Story Update: Shellie and Randi “Transition is Such a Unique Experience for Each and Every Person That Goes Through It.”

by Shellie and Randi Ruge

Nathan: Welcome to this week’s Story Update. This week, we’re actually going to be speaking with two storytellers who shared their story together with us 10 years ago, Shellie and Randi. Before we speak to them, let’s take a look at their story.

Shellie: I’m Shellie Ruge and I’m from Peoria, Arizona. And…

Randi: I thought I was starting.

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

Randi: I’m Randi Ruge. 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’d bring me cards from Randi. And she would say, “You’re so beautiful. Randi says you’re so beautiful.” Well, 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 first. Because she had given me so many flowers from Randi and, 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 that 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 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 that.

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 lines for me when I came to her. So it was extremely painful for both of us. ‘Cause 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. 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: And 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 Randi the man, you know, that’s just… that’s just reality. But there are so many things I love about Randi, the woman.

So… but it is a process. It is a process. Capital letters.

Nathan: All right, Shellie and Randi, welcome to I’m From Driftwood again. How are you two doing?

Randi: Very good.

Shellie: Good. Yeah.

Nathan: Good. We… I was just looking at the date of your story that we…  that we filmed this, and it was actually 10 years ago in, like, a week. So a good timing and happy 10 year anniversary to the three of us.

But, you know, there’s one thing after rewatching your story, that I have to know since it’s been so long… the eight year old in your story, do they know how big of an impact that they had on your life and your relationship?

Shellie: She does. She absolutely knows. And we’re so grateful for her that at eight years old, she had that kind of insight into people who should meet and spend their lives together. It’s amazing.

Randi: I actually still work with her dad.

Shellie: Yeah.

Nathan: Oh, okay. So that was the initial, like, connection.

Randi: Yeah. We had so many connections going there that, you know… so it was not the dad. Well, the dad kept pressuring me. The mom kept pressuring her and then the little girl got into it as well.


Nathan: That’s funny and beautiful. So, you know, when we… y’all have now been married 10 years longer than when we first spoke. How long now have y’all been married?

Shellie: It’ll be 23 years in December.

Nathan: Wow. Wow. Congratulations. What is, you know, what’s the secret to a 23 year old marriage? And even more than that in terms of her successful relationship.

Shellie: That is such a big question. Flexibility, definitely. And insight into the person that you’re married to, and that circumstances are always temporary. And so getting through the circumstances and being with the person. I don’t know if that makes sense in terms of just day-to-day life. Yeah.

Randi: I’d say we still get along really well. I think, in 10 years, if we’re both still alive, you can come back again. We’ll do a 20 year update

Nathan: And then the answers might change. I think, you know, one thing that y’all touched a lot on your story is, Shellie, you kept talking about how it’s a process. And that’s…  that sounds like such an important part of any relationship is understand that it’s not like, okay, we are now married, we’re done.

But you know, you also talked about in your story about how things are day-to-day. And that’s another great way of looking at a relationship is, you know, continued, evolving and communication. And, you know, I assume that’s still the case. Is it, you know, is day to day a good thing or a bad thing, or is that like, how does that relate to y’alls relationship?

Shellie: The beautiful thing – it’s definitely where the process lives, right, is in… is in the present and taking things as they come. And transition as a part of life, no matter what, we’re all transitioning all the time. And that’s what I mean by flexibility, that transitioning successfully through anything is about being flexible and being open to new information. And that’s not always an easy thing to do, right? Change is hard.

Randi: Yeah. I was thinking that, you know, I completed my full transition 10 years ago. 12 years ago.

Shellie: Longer.

Randi: Twelve years ago, and I’m still transitioning. We still get hit, you know, with different things from our children, from our families, from people that didn’t know that now do know. And it’s just constant.

Shellie: Our careers.

Randi: Our careers, yeah. I’ve got a boss that isn’t really good with pronouns, even after 12 years. So we have new staff members come on and all of a sudden he’ll make a, a pronoun mistake and they’ll look at me like… I’m just like, Oh God. When does it ever end it? It doesn’t. So… but we do fine. We handle it.

Shellie: For the trans person and the spouse, too, right? ‘Cause I’m always asked, Well, your husband… for people who don’t know me. And then my next thing is, well, do I go into the whole story? How much of the story do I tell? how much of this story is necessary to tell for that given relationship? It’s a tricky thing. Things like going to the bank and closing on a house is no longer a simple going to the bank and closing on the house, right?

Because at the time that we closed on this house, eight years ago? Eight years ago. We went to check the box that says joint survivorship, right? And we’re two women. We’re two women. This is eight years ago.

So they come in and they say, “You can’t… you can’t check that box.”

We said, “Actually, we can. We’re legally married.”

They’re like, “No, you can’t be. That’s not possible.”

“Like, actually it is.”

So the whole process gets stopped. They bring in four other people into this little room. So now we’re outed in front of all these people we don’t know. All of a sudden we’re in a situation where we have to share our very personal story with people we don’t even know to check a box on joint survivorship because we were loophole at the time.

Nathan: That sounds exhausting. Like it must be difficult to be a constant educator, no matter what, but then to be forced into it when you’re not in that frame of… or you’re just not looking to do that. You’re looking to close on a house. You’re not looking to be in education mode.

And yeah, that’s… we did a Story Update… Story Update with somebody about a month ago and he had transitioned and he said that he was out walking his dog and a new neighbor… it was like early in the morning, like, first thing he did when he got up, and a new neighbor saw him walking their dog and saw him and was like, asked him point blank, like, “What surgeries have you had?”

