Unwrapping the Onion: Part 1: A Secret Revealed

This post is part of a series of nine posts. Please click here to start with the series Introduction.

As many of you know, my spouse and I got married young after a short parent-supervised courtship. We began our marriage “the right way” according to everything we believed. We had obeyed our parents and stayed pure from emotional relationships or sexual activity, so when we got married neither of us had ever been intimate with any other person. We were wholeheartedly committed to our Christian beliefs at that time, feeling certain that birth control was wrong in almost any circumstance and that men should be the family leaders and women should be submissive. My husband was in seminary to be a Christian minister and I was a stay-at-home wife. We worked together to start a church for homeschool families with a strong emphasis on faith practices in the home and we used our experience growing up in conservative homeschool families to encourage them. We talked about how homeschooling had protected us from the world, and how well courtship worked to keep young people pure and got them into solid god-honouring marriage. We prayed together, read our bibles together, and sought to follow God’s will in everything.

But none of this changed the secret that we never really spoke of.

We had only been married a few months when my spouse confessed that he had “seen some bad stuff on the internet.” I had been raised believing that men were sexually-driven pigs, so I assumed this meant he was looking at porn, and I was too afraid to ask for detail, so even though I was frustrated by the thought of him having an affinity for porn I forgave him, prayed with him, and tried as best I could to help him fight this “spiritual battle.” We didn’t talk about it much. Every couple of months he would make another vague confession and we would lather, rinse and repeat. I believed that most couples had something like this they were dealing with, and I loved my spouse and believed that he was doing everything in his power to fight this temptation, whatever it was.

One day we were flipping through the channels on the TV (TV was still pretty new to me at the time) and we happened onto a Tyra Banks show where there were Transsexual people talking and competing in a fashion show. I knew hardly anything about transsexual people. As we watched the tall thin women on the screen talk about how they used to be men, I felt uncomfortable. But I could tell that my spouse was very interested in the show and even seemed to know a lot more about what was going on than I did. When I asked him how he knew so much about transsexuals he said that he had read some about them on the internet. I began to worry that perhaps his struggle on the internet involved transsexual porn. But we continued our little tradition of confession, contrition, and prayer in reference to the periodic slips into “sin” on the internet, and I never asked for more detail.

Life went on – we had two children now – and my spouse finished seminary and simultaneously became interested in the Catholic church. We read through the entire catechism together and felt a strong pull to be in a religious system that had such firm beliefs, strong structure and accountability. But so many factors had set us up for a life in ministry, and we now had the qualifications and training needed. We took a call to a church, excited to be taking a step to serve and encourage a community of Christians.

We were both relieved to be done with graduate school. We were exhausted from juggling two children, long school hours, and a difficult church plant. Our family life got better right away. Instead of long hours away working, my spouse was able to get his work done and be home more often. He began getting involved with the kids for the first time and was becoming a better parent. We had our third baby together and he learned how to change a diaper and even began cleaning up some around the house. Living a thousand miles away from family with our many small children was challenging. We only had each other for support and our relationship became closer and more intimate than ever before. I truly felt like we were best friends, able to share anything with each other.

So one night in the early spring of 2010 when he confessed to me that he had once again seen “bad stuff” on the internet, I decided to ask for more detail.

“When you talk about seeing stuff on the internet, is it about transsexuals like we saw on the Tyra Banks show that one time?”

I wasn’t sure when I had ever seen him this uncomfortable, but he had always been such a terrible liar, I think he knew it would be pointless to try and dodge the question.

“Um, yeah. Actually that is what I am talking about. I try to stay away from it, but eventually after a few months I find myself reading about them again.”

I felt sort of bewildered.

“Wait, so you aren’t looking at porn on the internet?” I asked. He looked confused.

“What? No! I mean, I’ve come across porn before, but only a couple times, I never look for it. I read about transsexuals, like their stories and their treatments, and their journey’s through transition.”

