An Unassuming Love: Nurturing a Happy Marriage with a Transgender Spouse
Amy is a enthusiastic teacher of ancient literature and the Latin language. She has a firm love of ancient history, literature, cuddly things, and unicorns. Amy once wanted nothing more than to have a nice ordinary life with a nice white picket fence. And then she discovered Kyle, who turned out to be more beguiling than a whole blessing of unicorns. While still trying to figure out how in the world life works being married to a transgender spouse, she is happy with her sometimes confusing, always quirky, but definitely happy life. She and Kyle have now been married for five years and look forward to many more wonderful years together.
In case you missed the other half of the story, check out Kyle’s essay “Jesus Wins: Finding Faith in Ambiguity.”
Growing up, I endeavored to be a good girl. I wasn’t perfect, but I managed to negotiate adolescence relatively unscathed, I thought, my greatest sin being my indefatigable pride. I felt so sure of who I was and what I was supposed to do, and I knew what I wanted from my life. Once during a youth activity, I was asked to write down what I wanted in my future husband. I knew I wanted someone practical and wise like my mother, gentle and kind like my father, and finally, enlightened by my childish conceit, I decided I wanted him to be smart like me.
I loved to be with my family as a child, and never could imagine being without them. I grew up close to all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, even to the point of living in the same small Florida cattle town with them for most of my childhood. We generally had very happy relationships with all of them, though there was still some drama, as with most families.
When my older brother and I were very young, my mother converted to the LDS Church, much to the dismay of my very traditional family. I grew up overhearing comments on how I and my brothers were “brainwashed” into believing in a “cult” that would surely take us straight to hell. When we went home from a family visit, it was sometimes difficult for our child-aged brains to reconcile the sugar cookies in our bellies with the evangelical vinegar in our ears.
But we still knew that they loved us, even so. They also taught us how good people treat each other. I never remember hearing any parent or grandparent of mine say an unkind word to their spouse or to anyone else in the family. Even tense discussions were founded on love and mutual respect. To this day I’m grateful for the examples of kindness and love I was exposed to from a very early age, because they guided me through some dark times.
As I finished school, my deep Southern roots pulled up like a tumbleweed, and I blew out west to BYU to start college. This was a big step for me, as I didn’t have any close family or friends for hundreds of miles, but I quickly found my own there, and loved every moment of it. I joyfully vacillated between majors for a while, as most students do, until I finally found my home—ancient history and classics. I particularly found pleasure in the language aspects of this study. I loved to hear the sounds that had been stilled on native tongues for millennia, and read words written by hands long dead.
It was in this pursuit that I first met Kyle.
Ah, Kyle. When I first agreed to write this essay, my reaction to my husband was something like, “but my writing won’t be able to make them love you like I love you…” This story will surely seem nonsensical without a knowledge of Kyle or the depth of my feelings for him. But for those who know Kyle, hopefully my decisions make a little more sense. For those who don’t, allow me to elaborate:
Kyle is gentle, like the smell of your mom’s pillow after a childhood nightmare. He’s kind like a park bench in the middle of your first lengthy jog in far too long. He’s patient like a kindergarten teacher in August. Kyle does not envy or boast; he is not proud. He constantly sees only the good in others, yet he routinely abases himself. He’s never angry, and he never keeps score. Every time I think about him, I feel like I have to steal far older, grander words than anything I can come up with, just to hint at who he is.
The first time we met, Kyle sat behind me in our third semester of Latin. Our professor, a deeply earnest teacher and occasionally preoccupied mother, would sometimes forget her textbook in her office in her haste to get to class on time. Being the solicitous student that I was, I would offer her my textbook to use for the duration of class. This over-eagerness would often put me in a difficult position though, as I tended to rely too heavily on the vocabulary and grammar notes that I had scrawled on every spare inch of the page to translate any given passage. Imagine my relief and then my dismay when the kind soul behind me offered to share his text, but its margins were completely free of any helpful annotation, as if Caesar were Green Eggs and Ham to him.
Kyle just works like that–conscientious and smart and helpful, almost to a fault, yet quietly humble about it all.
On one of our first dates, he took me bowling. I was ridiculously nervous, having never bowled a round in my life prior to that moment.
“Don’t worry about it, Amy!” he tried to reassure me as we arrived at the bowling alley, “I bet you won’t even get a single gutter ball.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, voice dripping with irony, “I’m sure I’ll be a natural…”
I think he sensed my anxiety. “Do you want to leave and do something else?” he asked me, as he started to pull out his wallet to pay.
