What’s new? How’s the family? What’s everyone up to? You know, the usual way conversations start? Well, they don’t often head in the direction mine do these days.
I haven’t found a better way to say it, since I first put it this way in an email to the family in December. And geez have I had practice. I’ve said it over and over, when I’ve run into friends, talked with colleagues, gone to the dentist, explained to the mail carrier… so I’ll put it the same way again:
My husband of 40 years is now my wife. And we are both very happy about it.
My first thought when she told me she’d decided to transition was mild, fleeting exasperation: dammit, I’d have to exchange those L.L. Bean men’s slippers before Christmas.
Since then, I’ve learned that lots of people are surprised by my reaction. Which surprises me—though I know it shouldn’t. I personally know people whose marriages ended because one came out as trans, and I know of others. I also know that most people don’t even know a trans person, let alone be able to imagine loving one.
I’ve loved my wife since my lucky eyes first landed on her during our first year in college. We married a week after we graduated. We had a baby who’s now a 33-year-old trans man. We had another, now a 30-year-old gay man. We took in a foster daughter, who married and had two kids of her own. There’s been a whole lotta love.
Whatever life lobbed at us, the constant has been knowing that I always have my partner’s immediate, full, inexhaustible, and unwavering love, support and attention. That hasn’t changed. The way her eyes crinkle when she smiles at me—that hasn’t changed. The comfortable feeling when I know she’s in the house, even if I can’t see her. That hasn’t changed.
Other than the fact that transitioning is a huge deal for her (Believe it when people say they’re trans; they wouldn’t transition if it weren’t necessary for survival.), and her deals are also my deals, for me this is a non-issue.
That doesn’t mean my stomach wasn’t all a-flutter the first day she left the house wearing hair. “Be kind to her out there,” I told the world as she went down the driveway.
Her experiences out in the world so far, mainly venturing out as a woman, going through the process of changing her name and gender IDs, and the near-daily need to come out over and over, have been a reminder that our simple, lifelong love isn’t really so simple in some eyes.
Fortunately, reactions have been mainly supportive, although not without some shock and confusion.
Some first reactions:
“Are you going to separate?”– a friend.
“Do you have sex?”–my psychiatrist.
“Does this mean Grandma Jane’s a lesbian?”–our deep-thinking grandson, 9, whose mother replied, “I don’t know.”
Wonderfully, my nephew Tom’s reaction was a typical one from the family. He wrote, “I feel great pride and happiness for my Aunt Kendra, and truly admire the love that you and your family have for her and for each other.”
Despite my family’s embrace of our trans son, Kendra still asked me to be the one to break her news. She thought they’d want an assurance directly from me that I am good with this. If you don’t know anyone who is trans, or who came out later in life, that letter might help you to understand.
I’ll get right to the point: my husband of 40 years is now my wife. And we are both very happy about it.
The baby born on March 29, 1960, who the doctor said was a boy, and whose mother named Kenneth, has always had a sense of being at least partly female. That feeling grew and persisted over the years. This year, that feeling insisted, I am female, and I’m no longer going to hide it.
We are so very lucky and grateful that you are our family. When Elliott came out, you all supported him and loved him just as much, maybe even more. We know it may be a little more surprising to see someone come out as transgender at age 62 (though believe me, it’s common—people put their families first throughout their lives, and suppress their personal needs).
To briefly explain, gender identity (our personal sense of what our gender is) is not a choice. It’s a fact. It just is. For some people, it isn’t set in stone. It can change over a lifetime. For some it even changes day to day—that’s why some people call themselves gender fluid. For some, it’s never male or female, so they are nonbinary.
On the other hand, gender expression is how you present yourself to the world. For most trans people, gender expression is also not a choice—it’s an absolute necessity. There are lots of ways trans people choose to make that transition into presenting as their true gender. Here’s what my wife (I’m gonna’ get a kick out of saying that, for a long time.) is planning.
She’s going to change her name to Kendra Rose. Since she is a woman, she asks that everyone refer to her as “she” or “her”. I am, a few times a day, still catching myself as I start to call “Hey, mister!” to her. She will not be offended by all the “he’s” and “Kens” that you call her—it’s going to take repetition before we get used to the new name. She’ll be happy that you’re trying.
She’s going to have hair! That will be the biggest change for me, to be honest.
She’ll soon begin medical transitioning, beginning with hormone replacement therapy.
If you want to learn more about how to be supportive, you can educate yourself about what it means to be trans. You can also be supportive by being aware of the way politicians in many states are literally persecuting and endangering the lives of transgender people and their families.
Also, if there’s anything you’re unsure of or want to ask us, ask us. It’s good to know you care enough to ask.
I love Kendra more than ever, and it matters not one bit to me whether I have a husband or wife as long as it’s this one. Hilary put it well. When Kendra came out to her she said, “Our bodies are just vessels for our souls.”