Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Transgender: Not a First World Problem

It is not a "First World Problem" to request that you not murder me.

Nearly two months have passed since I came out to the world that I have always been a trans woman. Since that time, I continue to discover previously unknown and unfed regions of my soul. 

There were many reasons which contributed to my decision to remain closeted for so long.  I have already mentioned maintaining a male external form for my wife was of huge importance to me, my desire to show her every bit of love I could to bring her joy. Just as great however was my own misguided sense, that with all of the privilege I seem to have,: Good health, Upper middle class American white male with a Master's degree, a career in my chosen field, married for 24 years to a woman who loves me, with our own home (north of the Rondo neighborhood which was destroyed by I-94), two cars, vacation time, with two children, two cats, a dog, with the luxury to "play poor" by taking extended camping trips throughout the year, knowing at the end of the trip we can come back to hot showers and comfortable beds.

Why should I affirm my true identity when there are so many other issues in the world which need to be addressed? 

My friends and acquaintances know very well that my biggest concern every day; what informs my vote each election is The Environment - Global Climate Change. Witnessing how much our warming climate f'd up Minnesota in the past 25 years makes the peer-reviewed scientific findings no longer abstract, but reality.
Related to this is the livelihood of the majority of the worlds human populations and the Ecosystems / Biodiversity of which humans are an integral and most influential part. Starvation, Healthcare, and Education doing what I can to help other human beings rise above their own base inclinations to discover the world outside of themselves - using that to inform the context of their everyday lives. This is not just for the sake of human lives, for everything in our eco-system

Those who cannot or will not discover what is outside of themselves  are those who sow destruction, violence from a soil of prejudice.

From this I narrow my focus into animal rights, protected habitats, acidification of the oceans, projected mass extinctions and human rights. The dignity of all human beings. Marginalized populations in the world: Attention to women, people of color, world poverty, torture, ... anyone subject to generations of economic disadvantage who does not have the freedom, resources or luxury to think beyond where they are getting their next meal - every action is dedicated to survival.

So with all of my privilege, how could I bring myself to possibly justify affirming my transgender Identity. 

Because I have been perceived as "male" it is assumed that I feel the privilege that comes along with it. That I cannot possibly know the experiences women feel every day. That because I have a "male" body, what right do I have to understand what other women who were assigned female at birth experience with regard to their bodies. Trans women are all too aware of these differences. 
When talking about harassment, rape and assaults, I remained quiet about my own experiences of being assaulted and raped due to the fact that even in "guy mode" I was not perceived by male peers as being like them.  But for the rest of society, because I am perceived as male, I must walk among the very types of men who were my abusers, remaining strong and keeping these experiences all to myself. Because again, that was in the past, I am strong, and I am not being tortured now. 
It took me decades to finally bring myself to the point in therapy where I could justify confronting those past experiences, overcoming my own guilt and sense of what I deserve for myself when there are others in the world who have and continue to suffer far worse.  Going to therapy in itself had long filled me with guilt - as therapy seems just another luxury of my privileged status.  

The thing is, these experiences of women - long marginalized, are typically the first things thrown in the face of trans women whenever they finally open up or step out of the shadows of their male facade. Do they not understand that trans women themselves have long thought about this too!? That we have a heightened sensitivity to these experiences?  When others, even our supporters utter these differences it reveals their underlying impression that they still regard us as men. Perhaps they do so because they are still in the clumsy, beginning stages of their understanding. Bringing up the differences nonetheless communicates that rather than them being receptive to thinking outside of themselves and learning about the true experience of trans women, they are more concerned with defending their own sense of identity - still regarding us as an outsider rather than as another woman in the already diverse identities of women. So if you hold these views, please get over yourself. Our experiences are not about you.

So again with the privilege, "Why do you want to be woman when the society favors men?" --- This is not a question that should be directed only toward trans women. This is a good question for ALL women.  My answer is because I am a woman

Now, I am not affirming my true gender, my real identity because I have privilege. I am affirming it because I am transgender. I am a she, not a he; a chick, not a dude.

