How do you tell your spouse that you’ve been living a lie? What do you say to start that conversation? Where do you begin? “Oh, by the way, I’m actually a woman, sorry I never told you.”
This is the problem I faced on January 10th, 2017. I hadn’t slept a wink of sleep the night before, not one bit. When my wife woke up I told her I’d had terrible insomnia and was on the verge of crashing. I blamed it on having drank a ton of iced tea the night before, but really it was just that I was too excited. I finally knew I was trans, I knew I could transition, I knew I’ve been a woman all along. How could I sleep during this revelation? I fell asleep finally at 8am and slept for two hours. I don’t remember much of that day, I spent most of it on Reddit, trying to find how other people had solved this problem.
I couldn’t not tell her, that would be impossible. I couldn’t keep this kind of secret. I could already feel myself becoming obsessed with it, I couldn’t hide the affect this was having on my day to day thoughts. I finally knew what was wrong with me, how could I possibly keep that to myself? I was going to be doing mountains of research over the next few months, and I had to get a therapist. I couldn’t do that in a vacuum.
She’s my best friend, she’s my spouse, my partner. This will affect her life just as much as it will affect mine. This isn’t just my transition, it’s ours. How would she react? I was pretty certain she would be supportive, she had always been supportive of trans rights, but it’s different when its your spouse. Would she want to stay married to a woman? She’s bisexual, but she really liked our simple white bread American nuclear family life. We had both fallen into very conventional gender roles. I was going to be tearing that apart, altering our family dynamic forever in ways we couldn’t predict.
Furthermore, the timing was just dreadful. She was 31 weeks pregnant with our second child, and having severe nausea that started at week two and never ended. Additionally, this time around she had developed gestational diabetes, and she was terribly worried for the health of the baby. It’s the worst possible time for me to drop this in to her severely swollen lap.
I knew several trans women through my developer connections and decided to reach out to one that I had a good relationship with. I came out to her, laid everything out, and asked for her advice. Should I tell her now, or try to hide it until the timing was better? Her response was simple: If it’s going to work out, it will work out whether you tell her now, or tell her later. The timing won’t change the outcome.
I decided to do it that day, it couldn’t wait. I’d wait until our daughter went to preschool and we were alone in the house, we would sit down in the livingroom and I would just tell her. That plan was swiftly dismantled, however. She had a new prescription for insulin, and we went to the pharmacy to turn it in. That was when we found out that our insurance wouldn’t cover that particular insulin for use with gestational diabetes, and it was going to cost us well over a thousand dollars to get the medication. She already had insulin at home, but it was in pen injectors, and she was out of needles for the pens. We couldn’t really afford to put that much money down for the drug, and this caused Kat to start to have an anxiety attack. We went out to the car and she just fell apart. We eventually solved the problem when I realized that they could probably sell us just the needles for her pens for a lot cheaper, but the entire situation put her massively on edge. She was in no state for me to start this conversation now.
The day wore on, I continued to get more and more stressed from the weight of what I had to say. I started writing out an outline of what I knew, what I had remembered, what I had learned. I wanted to be prepared, I wanted to have it all ready. She calmed down a lot after we got back home with the insulin needles, and by evening she was actually in a pretty good mood, especially after I put our daughter to bed without any of the usual aggression. The two of us took a shower together.
I stood there in the shower for five minutes, staring down at my hands. I didn’t know how to start the conversation. How to you introduce this kind of thing? Finally I looked up at her and said:
I think I need to see a gender therapist.
Oh, ok. Good.
She didn’t even bat an eye. No pause, no strong reaction. I thought she didn’t get it.
You do understand the implication of that, right?
Yes, but I want you to be happy, and I’ll love you no matter what you decide.
I was floored. I wanted to cry. She did cry. I started explaining some things, but decided to wait until we were out of the shower so I could refer to my phone. We went to bed and spent three hours talking about all the things I had been hiding for so long. She took it all in, gave me nothing but love, and was completely supportive. The next day, everything went to hell. My daughter caught a stomach flu that had been going around, and spent the entire day and next night vomiting. The next morning my wife caught it too, and then that night I did as well. Then Kat started grieving.
Two years later I now know that Katharine was running on auto-pilot that night. She showed full support because she knew that’s what was needed of her, but inside she was terrified. She didn’t understand, she didn’t know where this was coming from. How could I have been hiding this from her? How could I have lied to her for so long? She felt betrayed. She looked for answers in a lot of wrong places and came to some false conclusions that took a long time to correct. 2017 was an extremely hard year for both of us. It was completely unfair how much my dysphoria took away from the birth of our second child. That should have been her time, we should have been fully focused on her and the baby, and instead everything was orbiting me and my transition.
The original plan had been to wait until August to start medical transition, but by April I was feeling so crushed by dysphoria that I was starting to have periods of catatonia. Katharine was faced with the reality of having a spouse she could not rely on for help while raising a newborn, and that was not a position she could be in. She told me to make the call. Two months after the birth of our son, four months after coming out, she joined me for my first visit with the new doctor that would be my prescribing physician for hormone replacement therapy. I came armed with bloodwork and a letter of recommendation from the therapist I had been seeing since February. He issued me a prescription on the spot, and the next day I took my first estradiol pill.
Katharine went through cycles of grief and acceptance. Eventually she came to understand that I didn’t have a choice, I wasn’t just hiding it from her, I had been hiding it from everyone, even myself. During high times she would say the most incredibly endearing things, things that filled me with joy and made me so happy to have her with me. She gave me my name, Jocelyn, a name similar in tone and basis to my birth name to be easy to handle, but different enough that it would not be triggering. By September she was so used to calling me by that name that she started doing it accidentally in front of her father, who would not be told until the new year.
I have so many regrets from that first year, so many thing I wish I could have done differently, so many ways I pushed things before she was ready, so many times I acted selfishly in my own interest. Every step I took was one more step towards the death of her husband, and I did not appreciate that at the time. From my perspective, I wasn’t dying, I was finally coming to life, but that’s not how it felt for her.
Gradually over the course of 2018 we repaired many things that were broken in our relationship. A lot of them were things that had been broken before I even came out, some of them were things that broke in the months after. One major change in our relationship was that once she knew I wasn’t a man, she stopped putting up with a lot of bad behaviors that she had accepted because “that’s how men are.” I had been dumping truck loads of emotional labor on her for years. My dysphoria around fatherhood had caused me to completely detach from parenting and just let her handle it entirely. Toxic Masculinity had trained me that my job was just to provide for the family, while hers was to mind the house, and I was so disassociated from my life that I was ok with that. Once it was pointed out, once I became aware of my own behavior, I was mortified at the scope of just how unfair our partnership had been. I immediately went to work to correct that, overcompensated pretty badly and caused even more problems. It took us most of the entire year to find a proper balance.
We could not have done any of that, however, without our absolutely amazing couples therapist. We started healing during the very first session, when she revealed to us that she herself is the wife of a trans woman, and that she had gone through everything Katharine had. It was a critical turning point in our recovery, and I feel extremely blessed to have been referred to her.
Katharine confessed to me late last year that for a long time her expectation had been that I would die young from something related to my obesity, like a heart attack or diabetes, and that she would be left to remarry. She fully expected that her second spouse would be a woman. Astonishingly, that’s pretty much how it went down; her husband died, and then she fell in love with the woman who killed him.
I am not the man she married. He never existed, he was an illusion, a shield created to protect the girl inside. I feared that she only loved that man, but I was wrong. She appreciates the woman I have become, she likes the changes that transition has brought, and she loves me for me, not the man I had pretended to be.