Season 3 Episode 13:
Spouses Coming Out as Trans

Phil: Hey, this is Phil, AKA Corrinne.

Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you are listening to

Both: The I’m From Driftwood Podcast.

Alex: If you just can’t get enough of I’m From Driftwood, go check out it’s YouTube channel. The stories have tens of millions of views and over a hundred thousand subscribers and a new story is uploaded every week. You can also browse every story it’s ever published since it launched in 2009. Speaking of stories, let’s get to today’s episode.

On today’s episode, we are talking about the experience of coming out to a spouse as trans. We heard stories from Mitch and from a couple, Shellie and Randi.

Mitch: I’m Mitch, and I’m from Walton, Massachusetts. I came out for the first time when I was 16 years old, I came out as a lesbian. I was at a high school in Newton, Massachusetts, probably one of the most liberal areas you could probably imagine. I came upon this book in the library and I started reading for the first time about what being transgender means. And it kind of clicked in my head at that moment. I was 17 at that point that this word describes me, and I told about two people. And then I just didn’t mention it again for six years until I was 23. And that’s the same year that I met Jocelyn. We actually met online on the site okay Cupid.

So we had this great dynamic from the start. I was at the time, really like kind of butch or masculine identified woman. And she is, and always has been remains a really feminine identified woman. It wasn’t something even when I entered the relationship that I was thinking, this is something I need to tell her about me. It’s hard to explain how I had compartmentalized that part of me and just put it somewhere else. And it hadn’t come to the fore for several years. So it was about a year into our relationship, and I decided, I just knew that it was time to tell her. So she would be the first person I had said those words to in six years. That night, I knew when we sat down next to each other in bed to talk like we usually do before we go to bed, and I thought, this is it. This is the night I’m going to tell her that I’m going to start transitioning and I’m going to live as a man.

I didn’t think I was going to feel nervous. But in that moment I did feel nervous. I started tearing up a little bit and crying and I didn’t want to cry. So we were just sitting in bed side by side and I said, “I have someone to tell you.” And I said, “I’m a man and I’m going to start transitioning now.” And she said, “Okay.” You know, so she comforted me, she hugged me. It was fine. And the next morning we woke up as if it was any other morning.

One of the hardest things for me to face after I came out as trans and I had my big happy moment was the fact that from then on or until I decided to stop, I would be facing a new medical regimen. And I had knock on wood, had, a terrible phobia of needles. And while some trans men use like gels, I was like, I’m going to use the needles. They’re just going to be the most effective for me.

So I went to the doctor, got my prescription and knew that I had to face this horrible fear that I’d had since I was like a little kid. That’s where Jocelynlyn really showed up for me because she was there with me in my first appointment. I had to ask her, “Will you be willing to do the injections for me?” Because I knew that it would probably be prohibitive. It would make it a difficult, if not impossible for me to use the testosterone myself, because that would mean I’d have to inject it in my own thigh. She said, “Yes, of course.” She said, “Yes, of course I’ll do that.” I think even before she realized how hard that can be to, to stick a piece of metal inside the person you love every two weeks, it wasn’t long into our relationship that I realized this is a person I could spend my life with.

Or on our third anniversary, we went back to the place we first met. We had both, somehow independently decided that we were going to offer each other, a ring and then make it official on our third anniversary. So we both decided that the photo booth inside the cafe would be the best place to do this so we could have it on camera. So we sat in the photo booth and she beat me to it. She just pulled out the ring and said, “Will, you marry me?” And I said yes. And about four months ago, we went back to our hometown in New Haven, Connecticut, and we had a beautiful, simple ceremony on the beach. It’s almost like you don’t know what you need until you need it.

Alex: One f the things that really jumped out in this story is that Mitch talked about how he didn’t know what you need until you need it. And just how affirming Jocelyn was of his experience and that that external form of validation really helped him self actualize.

Phil: I cannot believe you actually wrote the exact same quote that I wrote.

Alex: You did?

