What Happens When You Find the One...And He's Nothing—Nothing—Like You Expected?
"Nothing," I mutter.
"Liar," he says, catching my gaze.
I do not tell him the truth—that the best future I can imagine would be to watch him brush his teeth every day for the rest of my life.
Several years back, my love was on a subway in New York City when some young thugs put a knife to his throat.
"You think you're a man?" they hissed. "You trying to be like us?"
My love said nothing, made himself very still and quiet. The thugs nudged him, knocked the side of his head, poked his chest, then grew bored and exited the train.
When he tells me this story, I try not to worry.
"This was before I had my mustache," he jokes, brushing his hand across the black fuzz emerging on his upper lip, the effects of testosterone therapy.
I don't laugh. I am drowning inside. Terrified that this man, this gentle, generous, brilliant man, could be in danger simply because of who he is. "This is America," I think. "The land of reinvention. Why would anyone even care?"
But some people do care. Certain men, especially. Men who resent anyone crashing the boys' club without an invitation, daring to take power where none was given. Which, if you think about it, is the genesis of every human rights movement in history.
"I don't want any harm to come to you," I whisper in my love's ear while he sleeps.
I watch his face, his chest moving up and down, and I wonder, "How did this big love happen?" A love so bright I can only sneak glimpses, anything more igniting me like tissue paper. And then I remember the letters, the first date, the tumbling of wall after wall, both of us putting down our shields, taking long looks, allowing what we felt to trump what we'd been told to think.
And then there was the moment, early on, when he was washing dishes and instinctively cupped his hand over the sharp edge of my kitchen drawer to protect my daughter's forehead from a scratch. That moment alone told me all I needed to know about who this man was, and what he could be for my children. Without even knowing, he passed me hope, clear and simple as a plate.
"I like him," my 9-year-old said that night when I tucked her into bed. "He's not like other boys."
A few hours later I am cradled tight in my love's arms, something that, in other relationships, had always made me feel confined, uncomfortable. He is looping his fingers through my hair, tucking it behind my ear. We lie like that for hours, breathing slow, saying nothing.
"I'm going to take care of you," he says, finally. "Whether you need me to or not."
"I don't need you to," I protest. "I've never needed anyone to...."
"Even so," he chides, pinching my cheek firmly.
My love and I are getting married.
"Real married," he always clarifies.
His driver's license lists him as male, as does other essential paperwork, edits that were simpler than qualifying for a Sam's Club card. According to the government, he is officially a man.
"Now if your mom could just get her head around the Jewish thing," he jokes.
I do not love my fiancé because he is trans or in spite of his being trans. I love him because of who he is, the same reason he loves me. And the rest dissolves, as it did in the beginning, when he was just a boy smirking from a photograph.
Next: "I realize then that this man has done something I never thought possible"