First World Problems
As the world learns more about trans identities,  there is a lot of reactionary, unlearned banter in recent years that being transgender is a First World Problem. 
A first world problem is, complaining at the fully stocked grocery store, that you have been waiting in line for 10 minutes because there are only 2 cashiers on duty; Complaining that that gas prices are getting too high because its making it more expensive for you to take out your ATV / Snowmobile for a joy-ride; Complaining that you'll have to wait either between 8-12 or 1-5 for the cable guy to show up; or waiting for a plumber to come route your system -- because you have indoor plumbing that needs maintenance. complaining that the diet cola your are drinking isn't helping you lose weight, but then use clean drinking water to water your yard and eat a candy bar instead of the variety of healthy food readily available (because you don't like the taste!); That cloth diapers are less convenient for you than disposable,  that you can't rake your own yard because your leaf blower is out of gas! etc. -- THESE are First world Problems!

Transgender individuals are not a problem.  We exist in every society and we always have.  Sure we are rare, an estimated 2-3 Gender Non-Conforming (which includes transgender) individual per every 1000. or about 2,000 in every 1 Million. -- But we have always existed.  
The wide-spread use of the Internet, which since the rise of personal computing and browsing with graphic user interfaces is really only about 20 years old. Is what has made it possible for isolated trans women, men, and other GNCs, to find each other in remote hidden pockets of our communities. 
Even the vague references in the Bible such as those strictures about "cross-dressing" -- which is not the same as being transgender -- attest to the fact that trans identities have always been a known natural reality of human diversity.  It is not a reflection of reality, but choice in the way people make up rules on how they chose to deal with trans women. This history of how societies interpret their religious dogma (in the West - based upon 12,143 unique words as translated into the English language KJV) has prevented far too many people from assessing reality as it really is. And thus their traditional response has been to kill us.  Since it is no longer kosher to kill us, they chose to stigmatize us as being mentally delusional; that we are a problem to be solved; degraded, as they do all marginalized people, that we are claiming "special rights" - None of those are acts that they are interested in learning about experiences other than their own selfish lives.

It is not transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who are the problem.  It is those who deny the real world, preferring dogma; rejecting any account an inquisitive, objective scientific and researched view of nature reveals.

We ask that you get over yourselves, rise up and show some awareness of Truth...

...and please stop murdering us.  We aren't the Problem.

with much Love,
Xenia, a woman, a she

Related Articles:
Still Think Trans Women have Male Privilege? These 7 Points Prove that they Don't.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Experiencing True Grief

Coming out to everyone is the best thing I have ever done for myself and my children.

In the days, weeks and months after Krista's death, I was a wreck. What I really needed was the voice of my best friend, the empathetic, loving, and wise-minded perspective she could always readily give. Anyone who has ever spoken with Krista KNOWS exactly what I am talking about, and while you all had a limited experience, I had the benefit of living with her everyday for 26 years. I also had the benefit that Krista knew so much about me, that she could readily key in on something that was really troubling me and offer perspective. You see already we felt that the high level starting point at which we communicated topics with trust and love was already far beyond what most self help books and gurus end with.  Besides Krista was a recognized field expert in Resiliency, and had recently been putting together materials for healthy workplace culture at HCMC at the time of her death. 

Well here is was June 2, 2017 When the worst thing that has ever happened to me occurred and the person who can help me most is the very person who was ripped from my life. 

So, knowing I was sleep deprived, grieving, and not in a good state of mind, I asked close friends and family to help fill the gaps. I sincerely appreciate all of the advice and I received from others who are also deep in experiencing their grief. They offered their perspective, their own experiences, their empathy, their faith, books, videos, etc. on how one can help process grief. From each person I found I could draw some value, but never the fully integrated perspective of one who intimately knows me.

Much of the well meaning advice did not apply to me. I have been with Krista for 26 years. To the outside world I was perceived as a widower "a man married to a woman." But so much of the literature and advice was biased to a marriage where the man works all day long and the woman is the primary care giver. So already I had to flip that to apply to our marriage because I have always been the parent closest to the children. Then put on top of that that I have always been a trans woman who is keenly aware of the discrimination and bigotry out there in the world and worried about what would happen to others perception of my wife, our children, and me IF they found this out while they are still processing Krista's loss.

