Trans Couples: Adrien & Elena

I’m going to tell you the story of me, Adrien an FtM transman, and my partner, Elena a free-spirited, open-minded, adventurous, bi-sexual genetic woman. Y’all get ready, because some parts of it are scandalous. OK, here we go.

When Elena and I first met, I think it was late 1998, we just really hit it off, the way you do. The meeting that stood out was at the state fair, for a friend’s birthday. We were there with lots of friends and acquaintances and between us there was that magnetic energy – we were more interested in each other than anyone else and for reasons soon to be disclosed, this wasn’t entirely appropriate. Soon after that night at the fair, we met again at a party, a lesbian party. At this point on the timeline of my transition, I was just getting into the transgender vocabulary and ideas and was definitely starting to recognize myself as trans, but I was pre-everything with only some glimmerings that chest surgery might be something feasible for me. So, I was still living at home in the bosom of the lesbian community, but starting to scratch the itch that would bring my time there to its end. At present, we still have many gay and lesbian friends, but some have dropped out of our lives as well. Since the beginning of our relationship, we always found that we felt more aligned with our straight couple friends and I definitely do not call myself a lesbian any more. Elena’s relationship and sexual history includes men and women but at the time we met, she was identified as lesbian and had a female partner. But back to the story…

At the lesbian party, I walked up to her in the kitchen of our friend’s house with a beer in my hand. She was standing there with the opener, so I just held mine out for her to open. She helped me out, and seemed charmed by my presumption (that she would open my beer without being asked). We started to talk, drawn to each other with the same intensity that had been present at our first meeting. During this conversation I blurted something really smooth like, “I’m in a non-monogamous relationship.” If memory serves me, she actually DID act smooth and took it in stride. Later she told me the line made it clear to her that she was being hit on (at this time, her previous relationship had ended).

We kept bumping into each other and I finally worked up the nerve to call her and ask her out. We were both born in 1970, so I hadn’t seen or done much stereo typical “asking out”. You’d hook up, but you didn’t really call and ask people on dates. So, that was a little bit scary. But she agreed. A couple of nights before our first date, we ran into each other at a swank bar in town then went to play pool, ending up back at her place. It was late, I excused myself to the bathroom during which time I tried to get myself amped up to try to kiss her. Turned out, I needn’t have worried: I walked out and she said, “I really enjoy your company” and then laid one on me. One thing led to another, and as a note in our story that we still and will continue to enjoy, we slept together three days before our first date. 

We did go on that date, though, and it was really great. We both remember talking a lot, eating good food, she being somewhat giddy and my thinking she was beautiful and so smart. She had already told me about her upbringing (in a commune in San Francisco in the 70’s right in the Haight no less). I thought that was amazing and that she must be so free and open-minded. One of her first impressions of me that night was of how I ate the mussels I had ordered. I guess I ate them with my hands and she says that she knew then (and I have never been able to prove otherwise) that I was at least part redneck!

During this courtship, I was still in my primary, “non-monogamous” relationship. She and I had been together going on ten years. Through the decade we spent together, we kept our relationship open sexually and for many of those years, including those at the end of our relationship, lived separately. I had other affairs and even had strong feelings for some of the other women I had been with. But right from the beginning, it was different for me with Elena. Her northern California openness translated throughout our relationship. She was so able to stay in the moment, which as we all know, is a lot tougher than it sounds and necessary, if not always well done, when engaging in polyamorous relationships. She was capable of communicating well around all of what we were doing, too. It blew me away how she could talk about what she was feeling, even bad feelings, in a grown up, competent way. There were so many elements that drew me to Elena; it’s impossible to list them all here. The physical part of the relationship was explosive, adventurous, new. As so many reading this know, it’s hard to give yourself totally over to sex when you have so many bad, even hateful feelings about your body. But with Elena I felt like I could let go of some of that and trust her. And she found ways that made me feel seen by her as male, both inside and outside the sexual context. This made me feel even more secure with her and able to open up.

OK, if you thought the circumstances were complicated already, here comes the really sticky part. My primary partner wanted to have a baby badly, and I wanted to be a parent just as badly. I had already been dating Elena for many months when we first attempted insemination. Several months later, with both relationships going on simultaneously, my partner did get pregnant. Shortly after that, Elena broke up with me. She had maintained perspective, and sanity, by holding on to the promise to herself that she could and would end the affair if it ceased to be fun. Obviously the relationship had become more complicated than that but she was determined not to fall into the trap of the proverbial mistress waiting for the man to leave his wife. She saw the road ahead as only more complicated and painful for everyone and wanted to get herself out of it while it made sense to do it. Well, I was devastated. I knew that I loved Elena and wanted to be with her, but I felt incredibly duty-bound to my partner and to seeing through parenting this baby who was coming as much from my intention as hers.

My primary partner and I had broken up two times before during our ten years. In neither case was I affected by the breakup as I was by the break up with Elena. Yes, I was committed to my partner and raising this baby that we both wanted, but at the same time I was really hurting from Elena telling me it was over. I was so heartbroken. So, my partner asked me if I was in love with Elena, and I said I was. She told me that she didn’t want to have a baby with someone who was in love with someone else, which I totally understand, and we broke up for the last time. We didn’t speak for a few months, and then she asked me to come be her coach for the birth and said we could co-parent as agreed. I helped her through the birth and got to cut his cord and was there for his very first moments. In the end, we were not able to co-parent together. At the time, I would have done anything to preserve my place as his parent, but she decided against it.