Phil: It’s amazing.

Alex: What struck you about the quote?

Phil: I mean, you know what struck me about the quote, it’s the idea that he didn’t realize he needed someone to love him unconditionally, right? There’s something, this idea of like him talking about, okay, I cannot do needles, like needles freaked me out, but he basically said, I know that the best way for me to ingest or to take in a testosterone would be through needles. That’s the better way for me to do it rather than gel or patch, like you mentioned. And, you know, Jocelyn showed up. Jocelyn, you know, just was like, I got you. Like, I can take this part of it. Like, this is a journey and this is something you need to do. And let me support you in this, in this incredible way. And I think Jocelyn stepped up.

Phil: So Jocelyn, if you’re listening, big ups.

Alex: Shout to Jocelyn, you’re doing it Jocelyn.

Phil: It’s amazing. So I just think it’s a beautiful thing. So that quote really stood out to me. The other thing that stood out to me about this episode was him talking about compartmentalization, right? So I was like, wow, that is so interesting. How, you know, at 16, he knew, you know, he had an idea, he had an inkling that he was transgender and he basically did not do anything with that for several years.

Alex: Yeah.

Phil: He put it aside and it wasn’t until like 23 or 24, when he was with Jocelyn that he decided, you know what I have to do, I have to become this. I have to do this thing. That is who I really am. So it just made me think about how in our lives, we can take things and put them off to the side, because it’s just, there’s this cognitive dissidents that we don’t want to deal with it, which is I can’t go there. It’s just so scary.

Alex: It’s kind of like, you can compartmentalize it until you can’t any longer.

Phil: Right.

Alex: I feel like that is a common narrative that we hear from and trans people. That a lot of times you put it away, you put it away, you put it away, and then you just can’t do it anymore.

Phil: Right. And the thing is, I understand the putting it away. I definitely, I can can’t judge the putting it away because the idea of putting it away is like, there’s so much fear attached to it. Right? You have no idea what, you know, coming out, coming out as trans or coming out as gay or whatever it is, is going to do to your life, like to your world, is it going to blow it up? Are people going to decide they can’t deal with you? Are they going to discard you? I think you’re right, people will continue to compartmentalize until they just can’t. Right? Until the walls sort of close in on you. And you’re just like, ugh, I got to deal with this. But I understand because it’s a defensive mechanism. It’s a way of saying, “I don’t want this. I don’t want my life to blow up.” And I don’t know whether or not it might if I say this thing.

Alex: Yeah. It’s like, there’s such a self protection element. I mean, I’m in the same perspective as you in that I would not judge anyone for compartmentalizing. I think it’s like so completely understandable. And something that kind of in that vein that also stuck out to me about this story is the idea of unconditional love from a partner. And I don’t know in relationships, I think it’s unusual to talk about romantic love. I think oftentimes we hear about unconditional love in parent child relationships or familial relationships.

Phil: Wow, well said, well said.

Alex: I think we don’t often hear about it. Yes.

Phil: Well said.

Alex: Yes. And I don’t think we often get to hear about it in romantic partnerships because usually romantic love is actually quite conditional, on a number of different factors-

Phil: These most conditional.

Alex: What I really appreciated about this is that I feel like for someone’s evolving gender identity or identity that actually people should be unconditionally loved in their relationship, and his trans-ness should be unconditionally loved by his partner. And to me that feels like such an important part. And so what I also really liked about this story is getting to hear about what receiving that unconditional love was like for him, because I feel like Jocelyn is modeling how to be a supportive and affirming partner and then also allowing Mitch to bloom really in himself. And I just feel like I just, I’ve never really heard that many experiences of people framing their relationships, romantic relationships with unconditional love. So it was just fascinating to hear about it in this context.

Phil: Also, like you said, I double back to, why are we, why is this such an odd concept to consider for a romantic relationship, it should, they should all be that way. Right? And it’s, it’s interesting, you know, just looking at these stories and, if you don’t mind, I’m going to hop over to the next one-

Alex: Oh, hop on over.

