Sitting in the Manhattan office of her then-husband’s gender counselor, Karen Ranney was taken aback by the suggestion that the couple’s love life would dramatically improve once he transitioned into a woman.
“She mentioned various methods and equipment we could use,” the 64-year-old mother of two told The Post. “She said, ‘You might find it very sexy.’ ”
Ranney, a former professional dancer who had reluctantly attended the consultation, replied: “I’ve known homosexuals, bisexuals and lesbians in the dance world, and I’m not closed-minded.
“But I’m plain Jane, the girl next door, and I know it’s not for me.”
The encounter with the therapist — whom she found unresponsive to her sense of betrayal and abandonment — is one of the memories chronicled in the New Yorker’s upcoming memoir, “The Curated Woods: A Grass Widow Her Seasons of Memories” (to be published under the pen name Ute Heggen through iUniverse next month).
Ranney’s book is partly named after the old-fashioned term for a wife who becomes so alienated from her spouse, he might as well have died. The author uses “grass widow” as a synonym for “trans widow,” the controversial term for a woman who hasn’t come to terms with a partner’s sex change.
“My husband says his male persona is dead,” she explained. “I call myself a grass widow because it’s as if I don’t have a grave to mourn at — only a patch of grass.”
Ranney says she wants to tell her side since she believes the emotional impact on the wife and family of a transitioning husband and father is seldom discussed. “It feels like your past has been erased,” she said.
In 2015, TV personality Kris Jenner tearfully discussed the effect of watching her ex, Bruce Jenner, step out as Caitlyn Jenner the previous year on the reality show “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
“I have these memories of this life — and I feel sometimes like it didn’t exist,” the now 65-year-old matriarch says.
Jenner’s words resonated with Ranney, who hopes her own honesty will help wives who feel similarly abandoned realize they are not alone.
“I feel an obligation to younger women stuck in my position,” she said, pointing out that, however unfashionable or contentious, their emotions should not be discounted. (In July, Ranney claims that she was banned from YouTube “for severe and repeated hate speech.” She counters that she is “a woman with a story that is rarely told.”)
Ranney’s 17-year relationship was derailed in August 1992 when her sons were ages 1 and 4. Her husband, Neddy (a pseudonym; Ranney still uses male pronouns when referencing her former husband), returned from a business trip and undressed. She noticed Neddy’s body hair had been shaved off.
“Neddy refused to address my questions, but said: ‘It’s my body and my choice,’ ” Ranney recalled. “As a heterosexual woman, I’d always found his chest hair sexy and appealing. I was distraught.”
The following day, she found a collection of diaries hidden in Neddy’s suitcase. “It opened Pandora’s Box,” she said. To her astonishment, Neddy had written details about dressing in women’s clothing.
“I was in shock and had a brief thought that I would jump out of the window,” said Ranney. She demanded answers that night.
Ranney ultimately fled with their kids to her parents’ house in Wisconsin, finally returning to their apartment in Kensington, Brooklyn, three months later.
“He said: ‘It was a midlife crisis, and I’m no longer doing it,’ ” Ranney said. “I went back because I felt some kind of obligation to have my children belong to an intact family.”
She described the following three years as “purgatory” as she swallowed her pride to be a “good mother.” Then, in early 1995, Neddy, who had grown a beard, shaved it off. Next, Neddy developed breasts.
“He’d been hiding them under layers of clothing, but he was taking estrogen,” Ranney said.
Neddy admitted receiving hormone treatment and outlined plans for gender reassignment surgery — begging Ranney to meet with a therapist in the hope she would be supportive and keep the status quo.
After the disastrous counseling session — “I was presented with a whole menu of choices to persuade me to stay in this untenable marriage,” Ranney said — she told Neddy to leave.
“I said: ‘I feel that you’ve betrayed me in an unforgivable way. I do not want to remake myself into a different person, and can’t believe you were expecting me to do it.’ ”
Ranney filed for divorce ahead of Neddy’s 1996 operation at Stanford Medical Center in California. Her ex told their boys, “I am a woman now” and that “Daddy” was now “Dee Dee.”
At their Park Slope school, her kids’ peers’ curiosity was piqued when Dee Dee dropped them off. “They said: ‘Oh, you have two moms now.’ ”
Her 11-year-old replied: “No, that’s just another relative.”
“There was a lot of emotional processing going on,” Ranney said.
Meanwhile, her younger son would often ask men in their company if they would be his father. “It created some awkward moments,” Ranney said.
Later, however, the kids became more accustomed to visiting Dee Dee’s apartment.
“They’d tell me: ‘Mom, you can’t say “dad,” because it’s mean, cruel and vile,’ ” she said. “ ‘He doesn’t go by that name any more.’ ”
But Ranney — now living in the Hudson Valley with a new partner — hasn’t gotten past her sense of betrayal and the “erasure” of their union.
“Why should I keep my wedding pictures in a closet?” she asked, explaining how she had hidden the album to stop visitors posing questions.
“I’m entitled to my own history.”