Lane and Ezra went to their first session with their therapist, Cheryl Oates. I did not go, but Mary Jo did, and it was predictably slow getting started. The boys aren’t sure they need to talk to anyone about their feelings and have no reason to trust Cheryl. However, Mary Jo and I have told them that there may be times when it’ll be really good to be able to tell someone something that’s bothering them and know that it’s going to remain just between them and Cheryl.

We were debriefing afterwards over Mexican food, and Ezra said, “Well, I did have something I needed to tell the therapist.” Pause, while we waited for deep thoughts. “I told her that Joyce farts a lot more than George.” Roaring laughter, and apparently the therapy session also laughed at this, which broke the tension.

[We won’t get into the factual issues around gas, but suffice to say that I believe I am just the same as I always was in this regard.]

The boys reported that Cheryl did get them to admit that the whole situation is pretty weird, and we talked about what to call me (they still want to use “dad,” but are aware of the possible need for something more discreet in the event they don’t want to explain my situation to their friends, and are thinking that “Aunt Joyce” might work).

Something has happened.

Just when I think I get a handle on this whole transition, something happens to reveal yet another layer of complexity or beauty or awe. Maybe it was the extremely low weekend, which left me nowhere to go but up. Maybe it was finally telling Milo and Annabelle yesterday. Maybe it was meeting with Chuck today. Maybe it was my visit to the library on Monday to begin collecting new information about my April 11th paper and finally feeling like I could return to academic research after a very long and painful absence. Maybe it was meeting in an omnibus therapy session Monday with Chuck, Mary Jo, and her therapist, Cheryl, in which we got to issues of Mary Jo’s pain at having to be the strong one for me, and never being able to rely on my being the strong one for her. Maybe it was the call out of the blue from my lifelong friend Slade to tell me he would be visiting on Feb 13th, approximately the same date I had intended to write him. Maybe it was writing Gerald out in Santa Barbara today and receiving an amazing reply. Maybe it was Miles and Khloe’s frantic phone call last night about gossip. Maybe it is the incredible and adaptable love of my children.

Whatever its origins, I feel I’ve entered an entirely new and beautiful stage of this process. And I’m not worried at all. I feel not only surprisingly calm but magically excited to be connected to so many loving friends.

Where did the sense of impending doom go? Where is that train wreck? What happened to the fear and depression? I’m sure these things haven’t gone for good, but I feel as if they’ve been driven far into the shadows by unseen, but related, forces of love and friendship.

I can hardly keep up my thinking and writing with the pace of surprise and revelation — I feel like Whitman, lying in the grass and simply marveling at it all, the grandeur of nature, the magical connections between events that create meaning, the infinite possibility of it all. Where’s my stenographer, my scribe? I’ve got this burning ember in my hand, but by the time I make it to the computer, it’s faded, and all I’ve got is my recollection of its intensity.

There must be something about a friend breaking down and finally coming to grips with her essential self that brings people together, and I’m realizing that I’m part a group that’s growing and whose love, acceptance, and understanding is simply astounding. It’s all quite incredible (literally, because it’s hardly believable, and I wouldn’t have believed it possible 12, 6, or even 1 month ago). And what’s most weird and beautiful and incredible isn’t the trans-ness, at all, but rather the depth of feeling and connection that exists across time and distance in this web of friendship.

I am incredibly lucky and blessed.

Chuck and I talked today almost entirely about family stuff, following my lead on the John Bradshaw book. I feel remarkably naive, not really having recognized how deep my pain is and how ingrained these family issues are in my psyche. It’s actually embarrassing to me and painful to think about these things, and I think I recognize that feeling from my upbringing — to avoid any family criticism or discussion in order to protect the facade.

I remember someone, some woman when I was in college I think, who was going on about how she liked to tell stories, embarrassing ones, about herself, then laugh about it. I recall feeling horror and repulsion at this. How could she retain dignity and talk like this? I’d never be caught dead laughing at myself or even making mistakes, thought I.

