I Decided to Transition in My 50s — Then I Had to Tell My Wife

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Gender-transitioning is never simple — especially when you’re married.

I am a transgender woman. I completed my legal transition in August of 2021, and my medical transition in May of 2022 — at the age of 61. I am completely, physically, and legally a woman.

The old man is dead.

I was raised a Cradle Catholic — in the faith since birth — and was taught disgust, revulsion, and hatred for “deviant” lifestyles. Parents and priests explained to me that any sexual deviance was a mortal sin, and that I’d go to hell if I embraced it. Yet, when I left the parochial education system and went on to college, strangely, many of my friends turned out to be gay or lesbian. To paraphrase Pope Francis’ comment years later, who was I to judge? That said, the risks of being anything other than straight and cisgendered sure seemed to outweigh the benefits.

After college, I went on to have a successful career as an IT change agent — a career in which I’d help customers and clients improve and overhaul their business processes and practices. I had a successful life as a husband to my wife, Patty, and a father to our daughters. However, there was always something lurking inside me: Most days it felt like an irritant, an anxiety, an anger present just under the surface. My gender dysphoria felt like living with a perpetual “chip on my shoulder,” and there were many moments that my anger would leak through to my external world in the form of an overreaction, or a grudge that I’d hang on to for far too long. 

On days where I had privacy, that “something” could escape via episodes of private cross-dressing. But generally I controlled that impulse by focusing on my family — our daughters’ band practices, volleyball matches, and other activities — and my customers and clients. I had too much to lose, figuring, why should I turn my world upside-down now?

But in 2018, IBM had decided they were paying me too much and didn’t need me anymore. I found myself with a ton of time on my hands, and turned to a new coping mechanism, bourbon. And it quickly took hold.

By that summer, things reached a breaking point. I was drinking way too much. My relationship with my wife and our daughters had degenerated into anger and disgust. I was having heart issues, and had given myself fatty liver disease.

Lying in a hospital bed one night, I realized something had to change. If I stay on my current path, I thought, I’ll lose the relationships that are oh-so-important to me, because I’ll be dead in a few years. I was at rock bottom — my “come to Jesus” moment.

Over the course of my career, I’d helped companies overhaul their systems, sometimes requiring them to make tough, sweeping changes to the established patterns they’d hung onto for so long. I had learned that people only willingly accept change when the pain of changing is less than the pain of the status quo. It always boils down to “the devil you know, versus the devil you don’t.” I’d finally reached the point where the sweeping change of transitioning was less painful than continuing to live as I was.

That night I understood that I no longer had anything to lose. I could do nothing, and lose everything. Or I could transition and still maybe lose everything. But at least in the latter scenario, I’d be at peace with myself.

I didn’t choose to transition — I was out of options: My choice had become to transition or die. I cried very hard, and a lot, that night.

After I was discharged from the hospital, I sat down and wrote a four-page letter to Patty —  a letter that destroyed her established life as she’d known it. While writing, I was very aware that it could destroy our marriage, too. It was a gamble I was forced to take. I knew I was transitioning my body to match my heart and mind. But for my wife, I forced a transition of her heart and mind about me — and I knew she’d have the harder job. 

When Patty woke up, we shared our morning coffees. Then I told her that I had something incredibly major to share. I explained that I had written her a letter, then handed it to her.

She started reading and looked up at me, confused. She’d been raised religious, too, and had never even heard of the term “transgender,” let alone known what it meant. As the day went on and we continued to talk, she began to realize that I was planning on reorienting my life — from living as a male, to living the rest of my life as a female.

Patty was hit by grief and began to sob: The man she knew was disappearing. She suffered shock, anger, denial. That spiraled into months when I heard and endured it all:

“My husband is dead.” 

“You’re a pervert.” 

“You’ll never be a real woman.”

Patty dealt with terrible insecurity and instability: What would our future hold? What would our friends and family think, or say? Did I want to leave our marriage? (No!) Those questions and so many others weighed like an anvil on her mind.

We continued to live our lives as “normally” as we could, but a thick fog of tension hung between us. I gave her space in the house, but fights were still frequent; I can’t count the number of times she and I were one wrong word from separation. 

That is, until one morning, about a year after I wrote the letter. Patty walked up to me in the kitchen, where I was sitting at the counter, drinking my coffee. Then she said something that floored me: With a look of serenity on her face, she said, “I know it’s going to be alright — I know we’re going to be alright.” We moved toward each other into a long tight hug, both of us crying profusely.

Patty, instead of reacting to her Christian upbringing and heading for the hills, improbably took time to educate herself. She read articles, pamphlets, and books. She came to understand what gender dysphoria is, and how it had impacted me.

Three months into my transition, I started hormones. Over the next few months, as the hormones took hold, I found my inner peace, and that inner peace started showing in my external world. Things that would trigger me before didn’t trigger me anymore, or my responses to them were much more measured. And Patty noticed. In time — as she came to see me as a happier and less irritable person — she became my biggest supporter, cheerleader, and ally.

But I knew enough not to throw any gasoline on the fire I had started, and made a point not to infringe on her feminine territory. I would get my own shampoo and body wash, not share hers. I’d pick out my own earrings, not borrow hers. I would create my feminine identity on my own. I accepted the gift when she would find me heels, a top, or a dress, and kept myself willing to listen to her. After all, she’d spent many more years playing this “woman” game than I ever had. (And these days, except for size differences in clothing, we share pretty much everything.) 

I didn’t ask Patty to keep secrets, and I trusted her judgment on the timing of outing me to her inner circle of family and friends. Additionally, I didn’t ask to change, or attempt to recreate, our history. After all, I lived as a man for 58 years: I was the father figure to our 3 daughters, and I still am. 

There are over 35,000 digital photos that exist of me, of us, of our extended family. We keep our wedding album, and a “back-in-the-day,” 2013-era pre-transition portrait of us still hangs in our hallway. I changed my body to match what was inside me, yet the person that was “me” still lives, in many ways, unchanged. Someday, Patty and I are going to renew our wedding vows, and our plan is to replace the current portrait with a new portrait from our vow renewal ceremony. Until then, I’m comfortable seeing the old me still on display.

When it came time to make major changes to my body, I included Patty in my decision-making and allowed her input on the timing of my procedures, giving her time to learn about what I was doing. I even included her in my first appointments with my endocrinologist and facial surgeon, and periodically invited her to my therapy appointments. My therapist connected Patty with her own therapist, giving her a forum to process her emotional transition.

And when we determined that Patty would be my primary caregiver in the weeks following my gender affirmation surgery, she was included in all the preoperative education my surgeons required.

It’s rare that a marriage survives a gender transition by one of the partners: about 1 out of 10 marriages endure. I think a lot of that has to do with the health of the relationship prior to a partner coming out. While our marriage pre-transition certainly wasn’t perfect, Patty’s and my relationship had been strong. Over the decades, we’ve had our moments — the occasional fights that could get nasty — but thankfully, those moments have always been few.

Today, our marriage is actually in better shape than it was before my transition. Every morning and evening, we take time to just sit and chat, and those conversations are often emotionally deeper than they were before. We’re more open and vulnerable to each other now. 

When one person in a marriage transitions, the partner must do the same, and I can’t blame Patty for her reluctance at first. She had no clue how to proceed. However, I made it a point to recognize I was forcing a change on her and invited Patty to transition alongside me. We walked the path together, each considering the other’s needs throughout the process. I’m so grateful that she agreed to take that journey — and that our marriage has survived to this day.

Kathryn J. Redman writes about her personal experiences and other issues related to the transgender community on her Medium page.