And he’s like, “it’s like 6:30 in the morning. I am walking my dog, have not had coffee yet. And even if it was middle of the afternoon and I had had my coffee and like, this is not where I’m… howI want to start my day.” So I can only imagine how, you know, how often, you know, Shellie with your –  I’m sorry, Randi, at work, you know, being forced into that and then, you know, closing on a house, I’m sure it was only two of many examples that y’all probably have.

Randi: I would say work is my biggest challenge because there are still a lot of people that knew me as he. And most of them are really good about it, but there’s still some memories there and it’s, you know, it’s great when I get away from work. I have no problem around the neighborhood. Stores, whatever. I’m taking as female. You know, that’s not a problem. It’s just the old, existing people that knew. It’s hard for them. And I just… okay, do the best we can.

Nathan: Yeah. So there were… I was looking over some YouTube comments. Y’all have a whole lot of views and a whole lot of comments. And really the comments were in one of two camps. One was everyone just aspiring to have a relationship and love that y’all have. And it’s like, you know, “relationship goals” and all these, like, amazing comments. Having absolutely nothing to do with transitioning, having nothing to do with, you know, but it was just about the relationship that the two of you have and the commitment and the learning and all that. And just so many people, you know, eagerly wanting that in their lives. And it was just wonderful to see that. And it’s just a love story. Like it’s… it’s not a trans story. It’s about two people committing themselves to each other and what that looks like. And I just loved all those comments.

And the other camp for so many people identifying or relating to your story. And it was a lot of people saying that, “I just came out to my partner as trans and we are…” Shellie, you mentioned in your story that it’s a grieving process. Like you grieved, for a while. And somebody related to that. Other people were saying that this happened to them 10 years ago.

And it just going through these comments, you know, I think for a lot of people, they hear this story and it’s like, Oh my gosh, like what a random story. But it seems to happen quite a lot more than people might expect. Do – knowing now how many after seeing all these comments that people can relate to your story, do you all get a lot of people reaching out to you and asking for advice or, you know, asking or just wanting to meet y’all or speak with you? Do people reach out to y’all?

Shellie: It used to be more so in terms of us as a couple. I’m a therapist and I work with the trans population. So I definitely get people asking, right, about the process. And sometimes – and thanks for mentioning the grief piece because it’s still a piece today, 10 years later, that we’re dealing with. It’s fair. It’s absolutely fair for a family member to go through a grief process and it’s normal. And sometimes I think family members can be shamed for that. Not always, but sometimes. And it’s really important to go through it.

And there’s still a part of me in moments. I have my moments where I miss those moments of Randi the man. And I think that’s fair. I really do. And I’m okay with that because I adore Randi the woman. Absolutely. And I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of what we’ve done, how we’ve done it, the decisions that we’ve made together, because we transitioned together.

That’s part of the process piece that was so important. And I don’t remember if I mentioned it in the first video or not in terms of sometimes she had to slow down for me and sometimes I had to speed up for her. And that’s being married.

Nathan: Randi, what do you… what are your thoughts on all that? Do you… you know, what’s the journey been like for you? Are people reaching out to you or, you know…

Randi: Not as much now as they used to. I think a lot more of Shellie’s clients would like to get in touch with me, but we keep that on the down low because you know, she’s got… she’s running a professional business there. But I think too, that, you know, for me every time I think about our marriage and I think about the vows that we took. And, you know, it’s for better, for worse. And she’s really exemplified those vows. We have stayed together and we still love each other very much, even though we’ve gone through many, many changes. And, you know, in some ways, I’ll say it’s… I know she’s always going to be there. And I think she feels the same about me. I’ll always be there for her. So we made it work. A lot of… a lot of couples can’t, but we did.

Nathan: And that’s the… that’s the goal. All those commenters are onto something. Is there anything else that y’all want to share with, you know, on your life 10 years later, or your relationship, or just life in general? Like, how are y’all doing?

Shellie: We’re doing great.

Randi: She wants to get back to work because of COVID. I don’t. I could stay in working at home for the rest of my time. I’m enjoying it completely. She wants to meet her clients face to face. So we’re kind of ready for COVID to be over with.

Shellie: I love being with people. I think in terms of transition, I think it’s really important because transition is such a unique experience for each and every person that goes through it. Each and every family member that goes through it with that person as well. And not all couples can stay together and that’s okay. And if through their transition process, if they can maintain a close friendship, if they can still be family and maybe it’s a family redefined, that’s a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing. People don’t have to stay together in their transition to love each other and have a wonderful family together.

Nathan: Yeah. That actually reminded me of something that you said in the original video of a lot of your initial stress and anxiety was because you thought that you had to get a divorce.

And once you realized you’re like, Oh, I don’t have… this relationship doesn’t have to end. I can… we can stay together. And then you started working it out from there. So it’s yeah, there was so much honesty and real, like, reflection in your original story and now catching up with you today. So, thank you both so much for your time. I really appreciate it. Hopefully it won’t be another 10 years, but even if so, I would look forward to that. Anything else you all want to say before we sign off?

Shellie: No. It’s great to meet up with you again and congratulations on all of your success. Your stories have been so important to so many. So appreciated… your work.

Nathan: Thank you so much. We’re going to keep doing it. We’re trying to adjust to COVID, as the whole world is, but we’re doing it. And this program is part of that, you know, ‘cause we can’t meet people face to face as we did all those years ago with y’all so… but thanks again. I really appreciate it.

And if anyone has any more comments for Shellie and Randi, leave them in the comments and maybe y’all can check back and  respond to some folks. But, until then, check back next week for our next Story Update. Thanks for watching.

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