Natalie and Katie's first date was at a monster truck rally. Katie – then Kyle – had sent Natalie a message on OKCupid: "How do you feel about loud noises, pyrotechnics and destruction?"
A year after the explosions of that night, the pair moved into a flat in Seattle, became engaged the following year and married soon after. Then, in the autumn of 2017, Katie came out to Natalie as trans. The couple have stayed together, and Natalie is documenting her thoughts about the transition on her blog, T Is for Trans, which serves as an important resource in the online void of material for spouses dealing with their partner transitioning.
I spoke to the couple to understand how the transition has been.
VICE: Katie, can you tell me how you felt in the run-up to late 2017?
Katie: I realised I was getting really depressed and was being a little bit more reckless at work. I work in sheet-metal construction on high-rises, around heavy equipment, and was just not caring about my safety as much: crossing the street without looking both ways; ignoring warnings about heavy loads overhead; not caring about my environment. I saw that as a pretty big red flag.
Natalie: You were suicidal.
Katie: Yeah, there was a lot of suicidal ideation going on. Not necessarily wanting to cause self-harm, but if I were to have a mishap, at least it wouldn't necessarily have been my fault. And there was this overwhelming sense for as long as I can remember of just being out of sync with myself, experiencing reality through a window. Always having to catch up with events, like I was never fully present. I'd completely shut down for a while. I was walking home, trying to figure out what was going on, like: 'What do I need? I'm happy in my marriage, my career's going great, what is it?' I had a thought of: 'If you were a girl you'd be happy,' and all these other past experiences in my life started flooding into view. In the fourth grade I told my friends in recess I wanted to be a girl; my mum remembers similar conversations. It was all tucked away for 20-some odd years, and it all came rushing back. But then I realised this more than likely meant I was transgender, and that's a scary thing right now.
Natalie, what was your reaction when she told you?
Natalie: Fear, immediate isolation – like: 'Who is this person I'm sitting across from?' We sat on the couch for a long time and there was a lot of crying for both of us, and at the end of it I was like, "I don't know what's going to happen in our marriage, I don't know what's going to happen in our relationship, I don't know what any of this means, I just know we're not capable of trying to figure this out or try to identify the next steps on our own." For me, there was no betrayal in it. A lot of spouses feel betrayed by a secret kept from them, and I think that's a totally fair feeling. For me, I felt so bad Katie was going through this experience, and it was very clear that she didn't know until she knew that summer. If she's going to spend 32 years in the dark, that's her pathway, and the light is the healthiest, best person she can be, which meant we needed to find a mental health professional to do that.
Katie: I think, in hindsight, it was like a bandaid that got ripped off and it put a bunch of mental health steps into motion. I was looking for a therapist, but that was brought forward through this question [from Natalie] of: "Is there something you need to tell me? I've noticed this, this and this – what's going on?" And I couldn't answer that question with: "No, there's nothing going on," because it would have been a lie that would be never forgiven. And so it was the hardest answer I've had to give, because I had to formulate all this stuff and be so nervous that it was going to blow up in my face. Like, it was damned if I do, damned if I don't, and there was a very small chance we'd make it through it, but here we are a year-and-a-half later.
Natalie, you identify as straight. How has your self-conception of your orientation developed?
Natalie: I still think this is a really complicated issue for me, because I still don't think there's a word for people like me that I strongly identify with. I've started to label myself as queer, but I'm really not looking at the world and seeing double the amount of viable population to be attracted to. So just because I'm married to Katie, doesn't mean I'm looking at all women and thinking: 'Yep, right up my alley.' Some people would probably just call themselves a lesbian, but that doesn't feel right to me. The conversation's really interesting, as it highlights that those categories are really just that – categories – and just because society might define it as one way, or someone might think you are one way... I mean, I've been told by people online that I'm a lesbian, and I’m like: "That's fine if you need to classify me that way, I don't feel that way." A lot of our identity is really based on how the individual feels, and gender really highlights that. Just because you have the anatomy of one gender, doesn't mean you feel to be that gender, and as much as Katie feels that way about her gender identity, I feel that way about my sexual identity.
How has the blog helped you process things? In one of your posts you write about how if you don't put everything out there, people will fill in the blanks.
Natalie: At the beginning it was catharsis, a way to take all of the emotional energy and put it into a place that was healthy. But there's a lot of motivation for me to document our process, because there just isn't a lot out there. What I found was just stories I really didn't relate to as someone who is trying to explore whether I am capable of changing my own concept of my sexuality. I started writing for that reason; I think it's a reference point to people, even if they have a different experience. The blog just created that space to have a conversation about something we didn't know how to have a conversation about.
Is there anything you want to say to people in a similar situation to yours?
Natalie: There isn't a right way to do this. I mean, there are probably wrong ways to transition, but there's not a right way either, and I think it's really important – as the spouse in the situation, whose gender is the "norm" – to be honest about what you're going through. I mean, it's a transition for both people, right? I think a lot of time the focus, rightfully, is put on the person transitioning, but it's a transition for not just them, but for everyone in their life. And patience – patience with yourself, but with your partner and with your family and friends. And be kind to yourself.
Katie: You have to be patient with yourself, with expectation. Be kind to yourself. It's really easy to succumb to the voices, to succumb to society just wearing you down, especially an unaccepting society. It's easy to succumb to dysphoria and how that makes you feel, but realise that that's dysphoria and you shouldn't listen to that voice. That's the one hard thing you try to rationally get your mind around – being negative feeds on its own negativity, and it feeds on its own cycle. So if you can break that cycle, at least for an hour or a day, it's going to be a release.
Natalie: The one thing I tell readers that reach out to me, almost consistently, is that their experience and feelings are valid.