Monday, January 22, 2018

Final Serenade for Krista Lynn Sandstrom

I want to thank you all for your care and support for my children and me these past 7 months or so since Krista’s death. I know that many of my posts and announcements since probably have been received as sudden and sometimes shocking. I trust however that from reflection on the experience of your own lives that you realize my announcements are made only to fill others in on what have been long term long and well thought out and discussed deliberations. My announcements are simply there to fill others in. When it comes to any items which impact my family, I never announce a decision until after Soren, Birgitta and I have discussed it. 

There is no one on this planet / universe who cares for and is acutely aware of my kids emotional, mental, and physical well being more than I. Remember I have been their primary care-giver since their birth. Before they each entered school, I was with them and cultivating their young experiences 24/7. One of the things I have always done with my children is respect them as human beings and I have never underestimated their capacity to understand, think and feel for themselves. If I were to prejudice my attitude about children with “they are too young to really know what’s going on” that would severely stand in the way of their ability to engage maturely and truthfully with the world, and I would miss a lot of really important things they need for their own emotional, intellectual, and social developments. 

They are now 8th grade and 6th grade. and we do communicate about our needs, cares, life etc. fairly well. Not to sound crass or dark (but with good humor), having had the experience of waking my kids to tell them that their mother isn't coming home because she was killed by a drunk driver, certainly has made every subsequent conversation really easy. 

We talk every day, sometimes just a brief recap, other times fairly long and emotionally cathartic. They are however always the first people I talk to with everything, I want to know their thoughts and feelings Just as I give friends the opportunity to share with me what they are feeling, I do that every day with Soren and Birgitta. They know that there are a great deal of things in life which they will never be able to control. Krista and I shared a parenting and living belief that is encapsulated in a quote from Bruce Lee, “Don’t Pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” And similarly this quote from Rocky Balboa “It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward;” 

It is important to acknowledge that everyone has a unique experience and time frame with regard to grief. We have all been making strides each day. I find that I am now in an excellent position and have reached full acknowledgement with my heart, mind, body, and soul: that my life partner of 26 years will never be physically present ever again. As I turn 48 in February, there is also the realization if all goes well and I keep healthy, I might be able to life another 40 maybe even 50 years. So I am finding myself in a position where I can now experience joy without guilt, that while I will always remain Krista’s Champion, I can no longer hold her as the focus of my life. 

I still dearly love and miss my bride – and I will always long for her presence. There are still some things too emotionally raw for me to experience again. We performed together with the Minnesota Chorale and I am finding it really difficult to think about even coming back to that. I am however finding myself a little more inclined for a return to New Prescriptions, though I am still in a wait and see mode. There are nevertheless some songs, I don’t think I will ever be able to perform again. “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and of course “A Case of You” which I cannot even bear any recording without bursting into tears. 

Along those lines, I did perform one last serenade for Krista. Another piece we intended on learning for upcoming New Rx gigs, was a bit of unfinished emotional business in my own grief and acceptance process. I have many guitars (7) and basses (10), but my old beat up Classical guitar, which is my go-to instrument, I had not touched since May 2017. With a recent visit to my friend Jill in Iowa City, I decided to bring it along. It was cathartic just lying on her couch and playing uninterrupted – meditative stream of consciousness for a few hours, So.... 

Farewell maybe too strong of a word, but before I can continue living the rest of my life, I needed to perform this final serenade for Krista. In May of 2017 we were discussing songs that we would like to perform together. This song, my favorite by Cat Stevens, has always resonated with my feelings about her. After her death, the meaning transformed. I have yet been able to hear it without crying. Today, I recorded 9 takes of this song. None of which I was able to finish without bursting into tears, unable to sing. This is the only take (#5) where I was almost able to get completely through. In recent months I have been growing, living, and expanding my heart, and letting Krista go. We shared 26 years side by side every day and night. While she is no longer physically present . She is always with me. Today, It is time for me to move forward - Live and Love in Joy. I Love You my Bride, my Love, my Krista. 

with much love,
Xenia Sandstrom-McGuire (she/her/hers)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Acceptance and Forward

Perhaps I am a multi-tasker, but I have felt that since the June 1, 2017 killing of my bride and lover of 26 years, Krista Lynn Sandstrom, I have been making steps forward while simultaneously processing the 4 of the 5 classic stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and the 5th, Acceptance.

