A woman has opened up on the experience of her husband transitioning into a woman.
Jenni Barrett, 37, and Sean tied the knot 15 years ago.
But, while they remain happily married and devoted to their children, Morgan, 13, and Toby, 11, her partner now identifies as a woman called Sarah.
Synchronising her admission that she was a lesbian with Sarah’s bombshell revelation that she was trans, Jenni says their experience, in turn, helped their eldest son, Morgan, to become his “true authentic self,” as he came out as gay two years later in 2018.
Now posting regularly about their story on social media, teachers Jenni and Sarah, 38, of Phoenix, Arizona, USA, have proved that “love conquers all” and want to show other couples that relationships can “survive a transition.”
Jenni said: “Sarah rolled over one evening in bed in 2016 and told me, ‘I really need to talk to you – I think I’m trans.’
“I’d come to realise why I’d always been so drawn to her, it was because of who she was on the inside – a woman – and not her shell.
“I turned around and said, ‘That’s OK – I think I’m gay.’”
Falling head over heels in love after they met at a friend’s house party in March 2004, Jenni and Sarah – who was assigned male at birth – have been inseparable ever since.
Jenni recalled: “We met through a friend at Arizona State University where we were training to be teachers.
“Sarah – who went by Sean back then – had a crush on me straight away, but unfortunately I was taken.”
She continued: “Three years later, when he found out I’d broken up with my ex, he got our friend to throw a house party so we could meet.
“We always joke that he was my stalker, but really we’ve been inseparable ever since.
“I knew he was The One as soon as he gave me a killer head massage that same night.”
She continued: “I told myself I’d play hard to get after he left a voicemail trying to set up a second date. I waited 20 minutes before calling him back – that’s how hard I was to get.”
After breaking up for the summer holidays in April 2004, the pair split their time between Jenni and Sarah’s family homes.
And, in June that year, Sarah felt confident she had met the woman she wanted to stay with for the rest of her life.
“Sarah took me to a pretty vantage point overlooking Mount Mingus in the Black Hills of Yavapai County – a large mountain range in central Arizona,” Jenni recalled.
“We had a picnic, with cheese and wine, and when I turned back from admiring the view, there was a red rose with an engagement ring on it.”
Moving in together for their final year of studies, in September 2004, the couple went on to tie the knot on December 18, 2005.
At the time, Jenni knew nothing about her partner’s gender confusion, but now says her attitude to the wedding preparations should have been a sign.
She laughed: “I didn’t clock it at the time, but looking back at the wedding, Sarah was a bit of a bridezilla.
“I was happy to elope and get married just us two, but she organised every part of the big day, from tableware to the venue – all I did was try on the dress and turn up.”
Settling into married life, the couple’s family felt complete after the birth of their sons – Morgan in 2007 and Toby in 2009.
In hindsight, Jenni finds it sad that, despite their happiness, Sarah was suppressing who she really was.
She said: “I’ve since learnt that Sarah has always had a strong desire to wear women’s clothing, but that she felt ashamed.”
She continued: “She would try on her mum’s bikini or her sister’s clothes, but always in secret.
“After she came to college, she suppressed those desires.”
But, after Toby was born, Jenni started to notice Sarah’s unusual shopping habits.
Jenni said: “Sarah would come home with a pair of silk pyjamas, clearly for women, and ask if it was weird if she wore them.
“She started buying a lot of clothes like that, which were on the edge of what is seen as male or female.
“She would wear a nightie to bed and on date nights she’d be wearing countless layers of clothes with a bra underneath, so no one could see.”
She continued: “I noticed something going on, but it wasn’t hurting anybody so I left it.
“Slowly, she started replacing her boxer shorts with women’s lingerie – after a while getting rid of all her men’s underwear.
“I didn’t say anything though. It was as if we’d both silently agreed not to discuss it – maybe it was some sort of survival method, who knows?”
Within a couple of years, Sarah had amassed an entire second wardrobe of women’s clothing.
Jenni said: “For a long time, she pretended all the clothes were for me.
“One item that really sticks out is a pink, strappy satin top that was very out of my clothing style.”
She continued: “It totally didn’t make sense for her to buy me that. I never wear pink, satin or strappy.
“I kept it in my closet without ever wearing it.
“We look back and laugh about it now. It was like we both just agreed to pretend it didn’t exist.”
She continued: “It was the elephant in the room that we didn’t talk about.
“I didn’t tell anyone either, as we run in the same circles, so if I told my friends or family it would feel like I was sharing Sarah’s innermost secrets with people close to both of us.”
Then, in 2012, Sarah started wearing women’s clothes when she began teaching remotely online – thinking that her wife would not know.
Jenni said: “The class couldn’t see what she was wearing, but from the moment me and the kids were out of the door, she would slip on some heels and a skirt.
“Then, 20 minutes before we were due home, she’d set an alarm to get changed.
“I knew she was wearing the clothes at home, though.”
“It was obvious that if she had an entire wardrobe of women’s clothes, she would be wearing them somewhere. Teaching from home was the perfect place for her to do so.
