On a Thursday night in July, your husband of 13 years tells you he’s going to have a sex-change operation, and you feel white-hot righteous anger, because he told his family and friends before you; deep grief grabs your throat and doesn’t let go for even a gasping breath, because the person you love and joined your life with just admitted he is someone else. And if your husband doesn’t exist, what does that make your union? And then there is the incipient fear. For you and your future, of course. But mostly, for your son. He is 11 and smart and funny and autistic. How will this impact him?
Your son is not the child you dreamed of but is still a dream come true. He is on the cusp of many big life moments, and the boy who couldn’t speak a novel sentence at 4, who cried every time someone sang “Happy Birthday” to him, will achieve every rite of passage on time. Who will pay attention to him at each of these events when there is a mannish looking woman to stare at in the front row? Train wrecks grab more attention than achievement.
So you strike a deal with your husband-that-was: He will wait until after the bar mitzvah to make any visible changes. You will tell no one in your extended family, just a few close friends and your shrink. You will deal with the crisis they will make of my troubles later.
Nearly a decade of electrolysis begins, and six months before the bar mitzvah, hormone therapy. The ghost of the person you married wanders your home. He grows starter boobs and wears two sports bras under his suit on the big day. Your mom mentions he looks hefty.
His mom flies out for the event and you feel tender toward a woman who has had no time for you in the 16-plus years you have known her. She will never see her only son again, you think. You cry for her, and for the members of your family who have always loved your husband, and you thank God your grandmother died because she loved him best of all and this would have gutted her.
You take one last picture of the three of you as a family with a father and mother and child. You smile. And the smile is real as you watch your son chant Torah. You make the whole congregation cry as you ask all those who got him to that day to stand, and it ends up being everyone in the sanctuary. You cry, too.
Over the next seven years, you will sometimes think of what your now former spouse said to you on that Thursday night in July: that you would all be fine, that you would all be happy. Sometimes you don’t believe it, but increasingly, you live it. Sometimes you will still cry. But mostly, it is from happiness.