|Author||Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall|
|Length||71,571 words, 240 pages|
|Pub Date||May 2014|
Let me tell you about a woman I once loved. She was beautiful and unassuming, the kind of woman so used to thinking of herself as an ugly duckling that she doesn’t even know how attractive she is. I saw a photo of her in high school once, about five years before I met her, and I couldn’t believe she wasn’t homecoming queen or most popular or something like that. She had dirty-blond hair in a rocker-girl shag and was wearing bell-bottom jeans (atop legs that seem to extend beyond what’s reasonable) and a heavy-metal T-shirt. She was part Joan Jett and part Cherry Currie, but what popped out most (besides the killer legs, a fantastic body, and a smile that could melt icebergs) were her wolf-gray eyes. They were stunning in the photo and equally captivating the first time I could really gaze into them.
That first night it was just supposed to be about sex. It was a hookup. But she was funny and smart and eager to please, and one night (on her air mattress, in her graduate-student apartment) turned to two, then a weekend. I felt like I could stay in that bed forever (except it was an air mattress that kept deflating and had to be blown back up every four hours). Finally, the morning I was supposed to go home, go back to work, 240 miles away where I lived, I woke up to find her stroking my cheek, so softly, and gazing at me while I slept.
We moved in together almost immediately.
And she stayed smart and funny and gorgeous, and I watched her grow and change and develop as a person. From carny to press secretary, from construction worker to marketing guru, she kept changing, searching for herself.
Her look changed too. The hair got shorter, then shaggier, then buzzed, then shoulder length and pulled back into a constant ponytail. Her torn denim gave way to suits and then to the olive-green uniform and wide-brimmed hat that the park ranger on the Yogi Bear cartoons of our youth first made famous.
We’d stay up hours talking, debating really, politics and science, pop culture and low-brow art, the meaning of it all, what kind of people we wanted to be at twenty-five, thirty, forty, and if we lived long enough, even older. We couldn’t fathom living that long. It just seemed so far off.
On the weekends we could make love all night, spoon half the day, and still find time to watch a movie and do some work. Even on the weekends we worked; we had to in order to get ahead.
She was always searching for something: the answer to meaning, her own meaning, a belief system that would explain who she was and how she felt. Sometimes I was all in—listening, learning—and other times I watched from a distance while she explored. Often she questioned and pondered and explored while I dove into work. Each of us had obsessions, and the meaning of it all felt like a luxury to me.
And she was sweet and caring and safe. She would check the locks on the doors ten times if I asked her, would charge after any loud bump in the night to make sure I felt safe. She was strong that way. And yet she was sensitive and vulnerable, always needing me—needing to be propped up, propelled, pushed forward into the brave new world.
Always she stayed model gorgeous. Kind of a butchy queer model, but tall and blond and beautiful. Or handsome. Both words would apply at different times.
Imagine this is the woman you love, loved for sixteen years. You were the perfect lesbian couple and nothing would ever shake your relationship.
Then she realized she was never that woman at all.
And you realized you were married to a dude.
That’s my story. Here’s how it all began.
Diane and I are at QLiterati!, a monthly queer literary café we ran for a few years when we lived in Portland, Oregon. An older man is at the mic, reading a short story about a man on his way to have anonymous sex with a guy he knows only by the online handle bigdick25. This will be the protagonist’s first time to have sex with another man. He’s so excited he almost wrecks the car on his drive to their agreed-upon rendezvous destination, Portland’s Forest Park.
But the man is also terrified. In fact, he’s so scared that, in the end, he can’t go through with it. He turns around and heads home. There his wife of thirty years, the mother of his adult children, is waiting for him. The man has never told his wife that he thinks he’s actually gay, even though he’s always sort of known. Now, decades into their marriage, he doesn’t know how to broach the subject. After all this time, how does he start the conversation?
He’s at a loss, but he feels like he can’t keep living a lie. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s about to come out of the closet. By the time he gets home, his wife knows.
She’s suspected for a long time that he’s been keeping something from her. Afraid he’s having an affair, she lets her curiosity finally overwhelm her respect for his privacy and reads his e-mail. She discovers his secret communications, the back-and-forth with bigdick25. The story seems like thinly veiled autobiography.
We’re at the old Q Center on Water Avenue in Southeast Portland. Originally planned for retail, the building has ceiling-to-floor windows that originally struck me as an odd choice for an LGBTQ center. But it’s 2008 and, fortunately, Portland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer folks aren’t afraid of being seen.
The center’s open-floor plan is now crowded with chairs—most of which are filled. The guests are all facing the back wall, where three chairs are set under a display of artwork. A microphone is set in front of bench, where the older man is perched, reading from typed pages.
QLiterati! (which can be pronounced as Q Literati, or—as I prefer, clit-er-ati) has quickly become a hit, and we regularly have sixty or seventy attendees. On this Wednesday night, one of our featured authors is Marc Acito, a funny, attractive guy who gained fame with his novel How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater.
Before our guest authors read, emerging authors get a chance to share their work at an open mic. Most of the open-mic readers are repeat offenders, including our favorite gay pastry chef, Jason Zenobia, who always leaves the audience wiping away tears from laughing so hard.
But tonight is the first time the older man has signed up. When his turn comes, he walks to the microphone, sits on the stool, and begins to read from a paper in his hand. His story has the ring of authenticity. Every gay man can understand his urge to drive to that hookup that night.