He fidgeted in his seat, looking down at piece of paper he was slowly shredding in his hands. I felt silly over my long time assumption that he had a porn problem, and confused by the new term.

“What is transition?” I asked. He looked at me cautiously.

“Well, a transsexual feels like they do not belong in the body they were born in, and sometimes they start to live life as the opposite gender, that’s called gender transition.”

My heart was pounding in my ears, but I plowed ahead.

“Why are you so interested in transsexuals? Is it because you wish you could be with a transsexual? Or because you wish you were one?”

He hesitated a moment, then he breathed in and took the plunge.

“I think it’s that I could be one. I’ve felt like my gender doesn’t match me for a very long time.”

I was surprised by how calmly I was hearing this, and yet at the same time I was freaking out. What did this mean? How could my spouse be saying he was a transsexual? He had never said anything about this to me! I had hardly any idea of what being transsexual even meant. In my sheltered upbringing the closest my parents had come to the topic was a veiled reference “transvestites” and how they were confused messed up people who refused to accept the way God had made them and were usually sexually abusive and predatory. But this explanation did not add up to my sweetheart sitting on the couch with me. My spouse was an intelligent, loving, creative person. He was gentle and caring. I could trust him with anything. He was a devoted spouse and parent. He was a pastor who spent hours every week researching and writing for heartfelt sermons and visiting and encouraging the elderly and sick in our congregation. And I knew I loved him.

That night, I think the most prominent emotion for both of us was fear. I was afraid of the vast unknown ahead. He was afraid that I would despise him. We were both afraid of God’s anger and being misunderstood by practically every single person we knew.

We held each other and cried together.

Click here to go to Part 2

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09906270936399814711 Women for All Seasons

    It is beautiful to see the relationship of trust you two have built together.

  • http://www.gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com DMa


  • http://lotuslandfineart.com/velvetrope/ wlotus

    Confiding all of that in you took a lot of courage. Blessings on you both.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    I applaud you both for your bravery in tackling such a sticky subject.
    It's funny, I have the feeling that when my husband finally got serious about staying sober, he told me a few things about his childhood abuse and its effects that he thought would make me despise him. Of course I didn't, and it wasn't until I realized our relationship had suddenly become closer emotionally that it occurred to me: All this time, he was thinking that if I just knew this or that about him, I wouldn't really love him. And somehow he wasn't ready to accept that I was committed to him until he learned otherwise.
    I'm just pointing that out because your post made me think of it.

  • http://www.janetoberholtzer.com Janet Oberholtzer

    Fear of the unknown is a scary place to be. I'm glad you could hold each other and cry together.

    Life is too short to not live it honestly… thanks for being brave enough to write honestly.

  • Anonymous

    I wish I could just "Like" this post. I want to show my support, but I can't really think of anything intelligent to say…other than I'm fascinated and I've always wondered what it's like for someone to go through this.

    I'll say one thing….it seems like you both have been blessed with a BEAUTIFUL relationship together. Not many people have the true intimacy and love that you wrote about here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I am so grateful to both of you for your generosity and courage in sharing this story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17046924507335607146 Amy

    I am so so completely in awe of your bravery to be so real and raw, Melissa…. tears at such beauty shared here.
    Your story is so powerful… going to touch so many, and is part of your freedom each time you share, shame diminishes more and more.
    I am here standing with you and adore your heart.
    BIG BIG hug… Amy

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03117752360285429048 Jessica

    Hugs to you, Melissa! That must have been a very difficult conversation to have. I have friends who are trans, as well as many more along the rest of the LGBTQ spectrum. So no judgment here! Looking forward to hearing the rest of your story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15454965172669677301 Bethany

    The last sentence of this is one of the most powerful things that could be said about a relationship of any kind — to meet terrifying, confusing discoveries together, openly. It's beautiful, and I'm in awe of your courage. Can I second every single thing Amy commented? :)

  • Anonymous

    Melissa – you are doing good work that helps people. Thank you for having the courage to publish this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06233321050691782148 Michael Mock


    That's a rough situation to find yourself in – especially with little warning and no information on the topic.

