For close to the past twenty years, my version of the “having it all” dream has been living in the high deserts of the southwestern U.S. with my large, loving family. Alas, my upbringing and career have kept me penned up in the steamy, suburbanized, congested byways of northern Georgia. Granted, I am thankful for the family I was born into. I’m close with my mom and dad despite my departure from the religious path in which they raised me. I have only two siblings, twin sisters, who carry themselves with a more pronounced Protestant reservedness and stricter conservatism than my parents.
An exclusionary, Evangelical mindset permeated family, community, and place in which my sisters and I were raised. My sisters remained in rural Georgia, if not geographically, at least spiritually. By contrast, I went searching for new a new place and new connections. In 1999, Arizona was the first stop along my sojourn. I took a temporary job with the U.S. Forest Service working on a conservation project out of Flagstaff, AZ. The immense red-rock desert landscapes I experienced opened my jaded, 24-year-old heart to the grand scale and diversity of the Earth. My co-workers came from all regions of the U.S., but most from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and Montana. Many had come up in the world free of the circumscribed, mentally-stifling environment of bible belt Georgia. Yet, others struggled with even more rigid family and community constraints than I could imagine. All of us were under 35 and searching for a new place to set down roots and build some semblance of family.
On an earth so large and filled with people of such diverse backgrounds, my philosophical box of religious dogma finally fell apart. For the next several years of my sojourn in the west, I worked in Texas, Alaska, and Montana. My initial euphoria at shedding the bonds of my old doctrine-based faith gave way to an anxious sense of loneliness and purposelessness. My optimistic agnosticism gave way to a sorrowful yearning for the Divine Feminine. My hope in the Goddess has persisted and grown stronger for fifteen years now, preventing me from ever fitting into the windowless icebox of dogma-based faith.
Yet, in 2003, longing for my family brought me back to Georgia. Closeness with my mom, dad, sisters, and grandmother was too important to relegate to my list of “long-distance relationships.” I returned to a Christian persuasion, at least outwardly. Inwardly, I not only longed for Divine Mother, but also for a large family with children of my own, along with nieces, nephews, and cousins. At the time, I had no foresight of the unimaginable blessings and challenges my beloved Goddess would place in my path.
I spent 2005 through 2012 in graduate school at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I was focused on building a career in microbiology and figured marriage and family were still far away into my future, if at all. Yet, I began my gender transformation midway through my doctoral program; Before my name-change was complete, I met my life-partner, Monica. I realized that I had never been meant to find the right person as a mate until I became the right person myself.
After fifteen years of learning, growing, and struggling in Georgia, on December 12, 2015, I returned to Arizona as part of a couple. Monica spent most of her formative years in Phoenix while her mother, both sisters, and one of her two sons have remained in Arizona. Thus, my dreams of many years ago were coming true, if only for my five days of vacation.
Monica and I spent the morning of December 13 at a Phoenix diner called, “The Place”, along with Monica’s sons, Robert and Bryan, three grandsons, Xavier, Alexander, and Logan, and one daughter-in-law, Hildie. Afterwards, we all went to the apartment of Robert and Bryan’s mother (Monica’s ex-wife) who had unexpectedly passed away the month before. I thus hoped to serve my new extended family in a role of comforter midst grief.
On December 13 and 14, I spent time with Monica’s fabulous, “baby” sister Julie. Though Monica’s family has its share of Italian mama-and-sibling drama, they seem less shy about showing closeness than my own family. Granted, my parents and sisters are by no means cold and never unkind; Rather, I find it difficult to connect with their Georgia White-Anglo-Protestant tendencies. Monica and her half-Italian, Catholic-raised family has a loving glow I’ve never before encountered.
On the 14th, Monica took me on a road tour north of Phoenix along the Carefree Highway and Interstate 17. It was a cold, stormy day in the high deserts north of Phoenix when all mountaintops and mesas above 1500 meters were dusted with snow. Yet, the groves of Saguaro cactus below the rim of Black Mesa remained snow-free despite the icy wind.
On December 15, Monica took me up to Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, her most beloved place on earth. We walked up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross to gaze out over the recently snow-blanketed Sedona.
Unlike cacti along I-17 the previous day, the high desert plants of Sedona were loaded down in snow. After the Chapel, we braved driving over slushy snow up Bear Wallo Canyon.
Afterwards, we had the most delectable omelets for lunch at the Coffee Pot Cafe, then headed up Oak Creek Canyon State Route 89A.
After winding up the canyon highway under snowy forests, we reached Monica’s favorite summertime get-away, Slide Rock State Park.
She showed me where her and friends once slid along the creek bottom, hence the name of the Park. Of course, it was too cold and snowy that day for water recreation and sundown was approaching quickly within the canyon.
As the sun and the temperature sank, we made the long twilight drive back to our motel room in Phoenix. We got partway packed in anticipation for catching our December 16 flight back to Atlanta. We were both jostled by fierce turbulence on the return flight. Yet, my heart rested in joy and peace knowing that Monica really is the lady I am meant to marry.
Today, on February 15, 2016, I face decisions and challenges, many of a positive nature. Yesterday, I made my marriage proposal to Monica in front of our church. There will be a wedding before the year is up, but I am more excited at the prospect of going back to Arizona to hang out with Monica’s family. Over the next year-and-a-half, I aim to prepare our house here in Georgia for adopting a child from the foster-system. Yet, if Georgia politics and policies prove too hostile; I may again look towards the western states. Hopefully I can build family in a beautiful place like Arizona, but I’d settle for the steamy, suburbanized, congested byways of California. My own life, my family, and even my entire country have progressed and evolved in ways the wandering Georgia-boy-turned-girl from the late 90s could never have imagined.