Beyond gender: A love story

Apr 22, 2016

At age 70, Bill Rohr became Kate Rohr.

Rohr has been very happily married to wife Linda since 1968. But the longtime surgeon has known for a lifetime that the gender everyone else saw was a deception. Three years ago, he finally told Linda. And Linda supported the surgery that in February transformed Rohr’s life.

Health and science reporter Amy Ellis Nutt told their story, and today you can chat with Amy, Kate and Linda about the path now taken and how the story came to be.

Read their story here: Truth and transgender at 70

Is there any system or service that you are afraid to let know you are transgender? What is the biggest struggle that you had to overcome?

The best way is to set up an appointment with a certified therapist who has worked with transgender people (can be found online).  They can usually help determine if you have an issue through a series of questions and answers. There are many shades of grey in the area of gender identity.  Know that many, if not most transgender individuals know at a young age such as 3 or 4.  Get the right help.  You wouldn't want an orthopedic surgeon operating on your brain!

Hi Everyone,

This is Amy Ellis Nutt, reporter at The Washington Post. Kate and Linda Rohr are available now online for any questions or comments you may have regarding "Truth and Transgender at 70."

Hi everyone!  This is Linda and I am very excited to answer questions that you might have after viewing our story.  We are here to help those of you who have been touched in some way by this transgender phenomenon and movement that has recently been at the forefront of the news!  Every question is important, so don't hesitate to ask it.

I don't have a question, just a word of congratulations and admiration for my surgeon in Fort Bragg. You and Linda are brave souls to tell your story. Sharon G

Many thanks Sharon for your kind words!  We know it must come as a shock to many, but not for those with open hearts and minds!  Dr. Kate loved her patients and gratitude.  We will be back soon!

Hi everyone, thank you for participating.  I am Kate ( another one, but spelled differently).  Its been an incredible journey and we want to thank the Washington Post, Amy Ellis Nutt and Whitney Shefte for their tremendous talent and editorial integrity in bringing this story forward .... all in an effort to help others

You two are amazing. When are you coming home to California? I'm taking you up on your offer of wine and you are not getting out of helping me with the fence! I look forward to your return brave, loving souls. Blessings and joy, Anne Marie

The fence will be no problem.  Will be home to CA as soon as we get through some projects in Maine.  Painting and fence ... next on the agenda.  Thank you for your support.

Please?

Hi this is Gene the producer of this chat. Thanks for the question, the story has been added to the top of this chat, and for your convenience, here is the story of Kate and Linda. 

Kate, by any chance did we meet in the late 1960s in Atlanta, GA? At the time I was an investigative reporter for the Atlanta Constitution. I had written a series of articles about police harassment of gays. Soon thereafter, I received a phone call from a young man who said he had a story to share but wouldn't give his name. We met, I interviewed him at length, and his story ran on the front page. He told me he was a girl trapped in a boy's body and had felt that way as long as he could remember, since early childhood. He was in torment. His tale was remarkably like yours, and his age would be about yours, about 5 or 6 years younger than myself. I'm now approaching 76. Could it possibly be? Were you by chance in Atlanta sometime between 1966 and 1968 (I don't recall the exact year of the interview and story) and telephone the newspaper? The parallels seem eerily familiar. Kate, if it was you, I just hope that back then in the dark ages I did your story justice. Much continued happiness to you.

Unfortunately not.  I believe you will find we all have similar stories.  Not many, however, have access to the professional and financial resources we had.  My success is not about me, its about the incredible wife, family and friends who supported me in this journey.  If the news media does its homework and learns the science we know today about this condition, you can do much good.

Dear Kate, How do you and your wife keep your relationship so strong? Do you have any specific advice about being married to a trans woman? Thank you!

Relationships are a work in progress!  Over the 48 years that we have been married we have had our struggles to keep it strong.  One thing that we found to be very important is to devote one night a week as "date night".  We try diligently to keep that date no matter what!  Also, our love is one of a team.  We always make decisions together and work together to make each other the best that we can be.  Being married to a transfemale had its adjustments, but those were mostly physical changes and the loss of Bill as the shell or that which protected Kate.  Once that shell was removed and Kate could be revealed, which took time, I found that the love still existed.  Please know that this didn't happen overnight.  I have known about this for three years and it has taken most of that time to figure out where I stood and if I could stay in this relationship for the rest of my life.  My inner soul told me I didn't want to live without Kate, and that was all I needed to move forward.  Society puts many labels on people which I do not like.  We are two people who are deeply in love and that power can conquer anything we are challenged with.  I hope this helps you to understand.

I find your wife's story to be more interesting than yours. While you are far from the first trans sexual, it would appear that your wife was not gay when she married you. However, the fact that you are still together suggests that she is gay now and that she became that way purely by willing it. That is something that I had never thought possible. So, is your wife gay?

That I have an incredible wife, without whom it is doubtful I would have succeeded is certain.  An important part of the process was giving her the time to process all this and we worked TOGETHER.  She came to realize that such labels are meaningless when it comes to true love .... its about the person you love, regardless of their color, height, sex, whatever.  She can explain it better than me.  Yes, I was lucky!

No question. You seem to be at peace with yourself,that's what really counts. Know that there are people out there,male and female that accept you as is. Thom t

Thank you Thom.  It is very comforting to know that there are good people in the world with open hearts and minds.  This whole concept is very hard to process, but with people like you we can reach many more!

