I had been married for 10 years to one of the smartest and most compassionate people I had ever met. But by the time we hit 10 years, he was also the most depressed, unhappy person I knew. After two attempts at a separation, I finally had enough. All I wanted was for him to be happy. Everything else in our relationship seemed picture-perfect except this darkness that always loomed over us.
I had done everything in my power to keep it together, but I just couldn't anymore. There was no intimacy between us and there hadn't been for years. And sex wasn't the only problem; I got zero affection, attention, or appreciation. I had chalked up a lot of our relationship is to the fact that he was working full-time while going to school full-time. I knew he was stressed out and exhausted, but so was I. At that time, I was also working full-time and maintaining our family and household.
We had just moved to a new city for grad school when shit hit the fan. I didn't know what was wrong and I had nobody to talk to, but what I did know was that I was done. I mean, here's this guy who has everything a person could want: an education, the guarantee of a stable job, two beautiful and healthy kids, and a loving wife who takes care of everything. What more could a person want? We were almost living the American dream.
So, one night, I sat him down and laid out my plan for a separation and how we could try to make things work while we both finished school. If he wanted to work it out, he was going to have to get counseling or medication and make some major changes, or I was out.
That night, I expected there to be fighting and throwing things. I expected it to go terribly. But, it didn't. With nothing left to lose, he finally admitted a dark secret that he had been harboring for a very long time: he felt like a woman on the inside.
He started opening up to me. I listened. We hugged and kissed and cried a lot together. The truth is, I didn't want it to end, and I desperately wanted my other half to be happy. Even though I was scared and uneasy, I was willing to take whatever steps necessary to get us both to a good place.
Coming out as transgender was a lengthy process for her. Almost a year, in fact. She started out cross-dressing after the kids went to bed. This lasted for about seven months. At this point, I still didn't understand that she was transgender; I didn't even really know what that meant because that word had never really been a part of my vocabulary. I had a very difficult time understanding how someone who lived their whole life as a man wanted to dress as a woman. I was very ignorant, and didn't yet understand what all of this meant and that it was so much more than just wearing dresses.
This phase wasn't easy for me at all. It was such a big change. We were the poster children for heteronormativity... until we weren't. Part of it was me was having a difficult time seeing my "husband" go through this, and the other part was me questioning every fiber of my being — questions like, I just want him to be happy, right? and, This isn't the worse thing in the world, what am I so afraid of? and, Am I going to be embarrassed? I was ashamed of my own feelings. It hurt to think about being embarrassed of a loved one just because they were being themselves.
I come from a very dysfunctional family and wanted nothing more than to just live in a "normal" family, but what I did not recognize was that we hadn't been functioning at all. I realize now that a functioning family doesn't consist of societal standards; a functioning family consists of people who not only love one another but also respect and appreciate one another.
As time passed, we began growing distant again. The cross-dressing was a big struggle for the both of us. It wasn't enough for her because she wasn't actually a cross-dresser; for me it was the weird in-between of my husband in women's clothing. The last time I suggested a separation, she burst into tears and really spelled it out for me: "I'm a transgender woman. I have felt like a woman my entire life. I don't know what to do."
She was so afraid I would leave and she wouldn't see the kids again. She was certain I would pack our bags and run for the hills. Boy, was she wrong! That was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted her to be happy and healthy. I didn't want to be married to someone who was miserable.
We decided that night that both of us would pursue counseling on our own. She would go see a therapist who specialized in gender identity issues and I would see a counselor to help me deal with her transition and overcome my childhood abuse. We both desperately needed it.
That was the best decision either one of us could have made for our relationship. She took all the proper steps in getting help, and she was advised to begin hormones and transition if that is what she felt she needed. It was complicated getting the confirmation of gender dysphoria. It wasn't because she didn't identify as a woman — because she did — but she was hoping the therapist would be able to help her not be a woman so she wouldn't have to go through the transition.