    And while I wouldn't worry about God's anger, I'm prepared to bet that your worries about "being misunderstood by practically every single person we knew" were spot on. Anything that forces you to radically reassess your personal and social identity is difficult, but this is one of those topics that causes a lot of people to just freak out. (Perversely, it seems like the ones who really freak out are the ones who least affected by the actual situation.)

    I feel like I should add something supportive, but "It's okay, these things happen," just doesn't seem to cover it, you know? And since you're writing this well after the fact, it seems a little late to say it anyway. I'm glad, at least, that you were able to try and comfort each other in your fear.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07528176525432024667 onlylove

    I am so proud of this post. It takes guts to write something like this for any one. I really truly hope that you do NOT get a lot of negative comments from people. I find it so frustrating that people cant see that life isnt always this one track road, that it isnt always as easy as living and being the religion you follow or what ever beliefs you have. I think that there is a God, and I just believe that he loves us and wants us to love each other. I do not beieve he made people the way they are only to turn away from them and want us to treat them like they are living wrong because of who they are. I am getting of subject though, my point is I can not wait to hear the rest of your story. I wish you luck in writing it and wish that you ignore any nasty comments online or from any one. You choose the life you lead, and if it is healthy and happy for you two and your children, there is NOTHING wrong with that. Lots of love heading you way. I plan on being right here being happy for you and supporting you.

  • AnotherOne

    Sending hugs and love to you both on this journey. May you both find people who support and affirm you, and may the people who do not support you experience a change of heart (or at least have the grace to remain silent).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    "I had hardly any idea of what being transsexual even meant. In my sheltered upbringing the closest my parents had come to the topic was a veiled reference “transvestites” and how they were confused messed up people who refused to accept the way God had made them and were usually sexually abusive and predatory. But this explanation did not add up to my sweetheart sitting on the couch with me. My spouse was an intelligent, loving, creative person. He was gentle and caring. I could trust him with anything. He was a devoted spouse and parent. He was a pastor who spent hours every week researching and writing for heartfelt sermons and visiting and encouraging the elderly and sick in our congregation."

    I absolutely love it when the fear, bred in us, turns to confusion, once reality is realized. There will be many more transitions in life for you that breaks the mold you were fed growing up. One of the biggest for me was that I was always taught that kids liked raisins and peanut butter. I am just now realizing that this is not true. My oldest treats them like the spawn of the devil.

    Your life is normal and blessed. Your marriage is awesome. Rock it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    I know it takes a lot of courage to write this publicly. I marvel at you and your husband's ability to come together through your backgrounds and treat each other with such respect and dignity through something that must have been so scary and new.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06410682651072046347 TwisterB

    A few weeks ago I found your blog and sat and read most of your important posts all in one go. Since then I have pretty much been a lurker.

    As this seems to be the first in a series about this topic I will wait to see what your entire experience is but I just want to say that I know how CATHARTIC it can be to share a secret like that. I absolutely do not judge you, I applaud your decision to share this (and your husband in general) because it is so so so important for society to understand what being trans, gender queer, or gay actually MEANS.

    It takes a lot of courage to out yourself, especially if you exist in an issue-ignorant community like you did/do. Not everyone is willing to share their stories publicly, which is their right, but I LOVE that you and your husband have decided to share this.

    I can't wait for the rest of the series.

  • Anonymous

    I hope you both find the love and support you deserve both from each other and from the communities you join on your journey.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10065337076195266421 Amy

    PLEASE keep writing this series. You are building on the relationship that this blog has created with so many readers and utilizing our trust in you to help us see a life that isn't within many of our experiences. May your positive intentions reach out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01641970264436339191 dulce de leche

    ((((Hugs)))) Thank you so much for sharing. The others have said it better than I could, but I admire you and your husband for the beautiful people that you are, and for your courage, love and honesty!

