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.
Courthouse Butte near Sedona, AZ, December 15, 2015. This photo is from my trip with Monica to meet her family in Arizona and to experience the sights of her previous life.
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.
My 24-year-old pre-Trans self exploring cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff, AZ. May, 1999.
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.
Oak Creek Canyon near Migdley Bridge, December 15, 2015. This photo illustrates the type of terrain I hiked over during my Forest Service surveys in 1999. The red rock to the right across the canyon symbolizes Great Mother and the pine in the foreground symbolizes Attis, her transgender lover. Back in 1999, of course, I was barely even aware of the Divine Feminine, much less her names and forms.
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.
Monica and I at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon, AZ. December 15, 2015.
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.
Monica and her mother sharing a moment of Italian-Catholic family warmth. December 12, 2015.
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.
Breakfast with Monica’s family at The Place. From left, Bryan’s wife, Hildie, Bryan’s son, Xavier, Robert’s son, Alexander, Bryan, Monica, and Bryan’s baby Logan. December 13, 2015.
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.
Bryan’s son Xavier, Robert’s son Alexander, and Monica’s eldest son, Robert at The Place. December 13, 2015.
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.
The high desert under snow clouds near Black Canyon City along I-17. December 14, 2015.
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.
Saguaro cacti along I-17 near Black Canyon City. Monica video recorded my devotional drumming amid these iconic plants. December 14, 2015.
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.
Chapel of the Holy Cross overlooking Sedona, AZ. December 15, 2015.
Looking out from the chapel towards the ‘Two Nuns’ rocks. December 15, 2015.
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.
Steamboat Rock, left, with Wilson Mountain in the background, which dominates the lower reaches of Oak Creek Canyon. Photo taken from Migdley Bridge, December 15, 2015.
Afterwards, we had the most delectable omelets for lunch at the Coffee Pot Cafe, then headed up Oak Creek Canyon State Route 89A.
Walking through Slide Rock State Park, December 15, 2015.
After winding up the canyon highway under snowy forests, we reached Monica’s favorite summertime get-away, Slide Rock State Park.
Monica video recording the flow of Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park. The bridge of 92A is apparent across the creek. December 15, 2015.
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.
The ledge in Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park. Years ago, in warm weather, Monica and her friends would use this ledge as the start of their “waterslide”. December 15, 2015.
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.
At Sunset Point along I-17 on December 14, 2015. Behind me are the snow-dusted Bradshaw Mountains. The inset photo at the right shows the 1999 version of myself in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
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.