Phil: … because I feel like there’s some things that are coming up for me in with, with Mitch’s story, as well as Shellie and Randi’s story that I think I want to like kind of bring together. So the next story we’re talking about is Shellie and Randi, a couple.

Shellie: I’m Shellie and I’m from Peoria, Arizona and-

Randi: I wanted to start.

Shellie: Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want to start? Go ahead.

Randi: And I’m Randi, go ahead.

Shellie: And you’re from Peoria, Arizona too, because we’re a team, we’re married. We met 13 years ago last weekend and we were a blind date. We were set up by an eight year old in my piano studio. She had been trying to set us up for two years, but either Randi was dating someone or I was dating someone and she would bring me flowers from Randi. And she would bring me cards from Randi. And she would say, you’re so beautiful. Randi says, you’re so beautiful. Randi had never seen me before. So five weeks later we were engaged. And the eight year old was the one who gave me the ring actually. So, and she wrapped it up in paper and I thought it was fake at first because she’d given me so many flowers from Randi and things from Randi that Randi knew nothing about.

So I was worried that the ring was fake, and if I got all excited, Randi would be like, “No, I, I, no.” So it was an interesting experience. So five years ago, Randi came to me after a trip to Lake Powell, and I knew something was very wrong because Randi was calling me and tearful and I could just tell something was really wrong.

And so she came back and she said, “We have to have a talk.” And that’s when she told me that she was transgendered. And I simply didn’t have the vocabulary to understand what she was to trying to tell me, I didn’t have the experience. I didn’t have the knowledge. And the irony of being a couple in this situation, and we’ve always been very close, we’ve always done everything together. The painful irony is that it was a moment that Randi really needed me to be there for her. And I simply couldn’t. I simply couldn’t. All I could really do was cry and survive in that moment and try to understand.

And I remember taking a walk that night and I remember looking down at my feet and going, those are my feet and this is really happening to me. This is really happening to me. It was so surreal. And I knew at that moment that my life was never going to be the same, no matter what we decided.

Randi: And I think too, it’s important to note at this point I was 47 years old, and I had come to the point that I needed to transition. Everything was on the line for me when I came to her. So it was extremely painful for both of us, because I knew everything was on the table at that point.

Shellie: It’s a process. It’s a grieving process. I had tremendous anxiety for a long time. And the anxiety really was coming from the idea that we would break up. And finally I realized one day after two to three weeks, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I was in so much pain. And after two to three weeks, I realized we didn’t have to get divorced. We could take it day by day and we could see what happened. And in the meantime, I could educate myself. So I read everything I could read on the internet. I scanned every library. I talked to people, I went to groups, I did everything I could to educate myself.

Phil: And they were set up on a blind date by an eight year old, which I’m like-

Alex: LOL.

Phil: … who is this child? Who is this child, that’s like playing Cupid. It’s a child playing Cupid.

Alex: Yeah.

Phil: He was like, you guys need to be together. You know what I think is fascinating about this conversation, I was just listening to a podcast with Esther Perel, who I just love. And she was talking about relationships and I was just like, wow, look at this relationship that these folks have. You don’t hear enough about people taking it day by day. Everyone thinks they meet a partner and that is it. Y’all went riding off into sunset and that’s it. And then roll credits. And you know, it is being in a relationship is an active thing. It’s an ongoing, active thing. And these, and I think Shellie and Randi realized that I think Shellie, in particular, when you listened to her talk, she’s like, I decided I wanted to stay, and I decided I’m just going to take a day by day with her.

And want to see where this takes us. And you know, by the time we’re looking at the story, it’s been years, but they’re choosing each other actively, you know? They’re choosing each other to be with each other. And I just think it was so beautiful, because I’m like, I don’t know if enough people think about relationships in that way. And I think this is they’re modeling such an incredible way to consider your relationship in that it is an ongoing, active, evolving, changing thing that it just is not static. It’s not going to stay the same from day to day. I just thought it was so beautiful to hear that.

