Editor's note: This episode mentions suicidal thoughts and could be upsetting to read or listen to. If you need someone to talk to, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. They also have a 24/7 online chat line if that's more your thing, on their website.
At a first glance, Samantha and Laura seem like a pretty typical couple. They live in Phoenix. They have four boys, they work, etc.
They met at the University of Arizona about 15 years ago — they were both in the marching band, playing in the trumpet section. They fell in love and... the rest is history, right?
Samantha is transgender. When she and Laura married in 2006, she was living as a man. And for years, she struggled with gender dysphoria and her own self image.
"That crushing weight of being stuck in the wrong body over the 10 years of our marriage, it was just a slow crescendo the entire time basically, just slowly getting worse, slowly becoming more present, slowly consuming my thoughts," she says.
Presenting to the world as a person she wasn't was overwhelming and exhausting.
It got to be so much, she made a plan to commit suicide, though she wanted to make it look like an accident. She went hiking with some friends at the Grand Canyon and was going to end up in the Colorado River, which is known to be very dangerous. She changed her mind at the last minute, after a long conversation with a good friend about family and the better things in life.
Laura knew something was wrong, though she couldn't have guessed what it was.
"There were no clues. There were no hints," she says. She knew Samantha was depressed, but she just assumed it was the stress of their lives — they have four boys, and they're all on the autism spectrum.
The two talked about counseling, and about a month after the Grand Canyon trip, Samantha gave Laura a list of therapists. Laura noticed something about Samantha's suggestions.
"And I just said, 'So I noticed all the therapists have something in common.' We were in the car at the time. She's looking straight ahead she won't even make eye contact. She's like, 'Uh huh.' 'Well, they all list LGBT, so do you think maybe you might have a gender issue?' And she said, 'Maybe,'" says Laura.
Probably not the answer Samantha really wanted to give, let alone the answer Laura wanted to hear. But they went there. Laura says she wanted to stay calm, not freak out. They talked, and they talked.
"What was really important from that very early point in time is that Laura told me that she wasn't sure she could stay, but she loved me and she wanted to be there for me. And I think that's really one of the best things she could have said in that moment," says Samantha.
About two years before this conversation, Samantha had registered on Reddit, to access the site's various transgender communities. One of the first subreddits she showed Laura after coming out was r/transtimelines, which shows trans people as they progress through hormone replacement therapy and sometimes surgery.
And then, Samantha found a post on Reddit’s “Transpositive” community. It linked to a photo album called “Alex and Tessa get married!” There were two brides, one of whom, Tessa, is trans. Samantha showed the album to Laura.
"And I'll never forget, it was this beautiful, black and white photo and the caption just said 'Sometimes everything really does work out.' And I thought, OK, someone else made it through this. So maybe we can too," says Laura.
Maybe. Laura decided she would give it a year.
That year was up last November, and Samantha and Laura are still together.
And they're now friends with Alex and Tessa — the women in the wedding album above.
They didn't meet on Reddit, though — Samantha, just after she came out, joined a support group called Trans Spectrum of Arizona. She went to a meeting and saw Tessa there. It turns out, Tessa just happens to live in Phoenix as well.
"Samantha came up to me and said, 'Hey, I saw your pictures on Reddit.' And I'm like, 'Oh?' And she was like, 'Yeah, they were really helpful!' and I'm like, 'Oh, I'm glad to hear that! That's why I put them up," says Tessa.
Samantha marvels at the odds of meeting someone whose post was so crucial to her own transition and relationship.
"What are the odds that, in the grand scheme of things, a Reddit post — which is worldwide — to then be sitting in a room with someone five chairs over that served as a giant inspiration for you being there in the first place. It was such a wild coincidence," says Samantha.
The four women are now friends. When Samantha and Laura renewed their vows as wife-and-wife earlier this year, Tessa and Alex were in attendance. And it was Tessa and Alex’s wedding album that made Samantha and Laura want to post their vow renewal photos on Reddit, along with a photo from 2006.
Samantha and Laura have approached changes to their physical relationship with the same calm, clear communication and patience that they bring to every other aspect of their marriage. Samantha identifies as a lesbian, and Laura says she now identifies as pansexual (something you may have heard Janelle Monáe discussing about herself recently.)
Something they say was easier than expected was explaining Samantha's transition to their children. They explained it to their oldest, who's now 7, as a kind of story, saying Samantha feels like a girl on the inside and is going to start wearing clothes and makeup to look more like a girl — but is still going to play LEGOs.
"Not to say that as he gets older there won't be more issues that come up. I'm sure there will be social situations in school and things like that, and in his own processing and understanding of it as he gets older, too," says Laura. "Our hope is that this whole experience can help him be a more kind and compassionate and understanding person of anyone who's different in any way from the 'normal.' "
Amory and Ben asked Samantha and Laura if they feel like they've reached stability. Samantha has gone through medical transition, her name change is official.
"Something so fantastic about this process is that now Laura knows all of me, and I don't have to carry that secret. I don't have to carry that burden. And it is so freeing to just be able to be me, and not have to worry about this anymore," says Samantha.
"We just have to figure out what our new 'normal' is. And that's what we're working on," says Laura. "For me, probably the biggest joy has just been that the black cloud of burden has been lifted. And finally I can see true joy in the person that I love the most."
Samantha and Laura introduced us to a non-profit called Trans Lifeline. It’s an organization dedicated to the well being of trans people, and they run a hotline for trans people by trans people. That number is 877-565-8860, or visit translifeline.org.