October 2, 1993
Then add on top of this, that while Krista and I were both raised ELCA Lutheran and we respect people of faith who act with unconditional Love, neither Krista nor I found use for religion in our own lives  nor do we believe in the afterlife - at least as developed through the variety of metaphysical literature and human interpretations which more often served as a hindrance to morality, Truth and Love and abdication of personal accountability rather than its claimed commitment toward it.. This of course should be no surprise to anyone. We were married by the state of Iowa in Nature openly in Love and valuing Truth and Honesty in each other, without any mention of God. And I was determined to honor our Family Values by giving her the same Love in her send off. (something about having an always inquisitive mind, being a Classics major who has researched the history of how religious texts have been developed and compiled and the various ways in which those texts are received and interpreted has been of great benefit.),

Nonetheless the children and I gladly receive the outpouring of support from our friends of Faith, because we KNOW they are doing so out of love! That is the message which brings us comfort. Throughout the first 6 months, however I found myself in a self-imposed protection of others feelings in their grief and not allowing myself to fully experience my own without fetters. When I'd get advice on what helps "men" cope with loss of their wife, I would say thank you. When well meaning friends of Faith offer their sincere advice about Krista in the afterlife, I would say thank you. And while I know there are some others who fret over the souls of Krista, Me and our children, not understanding that Krista and I came to our non-belief quite honestly, investigatively, and independently (one of the other things we had on common when we met). Trying to comfort me by assuring me that Krista is now in the afterlife doesn't really address OUR grief. It is a distraction from grief. Like "shop therapy" or "stress eating," it does not help us in our day to day living without Krista's physical presence, and how we can come to acceptance that she is no longer here. (* NB: if there is an afterlife and if my bride were threatened by eternal damnation for not believing while on Earth, I am comforted by the knowledge that Krista has thrown that tyrant off his throne and now she is leading Heaven with Love for ALL living and nonliving things. Putting to work all of her brilliancy to build and support each other.-- and having that assurance comforts me.)

So with the exception of a few friends, plus my therapist and physician, I had to go through grief alone. Fortunately they all, as did Krista, knew that I was living the life of a closeted trans woman. That Krista and I had discussed it often throughout our marriage and we were discussing my beginning hormone replacement therapy as an option as we were recognizing that my being closeted was really beginning to take its toll. Then she was killed, the day after I had a great therapy session and was looking forward to discussing with her. But once I got things in order in the weeks after Krista's death I started hormone therapy. Within a week much of the stress I had been carrying for years: the depression, the anxiety, my ADHD like symptoms dissolved. Colors were becoming more vivid, breathing was easier and I was able to reach out easier and process grief in a mature and honest way. While still closeted I began opening myself up to more people. 

I continued to seek advice, yet found most had no experience in what it is like to be a trans woman, let alone one who is grieving the sudden death of her wife. While often not openly articulated, much of the early advice was, "You need to remain in the closet for the sake of your children." And I was at first inclined to think that a good idea. But this is what living in the closet does to one. I am so sensitive to the negative views of society regarding Trans women (and atheists for that matter) that it was negatively affecting my judgment. But still I was closeted to most of the world, like tourniquet which swells and makes painfully sensitive the flesh to the slightest touch, so too would I react every negative anti-trans tweet. In lieu of outing myself on a spur of the moment rage, I would back all of that energy into a private email to members of my inner support team. But I hated doing that because that really isn't reflective of me. 
I knew first hand how good and capable I was feeling. My self-confidence in my own decision making was growing. My therapist, physician, and close friends noted a switch in my writing and communication style -- for the better. Plus through my blog entries this summer finally writing as Xenia, so many people commented on how much they loved what I expressed. How can this be a bad thing? Still I was determined to wait until after the sentencing hearing of Krista's killer before I came out. ALL Hearts and Minds must be on Krista!

