The following is a companion piece by the wife of Emily Crose, who wrote “When I Told My Wife I Was Transgender, Our Whole Marriage Had To Change.”
That day in November, 2014 will be a day I never forget.
I was sitting on the couch watching TV, as on any other evening, when my husband of five years said those dreaded six words: “I need to talk to you.”
I knew exactly what this talk would be about, because four years earlier, we’d had the same conversation—then swept its difficult contents under the proverbial rug. I always knew we’d need to have this talk again, and that the denial could only persist for so long.
My husband needed to tell me about an identity crisis—a gender identity crisis, to be exact. A therapist, I was told, had uncovered and revealed the root of a persistent unhappiness, and a sense of never fitting in: gender dysphoria.
At that moment, my world seemed to stop.
When we had first discussed the matter years earlier, we were young and still newly in love. We had only been married a little over a year, and had recently left our home state and moved 650 miles away. So we left it alone. I didn’t want to, nor could I, deal with this.
But the second time it came up, I knew we’d have to address it.
There were so many questions on both of our parts: What did this diagnosis mean? Were we going to live in a gender fluid world where my husband lived part time as a man and part time as a woman? Would there be a full transition? What did a full transition even mean? Could we stay together? What about our 14-month-old son?
And why wasn’t I enough to make this partner I loved live as a man? This was a question I asked myself and my husband over and over.
The first time around, had a gender transition been a real possibility, I know I would have left. I hated our new state, I was working full time so I could be financially independent, we didn’t have children, and we didn’t own a house. Cutting ties and walking away would have been easy. But the second time was different; leaving would mean losing everything we had built together. We owned a house, we had a child, I didn’t work, and I had built a life and a home in our new state. Leaving my marriage would mean moving back home and in with my parents. Our relationship was also different after five years. Leaving would mean losing my best friend, my emotional support system, and my life partner.
And so I read book after book, I learned about being trans, and I looked for other couples that survived something our culture tells us is a death sentence. Many weren’t able to make it through this change, but some did, and I held their stories tight.
I also hoped that we (and yes, when one spouse transitions, the couple transitions, so it was going to be our transition) wouldn’t fully transition. I hoped that cross dressing would be “enough.” I hoped that no one had to know; that it would be “our secret.”
Looking back, I laugh at this idea. While dressing more and more as a woman, my husband still went back and forth between the two worlds, living part-time as a man and part-time as a woman. In the beginning, I thought this situation would be preferable to a full transition, but it was ultimately (of course, I see now) just difficult and confusing. And my husband hated it.
In the end, the answer was clear: My husband was going to live full-time as a woman. My fairy tale was ending; my Prince Charming was gone. I grieved the loss of the life I wanted, of the life I’d planned. My perfect American family with a dog, two kids, a mom, and a dad wasn’t going to come to fruition.
I had to figure out what to do: leave, stay, or live together as friends? One of the hardest things about a breakup for a trans couple is that they usually want to be together but can’t. They don’t hate each other; most often, they are still in love.
I definitely loved my husband. I didn’t want a life without this person I cared so deeply about, or a life with someone else. The only choice I could possibly make was to stay.
But could I be happy living with a woman?
I had to become comfortable in my own skin and with my own identity. I had to let go of what other people thought of me and of my family. I had to cope with the idea that people would assume my sexuality, and that there would be times when it wasn’t appropriate for me to explain the situation and let people into our private life. I knew I was still a heterosexual woman, who would from now on be seen as a lesbian, and I had to become confident in who I was, who I am, and stop caring about the labels society insists we adopt.
None of this matters, I realized. What matters is that I love my spouse.
Last year brought questions, challenges, and more big decisions. We lived day by day, moment to moment, and it was exhausting. Slowly, the husband I had known began to disappear, through a process of body hair removal, hair growth, nail polish, make up application, hair accessorizing, and the slow replacement of men’s clothing with women’s clothing.
Eventually, I was ready to make a full transition myself, and to move forward after being stuck in limbo for so long. When your spouse transitions genders, you transition too. I was ready to move forward, and live full time as wife and wife. This was a big life change for both of us. Medically transitioning meant coming out to all our friends and family and most importantly to me, it meant conceiving a second child.
In the summer, we began both of those journeys—the grueling process of coming out, and then of having a baby. The decision to have a second child was easy. We knew our family wasn’t complete, and since Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) leaves you infertile, the alternative to having a baby before medically transitioning would involve a grueling process of storing sperm to use for IVF later. I had no doubts about this decision; if I was staying, I needed this baby. Emily was worried I’d decide to leave later and not only take the child we already had, but also take the new child. In the end, we agreed that no matter what happened, this was the right decision for us. We vowed to each other that no matter what, we would raise our children together.
I became pregnant in November, just a year after my spouse came out to me.
The process of coming out was inevitably fraught. The hardest person to come out to was my dad. I am a daddy’s girl, and my dad is a 60-something white, straight man. I knew that he wouldn’t understand, and I didn’t know how he would take it, but I assumed that he would take it the worst. Amazingly, though, he did better than expected. No, he didn’t understand and I still don’t think he does, but he has made an effort. He usually uses the correct name and pronouns, and he treats her the same way as he did before.
By December 31, everyone who had to hear the news about the transition from us personally, had. We were ready to go public and usher in the New Year without living a double life. Just before midnight, we posted on Facebook.
Emily, as my spouse would now be known, stated that her New Year’s resolution was to become a girl, while my status explained the situation in detail. We tagged each other so our posts made sense.
We were nervous that we would lose people in our lives, but knew anyone that truly loved us would stand by our sides. Expecting some negativity, we were instead met with an outpouring of love and support from friends and family. Friends posted messages such as “much support to you and your family,” “you are amazing and strong, good luck,” and “I wish you the best on your journey.” We felt truly blessed to know that so many people stood by our family.
In a matter of months, Emily began her medical transition by starting Hormone Replacement Therapy. I was 12 weeks and two days pregnant when she took her first dose of estrogen; because of HRT causing infertility, it wasn’t considered safe to transition until after my first trimester. Emily also made the transition at work.
By spring, my husband was gone, and my spouse who now lived full time as a woman had emerged. Immediately, she was a happier person. Living her authentic self, she could be who she was and do what she wanted. She no longer had to conform to an identity that was never her own.
And as for me? The experience was a roller coaster from beginning to end; I don’t think there’s a single emotion I haven’t felt, be it anger, denial, sadness, fear, loneliness, happiness, joy, or excitement. People who love me worried I was putting my own feelings on the backburner for Emily—that as much as she had to transition for herself, I had to worry about my happiness as well.
But honestly, that’s not how I see it. I now understand that the situation is really quite simple: My spouse is happier as a woman, and that makes our whole family happier.
Nearly two years after she first came out to me, our life is very different. It is more different than what I envisioned on our wedding day, and more different than what I imagined when I first found out what my spouse was going through. But it’s a difference that’s okay, because what is the same is the love that we have for each other, the strength we get from each other, and the beautiful life that we have built.
Five years after marrying the person I love, I am part of a trans family with an amazing little boy and a sweet baby girl on the way. And it turns out this is my happily ever after.
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