I had been taking steps forward without Krista's physical presence - doing activities with our children without her, travelling, cooking, shopping, movies, singing, cleaning, etc. In December I finally drove through (and have since continue to drive through) that Very intersection in downtown Minneapolis where she was killed on her way to her voice lesson, just minutes before 6:00pm on June 1, 2017.  While I can endure it, it is not the same as "moving on."

While I probably received more well wishes from others during the Holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas; The truly hardest part in this whole process was the month of October.  Krista and I celebrated two Holidays: Our Birthday weekend (mine February 17 and hers February 19th (both 1970), and the whole month of October.  Our wedding Anniversary October 2, 1993; our 25th Luther College Class Reunion, October 6-8; and of course Halloween our most sacred family holiday of the Year with our hosted annual party.  That was the hardest month.

Keep in mind, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year were hard to endure, not having her by my side as I gathered with our parents and friends who are still happily married.

It has been 7 months of waking up without holding her through the night. 7 Months of not bringing her coffee and oatmeal; 7 months of us not talking, performing, joking; heck even 7 months of not arguing...but through it all 7 months of not always Loving.

Family pictures of us throughout the house, on the fridge; my scrolling background wallpaper on my laptop feature pictures of Krista from throughout her life.  My FB profile features 5 pictures of Krista and the photo album of her is set as my featured album.  My house is the one we purchased in 1996, The house we added on to, built ourselves in 2002. Our children are from us, my kids look like her, act like her, even my daughter is beginning to sing like her.  Mail from taxes to junk continue to arrive addressed to her, telemarketers call her and fill her email inbox.

The other day, I uncovered her swimming gear bag, which I brought to her Visitation back in June, but left in a spot only to be buried. I kicked myself feeling that I had been so careless as to forget! How she would get up every Saturday and Sunday to swim her mile at Great River Rec Center in St. Paul.

I want to be reminded of her brilliance, her remarkable career, her beauty - those things which gave her Life! I want everyone to remember her...

...This morning, through tears, I deleted Krista Lynn Sandstrom's LinkedIn profile.

In late winter when I took myself out of St. Paul in order that I might not worry or think about anyone else but me. It was a necessary step which I had heretofore not allowed. I worked to dispel thoughts of guilt; to find joy in a new light - on my own, from within -- freed from all chains of "what would others think..." 

Many great revelations arose from that experience. Perhaps the greatest is that I am still alive; that I have perhaps 30 maybe even as much as 50 years to live if I maintain good health. Yet my love with Krista was my entire adult life to this point.

I know I will never forget Krista. Her soul remains integrated to my own. In the aftermath of my wonderful winter retreat, as I have processed the myriad revelations. She is never coming back home. She is never going to dance with Birgitta, She is never going to hug her Soren as he narrates his newest script. I will never get to hold her through the night, I will never get to live in the moment with her. I will never get to perform with her.  I finally asked myself the question, 

I get to move forward with my life, don't I? 

That question alone produced many tears. And through those tears, my soul: my heart, my gut, my mind all know the answer is Yes.

I am still crying as I type these very words.  But I know these tears to be the acknowledgement that I am indeed moving forward with my life. I am stepping into the next stage: Acceptance.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Transgender Woman vs. Man in a Dress

Without Judgment

I was trying on clothes 
And then I saw it
Hands far too big
To pull off this outfit
Legs far too strong
To wear with this skirt

Me shocked and froze
clothes mocking my being
The onslaught of pain
wrought by THAT gender
imprisoned too long
True woman I am

You walked upstairs
unaware of my trip
Noticed my tears
at once rushed to me
I choked out some words
of THAT horrid vision

You held me close
my head to your shoulder
"O Sweet, Darling Girl"
your words cried with me
48 years of Life in THAT Gender
Floods of our tears - shed that facade.
~ Xenia Sandstrom-McGuire, December 27, 2017

PART I: Mindfulness Rising

This winter holiday came as a much needed break. After the past 7 months, I needed a complete change of environment, away from St. Paul and everyone with whom I had ever been connected in one way or another. An encouraging spirit from my distant past offered me that freedom that opportunity for honest reflection. I thought I just needed to grieve about the absence of Krista ---  but without judgment, without worry, without bias, without guilt,  I let go of all cares, found myself in the moment. Here I could freely feel and truly listen to who I am; what my soul asks.