“No,” I answered, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to be a good sport, “just don’t laugh at me when I fail utterly.” He just smiled, squeezed my hand, and told me it was time to pick a ball. As I did, I didn’t see him ask the attendant to raise the bumpers on our lane.
“Wait, what are these?” I asked as the protective barriers closed off the gutters.
“Bumpers… Is that okay?” he asked uncertainly. “I’m sure you’d do fine without them, but a lot of people use them when they first start out, and I thought maybe you’d enjoy playing more without all the pressure. We can take them down if you want…”
He smiled at me sheepishly, unsure if maybe I felt patronized by his gesture, but I didn’t. I was touched. He proceeded to throw goofy trick shots the rest of the game, hoping to make me laugh and let me win my first game in the process. He didn’t once try to teach me or correct my horrible form or impress me with his own bowling prowess. He just wanted me to have fun and be happy.
He was like that the whole time we were dating. Every moment with him was full of a clarity I’d never experienced before. I felt like the more I was around him, the more I was me. I felt facades and insecurities I didn’t even know I had slip off me like water when I was around him, because he made me feel safe and valued just the way I was. He seemed to live to “make my eyes dance” as he put it, and every time he saw me happy, he glowed. He never pressured me to be a certain way; he seemed to marvel at every little quirk and singularity I had, as if they took his breath away.
One of the first things that drew me to him was his hands–the way they did things so gently. Whether he used their talent to give me a personal organ concert in the empty chapel by my apartment building, or plied their strength to quietly complete neglected chores around my apartment, everything was kind and quiet and gentle. He would first hold one of my hands, and then the other to warm them during the cold nights I had to patrol student housing units for my job. He always came with me, even though he didn’t have to (and wasn’t really supposed to), and his hands were always warmer than mine. Every time he touched me, it was with a careful, breathless reverence that made me feel like I was a sylph or a saint.
And so it was with great confusion that I would hear him tell me that he wasn’t a good person, as he would sometimes when the conversation turned toward our pasts. I couldn’t imagine that this same gentle, magnanimous soul who went about nourishing others with every talent and treasure he possessed could be anything but good. I thought maybe it was some exaggerated modesty, or at worst, some youthful foible that made him talk so, and I told him I was most interested in who he was now. But I couldn’t change this appraisal he had of himself.
“Someday I’ll tell you about it,” he said sadly as we walked one winter evening, the soft-falling snow dissolving pitifully in the muddy street beside us.
“I really don’t care, Kyle,” I tried to reassure him, “As long as you don’t have some kind of official rap sheet, what you do now is more important, and how you treat me.”
He stopped and looked into my eyes for a long time after that, as if he were searching for something. “Maybe,” he finally said after a while, consciously turning his wistful expression into a smile for me as we continued down the sidewalk, turning to other points of conversation.
And I really believed I didn’t care. I probably should have, more than I did, but I had never met anyone as kind and smart and gentle as Kyle, and I couldn’t imagine how anything else could make any difference. Back then I also thought that just about anything could be overcome in this life through the Atonement of Christ.
But as it happened, once things finally came out, I did care. I can still remember the words that glowed at me, laying out all the history he had promised to share; and the feel and smell of the blanket I had to retrieve halfway through reading that email he sent me, when the chill in my heart made me shiver.
Worthlessness. Hopelessness. Addiction. Transsexualism. So many of his words seemed so ugly to me. Yet others were so poignant.
“…if you don’t want to see me tonight, I understand; if you need some time to sort out your feelings, I understand; if you decide that you never want to see me again, I understand…”
“…I know I have a Savior who loves me…”
“…I love you, Amy, and I hope you can find it in you to forgive me…”
Such gentle words, yet they tore at me so much.
After reading all that he’d been through, a large part of my heart, the part responsible for self preservation, told me to run, run far, far away and never, ever look back. I felt like I didn’t have the courage to continue in a relationship that had such ghosts haunting it. And then, as I tried to steel myself into frost and stone towards him, the thought of his warm hazel eyes arrested me, eyes full of kindness and sadness and worshipful love for me, and his gentle hands. They stopped me with a force I had never experienced before.
Love is truly, truly blind, I thought in despair, as my sense of reason, for the first time in my life, was utterly hamstrung. I couldn’t think with all the tumult in my head and heart, so I fled to the most peaceful place I could think of–the temple.
