My life has entered a parallel universe.
For those of you unfamiliar with the writings of Philip K. Dick, countless Star Trek episodes, or even Shrek Forever After - honestly, that's one I'm glad you missed - it's the idea that there's more than just the universe we sit in. That there are other separate realities co-existing with this one, each one a variant on what we currently know.
Some of these variances are small; perhaps you're married to a different person but the rest of your family remains largely the same. Sort of like being Elizabeth Taylor. In others, the differences are huge, such as in The Good Dinosaur, where a meteor never wiped out the dinosaurs at all. (Another animated letdown if I'm being honest.)
My parallel universe tends more towards the less deviated though it does not involve Elizabeth Taylor (sadly). A year ago I was married with a daughter while living on the Oregon coast, making my living working as a high school teacher. Along the way I also became a locally recognized newspaper columnist and novelist, the name "Barton Grover Howe" attached to all of them, it was more than a name and byline, it was a brand.
They're all gone now.
The woman that was my wife is still on the coast raising my daughter. My school is still there, my classroom repainted like I was never was. My space in the newspaper given to someone else, my books no longer selling. Even my name is gone; "Barton Grover Howe" doesn't exist.
In its own way, it's rather sad. The universe is literally going on without me. But in another way it's not. It's quite wonderful, actually - because that's what I chose.
Three months ago I chose to transition from male to female. Barton Grover Howe has become Bethany Grace Howe. For a marriage that was already strained my choice was more than enough to send my wife packing. She has returned to our old life in a little Oregon beach town while I have remained in Eugene, Oregon. Ostensibly to finish my Ph.D., though the truth is there's much more than that. There is figuring out who I am.
Why does a 47-year-old man put on a dress one night and suddenly realize that he's been in the wrong body for all of those years? How do you figure out who you're supposed to be when everything that meant something to you now means something else? (Unless it doesn't mean anything different at all; that's a real doozy.)
For three years I've been writing as Raina Bowe, first on my own blog and of late here at the Huffington Post. I realize now as much as Raina was a creation of my desire to entertain and educate, she was a creation of my desire to be myself: a woman. A woman who likes frilly dresses, loads of pink, and more than that - much more than that - to be taken seriously as a woman.
Not because I have always been one, or because I have decided I am one. But simply because that is what I want the world to see me as. That's a lot to grasp for some people, including myself, if I'm being honest. I no more understand what it means to be a woman than I did two weeks ago when I was still living my life as a guy. (Though I am learning not to go into the wrong restroom - quickly.)
I'd like other people to learn that along with me, as well as what it means to be transgender in 21st-century America. Supposedly there's 700,000 of us out there (though I suspect the number is more than that), and I'd like to give us another voice. Not that my voice is a defining one; the transgender community is as diverse as any other. I can speak only for myself, though I'd like to give some of my trans brothers and sisters a voice when I can.
If you've been a follower of @RainaBoweDG, I hope you'll find me again under my new name, @BethanyGraceHow. Hopefully, you'll find the writing as light and lively, with just a bit more personality thrown in. Raina was a creation; Bethany is me - and it's about time I let her speak.
I hope you'll check in every once in a while to listen.