For the six months since June 1st, I may have been moving forward but I was in pain in my grief. The unfairness of Krista being robbed of her life and not being able to enjoy the fruits of her own savings, efforts, sacrifice - the future life she worked so hard to ensure for us, along with my perpetual ruminations over my regrets and instances of failures stained my soul.

Still, I sought purpose by channeling my grief into updates on the Sandstrom-McGuire family without Krista. I was determined to share with the World who my very private bride, my life partner for 26 years was. Through my unfiltered posts, friends, relatives, acquaintances, and strangers would thank me, send me love, and comment on how, brave, strong, and resilient I am.

Throughout this, only a select few knew I was also dealing with being transgender and continuing my stages toward gender affirmation.  So as I grieved the loss of Krista, each unfounded negative tweet or media comment about transwomen would continue to prick at my soul AS they have done my entire life.  I spent many nights angry and in tears; conversing with members of my support team, either in person, on the phone, texting  or emailing my unbridled frustrations. Angry at the loss of Krista, and angry at the dishonesty of anti-Trans detractors. I would always feel guilty for losing my cool on them because I know they have busy lives. But they would always assure me that I am allowed to feel this way and express these emotions to them. Yet, I still found myself continuing to ruminate over my dysphoria, engage in worry over negative self-talk and feeling like a drain on others.

The path out of rumination and worry began with my decision to completely emerge from the closet. Once that decision was made, my mind became uncluttered and provided me with a clearer path for my heart, mind, and soul. My therapist, my physician and myself noted a marked turnaround in my writing in communication style and my increased capacity for experiencing joy. There was still so much of Krista that needed to be shared, and it was getting easier. All focus needed to be on her until after the sentencing hearing of her killer.  I was not about to upstage her life with my own. So as I shared her life, I would, little by little, divulge my true self to others who have always shown me selfless love and friendship. -- At the time, I really felt this adequate affirmation was Great. And yes it is, but now I realize it was only the very first step in preparing my path toward Mindfulness

A few weeks after the sentencing, I revealed my true being to the world as I had planned. It is so much harder to be a closeted transwoman than it is to be out in the open. Again, another huge step forward.  I am fortunate that I am surrounded by so many people who love me and continue to do so.  My father-in-law set the stage. I found myself getting worked up over telling him, My ruminating thoughts assuming the worst, imagining negative expression - even though he has always shown me love and respect throughout my 26 years with his daughter.  In my pre-warning to immediate family, He was the very first to respond within 6 hours after receiving my statement.  It took me about 4 hours to get up the courage to actually read his response. By that time my brother-in-law also responded.  Finally I mustered up the courage to open his email and read,

"Dear Xenia…"

I lost it and bawled for about 5 minutes before reading on. He reiterated how much he has always loved, admired, and respected me. And that he will continue to do. He thanked me for loving and bringing joy to his daughter, for giving him grandchildren.  While he admitted this will take time for him to get used to, in a follow-up phone conversation, he told me that he has been referring to me now as his daughter-in-law. And on a Christmas Day face-to-face conversation with him and my step mother-in-law, both of them continued this dialogue of love and respect as they inquired without judgment.   No where was there any indication of negativity. No BS about, "Well have you thought about the impact to your children?" or "I cannot refer to you by your preferred name and gender"  - It was the same selfless love in demonstrating his trust in my integrity and sober decisions.  My brother-in-law responded in much the same way, also beginning with "Dear Xenia…"  The two of them revealed to me their commitment to honesty and living Truth. Reminding me even more of Krista's spirit which first I fell in love. The very reason I gladly adopted her last name to mine.     

