Love & Sex
I met Ryan* in an Adelaide nightclub in the '80s when I was 18, and immediately liked his sense of humour. We became close friends - until I went on a cruising holiday and realised how much I missed him. It was then I knew I was in love.
When I came back, Ryan asked me on a date. I was terrified of ruining our friendship, so it took about six weeks until we kissed. I was 19 and a good Catholic girl, but he was incredibly patient and nine months later we became lovers.
We had been together for three years when Ryan asked me to move to Melbourne with him, as he was a musician in a band and that's where everything was happening. I did not want to "live in sin" so he asked me to marry him. He was 22 and I was 23. We married in the same church as my parents.
We had a great life in Melbourne, throwing dinner parties and seeing bands; we had a good group of friends and were happy. Everyone said we were perfect for each other. We were best friends and sexually, things were great. Then, three years in, Ryan became withdrawn. Looking back, the only indication I had that he was suffering was his insistence on shaving his armpits, saying he hated to be hairy there.
Soon after, he came home with both ears pierced. I had always hated that look and was shocked. He started to miss work and wouldn't get out of bed, so I suggested he see a psychiatrist. I knew something was wrong and I needed to know what it was. Ryan phrased it that he had more in common with women than men, but that didn't really worry me. He wasn't a real guys' guy, more of a musician - into music, science, movies, parties.
A week later I discovered a letter in my handbag. It said, "Michelle, please read this on your way to work." I read it then and there. In it, he spelt out that he believed he was born in the wrong body and wanted to have a sex change.
That night there was no talk of us breaking up. His attitude was, "I love you and I am going to become a woman and keep on loving you." My attitude was, "Become a woman or a werewolf, but just don't leave me."
I have never doubted his love for me and I think Ryan really believed everything would continue as it was when he became female. I spent a long time wondering if you really love someone, does it matter what gender they are? I couldn't come up with any answers other than, yes, it did.
Two weeks later I came home from work to find Ryan watching TV in my clothes. I was shocked and angry. He explained that he had felt he was female since he was a small child. Apparently, when we realise we are a boy or a girl, most of us don't even remember the moment. Transsexuals do: they get angry. It defines their lives.
After that he often dressed as a woman. Friends found out. Some were horrified, most were shocked.
Ryan started taking hormones. We went to Adelaide for his brother's wedding, and despite Ryan wearing a suit and tie, everyone was looking at him and talking about us. The next day we both told our parents. Mum was shell-shocked. Dad was in tears and said, "He wants to cut his doodle off!" I said, "Well, there's a bit more involved than that, but you've got the gist of it, yes."
Back in Melbourne, Ryan moved out. Soon after, he underwent a breast implant operation (not common back then) and called to ask a favour: could I get him a size 16 Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra and bring it to the hospital? I remember driving there, thinking, "When I got married I never thought I'd be buying my husband a bra."
The divorce was mutual by the time it was finalised in 1990. Ryan was so consumed by his change that our marriage had become secondary.
Ryan moved on pretty fast, meeting another male-to-female transsexual at his transgender meetings. I was overseas when his new partner called to say Ryan's penis had been successfully removed. I remember being numb and saying, "Well, that's good news." I realised then that the man I had loved was gone.
Ryan now lives in England. He's had a few partners, all transgender. As for me, I don't think I ever really got over what happened. I've had relationships, most of them brief, and haven't allowed myself to fall in love again.
I don't regret my marriage, as it gave me great joy for many years, and I certainly don't blame Ryan or myself for what happened. But I do regret the repercussions.
Most transgender stories are told from the perspective of the person who changes, not their partner's or family's. I think it is important to have the other side told, as the effects are far-reaching for all concerned.
* All names have been changed.
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