Transgender Love: When Husband Becomes Wife

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When Diane Daniel met her husband Wessel, she was attracted to his smile, quiet humor and gentleness -- "and of course his Dutch accent." Though it shocked her, she dismissed the occasional cross-dressing as they dated and lived together as just part of his nerdy nonconformity.

But two months into their marriage in 2004, her husband revealed at dinner that he wanted to live as a woman, and the couple embarked on a long wrenching jouney to stay together.

Wessel is now Lina, and at 47, she has transitioned publicly from male to female.

Diane, now 53 and a freelance writer living in North Carolina, describes in a recent story in the Boston Globe, "Goodbye Husband, Hello Wife," how her life was turned on its head when she learned her husband was transgender.

"I detached emotionally and physically," she writes. "I cried every day. I wondered what else he hadn't told me. I feared something was wrong with me to attract this kind of mate. I was angry and ashamed."

Lina was in exactly the opposite place psychologically.

"For me, it was a big, 'phew,' --- I had finally made a choice and a big burden was off my shoulders," said Lina, who works for a medical diagnostics company. "But her whole world collapsed."

"Diane needed to grieve and say goodbye to the old me and the things that were left behind," she told ABCNews.com. "I had the strange realization that I was at a birthday party and she was at a funeral."

The turning point for Diane was when Lina told her, "What I fear most is that you will see me as a monster or some kind of a freak. That everyone will, but mostly you.''

Slowly, Diane was able to open her heart, and their story illustrates the complex world of sexuality and gender and the power of love.

But it is also a call for acceptance for the 750,000 Americans who identify as transgender -- about .3 percent of the population, according to the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the UCLA Law School.

A 2011 landmark report, "Injustice at Every Turn," concludes that "nearly every system and institution" in the United States -- education, employment, housing and healthcare -- discriminates against transgender Americans.

The report was conducted by The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which surveyed 6,450 Americans who were transgender or non-gender conforming.

An estimated 45 percent of those surveyed said that their relationship with a spouse or partner ended because of their transgender identity. Surprisingly, 55 percent, stayed on or their relationship ended for other reasons, according to that report.

But those like Diane who have gone through transition with a loved one, say it is a long and painful process -- and most spouses leave the marriage.

Helen Boyd, author of the 2003 book, "My Husband Betty," had a similar experience to Diane.

When her theatrical husband went from dabbling in drag to asking to wear an ordinary denim skirt, she thought, "This isn't fun anymore."

"I was shellshocked. I took a bath and just cried," said Boyd. "I knew that I would lose my male husband."

Boyd stayed with Betty, whom she had married as a man, "because I love her," and the couple just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.

"She is still as charming and still the person who can make me laugh when I don't want to laugh about anything," said Boyd. "We still share the same world view and she knows me better than any other human being."

She said not enough partners and families of loved ones speak out about the experience, one that can be like "walking through fire, but once it's done...can be a deep bond."

Boyd, a professor of gender studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, said her work in the field indicates that far more partners split.

"I would not wish transition on anybody," she said. "All major life changes are difficult, but the lack of understanding is triple -- dealing with all the prejudice and bias, and even the sensationalism and prurient interest."

Such was the case with Diane, who said the six years leading up to Lina's living as a woman were gut-wrenching.

"One hour I was processing one thing and the next something else," said Diane. "It would start with what does this mean for our relationship and how will you look and what will the neighbors say, and will we be legally married?"

They were, and according to Diane, no state reverses a marriage between a man and a woman, even after transitioning to a different gender.

"In the trans world there's a saying that 'one person's transition is everyone's transition,'" she said. After the initial shock, Diane and Lina went into therapy.

Transgender Couple Viewed as Lesbians

In 2007, Lina began hormone treatment. The following year, they began to tell friends and family, all of whom were supportive. Finally, they picked a day when Lina would "leave work as a man and return to work as a woman."

Then, just last November, after telling all her co-workers, Lina officially transitioned to a woman.

Lina said she will likely "complete the picture" and have genital surgery, but international medical guidelines require that she live for at least a year as a woman. There are also financial considerations.

By June of this year, the couple stopped seeing their therapist because, said Diane, "we no longer had anything to talk about."

Their worries about public acceptance never materialized.

Sometimes co-workers slip their pronouns, but immediately correct themselves, and most have been supportive. "I am basically the same, with a few improvements," said Lina.

Both say that not having children has helped them cope better with the transition. They also don't have religious beliefs that would be in conflict with Lina's choice.

Today, Diane and Lina say they are more guarded in public, where they are often perceived as lesbians, even though Diane is straight.

"But if I really want to hold hands, then I do," said Diane. "I think it's a little easier for me than for Lina, but that's mostly because she still feels awkward about drawing any attention to herself."

As for their sex life, Diane said, "We don't talk about with anyone but us… We are a romantic and affectionate married couple. We don't live as siblings."

"I am very attracted to men," said Diane. "Does this mean I look at men and feel sad? No, because I love Lina."

Lina said that even though her gender identity female, she is not attracted to men.

"My attraction to women hasn't changed," she said. "Mine is a gender issue, not my sexual orientation."

But, it's hard to let go of the gender notions and Diane said Lina still makes some male accommodations.

"She still kills the roaches and carries the heavy stuff, but same-sex couples have those divisions of duties as well," said Diane. And Lina's "essence" is still there.

As for Lina, she said, "I feel like I can be more myself than I have ever been and enjoying every minute of that at home or at work. I am embracing life to the fullest."

Since writing her story, Diane has received more than 300 e-mails, many from readers who say they have never written before.

One praised her for helping her better understand in "a more real and compassionate way."

"I am an educated person and quite liberal, but while superficially being accepting, have found the transsexual issue rather difficult to absorb," she wrote. "I am sure it took a lot of courage, and I applaud you and want you to know that you most certainly contributed to the world in a very positive way."

Diane said she feels a "deep gratitude" for how they have sustained their marriage, but would never suggest their decision be right for everyone.

"You have to be open-minded and not fixate on what other people think," said Diane. "And have a strong sense of self, and some degree of flexibility."

"Look at the person who is transitioning as a human being and try to understand their side of it and don't look at them as a monster," she advised others in a similar situation. "If I had love in the beginning, I still have it."

For more information and support go to:

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

National Center for Transgender Equality

Human Rights Campaign

PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays

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