Tag Archives: love

Love is just the beginning


I used to complain to anyone who would listen that love simply isn’t enough. I loved my family, for example, but that didn’t stop me from hurting them, even though it wasn’t on purpose. I’m sure deep down, too, my family loved me. But that didn’t stop them from pushing me aside when my clinical depression was too much to bear, and my gender transition became a point of shame. And when romance entered my life? Again, love could only sustain it for so long, before the spikes of life punctured an already fragile union. Love isn’t enough, I despaired. So why try?

I think I’m starting to see things differently though. I think the problem with thinking that love should be enough to right all wrongs is that love isn’t an endpoint. It’s not a goal that, once you achieve it, you get to cross it off your list and forget about. Instead, it’s a direction, a point of departure, a tool that develops as you use it over and over again. It’s a guiding light.

The love that couldn’t keep my biological family communicating with me didn’t dry up. The communicating dried up. I still love my sisters, my late father, and yes, even the mother who I’m not sure ever loved me back. Loving those who hurt you, doesn’t mean you have to keep letting them hurt you. It means that you need to re-direct that love in a constructive direction. Killing love is a form of self-harm. Better to keep that love alive and thriving. Better to find a new home for it.

I’m re-directing it in the work that I’ve chosen to do, working with street-entrenched and homeless young people. People who, like me, couldn’t find what they needed in the families they were born into. And now they struggle to build a life for themselves, and the forks in the roads are stark and sometimes dangerous. I may not be able to reach them all, but maybe I can reach one of them. That would be something.

I re-direct the love each time I volunteer at a suicide hotline too. I hear my own story reflected back to me in the calls that come in. I hear different stories but similar pain. I hear suffering and grief and trauma, and I offer them the one thing I have — empathy. Love.  It’s not everything. It’s not a cure. But it’s the beginning of one. And it’s amazing how much it can mean to people.

We all have to start somewhere. Love is where I choose to start. It’s where life is. I want to live.

When relationships hurt

Relationships come and go. Like everything in life they ebb and flow. But when you find a pearl, you don’t want to let her go. M is a pearl.

When I met M I knew I’d found someone unlike anyone else I’d ever met. She was smart, funny, exuberant, and had a joyfulness to her that was infectious. Her heart was big and generous and she broke through my crusty exterior like a butter knife cutting into soft, melty butter.

I thought the good times would never end; I didn’t want them to.

I thought we’d get married, have babies, and grow old together.

Part of me still hopes we will.

But everyone has baggage, and some of us have a heavier burden than most. I’d never met anyone who’d had to go through what M faced. She ran away from home at 11 and escaped an abusive household, but the scars of her troubled childhood accompanied her into adulthood.

I know a thing or two about troubled childhoods; I have my own scars – some of them etched into my wrist quite literally.

But M has a fighting spirit; her fearlessness mesmerized me from the first day I met her. Her ability to articulate complex thoughts about her past and about her politics was astonishing, especially considering she had never finished high school. Hers is an unusually bright mind.

The closest she ever came to having a supportive family was T, a radical feminist lesbian 9 years older than her that adopted her when she was 16. While she only lived with T for a year and a half, they connected enough that she calls T her adoptive parent. They are close to this day. Note, she doesn’t call T ‘mother’. That word is forever tainted by the unspeakable deeds her biological mother inflicted upon her. Who can blame her.

Maybe that’s one of the keys to our relationship, that bond over non-existent mothers. I don’t pretend to have lived through the horror that M faced with her parents, but I’ve experienced enough parental neglect that I can empathize at least at some level with what she’s been through.

My own mother turned her back on me for good in my early twenties, disowning me for being a transgender man. The last time I spoke to her was in 2006, a year after my father passed away and two years after I first started taking hormone treatments. Neither of my parents approved of my decision to transition. And because they come from a conservative culture, with conservative friends, I did not feel comfortable attending my father’s funeral. I grieved on my own, a continent away.

But long before I transitioned, my relationship with my mother was toxic. In her eyes, I was lazy, stupid, and purposefully disobedient. I could do no right, and when I became suicidally depressed, she refused to talk to me about it, asking that we “let the scars heal”. She meant her scars, not mine. Now, I realize it must be difficult for a parent to watch their child descend into the depths of a suicidal depression, but I wager that most parents would seek help for their child and stand by their side. My mother’s only effort in this direction was to have my father, a psychiatrist, give me sample anti-depressants that the drug reps dropped off at his office. I was never taken to see a psychiatrist (other than my own father) and I was never taken to a psychologist or counsellor.

As far as my parents were concerned my depression was genetic. And that’s all there was to it. Pills were all that were needed. Never mind that they made the suicidal thoughts worse. But my parents wouldn’t have known that. Because we didn’t talk about why I was taking them. They figured it was my job to tell them what was going on, and I figured it was better not to say anything – because who wants to tell their parents they want to kill themselves?

