Okay, so I am one of those people who like to read the "News of the Weird" section in my local paper. Often the news articles cover silly or odd things like a thief who left his wallet at the scene of the crime and returned to get it, or a dog who inherited a million dollars.
Today, however, this was a profiled story:
Widower Charlie Bonn Kemp, 77, of Vero Beach, Fla., took especially hard
the loss of his wife, Lee, in 2006 because she was unquestionably the love of
his life even though the couple stopped having sex even before they got married
in 1978, according to a June St. Petersburg Times profile. Lee had been
Charlie's gay lover for 26 years, until revealing in 1978 that he could no
longer resist the urge to become a woman, and especially a housewife. Such was
their attachment that, following Lee's full sex change, she and Charlie decided
to take advantage of Lee's new status and legally marry and continue their
devotion, even though Charlie remained sexually attracted only to men. [St.
Petersburg Times, 6-24-07]
The way the summary of the story mocks Lee and Charlie just irritated the hell out of me. "Even though they stopped having sex" and "especially a housewife" just does a real injustice to the complicated story of this couple--a gay man (Charlie) and a transwoman (Lee) who fell in love when both were living as gay men and who continued their love relationship through Lee's transition and her eventual illness and death.
The full feature profile in the St. Petersburg Times is incredibly moving. They met in 1952, bought a house together, and faced struggle when Lee announced, after a failed suicide attempt in 1975, that he wanted a sex change. It wasn't easy for either of them.
"I didn't understand how any man could want to do that, " [Charlie] says. "But I saw how miserable Lee was. I wanted him to be happy." His voice breaks. "I loved him."
Charlie looks up to the box [of Lee's ashes] on the refrigerator. He wipes his eyes. Switches pronouns. "To this day, I love her."
Even though Charlie would never again be in a sexual relationship with Lee, they continued to live together, were married in 1978, and Charlie cared for Lee as she was dying. He slept on the floor by her bed when she was hospitalized with Alzheimers and lung cancer, and he imagines the day when he will die and their ashes will be mixed together and scattered.
"I never had any interest in women. But I loved Lee, " Charlie says. He wipes
his cheek. "I guess I loved her for being him."
I encourage you to read it and consider the ways in which we love, fail, and support our partners in the face of challenges. This couple deserved so much more than to appear in News of the Weird.