However unfathomable such a revelation may seem—however impossible it would be for many of us to absorb these words with a modicum of grace—Norma admits to no anger, no terror, no sense of betrayal or despair. If Evan had ever given her reason to question his sexuality, had ever tipped his hand about his discomfort with his gender—made some half-jesting crack to test the waters, say—Norma does not disclose it. Her flat tone is a kind of fortress: There are some things, many things, she will not reveal. And so when she speaks of Evan's 34th birthday, the night that effectively ended their former lives and thrust them into a brand-new one, the one emotion she describes is surprise: "I remember thinking," she says, "'Do you have any idea what you've just told me?'"
Now she grows emphatic. "I said, 'You need to decide what, if anything, you want to do about this—what it means for you, what it means for us.'"
The couple talked all night, then took two weeks off from school—despite their looming dissertation defenses—to decide whether or not to move forward with their wedding. They agreed not to discuss the revelation with anyone else.
"I'd been tasting cakes and trying on gowns," Norma says, "and it was hard not being able to talk to other people about something so big." She glances up at Ming, who has just gone to get a photograph of Evan at his college graduation to jog her memory.
Ming moves toward her wife. "I told Norma I wouldn't do it without her, that she meant more to me than going through gender transition," she says, the timbre of her voice high with a learned girlishness.
Norma shakes her head. "This was too important. I said, 'This is something you need to explore.'"
Neither recalls a precise moment when they decided to stay together. Perhaps because it was never really a question. In fact, asking Norma about her continued devotion occasions only this: "Vivienne is the one I love, the one with whom I have chosen to spend the rest of my life. That's all that matters."
Now Baxter enters the living room, toting the fearsome Lego creature he's just constructed. "He can see super-duper-duper good," he says, pointing to where the blocky beast's eyes would be. "He's part robot. This is his human side and this is his robotic side."
Earlier, Baxter had shown off his own robotic side: the insulin pump affixed to his belly. A few days before Thanksgiving 2011, Baxter, then 4, got sick in the bathtub. "I thought, 'It's just the flu,'" Ming says. But Baxter had also been wetting his bed, which was unusual, and in the days after the incident in the tub he was lethargic, disoriented, stumbling when he tried to walk. The pediatrician's diagnosis stunned the Mings: "Your son has diabetes," she said, recommending that he be admitted that night to a local children's hospital. By the time he arrived, Baxter was incoherent, his blood sugar so high, Ming says, "you could smell the sweetness in his sweat."
Once Baxter had stabilized, his moms scrambled to learn what they could about managing type 1 diabetes, which requires the constant monitoring of blood glucose levels, often via finger-prick blood tests (which Baxter, an old hand at the procedure, can now do himself). It also demands a vigilant awareness of what, when, and how much Baxter eats and drinks throughout the day, which the Mings have simplified by creating a detailed mathematical model that helps them predict the effect of Baxter's eating, say, a medium apple, including when and how much they'll need to dose him with insulin before and after he consumes the fruit.
"I mean, what a couple of scientists, right?" Ming says, grinning.
The blintzes have ratcheted up Baxter's blood sugar, and now he's hopping from couch to floor, floor to coffee table, coffee table to bookshelf. There he pauses, looking at a photograph of Evan with his siblings. "When Baxter was little," Ming says, "he saw this photo and asked, 'Who's that?' and I said, 'That's Mommy.' And he got confused and pointed to her"—Ming indicates her sister, Cassandra—"and I said, 'No, that's Aunt Cass,' and then he immediately pointed back to the photo of me."
Next: The transition from Evan to Vivienne
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