Throughout December 2017, I was showered by love and encouragement from others, flowers from bandmates, messages of love from friends and relatives. Helping me find that freedom to live my being. New discoveries about myself, possibilities and hope emerged, My path toward mindfulness was clearing. But worry, would haves and what ifs still dogged my mind. I was not yet "in the moment"

PART II: Overcoming Negativity with Truth

One Cannot Express Love while Defending their own Convictions

While I have enjoyed a rather large system of support which has given me the freedom to begin letting down this guarded male facade.  For so many of my trans sisters and brothers however, they live alone, without love and without support. They don't get a chance to find the peace to really discover in a loving environment. They are pricked daily with constant reminders of their assigned at birth gender, surrounded by communities infected by dishonest propaganda.  Instead of having family and friends committed to learning, understanding and empathy, these would be loved ones continue to repeat the negativity and lies spread through media outlets and commentators, and religious social circles.
It does not bother me if people have different views so long as those views are informed by honest inquiry of legitimate sources. I do have a problem when those views are merely opinions drawn from anecdotes, falsehoods and propaganda.  
I do read the anti-transgender propaganda, but I do so in order to find out the negative sources which have misinformed many otherwise good citizens into following a path of darkness. I want to know why these detractors feel the way they do so that I can understand why they are prone to believe the lies which cause them to speak out and bear false witness against me. It does no good to respond to their lies with anger and outbursts. I can do more good to dispel these falsehoods by continuing to live, love, converse, and express joy and care. 

After Pat Robertson dipped his hand in the 1992 push for an Equal Rights Amendment in my home state of Iowa stating:
"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
It really became apparent that he either he was completely nuts, or he was willing to play his role in destroying society by sowing distrust.  In Very much the same way, WELS Congregations (Wisconsin Synod Lutherans) spread blatant falsehoods about Evolution, so they can preach against their own fabricated straw man; certain religiously affiliated academic institutions which require their faculty and student body to adhere to a particular dogma of manmade Biblical interpretation for them to participate, do no service to the search for Truth.  They aren't interested in helping others learn through honest and fearless inquiry and they are most certainly not interested in helping them find God.

Through their evidenced sophistry, I came the conclusion that the Moral Majority are in no way connected with Christianity.  They are merely a band of political organizations designed to sow discord by stirring up mob fears and controversy with propaganda. They are agents of Destruction, Waging an invented "Culture War" with weapons of Fear, Lies, and Conviction.

I know people who listen to radio commentators and morning drive-time programs on Classic Rock radio - which feed into this negativity. Occasionally  I tune in and try to listen to them. I cannot sustain it for long. It isn't interesting nor does it add value. I don't understand why anyone would willingly waste their time.  These commentators aren't doing anything to offer a fair discourse, they are just hammering home and reiterating what their faithful listeners already believe. They offer them no opportunity for growth, development and learning about others with different ideas. Their audience find solace wallowing in their anger. Which they then express in their own tweets and daily discourse. That is destructive to democracy and humanity.  For they have not developed the skills of human empathy.

PART III: Gender is More than just Body

I am committed to Honesty, Empathy and Dialogue.  These are necessary for civil democratic society. Yet organizations masquerading as morally religious stalwarts are in no way committed to Truth.  Dishonesty and confusion mark their communications.  Such organizations as The American College of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the legitimate professional organization The American Academy of Pediatrics). Focus on the Family, Minnesota Family Council, and Alliance for Defending Freedom, peddle in fear-mongering and mock Truth.

There is no indication of Love, Truth, and Honesty in their literature.  No seeking to understand through expertise and personal experience. Every instance they relish ignorance beginning and ending with prejudice. Many retain the unquestioning view that gender is a cut and dry matter: men have penises, women have vaginas. Boys therefore play with trucks and like blue; girls play with dolls and like pink. They rally against the Honesty and the Integrity of field experts with their cries of Freedom (to remain ignorant). As such they contribute to a negative unloving destructive environment with their uninformed view of transwomen  --- that we are merely "confused men in dresses" who should be feared, pitied, and even ridiculed.

Their infection has been spread with comments by their adherents such as:  "I will still refer to you as a Man and refer to you with male pronouns, because that is what I was taught by my religion, and that is what I am comfortable with."

But what religion is there which requires its adherents to routinely disrespect the dignity of others. For they certainly do no good in making anyone believe that their religion is interested in Truth or Love.  

There is a huge difference between a Transwoman and a man in a dress. In my own experience as a transwoman, I have since my earliest memories, known myself to be female. A female who happens to exist in the shell of a male body. The way I think, the way I feel, the way I relate to others and the way I need to be perceived is female. I learned very early on that expressing my true self was apparently not okay. Every part of my soul knew myself to be female. Yet if I presented myself honestly, just "being myself" as so often we were encouraged, for some reason that rule did not apply to me. So I learned quickly how to pretend to be a boy. Trying to mimic and understand how boys and men interacted, converse, and carry themselves -- constantly acting against Nature lest I open myself up to more repeated assaults. The good thing about this experience is that it gave me a daily hands-on workshop to question, inquire, and identify hypocrisy between motives and actions of individuals and institutions And in hindsight my dysphoria was probably the single greatest reason which drew me to the field of Philosophy.

