When a husband becomes a wife

Storytelling about our experiences as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has become an important part of our culture. Our stories are passed from person to person and generation to generation. These stories contribute to the narrative of LGBT history and culture. They serve as models for people as they explore their gender or sexual identity. These stories help reassure others that they are not alone in their experiences, that others have had similar life experiences and have survived and thrived.

Recognizing, understanding and accepting your sexual orientation or gender identity is a process that is one of the common bonds that tie the members of the LGBT communities together. This experience and the stories about it know no gender, age, geographic, ethnic, racial, religious or socioeconomic boundaries or limits. We all have a coming-out story — even if that story is that we have yet to come out.

For many people, coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity is not a one-time experience: It happens over months, years and even over the course of a lifetime. This is what Christine McCready’s experience has been. Since age 5, Christine has known that she is female, although she had a male body. Now 60, Christine lives her life as a woman. Her journey has included denial, depression, fear, therapy, acceptance and much support from loved ones. The bulk of that support has come from her wife of 20 years, Kathy.

Christine spent the first 58 years of her life living either exclusively as a man or part-time as a man and part as a woman — a man at the office and a woman at home. After one failed marriage, years of therapy and some (not-so-gentle) prodding from Kathy, Christine began physically transitioning to female five years ago.

Like so many other couples, Christine (then Harry) was introduced to Kathy by a mutual friend. They dated for several months and their relationship grew too close for comfort. They were in love, but Harry could not risk the emotional pain of repeating the mistakes of the past. He knew he needed to tell Kathy about his gender identity or the relationship could not continue.

Twenty-two years later, it has been Kathy who has been the main supporter and motivator of Christine’s struggle to live her life as a woman. Christine says that, for many years, it was difficult for her to believe that Kathy was fully accepting of her transitioning to female. Kathy’s explanation is simple: “Once you fall in love, it is hard to say, ‘Well, you are not Harry. I don’t love you anymore.’”

Christine’s process was not easy. Some estimate that society’s acceptance and understanding of transgender people is 30 years behind acceptance of other sexual-minority groups. The lack of visibility of trans folk in television, movies or books is just one measure of that lack of acceptance.

The social atmosphere in which Christine has learned to understand, accept and live her true gender identity has been far less than welcoming. She felt she could not come out at work for fear of harassment. She waited until retirement to live full-time as Christine. Now, in her second career, she is accepted by her coworkers for her abilities and is comfortable in her own gender.

Kathy and Christine live in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish country. Christine is out to friends and family. At work, she is Christine, and if someone questions her gender identity, she gracefully, honestly and humorously answers questions. She no longer faces the stress of hiding or living a double life. But even at 60 years of age, her transition process will continue for years to come.

One of the socially awkward experiences that remains is when Kathy and Christine introduce each other to strangers. They are legally married, but our language has not yet evolved to include terms that concisely and adequately describe their relationship; husband, wife, spouse or partner just don’t seem adequate. Most people are still getting used to husband and husband and wife and wife.

And now Christine and Kathy’s story is part of the LGBT culture of storytelling. Hopefully their story will give others the confidence, courage and strength to successfully come out. And, for those lucky enough to meet and know them, their example and experience will help to change society’s understanding and acceptance. After all, they are just another couple that loves each other.

Ed Bomba is communications chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative. The LGBTEI fosters and advocates for services and resources that are competent, culturally sensitive, inclusive and responsive to the needs of LGBT older adults. To comment on this article, suggest topics for future articles or for more information, visit www.lgbtei.org or call 267-546-3448. Watch for “Gettin’ On” each month in PGN.