I wonder if my partner saw the man in me before I did. We were 22 and both frequenting the local climbing gym. I had dedicated the previous four years of my life to climbing, and was back in my hometown setting routes at the gym while recovering from an intense breakup with another climber.
Cody (who uses both he and they pronouns) was going to school at the private liberal arts college in my town. I was never really into academics, but he had a dirtbag quality to him that intrigued me. I was carrying a big persona at that gym. By big, I mean I wanted to intimidate people with my quiet, composed strength. I would walk in with my noise-cancelling headphones and my pitbull, Cal, over whom I practically had a custody battle with my ex. Cal would hang out in the staff room while I trained, overcompensating for the discomfort I felt in my body with skin-tight clothes. Eventually, Cody got a job at the gym as a custodian, and many nights we found ourselves alone together in the gym’s large warehouse space. We kept it friendly, and Cody would often wonder aloud about adopting a dog of his own.
After a few weeks of texting, I received an image from Cody of a seven-year-old chow chow mutt named Bella that he had just adopted. While a lot of people might take their impulsive decision-making as a red flag, I took it as a sign that he could keep up with my own spontaneity.
Our first act of parallel impulsivity was matching on Tinder one night over the Christmas holidays. Both exhausted and feeling weird from the uncomfortable experience of swallowing our true identities during family events, we decided to spend the night together. Everything leading up to this point had been civil with just a hint of flirty. What I didn’t realize then was that we had been dancing around the invitation for intimacy the whole time.
When Cody showed up at my doorstep, I had a poorly rolled spliff and he had a handful of Jolly Ranchers. We exchanged our treats, giddy and nervous for what was to come. In my studio apartment, furnished only with a mattress set on top of six wooden pallets I found by the dumpster, silence sat between us.
“Can I …?” Cody broke the silence, moving a hand to my face. I nodded, pulling him on top of me as we fell to the bed together. I was a few years into my slutty stoner phase when I met Cody, and my experience of sex had been through the lens of being high femme, moany and bashful. When I had sex with people with penises, I was careful to look at them in a way that looked like lust, not jealousy. When I had sex with people with vaginas, I was too afraid that if I strapped on a dildo I would like what I saw.
With Cody, I immediately felt like I could experiment with gender through having sex with them. But neither of us really knew what that meant yet. As we wrapped our bodies together like slugs, I reached my spit-covered fingers around his back. “Can I?” I asked, pressing my fingertips against him—an act I had only fantasized about. He eagerly positioned himself on his hands and knees, nodding, “I’ve always wanted to try this.”
It didn’t take long for us to make an investment together: a five-inch dildo and a harness wrapped snugly around my waist and upper thighs. We spent every single night together, learning how to pleasure each other in ways we had been too ashamed to try in past relationships. All while our dogs played, fought and cuddled in the next room.
As a fire- and air-sign couple, our spark was roaring, and our second month together was spent selling our cars and buying a cargo van. We built a bed and a small kitchenette inside just in time for the summer. We quit our jobs, sold anything that wouldn’t fit in the van and headed to the desert.
Our first destination was Smith Rock, Oregon. I was still using my deadname and she/her pronouns as we introduced ourselves to the other dirtbags living in cars and tents and ignoring society as much as they could afford to. From my experience in the climbing industry, I knew it was dominated by cishet white guys with trust funds. What I was able to dissociate from in my past was becoming increasingly harder to ignore—being perceived as the weaker girlfriend, the assumption that my body was present to be commented on, or that I was a “delicate” climber.
My relationship with Cody had been a way for me to explore myself so intimately. When I was put in social positions that made me want to detach, Cody was always there to rein me back into my body. I was the more experienced climber, and Cody was literally trusting my abilities as a climber with their life. It was on a ledge 300 feet above that ground when I knew I wanted to marry them.