Alex: I could not agree with that more. I feel like relationships are work, I feel like a lot of times we don’t talk about how much hard work goes into relationships. And then also I do feel strongly that every single day, if you’re in a relationship, you have to choose to be in that relationship and choose to work on it-

Phil: You do.

Alex: … yeah. And I think that that really does stick out with this pair in particular. One thing I was struck by between both of these stories is some of the generational differences I think. And I think also some of the expectations, I got the sense that Shellie and Randi’s story may have been filmed a few years back before Mitch’s story. And I feel like generationally, Randi said something to the effect of like she was 45 and really at a time she needed to come out as trans at that time because of her phase of life.

And Mitch was quite aways younger, and I feel like among younger people and at least I know in my community, there is an expectation that your partner should be really understanding and acceptable. And I feel like among older people, I think, you know, more so even like baby boomers, there’s still, there is more of that knee jerk reaction of grieving and the partner making it about their emotions rather than the person who’s coming out.

So I just think it’s kind of interesting to see how now, I remember growing up, you would see like on Oprah I would get home from school and there’d be like the story on Oprah about the partner who came out as a trans woman-

Phil: It’s so true.

Alex: … and how it like completely disrupted her whole family and people would be shocked that the partner, the spouse would stay-

Phil: Yes, yes.

Alex: … with that person, and I just feel like, I’m glad to see that at least a lot in like our world is shifting in that way. I’m sure like in lots of places, obviously it’s not, and they’re not there yet, but I do feel like one of the differences I noticed between these two stories is that there does seem to be this kind of different generational handling sometimes.

Phil: Yes. Yes. And I agree with what you’re saying and you know, in knows old episodes of like, you know, Sally Jesse Raphael or Oprah, it was always, the onus was on the person who was trans, like why did you blow up your family? I’m like really? Why did they blow up their family by being themselves? It’s like, I don’t, you know I think one of the things I had to learn, and this comes from a very personal place is, you know, when I was in a relationship that I don’t think my partner was so happy about the way I presented once I started to present as more masculine. It really was clear to me that I had to go. I mean, this is going to sound sad. I feel like it’s very like, this is going to date me. I’m about to rhyme. I’m about to rhyme. It’s about to date me. It’s not going to be good, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Alex: I support you.

Phil: Oh, good, please. I need, I’m going to need support in a sec-

Alex: This whole topic is about-

Phil: … you’re old if you’re saying that-

Alex: … no, this whole topic is about affirmation. Let me affirm.

Phil: Okay.

Alex: What you’re going to say right now.

Phil: Good. Well, okay. So here it goes, go where you’re going to be celebrated and not where you’re going to be tolerated.

Alex: I love that, I think it’s so important, yeah.

Phil: It’s a little like, you know, drop a zero, go after you drop yourself a zero and get yourself … it’s like a lost plot, it’s crazy. It’s pretty bad. It’s like along those lines. Right? Okay? But I had to say it because it’s very true. Right. It’s like, we shouldn’t be just celebrating Shellie for that, because that’s what a partner should do.

But you know, like you, don’t also as the person like Randi, if somebody’s like, I can’t deal with this, you know what? I can’t not be myself. Like that’s not an option. You know, she has to move on and it’s sad, but that’s, I mean, there are plenty of examples of that kind of thing happening and you’re right. It is usually sometimes with older people that are a little older, you know, like baby boomers, like you said. Younger folks, not as much. But it’s, it’s a thing. And I think that the person, the person who experiencing it has to say, okay, I have to be who I am and I have to go where that’s supported and loved and uplifted, not like torn down and told it’s not okay, and you blow up, blow up our family. Hello? It’s my life. Like this is real. so it’s like, it’s fascinating to me.

