It began at a Live Arts callback a few years ago. That’s where Lynn Thorne, a native Virginian who had just moved to Afton, met Jennifer. “We kind of became instant friends, and she shared with me pretty early on that her husband was transgender,” Thorne says.
At the time, Thorne admits, she didn’t really understand what that meant. “[Jennifer] told me what she went through to make her marriage work. I was flabbergasted by her story,” says Thorne. After numerous conversations with Jennifer and her husband, Marc (whose last name is withheld to protect their privacy), Thorne convinced them their story should be a book.
Published last November, Who Am I If You’re Not You? tells the story of one spouse coming to terms with his authentic self as the other spouse loses her grasp of her own identity. While there are many memoirs by and about transgender people that chronicle their transition, Thorne’s book tells the story from Jennifer’s perspective. “There are very few books told from the partner’s side, which I think is important,” Marc says. “They are transitioning too.”
Jennifer had met and fallen in love with a woman. An obedient daughter who always did what was expected of her, it was difficult for Jennifer to come out to her parents, and difficult for them to accept. But Jennifer and her partner married and were happy. Then, one day, her wife showed her a film about being transgender and opened a discussion about it.
Jennifer was shocked to learn her wife identified as transgender. Soon after, she decided to transition, began using he/him/his pronouns and changed his name to Marc.
Thorne describes in the book how Marc “had always felt different,” as a child. She writes from Marc’s perspective, “Maybe the whole world just pretended to feel normal, and that is what normal was: pretending to be something you weren’t.” Even as Jennifer tried to support and honor Marc’s authentic self, watching her soul mate change before her eyes hit her hard. When hormone therapy caused Marc’s voice to deepen, Thorne writes, “Jen couldn’t help feeling as though her spouse had died.” Jennifer felt completely alone and began to self-harm and deny herself food in an attempt to regain a sense of control over her life.
“A lot of people would say that they adapt to the person they’re with,” Thorne says. “So if the person they’re with suddenly changes, where does that leave them?” She says there’s some irony in the book’s title “because as Marc was finding himself Jen was losing herself.” In sharing her story, Jennifer says, “My hope is that there are people who won’t feel as alone as I once did.”
Jennifer sought treatment and ultimately overcame the sense of loss. In the book, Thorne recounts the moment when Jennifer came to see, “We are us, just like we’ve always been.” Thorne says, “She comes to realize [Marc] is still the person she fell in love with. I think that’s what’s key.”
“I feel with all the negativity out in the world right now,” Marc says, “people deserve to hear a story that with hard work, and many ups and downs, a ‘happily ever after’ can happen.” Jennifer agrees. “Each time I tell the story, or read the story of our journey, it becomes less painful, because I know where it leads. I know the ending, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”