With a week’s notice to our family and friends via text message, we squatted in the parking lot at Smith Rock where my grandpa married us—with Cal and Bella as witnesses. A coworker and friend from the climbing-gear shop in town let us have our reception in his yard that overlooked the volcanic rock where we’d found a home. The owner of the shop donated kegs, the local pizza place gave us free pizzas and my mom paid for the porta-potty. It was an unexpected amalgamation of worlds that would never have collided without us diving headfirst into the rest of our lives together.
Home never lasts forever, and the gas station burritos, cheap weed and constant danger of falling to our deaths was wearing on us. We decided to move back to Cody’s hometown and sleep in his mom’s guest room until we figured out our next big life decision. We lasted three months in that room, hiding from passive-aggressive comments and a huge clash of lifestyles. Turns out that going from living in literal dirt for a year to an aggressively clean suburb home will inevitably cause some tension.
We found an unfinished studio apartment in town and moved in as soon as we could. I started training as a yoga instructor and seeing a somatic therapist. Together, we were unpacking and processing all the trauma we had gone through in our lives. Often, this manifested as screaming at each other until inevitably breaking down crying. But we never left each other’s side, we were always open (albeit resistant sometimes) to put in the hard work.
“I’m not a woman,” I cried one night after exhaustedly projecting all of my insecurities around my gender onto Cody.
“That’s okay,” Cody breathed, “that’s not going to change our relationship.”
Soon after coming out as non-binary to our small community, I made an appointment with a new doctor to talk about starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT). She explained what my options were, and that it’s usually advised that if I have a chance of becoming pregnant, I also go on some kind of birth control. I decided to wait to start testosterone, and after talking to Cody about our future, realized that I wanted to give this body a shot at having a baby first.
A year into trying to conceive, the pandemic reached the United States. In March 2020, I got a positive pregnancy test.
Pregnancy was rough. I feel so fortunate that I didn’t have to experience it while also having to leave my house. Cody had a job at a school, and was working remotely and it was a great time to focus on this weird, changing body that I was already so uncertain about. Through my pregnancy, I struggled to feel masculine. So much media and rhetoric around pregnancy is hyper-feminized and rooted in misogyny and diet culture. Not only did I feel like everyone saw me as a pregnant woman; I also felt like everyone hated me as a pregnant woman.
I gave birth, and even chestfed for as long as I could emotionally handle it. Around 10 months postpartum, the dysphoria was too much to function with. I reached out to my doctor and started testosterone on my 27th birthday.
There was an immediate relief knowing that I was finally making progress in my transition. Each night, Cody and I fell into bed exhausted, and he would touch my changing body until we fell asleep. We spent the early days of parenting explaining to our families that I wasn’t the mother they assumed I was. Once they started to understand, or we simply stopped trying and cut off communication, I felt freedom to be the parent that aligned not just with my identity, but with the relationship Cody and I had been cultivating for five years.
However, we had only discovered the tip of the iceberg in terms of exploring the depth of our relationship. A common side effect of testosterone is an increased sex drive, and the first few months were a wild ride. I had been so detached from my body through pregnancy and chestfeeding, that being hit with a clear, loud desire was impossible to ignore.
“What do you want to be tonight?” Cody often asks when the baby is finally asleep in their room, and we have time for our much-needed intimacy.
More frequently, I ask to be praised for my changing body. For my newly growing clit to be sucked—to be treated like a good boy. Even when my submissive bottom wants to be treated like a girl, Cody has found a way to make me feel like the prettiest sissy boi that ever existed.
I sometimes struggle with insecurities that, as I continue my transition, Cody will stop being attracted to me. We both love femininity, and that’s not something we can always give each other. Expanding our concept of gender and sexuality has also meant exploring other partners and being open to new dynamics.
And still, I keep coming back with amazement at how gay our relationship has been this entire time. How we were drawn to one another because of climbing and caring for our dogs like they were our kids. How we’ve stayed together because of our fierce attraction to seeing how things unfold.
Recently, Cody and I were walking through the mall parking lot and were startled by some teenage kid yelling out of the passenger window of a car, “Are you guys gay?”
Cody proudly took my hand in his, and replied, “Yeah. We are.”