My wife and I have two kids, who are almost 6 and almost 3. I still can’t quite believe we met when I was only 23 and that it actually worked out, or that we’ve fended off lesbian bed death through 11 years and parenting two small kids. We’ve been happily (and legally) married since 2004. Everyone where we live gets that we’re a family. We have a rich and deep community of friends and family. We both do work we love, and our family is thriving.

In short, life is good.

But something is shifting, and I need to sort it out.

I’m not sure where to start this story. It might start back when I was a three-year-old refusing dresses and earnestly requesting a tonka truck for christmas (I got it and I loved it. My sisters got their dolls). It might start when I was a second or third grader asked by every substitute teacher to stand in the boys line, or in the fourth grade when I told my friend at bible camp that I liked people to think I was a boy, and then lied that it was because then I could play sports with the guys (It had nothing to do with sports. I just liked for people to think I was a boy. I suck at sports anyway). Maybe it starts when I was that teenager mystified by clothes and straight girls, getting in a screaming fight with my mom about wearing mascara in the family pictures (I lost), feeling like I came from some other planet. Or maybe it starts when I came out when I was 18, a little baby butch dyke who totally ate it up whenever I was “sir-ed”.

If the story started when I was a kid, then it stopped when I was 20, when I set out to push back my always-close-to-the-surface emotions in an attempt to grow up, started to find my way back to the family I lost when I came out, and tried hard to blend in, to be queer but normal.

If the story starts closer to now, then it starts about a year and a half ago, when my wife got it in her head she needed to look nicer. Through the combined forces of married-lesbian-neglect and parenting young children, we were both looking pretty bad. Frizzy hair that we never “had time” to get cut. Worn out clothes that didn’t fit. We both panicked anytime one of us had to go to a work conference and be “presentable” and went shopping only under extreme duress.

Well, she’d had enough. She decided she was going to look good, and in order to make that happen, she decided she absolutely had to spend $50 on clothes every month. If she didn’t spend it, she made a rule she had to send $50 to Sarah Palin instead. That was pretty motivating, even for someone who hates shopping.

Bit by bit she came home with more and more cute clothes. She got her hair cut. She looked nice every morning. And she was hot!

But something about this surprised and unsettled me. She was choosing clothes I would never wear. Not in a million years. I had thought we had the same “taste,” that we both wore the same things (practical, boring). But she was coming home with flowing scarves, flowered draping light jackets, fitted brightly colored shirts with (gasp) an occasional ruffle. She looked damn good (our kids agreed, the best compliment came from our toddler who’s eyes popped out of his head for one particularly nice outfit involving paisley — “Ima! You so FANCY!”).

But I was still frumpy. I kept saying I’d do the same thing, that I’d just start buying some clothes, but I kept putting it off. My wife was leaving me in the dust. I buckled down in about October. $50 bucks a month, come hell or high water. Even I could find $50 worth of clothes.

The primary defining feature of my early shopping trips was anger. Flipping through rack after rack of clothes in the women’s section all I could think was “Who wears this shit? I’m not wearing any &^%# ruffles. I can’t believe anyone buys this crap.” Every now and then I’d find something dull enough I could tolerate it, and make my $50 minimum. Sometimes I wandered over to the men’s department, where all the clothes were more palatable but huge. I found a couple extra small mens sweaters that fit. I loved them. I wore them every day.

Growing suspicious I might fare better in the men’s department in general, but frustrated that none of those clothes seemed to fit, I hatched a plan to go shopping with one of my best friends, J, who is trans. He’s almost my size, though without boobs and with broader T-enhanced shoulders. I thought he might have solved the same fit problems at some point. He also hates shopping, but somehow we both thought such a torturous activity might still be better if we went together.

It was actually better. J helped me figure out which pants might fit, which stores had lines with small enough clothes. I diligently steered J away from the old-man clothes as he’d requested. I cried a tiny bit in dressing rooms a couple times (I’m a big crier), but I didn’t feel angry. Not once.

Suddenly when I looked in the mirror I liked who I saw.

I’ve been insisting forever that clothes don’t matter and just aren’t worth the time, effort or money. That I don’t care. But apparently, I do actually care, an awful lot.

At some point in there, J passed on a book to me, “Nina here nor there” by Nick Kreiger. J said it was the book that said the most about his own experience as a trans guy, that he wanted his friends to read it. I ate up the whole thing like candy. Unlike the other few trans things I’ve read, Nick doesn’t say he “always knew.” He writes about the uncertainty, about finding his way, about living in a world between genders (at least for a while).

I identified with way more of that book than I expected or wanted to. It weaseled into my head and stuck there, taking up more and more room, introducing questions I didn’t want to ask or answer. I thought it was a book about other people but it turned out to be a book about me.

The clothes were one thing, but the boobs were another. Somehow it had never dawned on me before that I might be able to make them appear smaller. I’ve always just ignored them as much as possible, and hadn’t given them much thought. It started with a sports bra, and then a too-small sports bra, and then two sports bras, then extreme consternation that Title IX is no longer making the legendary frog bra, then furtively searching binder sites (and immediately clearing my browser history), and then sheepishly fessing up to J that when I had ‘casually’ inquired about how he bound back when he needed to, the inquiry was not idle curiosity. He gently offered me the one binder that had survived his post-top-surgery purge several years ago.

I carried that thing around in my bag after J discreetly handed it off last Saturday morning. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, as our family went from one weekend activity to the next. As soon as the kids were in bed, I (barely) wrestled into it, got dressed, turned around, and looked in the mirror.

My immediate thoughts were, in order:

1) Oh my god I’m fucking hot.
2) They aren’t flat enough.
3) Oh crap.

I’ve opened a can of worms I maybe could have left closed. My life is good and while there may have been rumblings, I wasn’t suffering. But when I looked in the mirror on Saturday night, I realized I’m not going to be able to put this all back, and that I need to stop insisting it doesn’t matter.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going. I don’t know when I’ll get there or how I’ll know when I’ve arrived. But I’ve got to figure this out.

Here we go.