‘The house of the Lord–holiness to the Lord,’ peace to men of goodwill—that’s what I sought. I craved this peace and this holiness. With reason, courage, and love all failing me, all warring with each other, these were the only things that remained to me to help me with this decision. Should I slam the door on all the things about Kyle that frightened me and freed me alike? Or should I choose to wade through these things with Kyle, helping him as well as I could, knowing they may well be too much for both of us?
What followed was one of the most tangible spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. No angels or trumpets, just a clarity beyond anything I’ve ever known. I just saw Kyle, with his measureless capacity for compassion and kindness, and I saw how all his suffering had imprinted him with this capacity. I felt that he was meant to do great things in the service of others, but that he needed help focusing and projecting himself outwards.
You could do that for him, if you choose, a still, small voice whispered to me.
But what about all that grief I see for myself, I rebutted, what of all the untangling he has ahead of him, and all the suffering that would inevitably cause me?
I was reminded of the story of Achilles, which I had read and translated and memorized in my studies. He had a choice too—dual destinies to either dare, fight, and fulfill his life’s measure despite the pain he would endure; or to play it safe, live anonymously, die forgotten without having ever tested his now-synonymous mettle.
I tried to picture a fearful, weak Achilles, a man whose fear erased him from myth or history. I couldn’t do it. That’s not who he was.
But who was I?
We met a while later in a sodium-vapor lit park after dusk. I crushed my head into his soft shoulder as he whispered soft words of anguish and regret and timid hope over and over in my ear. It almost blurred into a constant stream of “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
I listened, though I still wasn’t sure I should. All of this wouldn’t end in a confessional email, my heart told me. I would surely have to live and breathe with these things in the future, as I was now. Could I do this? It was surely insane, it was madness to even consider a life with someone like this! I knew this, and yet my earlier clarity gently continued to scrub away at the confusion and fear smeared all over my thoughts.
God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind.
You don’t have to do this, this spirit whispered to me, but if you do, you won’t regret it.
I only really realized how much I loved him when, in that moment, I knew the answer was yes. Despite the fact that I really understood nothing about his struggles or about gender dysphoria at that point, I felt peace about moving forward. Not only could I do this, I felt, but I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else having this role in my stead. Just me. My Kyle.
He proposed to me a few days later in a garden stuffed with all the blooms of April. I said yes.
Now some may think I was crazy to make the choice I did, I don’t blame them. No one can doubt my wisdom or even my sanity as much as I did myself. But every time the doubt began to simmer within me, it was cooled by an unfathomable peace I couldn’t argue with. Some people get cold feet on their wedding day, and I, of all people, ought to have had feet of ice that day, but I didn’t. I felt nothing but joy that day, and I think so did Kyle.
I remember on our wedding night being struck by the glow this joy lent him. “You’re beautiful,” I told him, before I could even think how he, a man, might take being described by such a dainty term. But his answering smile shone like the sun.
But our initial happiness only lasted for six months or so before a crushing secret despair weighed Kyle down like a millstone. I couldn’t fathom what could possibly have gone wrong in our relationship to have made my once-loving and ebullient husband turn into the distant vacuum of despair that replaced him. Surely the dysphoria and all its accompanying demons weren’t making a reappearance so soon after peace had persisted for so long…
It got so bad he slept twelve hours a day, and even when he was awake it was difficult to get him up to go to work or school. I finally took him to a doctor who ran some tests, but who, with a shrug of her shoulders, ultimately dismissed his fatal spiral as psychosomatic.
“Get him some sun,” she suggested finally. We would need to position him somewhere within the coronasphere to get enough sun to correct this, I retorted internally as we left the clinic.
All the while, as I returned from school each day, relief washed over me to see that he was still breathing; that he hadn’t succumbed to some malady of mind that I wasn’t clever enough to fix for him.
Even if it was all in his head, what was it that was making him so anguished? I suspected maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe I wasn’t pretty enough, or a good enough wife to him. I think I turned to these explanations because I felt like if the problem were me, maybe I could fix it. If it were within him, I wouldn’t have any control. My heart started to echo his despair.
But that same clarity that convinced me to marry him in the first place abided still, and made those self-deprecating thoughts seem tarnished and hollow somehow. Even if I were the worst wife in the world, this thick, black fog of depression couldn’t have been explained by just me. Kyle continued to evince herculean efforts to treat me as kindly as ever, banishing any mention of my pet explanations for his dark torpor, constantly using his favored endearment for me—Beautiful. But his continued sorrow made my life feel anything but beautiful at the time.
After a particularly troubling evening, I finally confronted him: either he would tell me to the very best of his communication skills what was going on, or more drastic measures would need to be taken to protect our relationship.
