This August political science professor Wally Bacon walked into a classroom at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as someone else—Meredith Bacon. Wearing a gray wig and slacks, Bacon explained how she had begun the process of living as a woman, and would soon undergo surgery to make the transformation complete. With typical good humor, Bacon offered to answer any question. “One student asked, ‘What’s going to be your biggest problem?,'” recalls Bacon, 59. “I told him, ‘Legal issues—and shoes.'” There have also been painful emotional issues, which Meredith and Lynne Bacon, formerly a traditional wife but now more of a life partner, grappled with for years. Like thousands of other Americans (reliable numbers are elusive), Bacon says she felt she was “a woman born to the body of a man.” As Bacon changed genders, Lynne, 59, was her most steadfast supporter. Here, the story of their uncommonly tested but enduring love.
MEREDITH: I knew from the age of 4 that something was wrong. I started experimenting with my mother’s clothes. It was my deep, dark secret. I’m sure my parents had an inkling, but there was this contractual silence between us. As I grew up I felt a tremendous amount of shame. I did dangerous things to tell myself I was this person I was expected to be—climbed mountains, rode horses, all sorts of things.
In 1964 Bacon, who grew up in New York City, met Lynne at Colorado College, when both were 18. They married four years later.
LYNNE: He was one of the kindest people I’d ever met. We had a lot of the same interests—he even designed my engagement ring.
MEREDITH: I was sure marriage would cure me. I was convinced I would lose that sense of uncertainty. But it was always there. If there was a pill, I would have taken it.
LYNNE: In 1972 we were in a hotel room in Paris and he basically told me. It came as such a shock to me and it took me a very, very long time to deal with it. It was devastating. Still, it didn’t cross my mind to leave him. I didn’t think it was worth going through the anguish of divorce, especially since we had such a good relationship in every other way.
MEREDITH: The thing I regretted most was that I couldn’t be physically a husband. She’s as heterosexual as it comes, and that put a huge amount of guilt on me. I would have understood if she had sought intimate relations with another man.
LYNNE: But I’m just not the kind of person who can have casual sexual relationships. And I’m an ordained Episcopal deacon, and if you want to be a role model as a clergyperson, you don’t engage in that kind of activity.
Nine years ago the stress of living as a man drove Bacon to consider suicide.
LYNNE: I didn’t know what to do for him anymore. I’d been a good listener and as supportive as I knew how, but it got to where I put my foot down: I said either you get some help for this or I’ll make the appointment for you.
MEREDITH: The shrink said I was clinically depressed and put me on anti-depressants. I was in therapy for more than a year before I asked to see an endocrinologist [to talk about taking female hormones].
Discouraged by the lack of literature about transsexuals, Bacon researched and met other transgendered people.
MEREDITH: I sponsored a reception for a transsexual individual. Toward the end I went to her and said, “I’m not a totally objective scientist, I’m part of this community too.” I had told very few people. But after that I came home in a great state of euphoria. I told Lynne, “I think I’m going to transition.”
LYNNE: I was concerned about how we would do it. When you’ve taught in a community for 30 years you’ve touched a lot of people. We settled on the idea of an article in a newspaper.
MEREDITH: I wrote an eight-page letter to my colleagues. I said, “I’m going to Dallas to get facial electrolysis and this is why.” And nobody gave me grief. The university’s chancellor read the letter and hugged me. A lot of people said, “Oh, that makes sense.”
In June 2005 Bacon underwent 10 hours of facial surgery to soften the angles of her forehead, nose, chin and jaw. Later this month she is due to have more facial surgery and breast augmentation. Next year she’ll undergo genital surgery.
MEREDITH: After I healed we had a “Tie One On with Meredith” party.
LYNNE: Wally had a vast collection of neckties and everyone got to pick one and take it home as a party favor.
MEREDITH: The electrolysis was $10,000. The first surgery was $37,500. The next one will be $23,000.
LYNNE: Obviously health insurance doesn’t cover this sort of thing. So we took out a home equity loan.
MEREDITH: Lynne taught me what colors and shapes to wear. There were outfits she wouldn’t let me out of the house in. She bought my first formal dress. I still don’t know how to do eyebrows. And I’m hopeless with lipstick.
In August Bacon taught her first class as Meredith. Her students were supportive; none dropped the class. Still, adjusting to a new identity hasn’t always been easy.
MEREDITH: I feel more vulnerable now. If I’m in the parking garage late,
I look around the car before getting in. Wally wasn’t worried about that. And it’s been difficult not responding to the snickers. But the relief I feel is enormous, incomparable. And we decided to go public with this because so many people in the transgendered community are still in pain.
LYNNE: I lost sleep worrying about what the reaction would be. But nobody is running us out of town. And almost every day someone from the faculty or church will come up to me and privately tell me how much they admire us and how courageous we are.
MEREDITH: I’m not the courageous one, Lynne is the courageous one. This is the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. But our relationship has gotten better since I transitioned. We still cry with each other, we giggle with each other, that hasn’t changed. Lynne and I are best friends and soulmates forever.