After Maura Hubbell transitioned, her wife Lisa Jaffe couldn’t find her “inner lesbian.” This is the story of their marriage and the queerness of connecting after getting divorced.
Editor’s note: This is a new format for Seattle Story Project. We first learned about Lisa and Maura’s story when Lisa reached out to us to share an essay about her last date with her ex-spouse. In the spirit of “nothing about us without us,” we invited Maura to share her side of the story as well. This dialogue is the collaborative result. If you have feedback about this story or if you have a bold story you’d like to share, reach out. Here’s how. –Kristin Leong
Lisa: I’ve never been to Canlis, but I longed to go, having grown up with tales of my mom and dad dining there on special occasions before I was born. Tonight, 20 years after my wedding, I dress again in tulle and silk. But this time, it has been just a few hours since our divorce mediation, and I am walking on the arm of the person who used to be my husband, but who is now a woman named Maura.
“Ladies,” the attentive waiter says as he seats us. It brings me up short. Because I don’t think of this familiar person as a lady, even seven years after the announcement that my husband was going to transition to female, five years after her gender confirmation surgery.
She looks lovely tonight in a body-conscious red dress that I’d need to be much taller to wear well. I can do without her shoes, but then, I never liked her taste in women’s shoes.
Her makeup is perfect, her hair curled softly about her face. I’m more of a hippie, but I dragged the makeup bag out, too. I snap a selfie. We look lovely together. It’s the nicest picture we’ve taken in years. The only.
Maura: I wanted to send a message with my outfit: “This is what you’re missing!” I knew exactly what I was going to wear: I’d bought it for the previous New Year’s Eve. It’s a look inspired by 1950s fashions, which I love. If I spent longer than usual on makeup, it was because of the venue rather than for Lisa, who surely didn’t care. I wore perfume, even though that’s less popular in the lesbian community.
Lisa: When I suggested we cap our mediation session with dinner at Canlis, I knew Maura would agree.
Maura: When Lisa called to suggest this date, I was on the bus home. I laughed out loud and told her that I married her because she comes up with ideas like this. She married me for similar reasons.
Lisa: We spent our courtship going from new restaurant to hot restaurant. Our first date was for coffee and pie at Jack’s, whose demise we still talk about when we pass its former Ballard location. Our third was lunch at a Pandasia, an Asian fusion place that made eggplant appetizing.
Every week as we dated Maura introduced me to a new cuisine – Ethiopian, Afghan, Peruvian. I appreciated it all. I would try to figure out what was in each dish and prowl the library for cookbooks so I could replicate what we liked at home.
After we married, the weekly date night tradition continued and always featured some new place to eat. We tasted bites of each other’s food, shared desserts — it was almost always determined that I chose better.
Even after our son was born, as I struggled to lose the baby weight, we still went exploring for good food. There was always dessert, guilt-free.
Maura: The home I grew up in didn’t really value cooking as an art. Lisa deserves all the credit for showing me that it could be, both in restaurants and at home.
Lisa’s lamb burgers with mint-and-peas relish are fantastic, and something that would never have occurred to me in a million years. I always admired that she’s a California barbecue purist: charcoal only, lit with no hydrocarbons.
Lisa: Not every date featured food alone. I love books – so much that for a while I was put on a monthly book budget. We had a rule that we couldn’t spend more than $100 at a time without talking to each other. I buy little other than books, and my collection is a point of pride and worth it’s own essay.
Maura took that love and created a big gesture, picking me up after work one Friday night and driving me from Seattle to Portland so I could have my first experience of Powell’s Books.
We weren’t married at that point. I’m unsure if we were officially engaged — something that happened a year to the day after we met. But that night we knew we were getting married.
I had just 45 minutes inside the store before it closed. It was enough to lighten my wallet by more than $100 and make me fall in love with Maura.
Maura: Our best damn date ever. I’d been to Powell’s several times before, and I knew how much Lisa would love “the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi.” I remember taking turns picking CDs in the car, ice forming on the car’s antenna on the way back, and getting back to Seattle in the wee hours of the morning.
Lisa: I spent the years since Maura’s announcement worried about my future. I am self-employed. I have rheumatoid arthritis and have relied on Maura’s insurance to pay for very expensive drugs and care from multiple doctors.
She promised from the start I would be taken care of. I was warned not to trust that sentiment by many people, but I needed to believe that she would follow through.
My illness has taken over more and more of my life, limiting how much I can work and my ability to take care of my home. As we got ready for mediation, I was nervous that Maura would try to get me “off the payroll,” as she once put it in a heated moment.
Once at mediation, I was surprised that Maura and I were seated in separate rooms. I asked the mediator why we weren’t together. Our separation stoked my fear.
