I recently gave a short presentation to a group of hospital staff about how to best support trans youth in their clinic. It was supposed to be centered on my daughter's experiences at the hospital, but I couldn't very well leave out the fact (true fact, not an alternative one) that I also have a trans spouse. I meant to simply mention it, to say our family is no stranger to transitions, and move on, but some of the questions at the end of the talk surrounded our relationship.
I get it. People are always curious about how we managed to navigate a transition within our marriage. I've written about it on this blog and we've both spoken about it at length in interviews and on podcasts. The short version is this: It was really scary and awful at first, but then we realized it wasn't so awful or scary and then we fell in love all over again and now we're happier than ever.
Key point: happier than ever. That's what people seem to struggle with most. They generally get how Zoe could be happier, but me? That's a stretch for them, given such a big change.
Except it's not.
Yes, it was a big change in some ways. I had no clue my spouse was a woman. I had to get used to the idea that she is. It made it easier when I truly realized she always has been, even if I didn't know. When you think about it that way, it makes it not such a big change. The only difference now is she gets to live as the person she really is, rather than in an ill-fitting dude role.
Can I just say it? Zoe played a lousy dude. She tried her best, but it was more participation medal worthy than gold star. She had a hard time making guy friends, had a hard time doing those more stereotypical guy things. She liked my friends way better than she liked their male partners.
I just thought she was a weird bro, and I kind of liked it because, as I came to realize throughout my life, I was never that into bros in the first place.
And this is where our story gets more interesting (just when I thought it couldn't.)
When I was younger, a female friend of mine and I were caught, um, doing things. Things that felt good and very right to me. And we were chastised by her mom and told what a sin it was. It was wrong and it was bad and you shouldn't do that stuff ever again or you'll go to Hell.
Listening to her, I felt incredible shame that still comes up today when I tell that story. I learned then that it was easier to be with a guy than a girl. Even if it wasn't exactly what I wanted, and even if it never felt entirely right, I could make it work.
Enter my ill-fitting bro who wasn't actually a bro. I loved her deeply and I was definitely attracted to her in her ill-fitting-ness. But the older I got, the more I came to terms with my sexual orientation. Most recently, I concluded that, under different circumstances, I would have skipped dudes altogether. They're pretty to look at, but they're not my bag beyond that.
And then Zoe came out, and I came out, too. Fearfully, carefully, slowly dipping my toe in the queer rainbow waters. It's been a process in figuring myself out.
I still get freaked out attaching the word "lesbian" to myself because people question it the way I used to. "You were married to someone you thought was a guy, so how can you be a lesbian?"
Believe me, I asked myself that, too. And I can't possibly be a lesbian if I think Justin Trudeau's hair is sexy and I want to touch Chris Hemsworth's giant arm muscles, right? This is why I identified as bi or pan for a while. Hearts not parts. Safer, easier, fewer questions, and less shame. Because OMG, the shame of knowing I hid that part of me for such a long time? That doesn't feel good. It feels inauthentic. It feels worse than sinning.
But while my wife was hiding, I was hiding, too. I wouldn't be the first gay person to do that, to hide within a marriage. And maybe that's why, while I understood Zoe's need to be herself, I was simultaneously terrified of the repercussions of that. I had been safely hiding for over two decades, not only from everyone else, but also from myself.
Like I said, it's been a process. A whole lot of soul-searching. And this realization that I've always been a lesbian - even if I dated men (well, boys; it was high school, after all) - freaked me out more than my wife's transition did. I really thought I knew myself, that I was a shining example of authenticity. As it turns out, I had my own walls up, too. Piles of toaster ovens, stacked high.
But hey, here's the good news: as it turns out, the love of my life is a woman! And a beautiful one, at that. The soul I fell in love with was a woman's soul, so this whole lesbian thing makes a lot of sense when you see it that way.
Now, finally, after 23 years together, we both get to be our true selves. To own who we are, to see one another and love one another wholly. What a gift that is. And I have never felt more authentic than I do today. It's time to let go of that old, cumbersome shame.
Our daughter's coming out freed my wife, and, in turn, my wife's coming out freed me. The next time Alexis rolls her eyes at me in that teenager way and I want to strangle her, I'm going to remember how she saved our family and not strangle her. Gold star parenting.
We are, indeed, a family in transition. And it's kind of beautiful.
Here, have a toaster oven. I have lots.