In 2013 I decided to move away from the small town in Kentucky that was an hour’s drive from anywhere I’d lived for the past two decades. I was tired of the small town life where Wal-Mart was the only excitement to be found and where booze was still illegal so you couldn’t even drown your sorrows (not that this is a technique of coping that I recommend).
There was more to the decision than just being tired of the small town. My girlfriend of three years had left, unable to cope, leaving me living alone for the first time in my adult life. My job was stagnant and the company I worked for didn’t have a lot of other opportunities for me in the local place.
But more importantly, I’d met a woman that made my heart race every time I talked to her. I drove eight hours, one way, every month just to spend a weekend with her. She got me. She understood me. We had long conversations online and over the phone, and when we were together…well, the sex was fantastic too.
In 2013 I moved to Virginia, got a job in Washington DC, and began to see my future wife every weekend. I had a nice new apartment, I had someone to go on dates with, to have adventures with, and life was looking pretty amazing.
By the summer of 2014 I had convinced her that she’d spent enough time living on an isolated farm in her dad’s house after the divorce and that with the school year having ended it was time for her and her daughter to move in with me. A couple months later we were living in a slightly larger apartment, as a modern family.
A Valentine’s to Remember
I had known since we first got together that L (as we will call my spouse) was prone to seizures. These were not the fall-down-and-shake kind of grand mal seizures that most people think of. No, L has Temploral Lobe Epilepsy that altered how she perceived reality around us. Sometimes this would just be staring off into space and needing to be guided back home; sometimes it would be perceiving everything as a cartoon or plushy instead of a real object.
On Valentine’s Day, 2015, L had one of the worst seizures I can remember. We left our movie double feature early (though, neither of us regrets leaving Jupiter Ascending) and walked the two blocks back to our apartment. I can still remember how tightly she squeezed my hand on the walk and how furtively she looked around at the towering apartment buildings.
This was the start of our journey down the road that would lead to L becoming a man.
From that time forward, L would have disconnects with reality. She would grow upset that the person staring at her in the mirror was not who she knew it would be. Why was she so short? Why didn’t she have a beard? Why was I so much taller, when she too was a man?
The Struggle Was Real
For nearly a year we stopped going on dates. Once in a while we would manage something, but I watched, torn and heartbroken, and L struggled with identity. Clothes didn’t fit as they should have; hair was never quite as desired, and the sex drive that had once been one of the cornerstones of our relationship just died.
I didn’t handle this as well as I should have.
Growing up in a small town with a largely homogeneous population, my exposure to people and topics outside of the heterosexual norm was limited at best. I tried to assure L that she was still pretty, that she still looked great in that dress, that I loved those boot she had in the closet.
I tried to assure L that even if she was having trouble seeing herself for who she was, that I still did and still loved her for it. I did this out of good intent, but didn’t see the larger picture: L no longer saw a woman.
We moved away from our apartment that summer to get away from city and try to raise our family someplace with a yard, with walls that didn’t adjoin to the house apartment next door, and somewhere that L felt more comfortable.
More and more, L began to worry that without her being female, without the sex we used to have, and with the struggle that it became to just leave the house that our time together would come to an end. L was afraid that I would leave, tired of the burden that she had become.
My heart ripped, my gut wrenched, to hear those fears be spoken aloud. I assured her that I meant the promise I’d made when we got together: we’re in this for the long haul, and we both knew there would be hard work ahead.
After a lot of drama, a lot of long talks, a lot of worries, L finally came out and put it all on the table.
What would you think if I transitioned to a man?
I have to say it’s not a question I had pondered much prior to this. L’s middle brother is also trans and I’ve had some exposure to the community, through the concerns and worries, through my contact with him. I knew this wasn’t an easy question to come out and ask, nor an easy decision to have arrived at for L.
But I knew one thing, above all others. It was the thing I knew when I said, “I do,” at our wedding. It was the same thing I knew when we flew our families to Puerto Rico to celebrate our honeymoon with us.
I knew that I wanted L to be happy.
I told him as much as we sat in our living room. I’ve seen the war of personality inside L for the past two years and there was only one answer that I could give as a decent human being.
L needed to be a man on the inside and out to be comfortable with himself. By then I knew this, and there’s no way I could have stood in the way of that. I wanted to see the old smile, the old energy, the old eagerness to tackle some travel adventure or a new restaurant, not the scared person huddled at home afraid to go out.
Do I still call you mommy?
There were a lot of long, hard conversations to be had over the next few months. Some L held off on until starting hormone replacement therapy. Others were had as soon as the weight of my approval was lifted from his chest. L’s parents mostly asked, “How does Matt feel about that?” Most of our friends were encouraging. The Children were accepting, and for this, I thank their Uncle T for having blazed the path of gender confusion for them already.
The hardest conversation for me to be part of was the one where my stepdaughter asked if she could still call L mommy, or if she was going to have three dads now. L’s decided that mommy is a role that he still plays and he can still be called mommy.
Like many things in L’s life, this is another compromise to visual cues and ingrained learning. L still looks quite feminine and usually gets referred to by feminine words when we’re in public. We both understand this is going to continue to happen until the testosterone really kicks in and at least the top surgery is done.
I would be lying if I said the path ahead wasn’t a scary one for me. There are still days when my depression has me wondering if I’ll be left behind like the wife in The Danish Girl, but those days are few and far between.
L still has bad days, full of anxiety and depression, but the change in his overall mood has been astonishing. He’s working towards 18 weeks on T and gets stupidly excited over every new chin whisker or the darkening of the hair on his legs. It’s rather cute, honestly, and I can’t help but to smile over the excitement he gets.
Kaiser Permanente has been a huge help this transition, as well. While switching to KP for insurance had largely been about cheaper prescriptions and better healthcare, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how helpful everyone has been on navigating the waters of transgenderism. The doctors have been easy to work with, the therapist has been super helpful on finding resources and lead us through things like legal name changes and so on.
We’ve had our good days and our bad, but it’s been worth it. For anyone out there facing a similar situation, I’d leave you with this advice:
At the end of the day, the person that comes out on the other side is still the same person, inside, that you fell for. Gender doesn’t matter. Love is love, and if you enjoy holding their hand now, it’ll feel just as good later.