After she and I broke up, I ran to tell Elena the news – that we could be together! – and I was so excited. Her response was one of a cat who had just had the faucet turned on it full blast. It was a completely unexpected turn of events to her, and after her initial shock, she opened up to the possibility of our primary relationship. It was a big transition from what we had been doing but in the end, she saw clearly how much she loves me, how compatible we are, how much amazing potential our relationship had, and decided to make a go of it with me.

After our affair, during which we both said that we would never get married, and would never live with a partner, ever, we moved in together. In 2001, we had our families and friends for a great party to celebrate our union and commitment (we did not want to get “married” for varied personal, political and social reasons, oh yeah, and because we are legally barred from it!).

And so began our primary relationship. And our first of many transitions. It was challenging to move our relationship from a fiery affair (a relationship with great depth of feeling and excitement but no commitment) to a primary partnership (same depth of feeling, with added commitment and the day in and day out of domestic life together). We moved in to a great house, the house in which we still live. We lived, worked, traveled, fought, made up, rearranged the house, etc. And then we decided to try and have a baby.

Elena had always wanted to be a mother, and of course, I was still wanting badly to have a family myself. We jumped through the medical hoops, filled out the forms and picked our donor from the sperm bank expecting to be pregnant if not in the first few months, within the year. Two and a half years later we found ourselves living in two week cycles – two weeks of hope and anticipation, two weeks of disappointment and ultimately, for Elena, depression. Finally, in February of 2004, Elena decided to call it quits. We were having a bad day and she had just screamed, “I hate Valentine’s Day!” and then broke down and told me that she didn’t think she could stand to try any longer to get pregnant. She said the endless cycle of hope and intense letdown had gotten too much and that she wasn’t living. I of course wanted to stop, knowing it was making her feel this way. Two days later, the pregnancy test came back positive! Michael Samuel Lawyer (“Sam”) was born on Halloween, 2004.

At this time, the need to transition more fully began to press on me. Sam’s conception and impending birth made me realize how necessary it was to me that my child see me the way I see myself. I could no longer stand to be ambiguous and did not ever want him to see me that way. So In July of 2004 Elena, five months pregnant, and I flew to San Francisco for my chest reconstruction surgery. Elena totally supported this stage of my transition and had no ambivalent feelings in regard to the reconstructive surgery. As far as we knew at the point, that was the beginning and end to any serious steps in my process. In fact we had specifically discussed the fact that I would not go so far as to use hormones even. The following year that changed.
In June 2005, I started testosterone. Elena was ambivalent about this, for sure. It was a big step, and we couldn’t predict what changes would come from it. But we talked about it, and agreed to go forward together. Then the roof caved in. After about five months on hormones, right as my voice was changing, I was fired from the company that I worked at for seven years and had worked my way into management with. That was October 3, 2005. On October 26, 2005, Elena’s younger brother died in an accident. And Sam turned one five days later. What with multiple intense transitions and tragedy and loss, we couldn’t find our way to hold each other up. We tried, but we disintegrated and ended up separating. For three months I moved home to Mississippi. When I came back I realized I couldn’t be away from Sam that way, and that I would also do anything I could to get Elena back and put my family back together. We started counseling that summer, and found new ways to communicate. I wonder why I was such a dumbass to not go to counseling before we split up, but Elena says that the separation was like when they re-break a bone to set it properly when it doesn’t heal. I think she’s right. It was during the six months apart that she found her way to calling me “he.” She found she was able to look at it as if she were just my friend, since that’s what she thought we were going to be. It was a great shift in perspective. And it allowed us to break out of some old, unhealthy patterns. Counseling was a huge part of our healing experience, and we have made a commitment to trying to communicate honestly and lovingly and to do things differently and try to be inventive to make things work. We want to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned in trying to experience growth and healing in our family, with our son. I know that I am still very much in love with Elena and want to do all I can to be a better (trans)man, partner and father for my family. Sam and Elena are the best things that have ever happened to me, in every way. Sam’s conception and birth were big pushes for me on my transition path. I always wanted my child to see me the way I knew I looked. I wanted to be unambiguous to him, having him see me the exact same way that I see me.

Connection, and maintaining relationships with the people in our lives who have had deep impact and have been part of formative experiences – family, friends and exes – are among our highest values. Our relationship has survived because we are flexible, loyal, open and daring. We are together again stronger than ever (pardon the cliché). And in another turn of fate, or intention as the case may be, my ex and I are still very good friends and I am the godfather to the child we brought into the world. Over time we have slowly worked to integrate our families, spending more time together whenever we can.

Relationships never end, they only change.

After all this counseling and healing and shift in perspective, Elena and I took a great leap of faith last year to start our own business. We are database consultants now, with an office space we just rented, a really flexible schedule and so far, a good amount of work. This is giving us time to do other things we care so much about, like volunteering with PFLAG to go out on Speakers Bureaus and starting to exercise again! We may not have the life of our dreams, but we sure are working on it.