Alex: Yeah. A couple other themes that I thought were interesting kind of similar to that is Shellie talked about the evolution that it took for her. The word she used was grieving, and something I sometimes struggle with is this tension between wanting to be like someone comes out to you, you need to accept them then there, and that’s it. But then also being realistic and knowing sometimes it takes people a minute to have that evolution and that ultimately they will go on that journey and it shouldn’t come at the expense of the LGBTQ person in their life.

Phil: Right.

Alex: But it made me think about that, and what in a romantic relationship is the right amount of time that you give someone to get on board with your identity if you’ve been together for a long time, if they are in a generation isn’t as familiar with these issues.

Phil: Wow.

Alex: I don’t really know. I don’t have an answer because I think that I struggle with that idea of like get on board right now. It’s unacceptable for you to feel anything but accepting. But I also know people close to me in my life who they had to learn a little bit, they had to evolve and it came at the expense of queer and trans people, but ultimately they got there. Where is the line? Where is the patience? I don’t know-

Phil: I don’t know where the line is. And I think, I think you bring up a really good point because like I remember coming out to my mom and I literally came out like guns blazing. It was like really bad. It was guns blazing. Like you better get on board or else. And I wouldn’t do it that way from this place now. I wouldn’t do it that way. And it’s not that she shouldn’t get on board it’s that she does need a minute. And she’s of a certain generation, she’s a certain culture, my parents are west Indian. It is, that’s a lot, and I do think there comes a point where you’re like, I have to pull a plug on this. Like I’m not going to like do this with you, but I think that she need a little breathing room and she minute to sit with it.

But I agree. I mean, it shouldn’t really be on me to have to like coddle her through it, but you know, it’s a complicated thing. There’s no real answer for that. And it’s going to be different from person to person. And it really depends on how much someone wants to do because when you get to a point, if you’ve been in a situation where you’ve done so much of placating other people, you’re going to get to a point where you’re like, I am not interested in what anyone has to think about this. I’m not, this is not open to committee, this is what’s happening and you better get on board. And you can’t, I can’t really fault someone for feeling that way either.

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that, especially in romantic relationships, I think with family, when you’re like potentially, always going to be tied to them, I think it’s easier to kind of go back to that compartmentation and be like, okay, like eventually you’ll get there. I don’t have to see you every single day, but I guess it really, it changes when you’re with a partner and you’re like, I wake up every morning and I see you and can you, yeah, I feel like my tolerance would change a lot, you know.

Phil: Weigh a bit.

Alex: Yeah, exactly, yeah.

Phil: I understand that. In all fairness, when I spoke to my mom and it came out, I wasn’t under the impression that we were going to just work it out and I was going to give her time. I literally was, I went into that with, I might just lose this relationship. And I was ready for that. I was 100% ready for that. Now, you know, I would be looking back now being like, ooh, I could have just slowed down my… slow my roll a little bit, you know, on that. But yeah I mean-

Alex: It’s tough.

Phil: Yeah. It is. And again, it’s how you’re coming into it as well. Like if you come into it feeling like you’re already put on in this way of like not being able to be who you are, then you’re going to be a little more aggressive with that, with that language, with your delivery, with how much you want to, you know, put up with.

Alex: Yeah, I also feel like it’s just a very personal decision also, like how much people are willing to tolerate in their own relationships and what they’re looking for and-

Phil: It’s to be with a partner and be shifting an identity, and you’re wondering whether or not this is going to be accepted or not. I can definitely relate to that. And for me, my story didn’t end as well as these guys stories, which is fine, but it’s at any point, I think that when you think about what Mitch was talking to Jocelyn, and when you think about Randi going to Shellie, you could see the fear. You can feel the fear of like, what is this going to do? And am I blowing this thing up now? You don’t know, and I definitely understand that.

Alex: Absolutely. I was on the receiving end as a partner. I was dating someone, this is like years ago who, when we started off dating, he identified as a lesbian and then he came out as a trans man while we were dating. And I have to say like, I really, because I cover LGBTQ issues, I understood how important it was to unconditionally accept that piece of him and how important that was. And so I like tried to be as affirming as possible. And I was really moved by his own agency and decision to tap into that and self actualize. I found that to be just very moving. I think in some ways it made me want to live a bigger, queerer, more out life to bear witness to somebody else’s process. And let me just tell you the reasons that we, things didn’t work out between us had absolutely nothing-

Phil: You know I was about to ask, right?

