‘It was right after the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. We both rolled over in bed. Me: ‘I’m gay.’ Her: ‘I’m transgender.’ Silence. Now what? I’m married. HAPPILY married!’

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“We quickly went from a family no one looked twice at walking down the street: a husband and wife with their two sons, to a family everyone looks at twice (or more) every time we leave the house.

My once ‘husband’ Sarah and I started dating in April of 2004, engaged by the end of June, and married in a hetero-wedding in December of ’05. Our boys came along in ‘07 and ‘09. Somewhere in between having our boys small changes started to occur in some of Sarah’s wardrobe. I thought it was strange, but…whatever. She was happy so I was happy.

Courtesy of Jenni Bennett

A few years later almost all of Sarah’s ‘stay at home clothes’ were coming from the women’s department. It was then I started to connect a few dots. No words had been uttered, but my wheels were rolling. I spent many nights lying awake wondering ‘IF this was something… could I stick around? Was I ok with this? Was I strong enough? Could I still love her? ‘ YES. Every time it was yes. There were lots of private tears shed on my side for the next few years but the answer was always yes.

Believe it or not I was having my own personal battle. I was gay. How in the world do I come out in my thirties?! I’m married. HAPPILY married. That’s absurd. I never felt ‘right’ in any of my relationships and while I would’ve been completely accepted by my family to have come out, based on my family status and other factors, I just wasn’t strong enough at the time to even consider the possibility. In retrospect all the signs were there but I refused to acknowledge them. It wasn’t until I realized how excited I was at the prospect of being married to a woman when I thought Sarah might be trans that I finally let my mind go there. We strongly suspected our older son was part of the community from a very young age so I realized if I expected to raise him to be himself I had to do the same. Our eleven year old is my number one role model. He’s an out, gay, sixth grader and is unapologetically himself and always has been. I had to do me if I expected him to do him.

It was right after the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, June of 2016, that we both rolled over in bed and said the words.

Me: ‘I’m gay.’

Her: ‘I’m transgender.’

Silence. Now what?

I already knew. I’d known this conversation was coming for years. I’d done my mourning and my research. There was very little on married couples staying together through something like this, much less information on how to go about this as two public school teachers. Yet I had never doubted our relationship. We’d been hiding her femme side from the boys because we didn’t want to answer those questions right now or bring them into ‘our little secret’ yet because they were so young and let’s face it, anyone under seven years old doesn’t do the best secret keeping.

We kept her confession quiet for a while before we sat the boys down sometime in March of 2017 to tell them. Of course there were lots of questions. They didn’t know anyone transgender. We explained that Sarah wanted her outside to match her inside which was female. We were amazed by how they ‘got it.’; the boys were in 4th and 2nd grade at the time. We gave them options for what they’d like to call the person that had been ‘daddy’ their entire lives and they settled on ‘Eema’ which is Hebrew for mother.

Courtesy of Jenni Bennett

The boys were now in on the ‘secret.’ Sarah took the leap of faith and came out to her principal towards the end of the school year and would return for the next school year  (‘17-’18) as Mrs. At that time, she gave me permission to make sure my school and the boys’ school were also aware of our new family dynamic since we all work/attend neighboring schools in our small community. The reception of this new information, uncharted territories for everyone, went amazingly well and we couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Parenting young children through this hasn’t been too bad for us. We coached them through how to handle different situations that might arise because we recognize that no one we knew at the time had ever been in our position. We role played various scenarios with them and helped them understand how to react in each one. We explained they may lose some friends over this and that they weren’t truly friends to begin with if that happens. I’m happy to share that there have only been very few instances of that happening for our family. We found our (now) 11 year old crying one night. We went in and we asked why he was upset. We expected him to be the most open-minded about these changes as he too is part of the LGBT community. He said he was afraid that Eema would no longer want to play computer games with him anymore. We were able to reassure him that it was just her outside that was changing to match her inside and all of her interests would still be the same. Our (now) nine year old is very slow to change. When Sarah first came out he was the most reluctant. He insisted she would never be anyone but daddy, telling us he refused to call her Eema. We had a family trip planned to Hawaii not long after Sarah came out and he met some new friends in the pool. While they were swimming I heard him excitedly tell his new friends they should come over and meet his two moms. That was the first time he acknowledged the fact he now had two moms instead of a mom and a dad. Ever since then he’s been fine. He’s very bright so we were able to reason with him at that young age and explained to him one day would it would be really weird to think back and think of Eema as ever having been daddy. Recently (almost two years later) we were driving in the car just me and him when it got quiet. Eventually he said, ‘You know what, mommy? Remember when you told me one day it would be hard to think of Eema ever being daddy? I just tried and it’s really weird. She’s my Eema now.’

Courtesy of Jenni Bennett

As a whole our families have been accepting. Some have taken longer than others to come around but most at this point have come around and the ones who haven’t, well… it’s their loss. We’ve all definitely grown thicker skins.

The first year into Sarah’s transition before a lot of the physical changes that hormones bring on I found myself being an anxiety ridden mama bear. I was constantly in protector mode and on the lookout anytime we were out of the house. I felt like I was never able to really relax unless I was in the comfort of my own home. No one judged us there. Things have calmed down now. The stares are far less. People know us and recognize us in our community, times are great and stares are far fewer.

We’re two years in now and the person Sarah used to be seems hard to remember. She’s so much happier. Both boys recently commented how it’s hard to think of her as EVER being ‘daddy.’ They love having two moms and will tell anyone who will listen about her and what makes our family special. They don’t ever hold back or hide it and we think that’s great. We’re thankful to live in a community where they’re safe to do that; not many can say the same. Sarah’s name and gender markers are changed on all documents including our boys’ birth certificates. On paper and in person, she is FINALLY female.

Courtesy of Jenni Bennett

Being public school teachers throughout this process has been so amazing. We can be there for some of our most vulnerable students in ways that is hard for others who may not understand what they are going through. We are both Gay Straight Alliance sponsors at our schools and are active with GLSEN in our community.

It’s beyond me how we ended up together. From where we started fifteen years ago to where we are now I really have no words. We’re both so much happier. Our bond is stronger than ever and it grows every day. Our family is strong. We can withstand even the strongest storm. She made me believe in soulmates. We’re literally different people that we were when we met. Neither of us recognize our old selves anymore. It’s hard to believe we haven’t always been the people we are now.”

Courtesy of Jenni Bennett

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenni Barrett. Follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free newsletter for our best stories.

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Read other inspiring stories of accepting difference here:

‘Realizing I was gay gave me feelings I was trying to numb. I felt like I was doing something wrong and if people found out, I wouldn’t be loved. I spent 15 years in a downward spiral.’

‘This time last year, I wrote a suicide note. I hated myself and believed I was better off dead than being ‘gay.’’

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