You spend all week sick with worry. You worry that it's begun to show, that maybe your wife suspects something, but if she has, she's remained surprisingly tight lipped about it. Deep down in your core, you know that you need to tell her. You can't keep lying to her like this. But you're afraid. This could end your marriage. Maybe it should. You don't want that though. You love your wife, that's why you married her, why you pledged to spend the rest of your life with her, why you're so afraid to tell her. You don't want to hurt her. And what about your son? How would he take it?
You spend your nights awake with your thoughts, trying to wrestle with them silently so you don't disturb your wife. This cozy suburban life that you've created with her, with the Ikea furniture and the cute little wall decals and the sleepy neighborhood walks with your standard Labrador your son named 'Larry'--because he named everything Larry when you got the pup--could all be coming to an end. You don't want that. This life is peaceful, with its' routine hockey practices and school band performances and steady nine to five job and general family chaos. You and your wife have worked hard, poured your blood, sweat, and tears into this life. You don't want to ruin it.
Your husband is trying to keep a secret from you. He's never been a good liar, and you've spent enough time with him to know when he's hiding something. The fact that he hasn't told you worries you. It's clearly something that's bothering him, but you don't want to press the issue. The curiosity is driving you crazy, but sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. You might not want to know what has him sleeping with his back to you, avoiding conversations with you at dinner, keeping his answers short and curt. You love him, of course you do, but you're afraid.
Afraid that maybe he doesn't love you anymore. Maybe he's found solace in the arms of another woman. That's what scares you the most. It haunts you when you wash your Spode dishes, a gift from your late mother. It chases after you when you go on your bi-weekly run with the other middle-aged mommies in the area, your friend group now. It hides behind every text message conversation and affectionate phone call and every late night at the office. Subconsciously, you begin checking his scent when he joins you in bed. You try to goad him into touching you, wearing slinky night gowns that haven't looked good on you in years. You try to remind him why you're his wife.
It isn't easy, because you're scared. You, who spent your youth in service to your country, are scared. No drill sergeant could scare you more than the prospect of this conversation with your wife. No threat of war, no number of insurgents hiding in the collapsed structures, no IED's buried on your patrol root could scare you more than this. You've tasted real fear, you've tasted real pain. Or, at least you thought you had. But somehow this is worse. This time, she might not be waiting for you at the airport, might not be there to hold you when you wake up crying. A soldier's only as good as his team, and she is your only team now. She had weathered the war with you, helped you climb out of your post-traumatic stress depression. She had seen you at your weakest, and still called you a man. You didn't deserve her, and she deserved much better. But somehow she stuck with you anyway, through the night terrors and the alcoholism and the flashbacks. Somehow she still loved you, and you spent every day trying to earn it, be worthy of it.
She is scrubbing dishes in your sage green kitchen, a paint scheme of her design. You were skeptical at first, but had to admit that it did match the cupboards quite nicely. You've barely talked to her this week, and the tension is almost palpable. Your son is at a sleepover tonight, you have to make your move now. You want a chance to talk it over with her before you present it to your son. It wouldn't be fair to blindside her. Leaning against the island, your stomach and throat a knot of dread, you ask her if we can talk. She doesn't stop her task, doesn't rinse the soapy suds off her forearms. She doesn't want to look at you, and you wonder if that's good or bad. It takes her a moment to respond, but she finally answers with a 'what about?' You take a deep breath and try to steady your voice.
You're almost relieved. Almost. The warm soapy water wraps itself around your arms as you try to process what he is saying. He isn't having an affair, isn't cheating on you. You didn't realize you were holding your breath, but now you release the pent up carbon dioxide, a deep sigh that maybe conveys the wrong message to your husband. You don't say anything at first, although your busy hands have stopped their work. You are deep in thought about what he actually said. You don't know how to react.
Your husband, the man who swept you off your feet and took you away on his shining white stallion, wanted to be a woman. Thought he was one. Is one? Transsexual. You don't know what it means. Of course you've heard the word before, but you don't really understand it. It was a word reserved for weird men that liked to dress like women and fat butch lesbians who couldn't get over their Freudian penis envy and Taiwanese prostitutes. It wasn't a word for your husband. Your husband was normal.
You were prepared for an affair, had angry, hurtful things to say. What about our son? How could you do this to us? I thought you loved us? You don't know what to say about this.
Her silence is almost worse than the anticipation. You've noticed that she's stopped washing the dishes, this could be a good or bad thing. Everything in his life, all the feelings of being misplaced, being wrong, trying to force himself, mold himself into what a 'man' was supposed to be, swirled around him like a cloud of pain and judgement. You beg her to say something, anything, trying to put everything that you feel into a few words. You love this woman, she is your wife, you don't know if you can bear her scorn, but you take the risk anyway. That's what love was, right? Putting your heart into somebody's hands and trusting them not to drop it.
"What does this mean for us?" she asks finally, quietly, and you don't know if you should smile or cry. It's not scorn. It's not acceptance either.
You admit that you don't know. She asks if you still love her. You break down into tears.
It's not the first time you've seen your husband cry. You locked those parts of him away in a small corner of your mind, a place that you didn't visit. It was a place you didn't need to go to, because he was your husband and you loved him. You don't know if his crying is a good or bad thing. It makes you want to cry too. You fight the tears back, trying to be strong like you had to be when he first came home, but it's harder this time. You knew he loved you then.
You find yourself wrapped up in his arms, those strong arms that always made you feel safe. He blubbers into your neck about how he'll always love you. It reminds you of dark nights and sweat soaked dreams. It reminds you of lying next to him, listening for the quickening of his breath, trying to gage whether or not it was time to free him from his tortured subconscious. You wonder if it will feel the same if he becomes a woman. You don't know if you can love a woman. What will they say at church?