“I meant to protect you, Amy,” he told me with tears in his eyes. “Or I never meant for this to come back in the first place. I hoped it was gone…”
He went on to explain that the feelings (whatever they were; he wasn’t terribly good at framing them coherently at the time) that he had struggled with so long and hard before he met me had come back with a vengeance. Our state of twitterpation had kept them at bay for almost a year, he told me, and so he had thought that maybe I had the magical ability to drive them away from him for good.
But I clearly didn’t.
I didn’t even know what he was talking about at first. He threw out terms like gender dysphoria that I had no conception of, no means of understanding. He had told me about them once before, but I hadn’t understood what they felt like or looked like, and I didn’t know how to fix them. He tried to describe the hole in his heart that bled out all of his joy and love, the ‘wrongness’ that plagued him at every moment, but I had no framework to comprehend it. He told me he was trying to fight them away for me, so that I could just be happy and have a normal life and marriage, but he was failing miserably, and neither of us could understand why.
But I tried to understand it all. You feel like you were born in the wrong body? Fine. I can maybe try to imagine that. You feel like you just accidentally walked into the wrong restroom, only all the time? Okay, I’ve at least done that before once or twice. You want to do all the cooking and cleaning and plumping of pillows and such around our house? That’s totally cool by me.
But I didn’t understand how those feelings of confusion translated into the soul-sucking distress he seemed to go through every day for months, or the incredibly hurtful, destructive coping mechanisms he went through, one by one, to try to fix it for me.
Online, nearly every source told me that continuing a marriage under these circumstances was an exercise in futility, and that our relationship, which we believed was meant to last for all eternity, was doomed. Was this true? Was I being a fool for believing that love in the face of overwhelming, incomprehensible adversity was the truest, most exquisite and meaningful kind? Were we destined to fail? I asked myself this question constantly, and I even asked Kyle once too.
“No…” he had whispered painfully, but it wasn’t the confident reassurance I craved. It was a plea.
I remember clearly one night, our garishly flowered bare boxspring contrasted absurdly with my beloved ball of misery sobbing quietly for no apparent reason on the unmade bed. I had just taken a shower, and the resulting condensation dripping down the cool cinder block walls seemed to weep with him. I had just found out that he hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt for weeks now in the wild hope that some careless driver would put both him and me out of our misery. I couldn’t seem to convince him that I wasn’t better off without him, and that passive suicide wasn’t a solution that would help me.
Father, help, please. I’ll do anything. It was a prayer that seemed to hang from every step and breath I took in those days. Miserable or not, I still felt I couldn’t live without him. His gentleness and kindness were still there, though it tore my heart to see those same gentle hands, now weighed down by some agony I couldn’t fight, continue to make pitiful efforts to see me smile again.
“Is there nothing we can do about this?” I asked aloud in despair to no one in particular. As another sob broke in response from the bedroom, I knew there wasn’t, not that wouldn’t destroy our lives. The consensus from the medical community was that gender transition–living permanently as the opposite sex–was the only treatment option for Kyle’s degree of gender dysphoria. But that couldn’t be the only option for us—Kyle said he didn’t want to transition, and I didn’t want him to either. There was too much good still in this life for both of us.
I finally got him to a therapist, which should have happened long before, but he was resistant. He thought surely a few conversations with a stranger wouldn’t help him any. He also figured when he came out as transgender to me and I didn’t run away, he had used up all his luck with me, and there was no way anyone else in the world would be able to interact with him without disgust. I just rolled my eyes at that. Gender dysphoria is a drama queen.
When his first session went well, I was encouraged, and so was he, which was a truly magnificent novelty. He had spent so many months with no hope for the future, having another good experience with being vulnerable gave him a considerable high. This therapist talked a lot about acceptance, and helped guide Kyle through the realization that this wasn’t his fault, and that he wasn’t a bad person as he had believed his whole life. “I’m not evil” is a phrase most people could say about themselves, but they wouldn’t because they take it for granted. But for Kyle, it was a huge victory.
He suddenly realized that all the toxic coping mechanisms he had developed were just that–coping mechanisms–for a problem that wasn’t inherently bad, and that he could choose other ones that would help him more, and wouldn’t make him feel like a horrible person. Just the idea that he could be a good person, that it was even possible in his circumstances changed his outlook tremendously.
