Gail was out of town this weekend at a conference.
I had no idea it would be so hard to have her gone.
For context, we both travel 2-3 times per year for work, and it’s more or less a non-issue on the home front. For each of us, keeping the kids afloat on our own is totally do-able, and in some ways even nice. The kids miss whoever is gone, but their daily routine doesn’t change, and all-in-all it’s just not a big deal.
I thought the 4-ish day absence would be like that. Like usual.
The kids and I did mostly fine so that was like usual (and had some help from friends & family that made it easier), but I felt very much at loose ends.
What I realized with her gone, is how much she is the only person with whom I truly feel I am “myself” right now, how much my most comfortable and complete identity is currently held within the context of our relationship. Without her here, it was suddenly like the bottom dropped out.
I knew this before to some extent, but only in that I knew I looked forward to coming home, breathed a sigh of relief as soon as I walked in the door, and craved any and all time with her. I think both of us are craving that time. We’ve both been “stealing” time from regular life maintenance to spend more time together (read: our house is even more of a mess than before). Both of us are marking time by how long it is until our next night out together just us (every two weeks Gail’s mom, who lives really close by, takes the kids overnight. Anyone with kids knows how precious that time is and how lucky we are to have the help). But I thought the core of who I was, while in flux and unpredictable day-to-day, was mostly held, maintained and explored by me, with some really great support from her.
I was wrong. Or rather, maybe I was actually right, but I didn’t realize just how critical that support is, not just to figuring out the right path forward, but to getting through the day, to spending more time feeling good than feeling unbearably overwhelmed and trapped, to navigating the (very many) spaces and friendships where how I am known feels more and more out of step with who I am becoming.
And the thing is, it’s not like I’m completely without support or acknowledgment when she’s gone. I spent one evening with J out at an event where we had our usual interesting conversation, and where he knew a few people but I knew no one and was unlikely to ever see them again, and he deftly introduced me as Ezekiel and “he’d” me left and right (it was totally awesome until I was briefly in charge of my own name and stupidly introduced myself by the old one – gah!). The kids and I spent Friday night with J & C’s family, and two other close friends who know the whole deal.
On Saturday, I was planning to leave our impromptu little enclave for two other events with the kids, and I just couldn’t do it. J & C ended up just inviting us to stay on at their place through the next day when we had further plans with them anyway.
So basically, without Gail here, I immediately gravitated the the next space that I feel vaguely comfortable, with J and his family, and then I just didn’t leave. And even with that, with warm company and close friends, who actually really get what is going on, not just because they already know and love us, but also because they have lived a version of it themselves, it still felt hard to have Gail gone.
With her, I feel absolutely myself. The renewed connection that has sprung up between us makes my transness seem like it makes perfect sense, and makes even the really crappy/overwhelming/confusing parts feel worth it. But with her gone, I felt a much more stark distinction between the other two worlds that I now inhabit. In one world, where people don’t know what’s up, I feel invisible, like I’m just going through the motions coming up with crappy small talk. I feel angry at people for things that aren’t their fault and probably aren’t even true (what I think they are thinking about me, what I think they would think if they knew, wondering how they could possibly not know). In some versions of that world, I feel like a liar.
In the other world, which I ran to as soon as A left town, I have friends who do know about my emergent trans identity. They know (and use, and like) my name. They’ll use whatever damn pronouns I ask them to (wow do I ever like “he.” I could listen to that all day) . They completely support my whole family. But with them, I also see how stark this reality is. I get a glimpse of how much it is I am gearing up to ask of the world, the looming gravity of decisions I will need to make, maybe sooner than later. With them I have to see that I’ve already asked other people to change for me. It’s harder to pretend that maybe this isn’t happening, or is purely a private matter. With them, I see that the trapdoor out of here gets harder and harder to open.
I also worry some about disappointing them, about doing it wrong. I feel a bit on stage, a bit like I need to live up to their support and efforts, like I should maybe try to hide some of my uncertainty. I note though as I write this paragraph, that pressure is coming only from me, not from them at all. Actually, that kind of helps. Those are such classic patterns for me that it’s just glaringly obvious I need to knock it off, relax a little, and make better use of their support.
One of the gatherings I ditched in order to stay cloistered in J & C’s little safe space, felt particularly awkward, a gathering of several two-mom families in our neighborhood all with kids close in age to our own. I seized up at the thought of having to make small talk, of being in a room where absolutely no one would see me as I was, a few of them pretty close friends who I probably should have told by now.
But it wasn’t just that, it was also the prospect of being in a lesbian space, and feeling so starkly that what I want to do right now is jump ship. I feel some of it even more acutely because of all the thinking and writing we’ve done about lesbian parenting, especially non-bio motherhood. Most everyone at this gathering knows that writing. In some sense, the thinking and writing that Gail and I did defines the tenor of some conversations that happen in this particular group.
Only now maybe I’m saying that conversation doesn’t apply to me anymore. That maybe, I don’t really feel like a mom, that of course I feel like a parent (always have, always will), but also that part of me wants to be a dad. But I’ve been this hugely vocal (well, it feels hugely vocal to me) advocate for lesbian moms, and in particular lesbian non-bio-moms (and I do mean moms). It’s here that I feel most acutely that I’m abandoning ship. I feel a little stab of jealousy (just a little one) when I see J with his kids. He’s just their dad and it’s simple. I know it doesn’t always feel simple to him, but I crave even that level of clarity. I wish I had that, and in a group of lesbian moms, I knew I’d feel awful both for not having it, and for wanting it at all. I just couldn’t do it.
If Gail had been there I think I could have done it. One person there who got it, who was thinking, feeling and giving up some of the same things, then it would have been do-able. But on my own, I chose not to go out of self-preservation. The chance I would have felt awful was high, and I still needed to get through another day solo with the kids (well, if you call essentially moving in with our friends for the weekend “solo”). It feels like a hard line to walk. Knowing when to back off, and when to force myself out the door.
After this weekend, it’s clear Gail is a lot of the reason I’m getting out the door at all. I am so glad you are home.
[and seriously, J & C, you have no idea (or maybe actually you do? or did? or do now?) how much I needed your company this weekend. Thank you.]