His deep brown eyes find yours. When he cries, you are always reminded of a potted plant that has been over-watered. He asks you if you still love him. You can see how much pain he is in. You tell him that you promised you always would.
You recognize that that's not a 'yes'.
You breathe easier now than you have in years. Since before the war. It's like a huge weight has been lifted off your chest. You know it isn't over, that there's still a long way to go. Your wife wants counselling. She says it's difficult to wrap her head around. She wants to keep the family together. Your son is having a hard time with it. He doesn't understand, doesn't like it. He's become more distant. It breaks your heart, and you try to explain it to him. He doesn't want to listen. It's strange and it's different that those are dangerous things for a 10-year-old boy. You empathize with him, but don't know how to make him understand. Maybe therapy will help.
It's been difficult to adjust. You know he's begun transitioning, but it still alarms you to watch the transformation. His features begin to soften, he is losing his body hair. So far, you've been able to avoid using gendered pronouns. Referring to your husband as 'she' sounds wrong. Sweetie and dear are gender neutral. You've always called him that.
You ask him what you should call him. You've been reading up on transsexuality, you've learned that pronouns are very important. He isn't sure. He says his body still feels like a man's body. For now, he says, call him what makes you feel comfortable. He'll let you know when you should switch pronouns.
It feels like every day your face is smoother, less and less hairs grow. At the same time, you feel like it's taking too long. You've put in your application with the army to pay for your surgeries. They're touchy about things like this, they'll do it because they want to avoid a human rights crisis. You're almost positive they have no idea what human rights actually are.
Your first dabble into women's clothing is scary and exciting. You browse through the racks, trying to eyeball what will fit you. You're not brave enough to take them to a change room, you explain to the sales person they're for your daughter. Your tall, abnormally broad daughter. You try on the outfits at home, putting on a fashion show for your wife. You wear your favourite outfit, looking for her approval.
You try to pretend he is just one of your girlfriends, trying on clothes, looking for your opinion. He looks trashy. You tell him so. It looks like he's trying to pretend he's 16. He tells you he never got to be a teenage girl.
"Babe, you never will." All the clothes he has look like what he's wearing. You tell him if he's going to be a woman, he's going to be a classy one. You stop to think, and go to your own closet, pulling out one of your many business casual dresses. It's green with a soft floral print overlay. You tell him something like this will look much better on him. You try to mean it.
The zipper doesn't close all the way, but it suits him. It makes his eyes look rich. He can see the difference in the mirror. The potted plants are beginning to overflow. You tell him if he cries, it'll smear his makeup. You take a closer look, and joke that that wouldn't be a bad thing. You smile at him. Her. It.
You've begged him to keep it. You've promised him you'll teach him everything, hair, make-up, bra sizing. Please keep your manhood. You don't understand why he needs a vagina so badly. Wouldn't the breast implants be enough? Weren't the dresses, the panties, the heels, the make-up enough? Couldn't he let her keep this one thing about him?
She doesn't understand why it's such a big deal to you. You explain about dysphoria. You explain that you need this to truly feel comfortable in your new body. You promise her to save semen samples, in case they want more children. She tells you it's about more than that. You think she understands your pain, or at least accepts it. This isn't the first time you've talked a path she couldn't follow.
Your son won't talk to you anymore. Everything that happens has to be relayed to you through you wife. You're worried about him being teased at school. You suggest that maybe, when you're done transitioning, that he could be moved to a different school. He talks to you for the first time in weeks, but it isn't positive. He yells that he doesn't want to change schools. He tells you he hates you. It hurts you more than you thought possible. His mother has to have a very stern talking to with him. He mumbles a half-hearted apology at the breakfast table the next day. You open your arms for a hug, but he won't go to you. It's going to take time, your wife tells you. He'll come around.
You have been told in explicit terms that you are no longer welcome at your church. Indignant, your wife stops going, finding a new church for your family. You worry about how displaced your family is becoming. Your neighbors won't talk to you, people stare at you like you've grown an extra head. Your son refuses to go out in public with you.
Your application has been approved by the government. You schedule a date with the specialists, and eagerly count down to your surgery date. It can't come fast enough.
You worry about your son, but you don't know how to comfort him. How do you comfort a child when you yourself are not at peace? Children can see through your deception, they are sensitive to the truth.
You have put aside your own personal feelings for the good of your family. You want your son to grow up with the father you never had. It's ok if your husband shows up to hockey games in a dress and heels, just as long as he shows up.
In your heart, you can't forgive your husband. You are trying to be understanding of his pain, trying to empathize with a feeling you don't feel, but it's hard. He's finally pinned down a date for the surgery. You count down the days with dread.
Your son won't come with you to the hospital, but your wife will. You are lying in the uncomfortable hospital bed, fidgeting, wanting the surgery to be over. Your wife holds your hand to calm you down. You smile at her, forever grateful for her support and understanding. The nurses have come to take you to surgery. Squeezing your wife's hand, you tell her how much you love her. She repeats the sentiment as you are wheeled away. You can hardly contain your excitement. When the surgery is finished, your new life will begin.
You have to find a babysitter for your son, because he won't come with you. Part of you doesn't blame him. You are sick with anticipation, your stomach a ball of knots that you can't even begin to untangle. But you are good at being a reassuring wife, you squeeze your husband's hand and tell him it will be ok. As the nurses wheel him away, he tells you that he loves you. You fight to hide the tears, parroting back that you love him. It is the last time you will say it to your husband. You can hardly contain your grief. When the surgery is finished, your husband will be dead.