The mediator wanted to know if I had any strong issues of contention. I told her the only thing I was firm on is I wasn’t taking responsibility for the $25,000 credit card debt for Maura’s electrolysis. She chuckled and left to get Maura.
Maura: Our assets roughly cancelled each other out. I was grateful for that, and I took the electrolysis comment as a good sign that our debts and assets were about equal. The issue that divorcing couples argue about most – money – was pretty minor for us.
Lisa: Three hours flew by as we easily untangled our financial lives and made provision for our son’s college years. I’m in good shape until he graduates. If I can’t get on my feet by then, I’m on my own, the papers say.
Before we closed the mediation, Maura leaned over and told me I would never be homeless or hungry.
Maura: I’ve had friends tell me I should have gotten a better deal for myself. You know what? Peace is worth a substantial price.
Lisa is disabled in a way that impairs her ability to earn money; I saw that years before I even considered transitioning. She has also continued to do most of the heavy lifting of raising our son. He’s on the autism spectrum and has ADHD, so he can be a handful. He’s with her five nights a week.
In terms of time and emotional labor for him, Lisa is contributing more. She’s been the one arranging mental health care for him while I’ve been the one paying for it. I live in a smaller place and I have a bigger income, so there are practical reasons for why we’ve done things the way we have. I think the separation agreement is at least close to fair.
Lisa: Later at dinner we each order a drink and look over the menu, ordering in tandem just like we used to. We never order the same thing because that limits tasting options. She is more adventurous with seafood and organ meat. I tend toward vegan. We compare plates. I think, as usual, that I ordered better.
We sit with coffee. Maura is getting teary. The day has taken a toll on her. She didn’t want the marriage to end. I couldn’t find a way to stay.
Maura: I don’t remember this part, but it’s believable to me. I did cry over the end of our marriage multiple times.
Lisa: I joke that I couldn’t find my inner lesbian. I like a nice hairy man! If I could have found a way to make peace with our marriage, it would have by far been the easier path. But it would have been wrong for both of us.
I’m not sad at all. I’m happy that we have done this in a way that allows us to celebrate 20 years of marriage, even if half of them weren’t good, even if half of them were sexless, even if most of them were stressful.
I could say that I felt widowed and wondered if my marriage or the love between us was ever “real.” These are comments, though, that many in the trans community object to and consider hurtful.
It was my truth though, my experience. But again, I will always err on the side of kindness.
Maura: Once we sat down, it felt eerily familiar, even mundane. We’d started going out to dinner together over 20 years earlier, and in one sense it was just another of those dates. But it was the last of its kind, and our surroundings and how we looked marked the occasion. I had to remind myself that there was no romance or the prospect of any when I sat down at the table.
Lisa: After dinner, I dropped Maura at her apartment and gave her a peck on the cheek. I thanked her for dinner, even though all our money still came from the same account.
I pointed my car across Lake Washington and drove home. My boyfriend was waiting. It was date night. For us, that doesn’t mean anything about food or restaurants.
At home, I took off my tulle and silk and washed the makeup off my face and crawled into bed with Nick. “How was dinner?” he asked.
“Divine.” I say. “Sorry I didn’t save you any dessert.”
Maura: The word “surreal” is overused, but I’m tempted to use it for this date. It was as if my past and future collided inside one of the nicest restaurants in the city. I still had the memory of our romance in my head, I felt comfortable with her – maybe too much so – and there we were having dinner together again.
I’d been dating as a woman for years by that point – I even had a girlfriend at the time – but there I was on a same-sex date with a straight woman who knows me well enough to finish my sentences.
The date was alternately like our married dates with their scratchy familiarity, but also a little like the dates I’d been having with queer women. The only (only?) ingredients missing for a queer date were that Lisa is straight and our romance had ended.
But I have to say, I missed the marital mind meld. I still do.
Maura Hubbell is a trans lesbian software engineer, social butterfly, lover of bleepy music, and retail therapy addict who does mad science in her spare time. Find her on Twitter @sistawendy.
Lisa Jaffe is a freelance writer who loves to read and is trying to become less mediocre at ceramics. She lives with her son, a rescue dog named EllieBee, and a sourdough starter named Sarah bat Natan. Find her on Twitter @landguppy, on Instagram @lisa.rose.jaffe, and at landguppy.com.
This essay is part of KUOW’s Seattle Story Project, our series featuring bold first-person reflections on life and resilience in the Puget Sound region. If you have a brave story to tell, reach out to us. Here’s how. If you have feedback on this story, we’re listening. Email email@example.com, or tag us in your tweets @KUOWengage.