Coming out for me (Chelsea) at the age of 16 was a major sigh of relief. It was actually more like I was “outted” when a fellow student caught me kissing another girl in the girl’s bathroom. The weird thing is I was never really hiding it; I was just living in my truth and was completely ok with that. I didn’t think much of that interaction until I was called into the principal’s office for my “sinful” public display of affection. I attended a private Christian school at that time and was given an ultimatum to sign a contract denouncing homosexuality or face immediate expulsion. Despite pressures from friends (that didn’t want to see me leave) and my biological mother who was also a teacher at the same school; I refused to perpetuate a lie just to make others feel comfortable and decided to live in my truth. I was accepted by my family (all but one) and my closest friends who were super supportive and vowed to love and accept me for who I am; who I loved made no difference.
Growing up with two sisters and later a little brother, I (Chris) was never into the typical “girl” things. My mother would tell me that I refused to wear dresses at the age of 2. I regularly asked Santa for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead of Barbie’s. I always knew there was something different about me, so I was trying to “fix” myself. Despite trying to be more stereotypically “girly” and joining a sorority later in college, I knew I couldn’t be changed. It wasn’t until 2016, when I attended an LGBTQ health conference that I had that lightbulb moment about my gender identity and the different possibilities of how I could live authentically. At that point, I could no longer continue to inhabit a female body that I never really connected to. Shortly, after hours of YouTube research, I let Chelsea know how I had been feeling.
The way we met was so cliché… at a local bar that had weekly LGBT nights where I (Chelsea) had worked part time as a cocktail waitress. Chris had only come to the bar because his long-distance girlfriend at the time wanted him to make friends with other couples. Over the course of his first night there, my boss wanted to be able to flirt with his sister who accompanied him so I was enlisted to engage in conversation with Chris to distract him away from his sister so my boss could shoot his shot. Chris was cute, but I would say that he was not my “type” and nor was I for him. If I hadn’t been given that direction, it probably would never had happened. Little did I know that that would be the beginning of our love story.
Every week, Chris would come back to the bar with friends, and I would joke that he was already “hooked” on me because he was coming back for more every week. After about 2 months of meeting like this, one night, Chris revealed that he deliberately got into a fight to force a breakup with his girlfriend under the pretense of wanting her to visit more often. I believe his exact words to me were “I just got dumped-I’m so heartbroken-here’s my number.”
Shortly after the exchange of numbers, I had won 4 tickets to a cruise along the Hudson which coincidentally ran on the weekend if my 25th birthday. This was the perfect opportunity to try and link up with him along with 2 of my best friends. Now, I have to also share, I was always the one that was pursued in past relationships-never the pursuer. But, Chris (who admitted later) was playing hard to get and made me work for his attention. That may be why I was so intrigued by him. It was something new and fun of course, but for someone who has always been on the receiving end of the courting phase, I felt so out of place and scared to call and ask him out. So, what do I do? Get my best friend to do it for me (LOL).
The early stages of our relationship moved pretty quickly. We met in September, he moved into my apartment in November and we became engaged in December of that same year. Looking back, that does seem like things moved fast, but we knew we would have a long engagement so there was no need to rush after that and we were legally married two years later on August 19th in Connecticut followed by a large ceremony in our home state of New York on October 15, 2010.
Dyleena and Xavier who were only 4 and 6 when they were first introduced to Chris (who was presenting as female at the time) were each from my prior marriage. As if parenting children was not hard enough, both are on the autism spectrum. Despite their disabilities, both of the older children understood at an early age the basic concept that “mommy liked girls”. When we first came together as a couple, they each responded positively. However, once we began to co-habitat under the same roof, it did take time to adjust to having him as a parental/authoritative figure. It was harder for Xavier to adjust being that he was older and at first, did not like that there was someone else there to enforce the rules. Dyleena was the total opposite and their bond seemed to be instantaneous. She would refer to Chris as “Mommy #2” and was very protective of him.
Chris treated and cared for the older kids as if they were his own, but did have the desire to create a child together, but without having to carry because that just wasn’t going to happen. I was apprehensive at first. But, once that seed was planted, I remembered how much I missed being pregnant. Then I thought, “I was pregnant before but I never had an experience where I had a supportive partner throughout a pregnancy and raising a child.” I figured this could be my last chance to do it the “right way,” where I was actually planning it. We embarked on this new journey, but it didn’t go as easy as we thought it would. I had endometriosis that had gone untreated for years and had to undergo 2 surgeries and rounds of various medications just to get my body ready to try an IUI. We went through 4 failed IUI cycles using an anonymous donor that best matched Chris’ physical attributes. After that, we had to take a break because it was taking a toll on my body, my mental health and our finances. After a little over a year, we switched fertility doctors, essentially starting from scratch again, but this time we took a leap of faith and chose IVF instead and was successful on our first try. Baby Carter made her arrival in July of 2015!
At the time Chris initially came out as trans to me, it was like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I hadn’t really known anyone of the trans experience and had no idea what this would mean for us as a couple. The way he had communicated it to me also didn’t make things easier to digest, let alone understand. He basically made the announcement, and without allowing me any time to process or respond continued by saying something to the effect of “I’m trans, this is something I have to do and I’m going to do it even if it means losing you/everything in the process!” Once the panic settled and we were able to have an open and honest conversation, we decided it would be beneficial to start couple’s therapy to help us through the transition period. That was key to making it to where we are today.
We each had some insecurities and issues that we had to work through individually and as a couple. My biggest fear was that I would lose him or that he would no longer want me at some point. At the time, there were not many people that we could look to as “relationship goals.” To the contrary, everyone that we did find (with the exception of one couple, Aydian & Jenilee Dowling, whom we absolutely love) had either changed completely or if they were in a relationship, it had always led to a breakup. I grew up in a broken family, had already had one divorce and didn’t want my kids to go through a second separation. We did not want that for us or our family and knew we had to make every effort to make this work-there was no room for failure.
The other real challenge I had faced was maintaining my identity through Chris’ transition. Looking at us from the outside, we present as a heterosexual couple. It didn’t necessarily bother me, except for in the instances where I am trying to navigate LGTBQ+ spaces or stay connected to the community because I still identify as a lesbian. Yes, a lesbian who just happens to be married to a trans man. This was an internal battle for me, because for so long I had to suppress who I was to fit societal norms, I fought against opposition to stay true to myself. Now, in this instance, I felt like I was being forced back into a closet. When I no longer cared how others would perceive me or what others thought of me, I got over that real quick. This is what works for us and that’s all that matters.
Now we are all just trying to live our best lives. It is rare to be surrounded and immersed by LGBT culture, especially in our area, outside of NYC Pride of course. However, through our YouTube channel we’ve had the opportunity to meet and connect with other LGBT families close to home and throughout the country. We love to network and connect with other people and families just like us, which is why we try to be so active on our social media platforms.
At first, we started our channel “LBCPartyofFive” to document our TTC journey. Then, as we evolved and continued to grow, we shared Chris’ transition, Carter’s diagnosis and just our everyday lives. It has been such a wonderful and pleasant experience to say the least. Interacting with our subscribers (who we dub our #LBCFam) has become a big part of our support system throughout this whole journey.
For us, amongst other things, Pride is a gathering of people who won’t judge you for just living your life. A celebration to show the world and to ourselves that we are alive and living our best lives for those who weren’t able to be with us today. A recognition of the struggles that our elder LGBTQ+ family had to endure and overcome to make it easier for those who followed. A glimpse of the joy that living authentically isn’t a death sentence, that there are people who are going to love you for who you are, regardless of what society deems as “proper”.