During the Q&A period that followed the readings, the writer acknowledges that this was indeed a real experience. It happened to him a few years ago. But, he says, there’s a happy ending: he has come out, gotten divorced, and now he’s a proud gay man. The audience applauds. Marc Acitio jokes that he was bigdick25. They laugh.
I catch Diane’s eye across the room. She’s not laughing. She has a weak smile on her full red lips, but I can tell by the look in her greenish-brown eyes that rather than applauding his coming out, she’s thinking about this man’s wife, about how gut-wrenchingly painful it must have been for her. What it must have felt like to have the relationship she had invested three decades in crumble before her. How it felt to discover, after thirty years, that the man she loved wasn’t the man she thought she’d married. That their relationship had been a lie. That he’d been keeping a secret from her all this time, that he’d been keeping perhaps the most important, essential part of himself hidden, that he’d never felt comfortable enough or loved enough to admit to her who he really was.
Diane isn’t just imagining how it might have felt for that man’s wife. Diane knows from firsthand experience. It was just three years earlier that she had gone through a similar experience, when, after fifteen years together, I finally admitted that I wasn’t who I’d been pretending to be. Even though we’d only been together half the time the open-mic writer and his wife had, we would have thought we knew each other at least as well, if not better than they did.
In fact, we probably would have sworn we were way more honest and open with each other than most married couples. Yet my bombshell wasn’t that different from his. The secret I had been carrying around was just as explosive and life-changing as the one he’d been hiding from his family.
I saw it coming.
After fifteen years together I knew my life partner as well as I knew myself. I could predict what she was going to say before she said it. In fact, I’d been waiting for this day. I had been holding my breath for nearly six months, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Suzy has always been a searcher, unlike me. I mean, I search for some things: a place to put down roots, the next big opportunity on my path to success, or a way to grow my family and bridge the gaps between lifestyle and geography.
But I’ve always known who I am.
Honestly, although I’ve grown and changed as much as anyone in twenty years, I imagine if you took me back in time and introduced the person I am now to the Payette High School class of 1986, they’d find I’m very much the person they knew then, albeit with some radical new political leanings (a far cry from my days as a young Republican).
But Suzy had always been trying to find herself, to understand herself, to know who she was. For her, that quest involved devouring endless books—self-help, spiritual, psychological, autobiographical, career, science—and talking to therapists, counselors, and advisors, or attending classes to learn whatever she thought might be her calling.
I remember for several months, a year or two after we launched Girlfriends magazine in the early 1990s, she went through shaman training in Half Moon Bay, California. Classes ran something like a hundred dollars a week, an ungodly amount at a time when we were living out of a tiny trailer on a San Gregorio horse farm, trying to make a living in the San Francisco Bay Area on something like twenty-four thousand a year.
Sure, she did some volunteer work with the teacher to reduce the costs, and she learned some things that she uses to this day (like meditation). And it was during a time in our lives when many of our friends were similarly engaged in slightly esoteric efforts to find themselves and decide what they wanted to be when they grew up. But it was her thing, not mine. I was never the kind of seeker she was.
A decade passed, and she was ten years older but still searching. But she was getting closer and closer to finding her truth. I could see the wheels turning in her mind. I could see that this time, it was more than just New Age musings, more than the other identities she’d tried on and quickly discarded. Something had clicked for her. And I knew we were living on borrowed time.
I feared that when she figured it out, it would mark the beginning of the end for our relationship. I didn’t want to lose what we had. I didn’t want to lose the person I’d loved for fifteen years. Yet I realized I couldn’t stop what was coming. And I wouldn’t, even if I could.
I would wait for her to reach the point of clarity on her own, but once she had it, once she knew who she was, I could never have asked her to continue living what was, in essence, a lie. So I waited.
It took a long time. She approached it slowly, like navigating a labyrinth, spiraling closer and closer to the truth in the center.
It started with her saying, “Maybe, if I were younger, I would identify as…” She immersed herself in books with telltale titles like The Riddle of Gender and From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond. Finally she said the words: “I think I might be trans.”
For fifteen years, the love of my life had been a girl named Suzy. Then she said the words I had been dreading, and—just like that—she was gone. She slipped away like a ghost fading into the night.
I still see her sometimes, brief glimpses of what once was. I used to occasionally tear up. The truth is, a small part of me misses her. A part of me always will.
But what I feared most didn’t come to pass. We didn’t break up. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve made it through the transition as a couple. I lost a wife but I gained a husband.
Back in the Q Center, Diane’s eyes meet mine again. She gives me a wry smile. I nod and smile back.
So far—unlike the man and his wife—we’re still together. It’s 2008, three years since I came out as transgender. Maybe that’s too soon to tell if we made it, if we survived the transition. But so far, at least, we’re making it work.
So far, my beloved is still my beloved.
So far, so good.
A 2011 report on a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force confirmed that those who transitioned from female to male (FTMs) were more likely to retain their relationships than those who transitioned from male to female (MTFs).
That could be because a strong percentage of FTMs were partnered with queer women, women who may find adjusting to a trans partner easier than a straight woman might. Straight women tend to have definite perspectives on masculinity, male-female dynamics, gender roles, and relationship etiquette that bisexual, lesbian, or sexually fluid women do not.
In other words, we couldn’t have made it without Diane.