I’m almost at the point of getting approved for surgery. I have about two more months of RLE to go, and I’ll have satisfied all the eligibility requirements from the SOC, but that doesn’t mean that I’m actually ready to take the big plunge. We’re still short on money, for one, and that’s the biggest obstacle at this point. I haven’t done all of the relevant hair removal, either, but that’s going to happen either this year or next. Lastly, I just think that I’m not quite ready for it.

It’s not uncommon for trans people to think about the lives that we used to live, remembering them as being much better than they really were. I think that’s something that all people tend to have, that bias in memory. This isn’t regret or doubt related to transitioning, it’s just that I’ve had Joshua on my mind and mourning what isn’t or can’t be is a natural part of this process.

For a long time I treated my feminine identity as a secret. There was a part of me that feared (dreaded) other people finding out, and so I kept that aspect of myself hidden as best I could (maybe too good, if the number of people I shocked when I came out is any indication). But I always thought of it as a separate part of me, like a hobby. I would say to myself that I was going to be Jane* tonight, or that I would “dress up” when I got home from work. When you train yourself to divide your personality in that way, it becomes easy to fall into the trap of referring to yourself in the third person.

The way that my life has changed may have even encouraged that kind of thinking—I’m arguably not the person I used to be, but I’m certainly not someone else, either. The illusion of division, treating those identities as separate entities, makes it easier for others (IME) to adjust to transition. I don’t know why, but it seems easier for some people to treat me like a whole new person rather than someone they already know.

Part of the difficulty is that people alternate between “seeing” the new me, and seeing the old one. They feel like they need to get to know me all over again, and some are almost shocked when they see how much of my personality has remained intact. Alternately, they may be shocked by the fact that I’m suddenly into fashion when I hadn’t previously displayed any interest in the subject. Part of that is I tried really hard to make sure that people wouldn’t get the kind of clues from my behavior that would enable them to guess what I was keeping secret.

Some people are surprised, for example, that I read Vogue, or they might be convinced that the time I spend every day on my makeup and hair is an affectation, part of an effort to pass myself off as a woman when I’m really just a man. But those are things I’ve done before. They’re just not things my parents or roommate knew about until I came out. I think, sort of like adultery, that some people feel an element of betrayal when the secret is revealed. I changed– at the very least some of what I used to do privately is now expressed publicly. As a result of my changes, some of my relationships changed, too.

Part of the mourning process involves the realization that these changes are permanent, and that I can never recapture what’s been lost. All we have left are memories. My memories, I make a point of reminding myself. Those things happened to me.

Christine and I still have our wedding picture on the wall in our bedroom, along with an engagement photo. They’re excellent shots, and I always wonder whether I’ll ever be able to make Christine laugh like that again.

Our physical relationship has changed, too. Sex used to be easy. Now, it’s fraught with complications. If I hit the right combination of emotion and hormones, I might start crying instead of reaching orgasm. I never used to worry about being rejected by a partner for having the “wrong parts”. Now that I’m presenting as a female, not having a vagina is sort of like “false advertising”. It’s one of the problems with cissexual assumption, a problem very few people have to deal with, but something I’m acutely aware of each time I catch a man staring at me or each time I use the restroom. Even the notion of bringing body and mind into congruency is something of a cissexual construct: women should have vaginas, men should have penises. Getting surgery is a way of reifying that way of thinking at the same time that it validates my gender identity.

That doesn’t bother me as much as it should. But then again, I always wanted to be cisgender. Either male or female, it almost didn’t matter, as long as I wouldn’t have to worry about it. For as long as I was still Josh, I held out hope that it was still possible. I longed for the day when I’d be whole, no longer trans, cured by love, as Jenny Boylan put it. I’ve been happy before, really happy, lying on a beach in Hawaii, the sun warm on my skin, the crunch of crushed coral sand under my feet. That I was a guy at that time didn’t matter, I didn’t care about anything other than being on vacation with my wife.

In other words, my gender identity used to work, at least some of the time. I’ve had experiences where it wasn’t the most horrible thing in the world to be a guy– not having to worry about being clocked or misread, whether I was going to be challenged in the bathroom, or whether it would be okay to hold my wife’s hand or kiss her in public. Is my voice the right pitch? Did the waiter just call me sir or ma’am? Are those people staring at us? There are so many things I never gave any thought and now it seems like I can’t ever escape them.

