The Man in the Purple Dress

07/13/2015 02:44 pm ET Updated Jul 11, 2016

Twenty-four years ago, as I married a man who sometimes cross-dressed, I was far more concerned about dealing with his four kids and ex-wife. Sure, we sometimes had challenges with the gender-bending; but I supported it and found it kind of fun. David had been cross-dressed when we'd met at my women's group, so I'd known his greatest secret (up until then) from the get-go.

My group was composed primarily of therapists in the Boston suburbs. Our monthly hostess chose her topic and, for a 1987 gathering, our hostess had invited four former clients--all transgender. [I use this as an "umbrella term," referring to anyone with an unusual gender expression.] An expert in working with this population, she'd wanted the rest of us to know more about it, as these folks were beginning to show-up more frequently in our offices.

David and I had each been married before, and I'd been single, raising my kids alone for six years. I had thought that I'd like to marry again, though I was committed to finding a man who was (a) as determined as I to create and maintain the best possible relationship, and (b) a dad who'd understand what raising children was all about. Otherwise, I'd have remained happily single.

Then, the man in the purple dress came into my life! I was stunned, finding myself attracted to this individual. His apparel seemed irrelevant. What shone through was his (her?) honesty, vulnerability, and fearless desire to understand this unusual proclivity. As we parted later, I knew that I'd see her/him again, though I had no idea when or how this might occur.

The following month, I began a personal-growth training that would take place over five months--and there was David, who'd also signed-up! This time Deborah (his femme version) was nowhere to be seen. I was delighted to be even more attracted to him in his male persona.

The training made it abundantly clear that this man was, like me, focused on bettering his life and healing old wounds. He was still unhappily married and recognized he'd rarely been true to himself, despite incredible success as an orthopedic surgeon and many other accomplishments.

By the time we married in 1991, we knew that our union would mean meeting challenges together head-on, as well as a great deal of loving, laughter, and joy. With David's full-time orthopedic practice, my work on a graduate degree and practicing psychotherapy, and six kids between us, we had a very full life. Still, we made special time for our relationship, including travel, couple's workshops, and personal growth seminars.

The cross-dressing was an occasional activity--dinner with transgender friends or a weekend away. After each cross-dressing foray, I was delighted when my husband returned to me. David would occasionally tell me, "All things considered, if I could live full-time as a woman, I'd do it." I suppose we were both in denial regarding the depth of his need to be Deborah--but it seemed an impossibility to transition, due to kids, medical practice, family, friends, and society. I never believed it would happen.

The cross-dressing infused our sex-life. While I was great at fantasizing, I'd sometimes crave something different from his favorite fantasy. He'd ultimately give me what I desired, more "traditional" sex, after a few days of adjusting his thinking. His love for me ensured a strong desire to please me, though it required a new mind-set for him. We worked through this issue repeatedly--probably the most painful concern in our marriage.

Finally, after twenty years of witnessing my spouse's distress when the dress and makeup came off, of his two-plus decades of antidepressants, therapists, and workshops, I simply told him, "I don't think it's another pill or therapist that you need. I think it's time to talk to an endocrinologist about hormones."
This had been impulsive of me, but I'd realized that the on-going search for the perfect antidote had to end. I could no longer watch my beloved's anguish at resuming what was clearly a disguise--his masculine role.

David was shocked by my utterance and asked repeatedly whether I was sure. By then, there'd been no question in my mind. I knew he needed to pursue transitioning to female or continue a life of dissatisfaction and pain. I'd long been steadfast in being true to myself, whatever that required. I could no longer watch him deny this same need. Ironically, I was unable to promise that I'd remain in our marriage.

He started hormones and testosterone blocker in fall 2009, with my total support. I began the complex process of supporting the changes; of "losing my husband" and attempting to adapt to all that was occurring. I've handled a lot--a mother in a wheelchair for most of my life; a divorce from a man I had adored; the suicides of a brother, then a sister. I'd endured and surmounted enough difficulty in my first six decades to know that I'd survive this, despite the uncertainty of what lay ahead for us.

After the first year of medications and a happiness David had never felt before, I found my own remedy for my conundrum: writing. What emerged was a chronicle of this profound alteration in our lives, our love story: My Husband's a Woman Now: a Shared Journey of Transition and Love. Writing was the balm that soothed my soul as I teetered on the precipice of a new life--with or without a spouse.

Deborah appeared full-time in October 2011. She was welcomed by medical staff and patients who had loved and admired Dr. David Fabian--and that continued. Our friends stuck with us, exemplifying the true meaning of friendship. Our children (now grown) have adjusted and continue loving this amazing being, though there are some family members still struggling with the transition.

Perhaps most importantly, we are still married and devoted to one another. Deborah's happiness is a constant; she's nearly unflappable. And my life is the joyful excursion I've always meant it to be.
Visit Leslie at www.LeslieFab.com