The couple got married a year after college, but Don's attraction to feminine things didn't fade.
Fran says she used to find bras, dresses, underwear and blouses that belonged to Don while putting away the laundry. "[I would] get upset and throw everything out that I found," she says. At times, Fran says she also felt resentful toward her husband.
While living as Don, Denise says cross-dressing eased the pain she felt inside and made her feel like she was finally home. "[Being transgender] is such an alien feeling and so hard to explain to somebody unless you're there, but you just don't feel like you fit in your own body," she says. "When I was able to dress at those times, you feel more yourself."
At first, Denise says she only wore women's clothes at home. Then, after joining a transgender support group, she began going out as her natural self.
Denise says living a secret life began to take a toll on her mental and physical health. "I was getting migraines three or four times a month. My blood pressure was going sky-high," she says. "I was getting more and more tense, and I felt I was a time bomb ready to explode."
Suicidal thoughts began to haunt the father of three. Denise says she gave herself two choices—kill herself or become the woman she truly was.
After living as a man for more than 40 years, Denise says she began taking female hormones without her family's knowledge. "I realized I was risking my marriage, losing my kids, possibly being thrown out on the street, but I knew that's what I had to do," she says. "I just couldn't live life the way I was anymore."