“There were clues, too. I’d be doing the laundry and there would be women’s clothes that I definitely hadn’t worn – so I knew Sarah must have been wearing them.
“People never believe it, but I can honestly say that I never felt any betrayal or sense of being lied to.”
She continued: “I guess, by that point in our relationship, I already knew that Sarah was trans.
“Looking back, part of me was scared to have my suspicions confirmed, another part of me didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable.
“I didn’t want to point the finger and be wrong. It didn’t feel like my place.”
She continued: “We’ve had conversations since about this time in our lives and it turns out we were both silently Googling.
“I was looking up, ‘Is my partner transgender?’ and Sarah was Googling, ‘Am I transgender?’
“During that period I did the grieving for my husband in private – way before Sarah came out.”
She continued: “It was mostly when I went to bed, I’d hit the pillow and be hit by a few tears, unable to shut off my mind.
“But it wasn’t all consuming. I made the decision to persevere and be with Sarah regardless – she’s my soulmate.
“It was pretty grim looking back, but I knew that Sarah would tell me when she was ready.”
She continued: “I wasn’t worried about the boys finding out at that point as we used the wardrobe to hide their presents – it was last place they’d ever look.
“They know their parents room is off limits.”
But hiding who she really was soon started to take its toll on Sarah.
Jenni said: “Sarah started becoming withdrawn and shutting herself away. She wasn’t filled with the same light.
“I turned to her and said, ‘I think you’re depressed.’”
Eventually, it was the couple’s suspicions that their eldest boy, Morgan, might be gay that gave Sarah the courage to address her own demons.”
She continued: “We’d suspected Morgan was gay since he was about two,” said Jenni.
“He just can’t hide it – not that we would ever want him to.
“He was born singing theme tunes and being over the top.”
She continued: “As he started secondary school, in 2016, Sarah and I discussed how we wanted him to be comfortable enough to come out as gay and be his true, authentic self.
“That’s what drove Sarah to hold up a mirror to herself and come out as trans.
“If she couldn’t be honest with Morgan, how could she expect him to be honest with himself?”
Vowing to stay together after Sarah came out in mid-2016, the couple then told their children.
Jenni continued: “Kids don’t over-complicate things.
“We explained that Daddy had a girl’s brain and that it was in the wrong body – but doctors would fix it.”
She continued: “Toby took it really well, but Morgan was upset for a while, maybe as he was confused, too. He was crying in bed that same night, but when Sarah promised they could still play Minecraft together he was fine!
“Now, we’re both Jewish, the boys call Sarah ‘Eema’ – Hebrew for Mother.”
After months of counselling and being given the green light to start transitioning, in May 2017 Sarah officially came out on Facebook just hours before flying to Hawaii, USA, for a 10-day family holiday.
“Everyone was so positive and supportive when they read the post,” Jenni said. “It was the beginning of the next chapter for all of us.”
Starting hormone therapy on July 17, 2017, Sarah now takes a combination of testosterone blockers and oestrogen every day.
Describing what it was like seeing Sarah going through a “second puberty,” Jenni said it was similar “to having a third child in the house.”
She continued: “There were a lot of tears and mood swings for the first two or so years.
“But it was amazing being able to see the shift in Sarah’s body. Within six months, fat was starting to move around.
“She started developing a more womanly figure, growing little breasts and getting higher cheek bones.”
Over a year after starting hormone therapy, Sarah paid $4,400 (£3,185) to have a breast augmentation in October 2018.
Initially intending to complete her transition with gender confirmation surgery – when the testes and penis are removed to create a vagina, vulva and clitoris – in June this year, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sarah’s operation has been pushed back to 2021.
“Because we’re both teachers, the only time Sarah can have the surgery done is over the summer holidays, as it’s quite a hefty recovery,” Jenni explained.
She continued: “She’s very eager to get it done, but Covid-19 has messed that up.
“I’m looking forward to it too. I don’t think it’s going to change anything for us – even in the bedroom.
“Since Sarah came out we have been closer than ever – in all ways – and when we are being intimate, we act as if that part of her isn’t there.”
Describing themselves as an LGBT family, since Sarah began her transition the couple have been posting about their journey on Instagram.
Jenni said: “Even when Sarah came out it was a very different world out there for trans representation.
“Looking online there was so little about trans couples – especially married ones – who happily stayed together.”
She continued: “Now I hope we can show other people that it is possible to weather the storm.
“We’re so proud of our LGBT family, although we do always say that, after Morgan came out in 2018, Toby must feel left out.
“He jokes that he’s going to have to come out as bisexual to fit in!”
Counting down the days until her gender confirming surgery next year, Sarah cannot wait to reach the milestone.
Sarah said: “I feel like that’s the final chapter in my journey and I can’t wait to achieve it.
“It’s the final barrier stopping me from entirely seeing myself as a woman.”
She continued: “I used to hate looking at my body and never wanted to see myself naked. Now I finally like what I see – apart from one part.
“There’s no rule book to being trans, but this is something I know I need to do.
“And it’s fantastic to know that Jenni and our boys will support me all the way.”