On the other hand, a man in a dress is a male who happens to be wearing a dress. In short: 

A Man in a dress is a "He"
A Transwoman is a "She"

Mis-gendering and dead-naming (referring to someone by their birth name rather than their preferred name) are cutting, painful acts. When we already battling so much prejudice, the accidental is hurtful, but the purposeful mis-gendering and dead-naming is just downright evil and disrespectful. If people wish to demonstrate to the World and especially to their God that they truly believe in their commitment to a religion of Love, they should have no problem in addressing transwomen as the women they are by respecting their name and addressing them in their expressed gender.

If they are still weak in their faith they will probably still cling to desperation and conviction and simply see transwomen as, "Men in dresses."

Gender has always been so much more than just the body.

The other day I was in a conversation discussing this very issue with regarding to Gender Identity vs. Gendered Behavior: 

"While I use the terms masculine and feminine, I don't really consciously think about them - in that I don't get hung up on the gender stereotypes and gendered behaviors unique to each separate culture---or rather I acknowledge that my experience is through the lens of a particular Western subculture, but I try not to let those "norms" interfere with my self knowledge. 

And my wife was really tough. She loved football (especially the hard hitting special teams play on kick offs and aggressive defenses of the Purple), she preferred to hang out with the guys, could easily work with power tools, loved driving manual transmission cars, was excellent with money, saving and frugality, and being a leader who could freely speak her mind - BUT I never saw any of that as masculine - because there is nothing in any of those specific examples that are necessarily "masculine" And I never saw her as masculine at all. She was most definitely and always a woman through and through.  She was a woman who liked football. 

I have done a lot of thought experiments over these many many years, imagining how I would feel were I born in a different culture...Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Albania or a different time period- even though the cultural norms regarding gender are different and to my view not anything I would ever want - I would still know myself to be female. - And I think that seems to baffle some people and why it is hard for them to comprehend the rarity of gender dysphoria -- that we aren't really concerned with behaviors and whether things are masculine or feminine - it is really a deeper core of our Identity.  I like football too, but I never considered myself a man… So I too am "a woman who likes football."

PART IV: In the Moment

I began this long post with my much needed winter break, my journey to that moment, the anti-trans bias spread by hate groups which make the lives of all trans women and men difficult - especially more so for those who are not as fortunate as me.

Come mid February I will have been alive for 48 years. I thought I was doing quite well and moving toward happiness and joy.  Then I experienced something truly wonderful. In a retreat away from everything and everyone I knew, I experienced 2 days where I had no reminders at all that I had ever lived life pretending to be a man. The environment in which I found myself surrounded my every thought and move with affirmation that I really am female. At once I felt completely at home, valued for my being, treated with respect, dignity, and love.  Feeling this for the first time in a long time, I cried long and hard.

Many have expressed to me, but I had always been reluctant to describe my choice to live as a man as a sacrifice. I did it because of Love and I wanted to bring the joy my beloved needed. For someone as sweet and kind-hearted as Krista, it is such a thrill to hear her laugh and have the freedom to be unencumbered by worry.  One does not sacrifice when they are in Love. But now, she is no longer here. Our shared plans no longer on the table. I have been grieving her loss since June 1, 2017. I was wholly unprepared for this release of dysphoria, It came with an acknowledgement that perhaps I did sacrifice. An Environment were I permitted myself the freedom to not worry about others and focus entirely on me. Two days is not nearly enough time to process 48 years of self-denial. I realized however that whatever joy I had felt before was just a drop in the bucket compared to this.

While who I am today is informed by the experiences of my past, especially all I learned and loved through 26 years living alongside my beautiful bride, it does no good to dwell upon the negative, the would haves, and what ifs.  I am here now. Krista is always with me and I am moving forward. I am still discovering and I am a loving soul.  I still have another 25-30 maybe 40 or even 50 years to live on this planet. Who knows, but now I am on the path to mindfulness.