As that realization sinks in, something else occurs to me: I’m never going to be whole. I’ll always have to be a woman with a transsexual history, and that’s something I’m always going to have to disclose. I’m never going to be better. While it’s definitely their personal decision and I’m not trying to say anything about my way being right, I disagree with trans women who ditch the trans label after surgery. The thought of doing so feels disingenuous to me, for some reason. I understand why a person would do it, why they would want to, and why that’s an attractive idea. It sucks to be actively reminded every day that you are less than, not real, or not authentic. It may be that after surgery, I’ll find myself eschewing the trans label, too. It’s degrading to have to deal with all this othering even when trying to conform to society’s gender norms.

This is a mourning process for what I will never have or be, the person that I wish I could have been, but I’m not unrealistically holding that up as some model for genuine living. I can wish and pretend that I’m not trans but that wouldn’t change the reality. I am trans, and that makes transition my best option, my best choice, and while it’s not going to solve every problem I have, and while I will have to deal with the loss of some dreams, I hope that there is going to be some peace from living as authentically as I can in every facet of my life.

Over the course of our marriage, I’ve not been the best husband, not by a long shot. I’m cruel and manipulative. When we’ve gotten into fights, I’ve said some things to my wife that are probably unforgivable. Sometimes, I’m not sure how much of an asshole I really am, and how much is just bad relationship habits I learned from my parents. I think that I’ve gotten better as I’ve transitioned, partly because I’ve spent so much time in therapy. Some of it comes from simply being happier, and not having a lot of pent up anger and frustration to take out on other people.

Through transition and therapy, my marriage continues to evolve. I have no idea how much more it will change once I actually get surgery. I don’t worry as much anymore that she’s going to leave me, but I also wonder whether surgery will resurrect some of those concerns and fears. At this point, I look different and feel different, but I think there’s still something fundamentally familiar that my wife is comfortable with. I fear that whatever familiarity in which she finds sufficient reason to stay will disappear when she finds my landscape irreversibly changed.

As we talked last night, it seemed like she’s worried I’m going to be dissatisfied with her, for essentially the opposite reason. She worries that I’ll gain some new confidence and decide to explore the world where I can more or less move around in stealth. Post-surgery, I really won’t need to out myself to anyone, except a doctor, and even then, under only some circumstances. I won’t need her familiarity, her solidity. In the analogy of a bird learning to fly, I think she’s worried that I’ll forget to come back to the nest. I think it comes down to each of us worrying that the other will be unhappy as a lesbian. We’ve kind of been playing at it for a while now, but this will be the real thing, no more practice and no going back.

Throughout transition, I constantly reminded myself that if something was too much to deal with, I could always go back. But surgery is the final point of no return. There will never again be Josh, and all the things I’ve experienced with that identity can never happen again.

I said at the beginning that this had nothing to do with regret or doubt and it doesn’t. What I leave out of the warm and fuzzy remembrance of being a man was the confusion over being transgender and not admitting it, even to myself. What we remember is not always the whole truth. Things change, and rather than being the end of the world, it seems like it’s just another part of living. I think change is both necessary and unpredictable. That my marriage may change, irrevocably, for the worse, is something I just don’t think we can extrapolate.

Sometimes, in the dark, my wife and I have held each other, crying. The only thing I can say at those times is, “I know. I miss him, too.” At some point, we must entrust ourselves into the love that has gotten us this far and hope that it’s sufficient for what’s to come.

* I went through several different names before I picked (and kept) Jessica. Okay, story time: I started out, several years ago, referring to the feminine ‘part’ of myself as Jane. It was generic, the resemblance to Jane Doe was intentional, the point being something like my activity as a crossdresser was similar to being a proto-female. The name was anonymous, and I could have been anyone.

When I started thinking much more seriously about transition, I decided that Jane wasn’t a name I wanted for the rest of my life. My parents have never told me the name that I would have had if I had been born female, so I had to come up with something suitable on my own. For a while, I called myself Jocelyn, but also liked Noel or Holly. I had scrapped loads of other decent names: Jaclyn, Lisa, Carol, Anne, Stephanie and Eowyn (just kidding) because I already knew people with those names—I wasn’t going to pick the name of an aunt, cousin or ex-girlfriend because that’s just…. well, kind of weird. Believe it or not, there were no Jessicas at my work, none in my family, and I never dated anyone named Jessica. So far, so good.

Two things happened that made me keep the name. First, I found a website that had a ranked list of baby names by year. Jessica was the name equal in popularity to Joshua for the year and state in which I was born. Second, while Jessica was a name invented by Shakespeare for The Merchant of Venice and is commonly translated to mean “foresight”, one of its alternate translations is “God beholds”. One of the hardest things about being trans has been reconciling my faith with my transition. Something of which I’ve become convinced is that God sees me, that He understands what I’m going through, and that He doesn’t hate what He has created. My name reminds me of that. It’s a bit more meaningful for me than Jocelyn which means “a member of the Gauts tribe”. What?