He becomes a she, and still the marriage endures
Published: Saturday, October 15, 2005
Russell and Marsha Taylor met at a party, fell in love, got married, had two children, grew a business and bought a big white house on a hill.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to living happily ever after: Russell became Rebecca.
Diagnosed with gender identity disorder, Rebecca Taylor last year flew to Thailand to see a doctor she regards as the best in the world for sexual reassignment surgeries. Taylor describes the day of the surgery, Feb. 12, 2004, as "my second birthday.”
The difference between who she is now and who she was then, she says, "is the difference between being real and playing a role." In her view, gender identity disorder is no different than, say, having a cleft palate: "It's a medical condition that needs to be fixed.”
The surgery culminated a two-year process in which Taylor presented herself in public as a woman, started therapist-approved hormone therapy and took the necessary steps to acquire a new driver's license identifying her as legally female.
In her former life, Taylor was an Oakridge kid who played clarinet in the school band and guard on the school football team. A self-described computer nerd, Taylor joined the family's successful electronics business and served a stint on the Oakridge City Council.
Today, Taylor lives and works in Eugene, where her business, Diamond Edge Technology, provides a six-figure income for her and her family.
She also finds herself at political odds with other transgendered residents in town because, as a woman, she says she opposes allowing people who are not legally defined as female from entering women's public showers and locker rooms.
But mostly, Taylor, 38, defines herself as a homebody who dotes on her partner and children - and acts surprised when others are surprised that her marriage and family are intact.
“We are a great couple - far better now than when I was pretending to be who I was not," she says of her spousal relationship. "We are soulmates. The idea of us not being together is ludicrous.”
She and the former Marsha Jones met at a party in Oakridge, where both grew up, and married in 1992. Daughter Megan, whose facial features resemble Rebecca's, arrived in 1997, and 5-year-old Ryan was born the same year the family moved to Eugene.
Marsha Taylor, 34, does some accounting work for Rebecca's business but is mostly a stay-at-home mom. Marsha sees little mystery in how she managed to modify yet maintain their relationship.
“I love her," says Marsha, who is bisexual. "It doesn't matter to me what genitalia she has. It's her soul, her spirit, her kindness.
Overriding all that is our relationship and her parenting skills.”
Rebecca says she knew by age 5 or 6 that she didn't feel right in a boy's body.
“I would go to school and do boy things and I knew I was pretending," she says. "It was exactly like acting in a play. As I got older, it was harder to do.”
After high school graduation, Taylor attended Oregon State University - and learned about gender identity disorder in a freshman psychology class. The realization that the diagnosis might apply to him - that he really was a girl trapped in a boy's body - was too scary to accept.
“Within six months, I married a woman because I was so terrified," Taylor says. The marriage ended in divorce two months later.
Taylor returned to Oakridge, met and married Marsha, and took over Diamond Traffic Products, a family business that makes traffic counters and other data collection devices. The company, now run by Taylor's twin sister, Andrea Taylor-Miner, employs 24 people.
Taylor in 1999 divided the company and moved the R&D branch to Eugene.
But for all the business success, Taylor's interior life was a shambles. "I spent seven years in therapy trying to make myself be male," she says.
Finally, in 2003, Taylor could pretend no longer, and sat down for a hard talk with Marsha: "I need to stop fighting this if I'm going to truly be happy in this life.”
Marsha, not entirely surprised, worried for her partner, her children, herself.
“I made two promises," she says. "I said I'll be as supportive as I can be, and I'll never keep our kids away from you.”
The two had to figure out if they could make their own relationship work. Intuitively, Marsha says she knew they were making the right decision to go forward with the psychological assessments, hormone regimen and surgery that are part of the transition process.
“But there was also this niggling fear of the unknown," she says. "I can remember being scared: `What if Rebecca is no longer attracted to me?' “
Marsha says she fell in love with Russell Taylor "because he was the first guy who listened and valued what I was saying. He was caring, and really cute.”
She sometimes misses some of Russell's qualities, thinking back to when he would roughhouse with the kids, or how she liked having a man next to her when they were walking somewhere late at night.
“But Russell is still Rebecca," she says. "We just put in a patio, and she put in the fence.”
She chuckles when asked how things have changed for the better since her partner became a woman.
“Well, she likes to go shopping now," she says. "And we get to wear each other's clothes.”
It's hardly been easy, however. Marsha tears up as she recounts some of the schoolhouse teasing she says their daughter has endured. And, with the exception of Rebecca's sister and Marsha's niece, they are estranged from most everyone in their respective families.
Within the family they've created, they insist theirs is a normal world full of love and laughter. The biggest difference, they say, is that the kids now refer to Rebecca as "Dama" instead of "Dad.”
“Our kids know they have two parents who love them and are invested in their well-being and their happiness," Marsha says. "So in the end, I think they're going to be OK.”
- Jeff Wright