I’m not a zealot who expects my spouse to organize random plastics into piles for drop-off at some specialty waste facility. I’m not asking her to mail toothbrushes back to manufacturers. A few months ago, I printed out a label from our township with pictures that display which items can be grouped for single-stream pickup. I taped a list inside the cabinet door to remind her that everything else gets sent to the landfill instead — but if I want the garbage to go out how it’s supposed to, I have to dig through it myself.
This argument has persisted throughout the 10 years we’ve been together — causing tension that I often joke will lead to a divorce. There have been other complications, of course: Perhaps most notably, a few years ago, our friends were sure we were on the verge of a breakup when she came out as trans while I identified as cisgender and straight. But I’m not worried about that anymore, and they shouldn’t be, either. I’d sooner snap over her refusal to appropriately sort the trash.
I wasn’t always quite as comfortable with queering our hetero-union. She came out to me a few years into our marriage, late on a weeknight. She leaned forward on the edge of a paisley, yellow chair that sits opposite our bed. Silent tears flowed down her cheeks as she confessed her desire to transition through mumbles that were barely audible. She rocked slowly back and forth, anxious about the revelation, as I rested against our headboard among piles of folded laundry. I felt betrayed by her lack of trust because she didn’t tell me sooner, but I wanted to stay calm. I responded with an affirmation of her feelings before I shared my own fears and frustrations, and the conversation ended with us both confused about our plans for the future.
At the time, I couldn’t say whether I wanted to be with a woman. It was something I’d never even considered before. Because the narratives shared by other spouses in support groups often centered on grieving, I worried about how I’d feel as her presentation started to shift. I struggled with my own internalized transphobia, expecting to mourn her body hair, mannerisms, deep voice and broad shoulders — the features I’d grown to know and love about her former appearance — but the transformation hasn’t been a hurdle for me. When her skin softened, I found myself stroking her face with more delicate attention. When breasts burst from her chest, we shopped for shirts that accentuated her new figure. And now that the hair atop her head has grown longer, I find myself playing with it every time she kisses me.
She looks different than she did when we were first together: Her hips are wider, and she no longer wears a beard. But her body’s changes feel like part of the uneventful shifts in appearance everyone encounters as we age and develop or abandon certain habits. Over the years, I’ve gained more than a few pounds — making my midsection lumpier, my face rounder, my thighs thicker. I changed my own hairstyle once or twice and stopped shaving my legs as frequently once we were out of the honeymoon stage. My breasts sag now that I’ve fed two children from them, and my eyes have welcomed soft wrinkles that emerge when I smile.
For all that, our marriage hasn’t changed, because we’ll always be the same people. We still compromise and accommodate one another — squabbling along the way. My insomnia caused my wife to toss and turn for years. She finally bought an eye mask to block the light from my computer so I can work in bed without causing a disturbance. I used to throw pillows at her during her early morning workouts — but now that she wears headphones, I no longer have to listen to motivational speeches by Peloton instructors in my dreams.
We don’t always get along or find ways to settle our differences — and we’ll always get on each other’s nerves. She can’t balance a budget and lets the kids eat cereal all day when I’m not around. I still can’t prove which of my housemates keeps leaving the toilet seat up — but I suspect my wife is at least one of the perpetrators. She’s a mouth breather whose windy respirations make it impossible to read in silence. But I talk to the radio when we’re in the car, and my horrendous driving record is infamous in our family. I will never be patient enough to wait for her to watch the next episode of a show we’re bingeing together, and sometimes the spoilers slip out before she gets the chance to catch up.
We already act like the two old ladies that we will one day become — people-watching on park benches with our arms around each other and gossiping as we rub each other’s achy backs. Her body’s warmth and comfort are familiar and needed. We’ve spent years holding hands as our bedroom framed countless vulnerable conversations. It was hard to ask for her help after I was sexually assaulted and even harder to tell her about my serious mental health concerns. We’ve navigated unemployment, health scares, the loss of our parents, toddler tantrums, a flooded kitchen and other challenges the average partnership might endure.
I’m not sure whether any of these hardships define our marriage — but my wife’s gender identity doesn’t count among them. I suppose we knew that our bodies would evolve as anniversaries came and went. Her transition feels like an extension of that time passing — one mundane aspect of our otherwise mundane lives.
There’s just one thing I wish could be different. I’ve made it as easy as possible for her to comply with minimum recycling standards. I’ve provided instructions, offered tutorials and even invested in a color-coded system. I do hope someday she’ll figure it out — for the sake of our planet and for our marriage. I’m sure she knows I’ll never stop nagging.