I did eventually seek out help on my own, long after I’d left my parents’ home and fled to a different continent (my parents lived in South Africa and I settled in Canada). But by that time, the depression had gotten quite severe. Long story short, I still suffer from it; and I still see a therapist. Sometimes I still contemplate suicide, but I haven’t acted on those impulses in over 10 years. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

Needless to say, M and I both have trauma, and while that shared experience brings us together, it can also send us in a tailspin apart.

Maybe that’s what happens in relationships. We rub up against each other’s raw spots and we bleed and bleed. And if we don’t learn how to quell the blood, well, things can end badly.

I worry about that, especially these days.

The suicidal thoughts are back for me. And M is struggling with behaviours that I can’t help her with, behaviours that, I’m sure, once helped her deal with the trauma of her childhood but now simply cause her to hurt herself. It’s mostly related to body image and food. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll leave it at that.

Figuring out a path forward, a path that doesn’t lead us in separate directions is the challenge we face. We are at a crossroads. And it’s foggy out there. But I’ll keep looking for the light. Because I love her. And because I want to live. I need to remember that.

You, Me and PTSD

Three people exist in this relationship. Me, M, and PTSD. Sometimes M and I, we manage to make PTSD feel like a third wheel; it just lurks helplessly on the sidelines. But other times PTSD pushes me out of the way and I watch, paralyzed, as M tries unsuccessfully to wrestle herself free from its clutches.

I hate how angry it makes me. The way PTSD shows up and makes M scratch at her skin like worms are crawling underneath its surface. Or how, when I get home from work, I feel my heart sink when I walk into the bedroom and M is curled under the blankets again, exhausted and depressed. I hate how our home looks like children live here — clothing, underwear, dishes scattered willy-nilly throughout the house.

We have no children, and I didn’t sign up for this, dammit.

But then I look into her sparkling blue eyes and she tells me she loves me and I just want to hold her and hug her and give her everything I’ve got. I want her to be happy so bad, sometimes I want to cry.

And sometimes, sometimes it works. Some days we’ll ride our bicycles down to the dyke in Richmond and the sun will beam across the ocean and we’re grinning like two kids in a candy shop, chocolate dripping from our lips. Those are the moments I live for. A respite from the darkness, brief and sweet.

But it’s not just M’s PTSD that intrudes. Sometimes I catch myself finding fault with everything. And M is such an easy target; she already feels guilty before I open my mouth. But I know that the crap I’m spewing isn’t about her at all. It’s about me. And how shitty I feel because no matter how hard I try, life isn’t easy. The money is tight, the lost family still hurts, and I feel like my own life is just a waste of space.

When those moments happen I find myself looking at everything with a critical eye. Of course, finding things that bug me is easy when PTSD has M in its clutches. But what I don’t, can’t, seem to admit out loud is my own ineptitude, for not being more accomplished, not having reached higher heights in life, not being able to solve this problem. It’s the hurt of knowing that this, what I have right now, this might be as good as it ever gets. The thought tastes bitter. I hate bitter.

And if this really were as good as it got? Would that be so bad? Truth is, I have so much right now. M loves me with all her heart. How many people can say that about their partners, without a shred of doubt? And her dog E, well, E and I have bonded alright. She sleeps curled up next to me most nights, her snoring little body leaning into my chest. I have a job that challenges me, even as it exhausts me, I have friends who like me. Heck, I’m even thinking of going back to school come Spring.

Life has never been this good in fact.

So why? Why do I feel this urge to scream with frustration? Is this the grief that comes with knowing that some dreams, some paths will most likely forever remain unwalked? Is it sadness for the battles I’ve fought, losses I’ve felt? Is it sadness for the dark clouds that inevitably will come again?

When I look up, M is there, waiting for me, with her loving eyes. And I feel ashamed, for the darkness still in me, and the anger that clings to me like an unwelcome shadow. We hug and it feels so good, her skin against mine. And I try to pretend that I don’t see PTSD peering back at me from the corner of the room, patiently waiting.

Love Present and Past

It’s funny how saying something out loud makes your mind draw connections it didn’t know existed. The way it did today, when I was telling a friend about how my love for M, my partner and now my fiancée, is complicated.

I love M but at the same time I struggle to accept that she may not work for the next ten years – as she tries to make peace with her PTSD and regain control of a life that was stolen from her when she was a child. In this context, what role do I play? Do I act the doting lover, put aside my own dreams and support her as she tries to finish high school and make her way into academia? Or do I pursue my own passions? I have a strong desire to return to school, to study sustainable community development either at the undergraduate or postgraduate level (I already have a degree so both options are available to me).