  • Aubergine

    I'm the trans half of a married couple. My wife and I have a superb relationship. She had to do some thinking about it to figure out what it said about *her*, but in the end she realized that I was still the same person she fell in love with. I was just a lot more comfortable in my skin, and happier.

    I'm looking forward to future installments. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15824217102632813598 Tanit-Isis

    Oh, wow.

    You are brave, and loving… and I am so happy for you that you are in a place now (both of you, actually) where you *can* post this.

    When my father's sexuality came out as a result of internet browser history, it was an awkward, embarrassing mess—yet at the same time, it explained so much, and when the dust had settled, it was better for everyone to know the truth; it allowed both my parents to make honest decisions about their lives, based on truth rather than lies, and they are both happier, better people now because of it. And we kids are happy for them, as well.

    And now I am, of course, very curious where this is going… :)

  • Libby’s hubby

    Looking forward to the next eight parts!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02224561280478383821 Nancy

    So you may lose a few so-called friends. My guess is…you will GAIN more "good stuff" than you can begin to imagine!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14775794907218052899 Amanda

    I don't have anything to add to what others have said here, just wanted to add another voice of support. Kudos to you for sure *hugs*

  • Caravelle

    Oh wow, I really wasn't expecting this, although it does make sense (not going to anticipate the rest of the story though…). And I can see why it's a story you needed to tell. Lots of hugs to your spouse and you, and I hope that things work out well for you both. Sadly this isn't that much easier even outside of conservative Christian circles :-(
    And how much more terrifying must it be to feel you're the wrong gender when you think it's something God disapproves of… I imagine you must both have worked through a lot given where you're now, and how you're telling this story, but my heart breaks for what your spouse must have gone through. You are so lucky you have each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    So this is what you've been working on during these months of moving and resettling. So often, secrets lose their power when they're exposed to the light.
    Grace & peace,

  • Rosa

    That moment, when you choose love over the judgements you'd been taught, is one where you step into grace. I'm just sorry this is a story you had to be so hesitant to tell.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09586721197750246060 Lara

    You are so brave. And without knowing you, I love you both so deeply right now.
    Just wanted you to know I don't plan on deleting you from my reading list. I'm here. I support you both.
    And…I'm really glad that your husband doesn't feel like he fits into the male stereotype of your upbringing. It's a pretty harmful way of being male in my opinion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17871256362646081536 Amber

    I am so inspired by you. Seriously.

  • http://loreleitracy.etsy.com LoreleiHI

    Ah, Melissa, thank you for being supportive of your spouse.

    My spouse is trans, and even though we can't afford transition yet, it doesn't make it go away. Thankfully for us, I'm queer, and already had an inkling that she wasn't strongly male (there is a spectrum).

    {{{big hugs}}} to both of you, as you decide which path to take.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Wow, I'm sure that was a shocking experience but I'm very glad you were so understanding because your husband (although I don't know if it's actually your wife by now, sorry if I'm getting ahead of myself or being wrong) was probably freaking out ten times more than you imagining hirself out on the street and banned from ever seeing hir kids. From what I've read in your blog, you are a wonderful couple and I hope the life trip you've embarked has taken you to a better place emotionally and in every kind of way.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! Heavy stuff to be laid on you. Life doesn't come in neat little packages like most "Christian" books and movements would have you think. I glad you and he have one another for support.
    Leigh Ann

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13547153594715433846 Liz M

    *big hugs*
    You know, I know people who have been through this. Two couples actually. Both men decided to transition- one couple stayed together, the other didn't but are best friends and roommates.

    (Also, over Catholicism have you considered the Orthodox church? In addition to its amazing historical roots, priests are allowed to marry and have children- only bishops, monks, etc. are not.)