I learned what the agreed sentence was going to be in September of 2017, and I knew the date of the Sentencing Hearing. So I gave myself at least 2 weeks until after the hearing before I revealed myself to everyone. By that time some of my physical changes were becoming noticeable (the fact that despite my exercising my reliable Levi 501 regular fit 30x30s no longer could get over my thighs drew some remarks about my health and if I have been tested for diabetes ;)

A Revealed Life
When I finally came out in December. It was a feeling comparable to having experience a partial solar eclipse Then suddenly having witnessed a full solar Eclipse. There is nothing to compare. The partial eclipse representing the few times I stepped into the real me, but always with the dread that I had to return to my fictitious male identity. With the Total Eclipse,  All of these dampers on my heart, mind and soul, began to loosen. Things which I never thought I'd be interested in doing or I had previously thought impossible were now free and possible to do and try. I am pretty sure I broke some peoples brains with my revelation. But I didn't mind, I could breath and live as me.

I am really appreciative of all of the love and support and advice I have received from all of my friends. Though there was nothing that had ever given me the total wise-minded empathy, and shared perspective and background I had with Krista. I was still missing her daily wisdom that I have discovered is such a rarity. Within just a few days of me coming out, I discovered through mutual friends on Facebook, a friend of ours from our college cohort. She and I had not seen or spoken with each other since 1992. I never could conceive I would ever want nor desire anyone but Krista.  Now, Suddenly and Serendipitously I am conversing with a queer identified woman who is personally and professionally  aware of trans issues. We are discovering many shared experiences and have a lot to offer each other.

I recalled a conversation I had with my father-in-law just a few weeks after Krista's death. He provided some wise perspective which at the time I was really not interested in hearing. Nonetheless it was advice I needed to hear. He himself having lost his wife, the mother of his two children in 2001, and remarried two years later to my remarkable step-mother-in-law --  fore-warned me about possible new loves. I should be on guard not to give my heart so freely that I risk jeopardizing my family's security, but also I should not feel ashamed for when I do feel new love.

Here is one who affirms my gender--knows me as a woman, a widow with two children. Her own unique essence, lovely expression shares this rare high level communications of honest wisdom and empathy my mind, heart and soul has been craving. She brings to me a refreshing outlook, a door to new experience as I engage the whole world in my true identity. I have since visited her twice at her home in Iowa City, and this experience has be Great for our souls, health and well-being.

To be honest, I am incredibly drawn to her. She is so different from Krista yet I feel our souls share a natural familiarity as if have been long-time best friends. This is not something I say or do lightly, I do not freely give my love or open myself up to just anyone. I have many close friendships, but none which has so sparked my whole being as this happen-chance meeting has done.  I am fully aware of the multiple things with which I have on my plate: grief for Krista, my children, my coming out, my new experiences -- What I do know that speculators and detractors don't is my own soul and my own feelings. I am very practiced at rolling through my emotions, distinguishing base inclinations and lusts, and the fears of "rebound relationship."

I know myself and I know this is not wrapped up in any of those doubts. So I refuse to worry about what outsiders think of me -- about any of it.  I do value advice, but I do not need those without the experience of being a trans woman, an atheist, a father of two children, who has been grieving the loss of her partner of 26 years - to judge me, discount my intelligence and my awareness of my true heart because when it comes down to it, you aren't me and you really have no clue.

With her I no longer feel the need to explain myself nor coddle the feelings of cisgendered-heterosexual "traditional" society. This in itself allowed me the freedom of after 7 months of "grieving" to finally experience True Grief. And this wasn't just the grief of losing Krista, this was the grief of living for nearly 48 years in the closet and finally letting go and experiencing the whole world finally as ME.

What happened to Krista, my brilliant empathetic and wise minded woman was an act of stupidity. Whatever others may think about the man who killed her, his background is completely irrelevant to me. Krista was killed by a reckless, drunk driver. Anyone who has ever driven under the influence is just as guilty as he is. 

It has taken me 7 months, but I am now confident, I can tackle any problem. And how I live does not negatively impact others. We each process grief in our own way at our own pace, I have been assured and have since discovered that there is no time frame on Grief. I will always have patience, empathy, love, and a strong shoulder upon which friends and family can cry as they need. It is however no longer necessary for me to rob them of that strength by remaining closeted 
So one need not worry about my children and me. If you know me, you can rest assured that I live openly with them as I continue to raise them with the Virtues of Truth and Love.

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.