When my husband came out to me I had already known for a while. The past year had been filled with lies—about where he had been, what he was doing, who he was with. I could tell that he had been lying, but I could not yet detect the truth. And then I read an article about a woman who found out her husband was gay late in their marriage. The lying and deception felt familiar. But I knew my husband wasn’t gay—he was bisexual—and we had always talked openly about our sexuality.
I had friends in the trans community. But it wasn’t hearing their stories that signaled anything in my brain. I had been working on a novel about a drag queen, and one night while working through a chapter with my husband, he turned to me and said, “I think it would be fun to wear women’s clothes.”
“Like, around the house, out in public, on stage?” I was genuinely curious what aspect interested him the most. My experience with women’s clothing had always been a tumultuous one.
“On stage,” he said quickly. “Like for a performance.”
He was lying. Not about wanting to dress as a woman, but about the context of the experience. I didn’t call him out on it. I wasn’t sure where his mind was at, and despite wanting to know, I knew that pushing him wouldn’t help.
It was a few months later that we started watching Transparent on Amazon. The show has a great cast, and lent a voice to the trans community that I hadn’t before seen with such delicate storytelling. I watched each episode, fascinated. My husband couldn’t make it through the first episode without getting up and leaving.
“I’m just tired. Going to bed early. You keep watching.”
It was a show that I thought he would have loved, but he started avoiding it.
That avoidance carried over to other aspects of our lives. Avoiding questions, avoiding confrontation, avoiding communication. I started to think that he was cheating on me. I felt like a character in a soap opera. I started snooping, then stopped myself. One night I confronted him.
“Are you seeing someone else?”
And then, without even really formulating the question in my head first, “Are you transgender?”
“No. Definitely not.”
He looked away when he spoke. He shook his head a little too much. He laughed a little. He was lying.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’d still love you.”
I dropped it and it took him another two months before he could tell me himself.
When he finally said the words I hugged him and didn’t let go. I was excited that he could finally share this part of himself with me, and then I thought about all the ways that our lives would change.
I met Jacob when I was fifteen. We married at eighteen. We had been married for over seven years when he came out. Now I’m meeting Jenny—the person who was buried beneath the male exterior. She’s got the same sense of humor, the same quick wit and charm, the same level of intelligence—but there’s more to be discovered: passions and interests that had been pushed aside for more masculine things in the past and facets of her personality that I am still discovering. When I first met Jenny, I was excited about the potential to fall in love all over again—something that I never expected to experience since I married so young. I was hopeful about the future. I was excited.
A year later and everything isn’t sunshine and roses. There is no easy way to approach this relationship. In many ways, Jenny IS Jake. In many ways, she isn’t. I simultaneously attach all of the baggage of our existing relationship as well as the obstacles of our new one. I compartmentalize our existence into Pre-Jenny and Post-Jenny. When I think about things we did last year, or last decade, I see them as occurring with Jake—and they did. But Jake isn’t here anymore. And even though the core of their personalities is the same, I feel like I’ve lost Jake and gained Jenny. It is a jumbled mess of emotions.
A lot of people ask me if I’m mad that she didn’t tell me sooner. Our relationship was a decade old when she revealed her true self. I don’t blame her for that. I blame the environment that surrounded us. I don’t think that even she fully realized what her thoughts and feelings translated to until she was confronted with a version of reality in which people like her existed. Seeing media representations of others who felt the same, meeting people in the community—it all gave her the language to identify with.
There are other things that I do blame her for—but they have nothing to do with her gender identity. We have normal relationship problems. We fight about money, about schedules, about juggling work with kids. We figure stuff out. We argue. We compromise. We work hard to make our relationship work. But these are all normal couple things. I’d like to say that Jenny’s coming out hasn’t impacted our relationship at all, but that would be a lie. For those of us who aren’t affluent, transition is expensive. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), therapy (required for surgery and changing gender markers on identifications), surgery (for those who choose that route), changing legal documentation, and other cosmetic expenses (hair removal, wardrobe, makeup, etc.) add up quickly. It adds a whole new layer of complication to our finances and time management. Transition can also impact employment, family dynamics, and destabilize friendships. That’s not to say that it isn’t worth it, or that it isn’t necessary—just that it’s hard work. It’s commitment, and for everyone involved.
In many ways this is a transition for both of us. I don’t say that to try to co-opt her experience, or downplay her pain. I say that because I’m confronted with questions about my own sexuality and my own identity. When Jenny came out, our overwhelmingly supportive families first asked if we’d be staying married. When I said “yes,” they asked why. It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around. It’s hard for me. It’s going to be hard for our kids. But again, it’s worth it. It’s necessary; the only reason why it is hard is because that is the way that society has made it. As our family transitions, I hope that society can too.
This post originally appeared on Eat Life.