05/04/2013 07:39 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Day My Wife Came Out to Me... And Then I Came Out to Her

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Life sometimes presents the strangest coincidences. What are the odds of a husband and wife both realizing they're gay at the same time without even talking to each other about it?

In the spring of 2009, I experienced a profound personal epiphany, almost like Moses at the burning bush. For the first 50 years of my life, I had just assumed that I was sexually and romantically attracted to women. That meshed with my relatively conservative upbringing in a very conservative part of the country. I was born in a male body, so of course I assumed that I was male. I felt attraction to females, at least to some of them, so I went through the motions of being a straight man. I dated, starting around age 12, getting into allegedly romantic relationships with girls. But that spring in 2009, in a blinding, dramatic flash of personal insight, I realized that I'm actually attracted to men, and that changed everything!

Initially I was quite upset about it, and for about a day or two I was even willing to die if I could just die straight. I spent some time thinking about the revelation; I repeated the experience, with exactly the same result. I kept waking up every morning and finding that I was still gay. I began to think of the repercussions that would occur if I were to come out of the closet as gay. But after a few days I also began to see big advantages to this development. It would mean that I was free to act the feminine way that I had always wanted to act. (I had been forced to adopt a fairly masculine demeanor to fit into my ultra-conservative corner of the country.) Also, it would mean that my body's sexual response was perfectly normal and not as grossly aberrant as I had feared during some of my darker moments. Yes, there were a lot of advantages to this.

Ultimately, because of where I now live and work, I would encounter few problems in coming out. Sonoma County, about an hour from San Francisco in northern California, is a very open and accepting place for LGBT people, in stark contrast to the Midwest, where I grew up.

However, there was the sticky problem of my marriage. Cathy and I had been together for a total of 22 years and had a largely positive relationship. We loved and respected each other, and we supported each other through a lot of life's ups and downs. The physical side of our relationship had dwindled in recent years, but now it was obvious why, and now I took full responsibility; my body just wouldn't work that way anymore. What was I going to say to her? How could I possibly break this news to her?

A few days later, while I was stewing about this conundrum, the two of us were driving around, and she said, "Let's stop and get something to eat. I need to talk to you." I'm not sure what I was expecting, probably nothing really big. I had noticed that she'd gotten harder to live with over the previous months, so I thought that maybe she'd explain why. Or maybe she'd say something about our 12-year-old son.

"I'm really sorry," she said, biting her lip. I could tell that she was really nervous. Finally she said, "I'm realizing I'm a lesbian."

"What?! Get outta town!" I exclaimed. I was dumbfounded. Then I dropped my own bombshell: "I just figured out I'm gay!"

We both stared at each other in disbelief. Happy conversation followed, punctuated by laughter. We were both thankful to know that our news was not seen as bad by the other. I recall feeling very relieved. Since that conversation, we have stayed as close as we have always been as a married couple; we have been very supportive of each other. In some ways our paths have been very similar. I used to think that life was excruciatingly painful, but not anymore. Life is good now.

We've continued in support of each other, and we've even stayed legally married. We think it's funny that we're still married.

I think my feelings are predominately overwhelming feelings of relief. I can be me, who I really am, who I need to be, without causing serious pain to someone I love.

I think I do regret that it took me so long to see all this; it would have been nice to have figured it out sooner. That said, at least I figured it out. If we hadn't moved to the West Coast, I doubt any of this could have happened. I shudder to recall how painful my life was before coming out, and to imagine how bad my life could still be. I feel profound gratitude for at least being able to figure things out. Life used to be so painful, and I couldn't figure out why; now I know, and now it's better.

In the end I realized that I'm really a woman, a straight woman. The part about being attracted to men was correct; the assumption that I was a man was the error. I've begun my transition to living as a woman, and I am thoroughly, totally enjoying it.