But surely we can’t both go to school? That would be irresponsible, wouldn’t it?

As I was recounting this tale of woe to my friend earlier, I had a flashback to my early twenties; my father was sick and I had just started to think about transitioning from female to male. It felt impossible to think that I could do this to my parents; destroy the daughter they thought they had for a son they would never truly accept. And what about that in-between stage? It would just be too painful for them to watch. My parents were conservative in their upbringing, culture and disposition and my transition would just be a big slap in the face. I really, really didn’t want to hurt them.

More specifically, I really didn’t want to upset my father. While my relationship with my mother had been complicated for as long as I could remember, I loved my father deeply and hungered for his approval. I happened to know what he thought of transsexuals: in his view they were delusional and mentally ill. I hoped that one day he might learn to accept me but I knew that it probably wouldn’t happen any time soon. I needed to be OK with that.

I debated whether to wait until after his death. But I couldn’t wait forever. For all I knew he would live another twenty years. I just wasn’t sure that I could hold out that long. Besides, I was really struggling to fit into the socially proscribed role of woman. My depression was deepening and it felt like my life was on hold. I needed to move forward or else I, well, didn’t see the point in living at all.

So I transitioned. And my father was deeply distraught about it. But I did it anyway. And then, a year after my first shot of testosterone, he died of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. He never truly accepted me as the man I was, but he did say he loved me no matter what. At least I have that memory.

The fear I felt, the internal struggle I went through in deciding whether to sacrifice myself  to protect my father, it’s not so different from the internal struggle I face with Max. I don’t want to resent her for not pursuing my own dreams. I don’t want to wait for some nebulous moment in time when it will be OK for me to go to school; that time might never come. She will likely be studying for another ten years, if she decides that she really does want to get a post-graduate degree.

I want us both to flourish, to build lives for ourselves that provides sustenance for the raging hunger within us. So if that means that we both go to school, and live on less money, in a smaller apartment, then that’s the commitment I’m ready to make.

I’ve already committed my love to M. We are engaged. But love doesn’t have to mean martyring the self for the other; that only breeds resentment. Love means committing to your partner’s achievements as well as your own. I am committed.

Identity is not a brand of toothpaste

I realize I still have to write Part 2 on my difficult relationship with my mother. But that can wait for some other time. No rush there. In the meantime, how about something a little lighter.

I bought my partner an engagement ring. OK, it was a mutual decision and she was there when I bought the ring so it isn’t exactly a surprise. But I still need to give her the darn thing, and I’m waiting for the right moment. Waiting to plan the right one, that is. And I’m drawing a blank. How do I make it truly memorable? Special?

Truth is, this is all very new to me. Not the relationship. We’ve been dating for almost two years and it feels like we’ve known each other for ever. But this idea that I might one day have a family of my own; that I do have a family of my own. And that it’s something I’ve created, chosen, built, with the help of a loving partner. Who knew it was possible?

Ours is not a typical relationship. From the outside we might seem like any loving heterosexual couple, but we’re a little different. I’m a transguy with an effeminate streak, my partner has a man’s name and knows more about being a handyman than I’ll probably ever know. We both identify as queer and we both accept each other’s a-typical gender expressions. We both come from troubled childhoods and yet, despite this, I feel like we’ve built one of the most solid relationships out there – maybe because of this.

I can even imagine having a child with her, and that’s not something I say lightly. In fact, I never thought I’d want a child, ever. When I came out as trans 10 years ago, I was actually glad that the hormones and surgery would leave me sterilized. Good riddance, I thought. My genes had caused me nothing but pain and I was happy to see them end with me. But now, in the comfort of this healthy relationship I feel differently about parenting. Unless cloning suddenly becomes a common practice and easily accessible, I likely won’t have a child with my own DNA. But I think together, one day, we could be pretty good foster or adoptive parents. I think I’d like to try.

The engagement ring I bought is nothing fancy and has no diamond. It’s just a silver ring, with a hammered texture, that reminds my partner of another ring she once owned, that a family member had made her. When she saw it, she said simply: I want that ring. She’s rarely that insistent about jewellery so I took note. We’re also thinking of getting engagement tattoos. I’ve been wanting a tattoo for a while.

As far as tattoos go, I have a few options I’m currently considering: 1) a turtle – because I need a hard shell to protect me from this world (and I carry my home on my back); 2) a bicycle – because this two-wheeled wonder has truly transformed the enjoyment factor of my life (for the better); 3) a turtle riding a bicycle – because that’s just fun; 4) a turtle with wings – because this relationship has inspired me to fly higher and trust my dreams; 5) A sunflower – because this plant that originated in the Americas has always held a special place in my heart. And it’s one of the first flowers my partner ever gave me.

So as you can see, much is afoot in my home life. It’s all very exciting (and a little bit scary).