“Honey, I’m transgender.”
Sydney Shackelford and Leah O’Shell had been together for 17 years when Sydney made this announcement. At the time she was still presenting as a male, but had recently come to the realisation she wanted to transition.
When Sydney told her wife in the car one day, Leah asked her to pull over.
“We sat there and looked at each other for a few minutes and then she started talking. I think it was an avalanche that started very slowly, and I believe we’d made a really safe space for each other to communicate,” Leah recalls in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine.
Sydney admits she was nervous to tell Leah how she felt, but ultimately knew she had to be true to herself. “We’d made a pact a long time ago that if either one of us was ever unhappy in the relationship, we’d end it, so I was worried that if I told her she’d be unhappy and want to leave,” she says.
Happily, Sydney’s transition didn’t cost the couple their marriage — but it did change many aspects of it significantly.
Watch: Australian transgender icon Penny Clifford discusses the process of undergoing a sex change. (Post continues after video.)
Until her late thirties Leah had only been attracted to and dated men — and had “a very slight” attraction to women — so she struggled with the idea of letting go of the “perfect man” she’d been with since 1995.
“When Sydney would tell me how worried she was about losing me, I tried to be very careful not to say, ‘No, stay straight and don’t become a woman because I need to have a heterosexual marriage,’ even though a big part of me enjoyed that aspect of our relationship,” she recalls.
“But I also remember not wanting to be selfish… even though I was scared, I wanted to try to be there for her.”