My partner and I had been together for almost two years, keeping a secret hidden from most of the world. Until very recently, about half of my family and half of our friends thought that I was in a relationship with a man, an effeminate man who wears long hair and women's jeans, but a man, after all. That's not who my partner really is. My partner is a transgender woman, also known as a male-to-female transsexual, and it wasn't until she had started on hormone therapy and we'd been through two years of leading a double-life -- one as Genevra and John, the other as Genevra and Meredith -- that she worked up the courage to come out of the closet.
Our double life had been grueling and hard. When we were out in public with Meredith in her feminine clothes and makeup, we would both make a quick detour if we spotted someone we knew, who didn't know us. When we visited my family, Meredith would wear manly clothes and we'd awkwardly shush my daughter when she accidentally slipped and called her other parent "Mer-Mer" instead of "Daddy." Half the members of my church would ask if Meredith was coming this week, and half would ask for John. I saw her flinch every time she heard the name, but, God bless her, she kept bearing it until she couldn't anymore.
Then came the day when she finally reached a tipping point. She wrote up a letter and asked me to read it and help her have the courage to show it to our loved ones.
"I am transgender," it read, after a few paragraphs of apologies to the people who she had "brought into the closet" with her, and the people from whom she had hidden her identity. She continued, "If you don't know what that is, or if you're pretty sure but not quite certain, or if you're absolutely certain but that certainty comes from 'South Park,' 'Family Guy,' 'Maury,' or some stuff you heard about X and Y chromosomes, take some time to Google it. Or find a book."
She explained what transgenderism is, how it has impacted her life, and went on to say, "I don't ask that you understand, but I hope that if you care about me you will listen when I tell you that this is how I feel, and that I know what I need in order to be okay with myself." Later, she ended the letter with, "My name is Meredith, and it's very nice to meet you."
I wanted to stop her from posting it online for all of our friends and family to read. I knew what sort of fallout it would have, and I didn't look forward to it, but it was something that had to be done. We took a deep breath. We counted to 10. I held her hand as she clicked the button to post it to Facebook.
I got a call from my dad a few hours later. It was a series of curses, transphobic slurs, and homophobia. I bit my tongue and hung up. My sister texted me, "WTF?! A ***** transsexual? REALLY?" Meredith's mother called us us in a state of absolute and inconsolable hysteria. A long-time friend asked her if she had found Jesus, and explained that people can be confused and misguided when they don't have Christ in their lives. A woman I had been very close friends with since I was 13 expressed her disapproval and vanished from my life.
We endured it, hand in hand.
But there were positive outcomes, too. When Meredith's dad called and actually addressed her as Meredith, she got off the phone in tears and said it was the only time in her entire life when she'd felt like she was telling the truth saying while "I love you" to her father. Dozens upon dozens of our friends called and emailed expressing their support and love. My best friend, who is a highly religious, fundamentalist Christian, and whose disapproval I anticipated and feared most strongly, sent me a text that read, "I love you, and I love Meredith, and I support you both no matter what." She called that night, and we talked tearfully for hours about how afraid I had been of telling her, and about how much her church disapproves of the kind of company she keeps (people like me), but about how she's always felt in her heart that being a "good" Christian means loving people unconditionally and without judgment.
My partner and I aren't in the closet anymore. Anyone who wants to take the time to know us now knows us as Genevra and Meredith, not Genevra and John, and I no longer fear those moments when we run into an old acquaintance in public or when my daughter switches up gendered pronouns. I've lost much of my family and a few of my friends, and so has Meredith, but it is in exchange for the comfort and security of knowing that Meredith and I can truly, fearlessly, and shamelessly be ourselves. We're finally out of the awful, cramped closet that we hid in for two years and, while it's scary and hateful out here in the open, I'm glad to finally breathe the fresh air, to walk hand in hand with my partner, and to feel no shame.