It’s not perfectionism, at least not the kind that produces paralysis, but I wonder where it came from? What would have happened if I had failed at something? Shame, ostracism? When my marriage fell apart, that was easily the first and most colossal failure in my life. I recall being embarrassed and not wanting to tell my family or friends because… why? because they’d think I was a loser. They’d know something about my life, and I wanted to be in control of what people knew. They’d be disappointed in me.

Removed from that experience by 20 years, it’s easy to say “so what? What if they knew?” But I can still recall the extreme shame, along with my preference for remaining isolated and lonely and trying to fix my own problems, never asking for help. It’s funny now in a pathetic sort of way, but it was no laughing matter at the 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?

Mary and I were talking yesterday, and it was my first visit to Chuck after a layoff due to my academic duties. I was telling him (and Mary Jo) that while I feel good, I also feel quite conflicted, almost to the point of despair. While I may not have a secret, I still have a horrible dilemma.

Mary was saying that I’ve been terribly grumpy this past 6 weeks, and hypothesizes that it is the hormones. I don’t really feel much different; in fact, I feel better. But upon discussion, I think it’s the case that I feel horribly trapped and torn between two desires, one selfish and personal, and the other duty-bound and social. I honestly don’t know what I can do about it.

Chuck said that I am incredibly lucky in all of this, and that my intelligence probably helps. Instead of presenting to Dr. Clinton in the hairy, inarticulate body of a Neanderthal, I bring him research, and I articulate what I’m feeling and thinking.

I have fully expected to have to fight everyone I encountered about my desires. I did tons of research, tons of introspection, in preparation for these confrontations.

But I’m either lucky or have good karma, but I am still waiting for a roadblock. In fact, I find it either frustrating or perplexing that I haven’t had a problem. I was certain I would find no therapist in Bedford Falls, but ran into Chuck thanks to some old information online. I was certain he would try to talk me out of my self-diagnosis, but he appears to be completely on-board. When he said he agreed I have GID and that he’s write a letter to Dr. Clinton, I think that was a huge moment for me, the confrontation that never happened.

It precipitated a decision as to whether this is a real condition or something I’m just playing with, and while it was unbelievably empowering, it was also terribly frightening. The visit to Dr. Clinton was terribly stressful, but instead of throwing me out of his office, he said he didn’t know much, but would learn. I had already steeled myself to the probability that he’s say no, so I was pretty surprised.

After blood work, we met and he had read a bunch of stuff that I had given him, and his attitude was very progressive, very open. He said he had learned a lot and that he was open to the hormone therapies mentioned in the literature, as they did not pose a threat to my body. He asked if I was ready to start estrogen, and I was afraid to bring it up, so when he dove in and asked, it was another anticipated roadblock that never happened. I figured he’d want to go slow and argue for 3-6 months of sprionolactone instead of 2 weeks. I jumped at it, of course, and then he said that the pace and direction of my therapy was entirely in my hands — he would be happy to support the hormones I myself decide I need.

So, like Chuck, Dr. Clinton has said that my direction, my fate, are entirely in my hands — and that freedom is frustrating. I think I had hoped (not intellectually, but emotionally) for someone to say, “oh, yes, I recognize this problem and here’s the specific answer to help you.” But since GID is not something observable outside, then there’s nothing to test to tell how you feel.

Mary is the same way. I know she is frightened by this, as am I, but I think she recognizes that I’m on a course that I have to be on. As long as we keep talking, I think we’ll be just fine. Even yesterday or today, we were lying in bed and she asked, perfectly normally, if the hormones would make me have blood clots, since that’s something she’s worried about for herself. I said I was taking aspirin and have been for a couple of years, so I wasn’t worried. I said I thought it was ironic and kind of funny that she has to stop taking estrogen and I have started. Maybe we’ll become each other?

But she has not thrown up a roadblock — I think she’s imagining various sorts of futures, from the absurd to the realistic, and trying to figure out where she fits in all of this. As long as I don’t become some sort of monster, I think she’ll be supportive. She mentioned at the coffeehouse the other day that she was afraid I’d become some sort of femmy queen, and that’s something she doesn’t really relate to. I said the same thing, that I really don’t want to turn into a girly-girl airhead, but really just a happier version of me.