An attempt to answer the most difficult question I faced after keeping a secret from my wife for 20 years
Have you been lying to her this whole time?
I received this question from multiple people, in reference to my wife, when I came out as transgender. They worried I had violated her trust by not telling her I struggled with gender dysphoria until I reached a point of being unable to cope with it, more than 12 years into our marriage. It’s a fair question, and I could never give them a good answer. The best I could come up with in the moment was, “I was lying to myself.”
She asked me the same question, of course. It was one of the very first things she asked. She felt betrayed and hurt that I would hide something like this from her for so long. I gave her a longer, more apologetic and heartfelt response than I gave to others, but it still feels like that wasn’t enough.
The truth is, I did hide things. I got dressed up when she wasn’t around. I fantasized about becoming a woman and never told her. I wondered if there was more to my strange fixation than I was letting myself acknowledge, but I never shared those thoughts with her. So in that sense, I did lie. I kept secrets. I am truly sorry for that.
In another sense, I was honest and open. My love was and is genuine. The life we built together is exactly the life I wanted to live. I shared everything I was feeling, or at least everything I could give a name to, even in the depths of depression. She knows me better than anyone, and sometimes I think she understands me better than I understand myself.
The question of whether I lied does not have a simple answer. Can one lie if one does not understand the truth? What follows is the full answer I wish I could give to everyone who felt I betrayed her trust by not revealing my gender dysphoria to her sooner.
We met in high school, about 20 years ago. By the time we started talking, at the end of our junior year, I’d been trying on women’s clothes for at least 6 years prior. That’s as far back as I can remember, so it could be even longer. I had no idea why I felt compelled to dress up, and I didn’t want to think about it. It felt, as best I can recall, like an intense, undeniable curiosity.
I also regularly daydreamed about becoming a girl and was fixated on any sort of gender bending or crossdressing I could find in books, TV, and movies. I didn’t want to think about that either.
All of these feelings, whatever they were, went unacknowledged. I was unpopular enough already, and I desperately wanted to be normal. I never told my best friend, nor my brother, nor my parents. I didn’t even tell God. Even before I lost my faith, I never prayed to become a girl. I didn’t want to be a girl. As far as I knew, I was a guy and these fantasies I kept having about becoming a woman were just part of that experience.
So when I met my future wife, she saw me as exactly who I believed I was — an awkward teenage boy. When we started dating 3 years later, and when we moved across the country together after graduation, she saw me as an awkward young man. That was how I saw myself too.
I did a major purge after college. Every female item I’d secretly accumulated over the years was thrown away. I was starting a new life in a new state with a wonderful woman, and there was no place in that life for… whatever this was. For several years, aside from gender transformation stories on the internet (every guy secretly reads porn, I thought, so that was no big deal), my secret remained in the past.
That was the state of things when I proposed and when we married. Whatever weird fixations and behaviors I had before, they were gone now, a bizarre artifact of misguided puberty. There was no point in telling my new bride about that history because it would only risk damaging her opinion of me. My ego was too fragile. Maybe someday, I thought, when the shame had grown less intense with distance, I would tell her about my odd past.
It took a few years, but the old habits eventually returned. I traveled a lot for work and the temptation was too great. Video games allowed me to be female online. It turned out the strange feelings I had never really went away — the adventure of starting a new life with an amazing person just overwhelmed them for a while.
Shame is what drove my secrecy during those years. I hated myself and I hated what I was doing. I was a pervert and a loser and mentally ill and all the other terrible words that have ever been thought about crossdressers and transgender people. More than anything, I still desperately wanted to be normal. So I hid my secret even from the person closest to me.
And, though it sounds glib and cliche, I hid it from myself. I lied to myself by refusing to acknowledge how I felt. This part of me, the part that wore skirts in hotel rooms and enjoyed being a girl in video games, became separate from the real me I was portraying to the outside world. It was something that needed to be contained and defeated and ignored.
Once in a while, my wife would comment on the fact that all my game characters were female. I would shrug nervously, afraid she might think something was wrong with me, and say I just thought playing women was more interesting. It never felt like lying. They were more interesting. I certainly didn’t believe I was transgender at the time. And yet, it did feel like hiding, because I knew there was more I could have told her. I could have shared that being perceived as a woman online was somehow comforting to me, even if I didn’t know why. I could have opened up about the odd curiosity I’d always had around gender. I could have used those opportunities to grow closer to her. But my shame wouldn’t let me.
Eventually depression set in, but I didn’t know why. My deteriorating mood damaged our relationship and threatened to impact our children as well. I blamed everything except my gender. I refused to even think about that. After several years of spiraling downward, and after exhausting all other options, I reluctantly allowed myself to slowly pry open that part of my mind and consider the possibility of being transgender.
Three months later I found a therapist to treat my depression. At the end of my first session I admitted I might have gender dysphoria. Three months after that, when I was starting to accept the truth of it, I came out to my wife.
My greatest regret in life is keeping this secret from the woman I love. We shared everything else together, talked about our hopes and dreams and fears, made plans for the future, but I was so ashamed of this part of me — so convinced it was not in fact part of me — that I would not let it become real.
She deserved better. She deserved to know everything about the person she fell in love with before committing to a life together. I wish I had the courage to tell her sooner.
The answer to the question of whether I lied to my wife for nearly 20 years is both no and yes. I did not lie because I did not know the truth myself. And I did lie, because there was more I could have said.
You can read more from Amanda Roman here: Medium - Amanda Roman