Really happy for you.

Thank you, it means everything to have your support!

Kate, when you told Linda, did she ever question your love for her? Did she feel betrayed by the lies your marriage always held?

It is something we discussed at great length, together and with the therapist.  NO, she never questioned my love because of the intense love affair we have had for what was then 44 years of marriage.  We always reserved Friday nights as"date night" focused on just us.  I had a great deal of work to get over the guilt of keeping that secret, but she always has claimed she understands and certainly she knows that I did it because of my love for her and our children.  In fact, her immediate response was remorse for ME that I lived with this for so long.  An incredible woman!

P.S. Linda and I never keep secrets from one another ... except me with this secret. 

Thank you Anne Marie!  We are very thankful for your support and understanding.  I'm sure it came as a shock to you, or maybe not!  We will be back in a few weeks and I have told Kate she better get that fence fixed or our neighbor will disown us!  Hugs!

I hope you and your reporter friend will make sure to highlight the ways in which the intersection of racism and transphobia create incredible roadblocks for transgender people of color. Many trans people do not have access to the resources you do. Even as someone who came from a middle class background, I faced many more difficulties and I'm seen as white. Even being supported in telling your story on this large of a stage is a privilege. Thank you for doing this, and please use your influence and social capital to help those who face the highest hurdles.

Thanks for the excellent comment regarding race and resources. No question about it -- and I know Kate will agree -- that the economics of being transgender are such that transitioning and access to the best doctors, etc., is still a matter of financial privilege. Insurance companies are slowly coming around, as is Medicare, but Medicare and insurance reimbursements are paltry compared to the real costs. Getting healthcare for a transgender person, just like for anyone else, should not be contingent on race or class. It's also certainly true that transgender people of color face extra hardships and discrimination, which is yet another reason why suicide rates are sky-high. This is a public health issue, for sure. 

One never knows the strength of a marriage until one tests it .... and I did that in spades.  After 44 years of marriage and all we had worked through together, I hoped and prayed that it would survive.  A critical component was that I realized this transition really was not about me.  I had to work through some guilt issues but those around me had the biggest transition.  My world changed very little, except when I look in a mirror, but to everyone else I had radically changed.  It is amazing that "simply" announcing I am a woman could have such a profound effect on people's perception of who I am.  Given time to process, most humans are very adaptable .... Linda proved that!

I am not gay before or after the transition.  Being gay is a label that society uses.  I have never been attracted to other woman.  I am attracted to the person that I married many years ago.  I am attracted to the soul and existence of that person.  Loving someone is not always about one's sexual preference.  Because we are now two women in love in many people's minds will make us a gay couple.  If that is how society looks at it, so be it.  I know in my heart that I am heterosexual.  I chose to stay with the love of my life not for sexual desires, but for the person she has been all along.  If I had my way, I would definitely get rid of labels for which people get hung up on and can't see beyond that!  I hope that we can open people's hearts and minds to the true meaning of love and not make love a sexual orientation!

Knowing both Kate and Linda's attitude and commitment, do you wish you had transitioned sooner? BTW, Kudos to Linda for being an extraordinary spouse.

An excellent question.  Understand that it was not that long ago that to undergo formal transition, a married transgender person was REQUIRED to divorce.  Thankfully the WPATH standards have evolved along with the scientific knowledge.  Linda and I have talked about this simply out of interest and thinking about helping others.  I must say that we concluded that a successful marriage passes a point at which you really live and function as a team, dedicated to one another.  Earlier in a marriage, before that point, success in maintaining a marriage would certainly be more of a challenge.  Each individual also has to be very secure in who they are .... another of Linda's outstanding traits.

My daughter - in - law's father is in transition as we speak. Do you have any advice for my son as he helps his wife accept her dad's new reality as a woman?

Absolutely.  We learned a tremendous amount through process, that reading all the scientific journals did not provide.  Most important, give her time.  Everyone processes this magnitude of change at a different rate.  Talk and read.  Amy's book is as good as it gets and will help people who are struggling with this know they are not alone.  Help understand that he really hasn't changed, just her perception of him.  It is also important for her father to realize that his success is tied to her success in understanding this.  For the transgender person that task is learning self-acceptance, but to those close to us ... it rocks their world.  I don't know why gender identity has such a powerful influence, but it does.  Time, Talk and Love .... not easy but worth the journey!

Thank you to everyone for participating in this live Q&A with Kate and Linda. Your questions were excellent!

I want to thank everyone for their questions and the spirited discussion.  Its an honor working with the Washington Post and staff.  If it helps just one more person .... Love Kate

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read Amy Ellis Nutt's print edition of our story and to view the wonderful video produced by Whitney Shefte!  This has been a remarkable journey for us and we are most grateful for the positive questions and comments.  We hope that we helped in some way to process this phenomenon taking the world by storm!  Have a great day and love one another! 

In This Chat
Amy Ellis Nutt
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Amy Ellis Nutt covers health and science for The Washington Post.
Kate Rohr
Kate is a retired orthopedic surgeon. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She and Linda have been married for 47 years.
Linda Rohr
Linda, like Kate, grew up in Fanwod, N.J. She received an associate’s degree in medical transcription from Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va. Before marrying in June 1968.
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