of course, I don’t; however, I also really, really fear rejection, particularly from people I admire. That is horribly, horribly frightening to me.

So I’m not sure, when I speak with my therapist and I think about my life and I think about my possible future, I don’t’ know if I’m able, logically at least, to separate fear of being myself or confronting my gender identity disorder–fear of taking a step, committing to something I’ve always known and cared about–from my fear of rejection. I don’t know if I’m able to separate those two things.

I think they’re so intertwined in my mind, I don’t know how to separate them. And I wonder, I’m thinking about this, regarding gender, it’s very frightening because gender is such an essential part of one’s self image of one’s identity, and even though it can be awfully fluid, it’s frightening to find yourself messing with it.

I say, both to myself and to others, that I’m an entrepreneur, a risk-taker, but in all honesty I’m not. If I were really a risk taker I would have majored in music; I would have had a sex change by now. I would have said, I suppose, to those I’ve always been afraid of their rejection, like my parents, or my wife or other people, I would have said, “this is something I’ve gotta do. If you’re with me, wonderful; if not, well, I’m sorry. This is something I have to do.”

But I never did say that. I have yet to say that. I don’t know that I’ve said something like that, ever, about anything. “Something I have to do.” The so-called risks I’ve taken in my life have been pretty safe, I’d say.

Obligation. What would it be like to be obligated to do something for myself? Oh, I can do obligation — I know it and respond to it. I’ve been obligated by virtue of jobs– I have a very strong sense of duty, there’s no doubt about that, but this is a duty to others. But what about duty to myself? I don’t know about that.

There have been moments, of course. I’m not just entirely self-sociopathic (or would self-psycho-pathic be the term?). There have been moments, and this year is an example, where my duty to myself — it became so obvious to myself that I was not attending myself that I absolutely had to do something. So there have been times where I have HAD to take action, but it would be really hilarious and wrong to call it Pro-Action because it’s anything but a proactive approach to thing. It’s more like a Re-Active mentality because it involves self-denial, wishful thinking, delay, all with the intent of putting action off until some other day. It is something that builds from something small, then it builds, then it builds some more, and I go through some period — days, months, years — of self-angst and thinking and analysis and the pressure builds and the necessity builds and then, and only then, although it’s been known to me, either in fleeting senses or growing senses of priority, climbing higher in my chain of priorities, I have known that I have needed to take a step, until it gets to desperation or urgency. Then, and only begrudgingly and with great trepidation, and concern, have I taken steps, have I done something.

It’s a pitiful way to live one’s life.

Which is not to say that my deeds, professions, and relationships have been pitiful. I think that I have had an absolutely glorious and very fortunate life, filled with excitement, loving friends and family, and meaningful jobs. I’ve traveled, worked in varied settings, studied lots of different things — all with what I think is an honest zeal for living. I’ve got an unfathomable love for my kids and wife, and while we get frustrated with things, as any family will, I think we genuinely enjoy each other’s company and have fun being a family. I’d do anything to protect them.

Would I bury myself to protect them? I’m sure my father would have written that he’d never do anything to hurt us, and yet he did. Maybe it’s a foolish vow to make — to promise to protect family from the pain of life and change.

Chuck was asking me the other day about whether I’d change anything in my life, and it’s easy to say without hesitation that I wouldn’t really change anything about my life except my self. I wish I had learned early on to understand and respect my inner voice and be more assertive about what I needed. I wish I had learned to respect not only what you do, but who you are.

I was writing the other day about whether it was selfish to be thinking of myself in this therapy, this daily anxiety about my identity. I wrote that I feel a fall depression coming on, a wearing down, a feeling of being burdened and somewhat angry I can’t seem to escape from my prison. It’s not just gender — it’s taxes, the job, the program. Where’s the happy, playful child? She’s buried under a pile of obligations and guilt.

I wrote that it felt like a congealment, and I asked myself, “how do you thaw?” What does it feel like to be thawed? Why do I have to consume mental space on this gender issue? Why do I worry about the future when I have so much? Why is even the happiest moment with my family tinged with melancholy as I anticipate loss? Am I living a narrative of loss? Lost parents? Lost youth? Lost time? Lost opportunities? Lost future?

Can you be a good person if all you feel is loss, real or anticipated?