The Good People Are Always Near

My health insurance was cancelled. Cathy received a certified letter with the ominous message, “It has been brought to our attention that you and Paula Williams are divorced. Paula William’s health insurance will end on January 31, and you are required to send us a divorce decree. You will be required to repay anything paid on her behalf between the date of the divorce decree and the date of the cancellation.”

Cathy called the next morning and told the administrator of health services that we are, in fact, very much married, and the administrator said, “I know you’re not because it’s all over the Internet.” Cathy was aghast, “Since when did the Internet become the arbiter of what is and what is not true?”

The administrator wouldn’t listen to Cathy. She said Cathy had to send a letter stating that we are still married, which we accompanied with proof that we are still married. How do you prove you are still married when you just celebrated your 50th wedding anniversary 16 days earlier?  We sent a copy of our marriage certificate, a copy of my name change, and a copy of the cover sheet of last year’s taxes, with the amounts redacted. (I wouldn’t trust someone who says “it’s all over the Internet” with the amounts of our income.)

Hate mail comes in waves. I can avoid most of it. I spot it before I even open it. Several messages have gotten through of late. They always reference my selfishness, the eternity I will spend in hell, and the immutability of gender. Yep, almost all of them are from evangelicals. Add to that the fact that someone took it upon themselves to inform the Bay Shore, Long Island school district that our marital status should be researched, and you realize there are a lot of people out there who want to make my life difficult.

It’d be laughable, but it’s not. I almost lost my health insurance. We’re still missing over $1600 in reimbursements from the school system that were required to have been sent by December 31. And the condescension Cathy experienced from the health services administrator left her in tears. I can usually blow off that kind of ugly stuff, but this was harder than usual, both because of the blatant and combative nature of it, and because it was aimed at Cathy as well as me.

So, all of that happened. But so did other things. Three friends reached out to me just to let me know they are thinking of me. Most put hearts of various colors next to their messages. I had wonderful text exchanges with my co-pastors, and with the chair of our church board. One of my long-time friends who works for American Airlines made sure Cathy and I got out of town before a snowstorm so we could get to a long-awaited vacation in Hawaii. Cathy and I had an amazing weekend with our daughters and their daughters at a wonderful resort in Colorado the weekend before leaving for Hawaii. And the Hawaii trip was everything we hoped it would be.

I am blessed. Beyond the health insurance fiasco and the hate mail, I have a rich and rewarding life. At the foundation of that life are a lot of good people:


The good people are always near

If you have eyes to see them

Though often they are cloaked in

Garments of some old failure


Their goodness like beams of light

Passing through a cracked door

Falls slant on hidden places

Where all the deep wounds lie


Pain knows pain and will not let

Its long and sordid tale abide

Treating wounds with gentle touch

The sisterhood of suffering


Goodness travels well

Turning up in peculiar places like

Your own heart when you thought

You had nothing left to give

Fifty Years

Fifty years ago, Cathy and I were married. December 31, 1972 was a rainy day on Long Island’s south shore. At the urging of her father, we had the ceremony at 11:30 pm, and were pronounced husband and wife shortly before midnight. Both of our fathers performed the ceremony. We were children, really. I was 21 and Cathy was 19. I was a senior in college and she was a sophomore.

We spent one more year in Kentucky before moving to upstate New York, and four years later Jonathan was born. Jael came two and a half years after that. Jana arrived in December of 1980. By the time the girls were born, we had moved to Long Island and were living about 10 miles from where we married.

Cathy and I were committed to each other, and to the institution of marriage. We assumed we would remain together for the rest of our lives. We were loyal, thoughtful, and kind with each other, even though we had the same kinds of issues common to all marriages. It is difficult living 24/7 with another human. Nevertheless, neither one of us ever strayed, and we never contemplated splitting up. We were committed for life.

The painful details that led to our separation are detailed in my book, As a Woman, What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned. Writing that part of the story was supremely difficult.

We were at Mike Solomon’s office. Mike was our wise and seasoned marriage therapist and he had decided to retire. We just happened to be his last clients on his last day. I asked, “How many couples are willing to work this hard?” Mike, not given to hyperbole, answered, “One percent.” I asked, “How many couples get this far in working out their stuff?” Again, he said, “One percent.” Then he spoke the sentence we both found devastating. Mike said, “Which is what makes this so tragic. You are a lesbian and Cathy is not.”

The two-hour drive home was in silence. Our separation was slow and painful, moving through all the stages of loss. Today, Cathy lives about twenty-five minutes away. We share an office in the home we built together. She is here three days a week seeing clients. We often have dinner together. She stays at the house when the kids and grandkids are in town. We vacation together.  But little else is as we would wish it to be.

I have gone on record a number of times saying I hope they are able to determine what causes a person to be transgender and change it in the womb. I wanted to be married to Cathy for life. But I also know I had little choice but to transition. Everyone with whom I was close, including Cathy, knew it was no longer sustainable for me to remain living as Paul. Therapists and close friends have all used the same word to describe our circumstances – tragic.

For Cathy and me, that language is descriptive, but not very helpful. Neither one of us wanted this, and it is profoundly difficult to know how to move forward. There are no examples before us, no counselors with the wisdom of experience to guide us, and no clear path ahead. These are uncharted waters. We navigate as best we can. Our respect for each other remains, as does our love. We both miss the intimacy we had in our marriage, but it is what it is.

On our anniversary we had a wonderful dinner together at our favorite restaurant. We spent the evening watching movies and talking, as we did through most of the holidays. We do not know where we go from here. We will write the script as we live it. While our life is not as dark as a Bergman film, I’m pretty sure no one but Jane Campion or Martin McDonagh would want to make it into a movie.

Life is difficult. It is that way for everybody. I do not believe our lives are any more or less difficult than most, and we are grateful for the abundant blessings we enjoy. Our children and their partners bring us great pleasure. Our granddaughters are our delight. We both have deep friendships and good work.

This fiftieth anniversary was bittersweet. We have lived authentically and conscientiously, but there is pain and sorrow. Nevertheless, life goes on and we do our best to love each other well. Love is, after all, what makes the world go round.

And so it goes.