The truth is, you can't change who you really are, but you can make your outsides match your insides. That's what transitioning is all about. But it can be a hard road; she was trying to find any way possible to not put herself or the rest of us through her transition.
There was an odd sense of relief when it was all out. There were no more secrets or shame. It was just her. She had nothing else to hide behind. She began to be more open with me about her childhood and how she used to sneak her mom's and sister's clothes. She told me the story of how her parents tried to correct her walk because it was too feminine. She told me the stories of feeling terrified of heaven since she'd never get in because of who she was. She told me of how she wanted to drive her car off of a cliff to just end it all.
Much of the struggles she dealt with had to do with her parents, who are ultra-conservative, evangelical Christians. Coming out was never an option in her youth, so she repressed everything until it nearly killed her.
We made the decision to have the conversation with her parents the day after visiting for Christmas. It went exactly as planned: horribly. Homophobic and transphobic slurs were thrown. Jokes about genital surgery were made. The worst part was the shame they dumped on her by telling her that I would leave with the kids and she would commit suicide or be alone and miserable. Did they not realize she had already been suicidal?
It became very clear to us that her family would rather she die as a male than be alive, healthy and happy as a female. It also became clear that they never liked me and thought the worst of me. My wife was already dealing with the fear that I was going to leave; I couldn't help but feel so much empathy for her. I can't imagine fearing that every single person would turn their backs on you just for attempting to save your own life.
My love for her was strong enough to at least try to see her through transition. It wasn't easy. There were moments when I questioned my own motives. There was a time when I grieved not having a strong husband around who made me feel protected. You learn a lot when a loved one begins hormones and transitions; one of those things is that a transgender woman who previously lived as a very fit and strong man can lose most of her strength pretty quickly. It also forced me to become a stronger, more independent version of myself.
In essence, her transition made me a better person, too.
They say that the secret to a happy marriage is communication, and I couldn't agree more. Once I reached a point where I allowed myself to grieve the loss of my husband, I was able to open up more and see the beautiful person she was becoming. This took a lot of work on my part. There was a lot of soul searching and sorting out what was pure ego and what was reality. The reality was, I loved her so much. The reality was, I didn't want to tear my family apart. The reality was, I loved our life together.
Things started looking up after she came out publicly, started hormone therapy, and presented female. I go back and look at pictures from before the transition, when the kids were little, and it's hard to find any with her and the ones we do have, she is either not smiling or the smile is forced. Compare that to the smile post-transition and let it speak for itself. Her smile is big, warm, inviting, and genuine. Her eyes are bright and her skin glows. In all of our years together, I had never seen her smile and eyes so big and bright.
When she started feeling more like herself, her temper calmed, and her overall attitude completely changed. Our relationship was getting better now that we both were receiving counseling and learning how to have control of our own lives. As a result of us taking care of ourselves, we were able to take care of each other better. Our communication got better. While we used to think we were honest and open before, nothing holds a candle to how far we have actually come. Not only have we become better partners to one another, but we have also become better parents and friends.
Inevitably, when a husband becomes a wife, society can't help but wonder about genitals and sex. That's been something I've had to learn to deal with. People are curious. It's easy to just tell them to Google it, and sometimes I do, depending on the person. But if you're wondering: yes, we still have sex. Yes, we are much closer than we've ever been. Our intimacy and sex life are awesome right now. There are 1,001 ways two humans can have sex regardless of genitalia or gender. Use your imagination.
A spouse or partner transitioning genders isn't the end of the world. Staying married may not be the choice for everyone, but for those who are willing to work past social norms and be mature, anything is possible. It has nothing to do with sexuality. I fell in love with Tara all those years ago for specific reasons. Those reasons still exist, but they are even stronger now. We understand each other and have a connection that is deeper than it's ever been. Even the kids have gotten better. There is so much less stress in our house as a result.
It's hard for me to look at how far we've come and think for one minute that I'd want anything different. I wouldn't change it for the world.