    This is a tough issue, but bless you for being a supportive spouse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00597012674027878494 rain ::

    i am so excited for the future of your family. beautiful post, my dear, and if i was sitting with you right now i would scoop you up in a giant, squishy squeeze. xo.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02837127566252406162 Sara

    I applaud you for writing your story! I hope that you have lots of good friends and support wherever you are.

    Love from Oregon.

  • Aurora

    I've been reading for awhile, but it would be churlish to go on lurking when I could be another voice of support.

    I was glad to hear you were moving and finding a way to live your lives more openly; now I am doubly glad. Congratulations to both of you! Whatever shapes your lives pass through,

    When the person I was falling in love with came out as genderqueer (all a very complicated story that I'll try not to spend too many words on just here), we were lucky enough to be at the sort of liberal-leaning women's college where most people's responses were mostly along the lines of "cool, diversity!" We both had accepting parents and lots of great friends. It was still hard.

    The identity and body issues, for both people, can be so complicated and fraught, even almost entirely insulated from outside judgement, it's still hard. Dealing with all of that on top of all the other changes in your lives and beliefs, and of your relationships and jobs…I don't know exactly where this story is going, but I'm already impressed. Thank you for writing and for sharing.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Wow, Melissa. As always, I am so awed by your ability to courageously embrace all the unexpected twists and turns your life has taken, always with a conviction to understand and love. I seriously think there are a handful of people in this world who could do what you do. So many people are afraid to step out of their comfort zone, even a little.

    I have been following your blog for over a year now. I rarely comment for a few reasons–one is that often your posts fill me with more thoughts and feelings than I have time in my life to communicate eloquently! The other is that I'm aware that, as an ultra-liberal agnostic-or-something Jew, I'm a bit of an outlier among your commentariat and I don't want to create tensions in your safe space, especially since I'm so opinionated. But I want you to know that I always, always read with much admiration and genuine care and my hope for the peace and happiness of you and your family is heartfelt.

    As for the trans issue, you will certainly find no judgment from this loopy hippie! :-) I went to a college where being run-of-the-mill straight, cisgendered, feminine-presenting woman made me rather boring. :-P I have several trans friends, all wonderful people. I'm sure you have hardship ahead of you but the loving family relationships you've created for yourself will get you through. Whatever the future holds, I can think of few people who are as up to the challenge as you are. Have peace.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this series. The stuff about "bad things on the internet" reminds me of my own experiences looking at websites like Butches + Babies, So You're EnGAYged, It's Conceivable, and Hey Girl It's Rachel Maddow in an incognito browser window.

  • Anonymous

    You are amazing, loving and brave. I wish you and your family the best, always. Maria

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    You never cease to amaze me and encourage me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00664669064795403538 yuenkay

    I stumbled here and have been reading your archives like a mad person all night but I feel like I need to step out of lurk to say how inspiring, beautiful and brave you are, after reading this post. Dear Melissa, for every judgemental person who has forsakened you, there are many, like me, who are reaching into the Internet to give you and your family the biggest hug we can muster. Thank you for sharing your life and journey with us. Love, Jane

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01018279317001118437 Mike …

    I came here from Natalie Reed's blog not knowing what exactly to expect and … wow … love the last sentence.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this. :)

  • Anonymous

    Came here from Jezebel. I was also brought up in a fundamentalist religion. I grew up in a closed society that was racist, sexist,homophobic.. I realized as an adult, that God is love, yet so many use religion to beat each other up, totally forgetting the "judge not lest ye be judged." I rejected the hateful rhetoric, but kept the love of a creator who made each of us.

    So know that God does love you, and is so much bigger than small minds and smaller hearts. For every person who could not accept you, there are dozens who will. Bless you and your family and know that you are loved.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15130638249742766567 Gauri

    Wow, this is incredible. Thank you so much for sharing so openly, both of you and thank you for letting us in. And the truth shall set you free… :)


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03966937896374693665 Vanessa Hernandez

    This is really beautiful. I admire your courage and open mind. Much love to you!

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