Alex: … to do with any anybody’s identity at all. It had to do with being like a 23 year old. You know, it’s one of those things where it’s like, I think that, you know, I always find it a little bit funny when people struggle with these things like partners, Cis partners struggle with these things because I’m like, it’s really, you can affirm people. It’s not that hard, it’s not that hard. There are like a million other harder things in dating.

Phil: Right. No, I agree. I have to ask you, so did you feel, I think that for some people, and I think you saw this with Shellie and Randi, I think Shellie’s fear and Shellie’s feeling she need to grieve, you know, Randi, Randi, the man was because things, it was going to be different for her and how things looked. Right? So it was like, what does this mean for us as a couple? So did you have a moment of like, what does this mean if I was dating somebody who was identified as a lesbian now is a man, did you get into a place where you’re like, what does this mean for us?

Alex: I really didn’t. I think part of, one of the reasons why I love being a Bi and queer pan person is because I feel like my sexual orientation contains multitudes. So it was never even a question for me of what that meant for me at all, because I feel like, no matter what, and I guess, yeah. So that was just my, in my experience, there was never any question at all, because I felt like, I’m attracted to this person, we have this great chemistry and dynamic and it’s all of about the relationship and however we change-

Phil: It’s okay.

Alex: … we’ll go with it. Exactly. Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Phil: Yeah. And the only thing that we have to worry about is that we’re 23.

Alex: Yes. Which that is a whole, let me tell you 23, trying to being a long distance thing. That’s is, that’s a lot.

Phil: Wow. That is a lot.

Alex: Yeah, a lot of personal growth.

Phil: I’m impressed. That’s… that’s ambitious.

Shellie: And once I started learning about what transgenderism was, what it really meant, what Randi was going through, there was no way at that moment that I could leave that relationship and leave Randi. So we took it day by day and it’s been five years.

Randi: We took it day by day, supported each other, made sure we were both there when things were bad.

Shellie: There were moments that were very difficult. And there were moments that I felt the loss and there were moments I really grieved it from the bottom of my heart. And I will always miss aspects of Randy the man, you know, that’s just, that’s just reality. But there are so many things I love about Randi, the woman. But it is a process. It is a process. Capital letters.

Mitch: Needed someone who just unconditionally loved me in order to feel comfortable enough to accept myself and love myself for who I am, and that was Jocelyn.

Alex: One thing I feel like also just talking about relationships is I wish that we just gave people more space to grow and change in relationships in general, I feel like even still among LGBTQ people, sometimes when people come out and their identities evolve and they come out as one thing, then they come out again and they come out again. I feel like you should be able to have an infinite number of changes in your life. You should be able to change your mind and you should be able to evolve and people should accept it. And I feel you should be able to at all times.

Phil: Right, it’s not a video game where you lose a couple lives. Right? You lost a life. All right, it’s over. No one’s keeping score. And honestly you have infinite lives. So you could just do whatever you want. And it’s not a video game.

The I’m From Driftwood podcast is hosted by Phil AKA, Corinne.

Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Anddy Egan-Thorpe.

Phil: The podcast is recorded as part of I’m From Driftwood, a worldwide nonprofit, LGBTQIA plus story archive. It’s mission is to help LGBTQIA+ people learn more about their community,

Alex: Helps straight people learn more about their neighbors.

Phil: And for everyone to learn more about themselves.

Alex: All through the power of storytelling.

Phil: I’m From Driftwood’s Founder and Executive Director is Nathan Manske. Its Program Director is Damien Mittlefehldt.

Alex: This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Phil: Additional funding is provided by TD Bank and Heritage of Pride New York.

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Alex: Thanks y’all for listening.

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