I tried to back up this idea by helping him realize that many of his natural inclinations were kind of awesome at best and harmless at worst. I really liked that Kyle was excited to see the “girly” movies that I wanted to see, and I LOVED that he wanted to develop his talent for cooking. He often came in dead handy when I needed a clothes-shopping attendant. I even managed to convince him that his partiality for pink was certainly within his rights as a unique human being.
As I continued to show him that he could be loved, his outlook began to change, and I saw a deeper happiness begin to bloom within him than I had ever seen, even when we were dating. Back then, though he seemed very happy with me, I had always sensed that dissatisfaction and gloom he had when he thought about himself. Now, that was beginning to dissipate. I think I finally convinced him that he could be himself and still be my Kyle, and that others would love and accept him too.
This introduced a whole new experience of growth for him, as he realized he had been so busy trying to be what others expected of him, mirroring the personalities and expressions of those around him to fill in the cracks, that he had never really figured out who he really was.
Once when we were newly married, he had suggested that he maybe wanted to grow a beard, or get a motorcycle someday, or was toying with the idea of joining the National Guard. I had rolled my eyes at the time, not being terribly enthused about any of those ideas, but once Kyle began this process of self-discovery, I realized those expressions of hyper-masculinity were his attempt to be who he thought I wanted, who he thought any woman would want.
“But I like you,” I told him. “I like you gentle and soft and kind and strong in your own quiet way. You don’t need to be a lumberjack for me or anyone else. I don’t need someone to drag me along on camping trips or to fix my car or take me to football games. I like you.”
His response was incredulous at first, but the more I reassured him of this, the more those constant golden threads of sweetness, gentleness, and generosity showed up in the weft of his personality.
Not everything about accompanying Kyle on this quest for identity was easy for me though. I realized pretty quickly that we all define our gender by contrast to some extent, so I often found it difficult for me to find meaning for my own femininity when my “other half” had little contrast to offer me. In some ways, I still do find this difficult. In my relationship, I’m not necessarily valued for my femininity in the dualistic way I thought I would be. This is compounded somewhat by that fact that due to medications Kyle takes to address the chemical components of his dysphoria and depression, we won’t be having children any time soon, if ever.
In my upbringing, I was taught that being a wife and mother were important parts of the ultimate meaning of my life. Now that those things aren’t turning out quite the way I thought I wanted them to, I’ve been forced to find that meaning elsewhere, and I feel like I have. I teach Latin and mythology to children as young as eleven, and adults as old as 60. None of these people are my children biologically, but I find a deep, almost spiritual satisfaction in watching the information and discipline I impart to them help them grow into better people; which is much of what I would imagine motherhood would involve.
In a similar way, Kyle’s domestic talent eclipses mine in many ways, so I’ve had to seek my meaning as a wife elsewhere. Ultimately, I ask myself what more a wife can be than a strong, levelheaded companion, and what greater trait can she have than courage. I don’t know that I ever possessed the courage to face a challenge like this innately, but those warm hazel eyes, those kind gentle hands, and that daily eagerness to see me smile if sorrow or weariness prevent the accomplishment of any other task all combine to arrest me, keep me coming back for more. It doesn’t even seem like it was courage that got me through all the miserable moments of fear and hopelessness until I look back at all the territory we’ve covered together.
But maybe that’s what courage really is—a vaunted term for a perhaps unassuming love that just refuses to give up its object, and simply refuses to quit, and a faith that makes that make sense for some reason.
I don’t know what the future will bring. We still have hard days, and while they are now often months apart instead of every day, I know there’ll be more in the future. I continue to pray that Kyle and I will continue to find happiness together, even through the direst difficulties, throughout the rest of our lives; and I think if anything will see us through to this goal, it’s the mutual kindness, unselfishness, respect, and tenacious regard for one another that have proven to be the firm underpinnings of our relationship thus far. For those who find themselves in a similar situation to mine for whatever reason, the cultivation of these traits in both spouses is the only thing I can confidently recommend for everyone irrespective of circumstance.
Looking back over the last five years since I married Kyle, I don’t know why things happen the way they do, or why I felt peace at the brink of this particularly frightening precipice. However, I have realized that we all walk through shadowy valleys, whether of death, or of poverty, physical suffering, dashed hopes, or any other suffering native to this mortal sphere; and I know we can be led through them all through faith in our Lord and Savior. He is Love, and He will give us the capacity to love when the whole world seems arrayed against us.
ABOUT JOURNEYS OF FAITH
The Journeys of Faith Project features the personal stories of Latter-day Saint individuals and families addressing gender identity or transgenderism who are striving to find congruence and peace within the context of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.