In late 1993, Anna was invited to her girlfriend’s birthday brunch in San Francisco, where they were both living. “We were dating casually at the time,” she says. “We went for a crepe party with a big group of people at her place.” She remembers spotting Ben straight away, who at that time identified as a woman.
“I saw Ben wearing glasses and thought they were adorable,” she says. “I remember thinking we’d be together one day.” They chatted briefly, but Ben didn’t show much interest.
“Anna was dating a good friend of mine,” he says. “And I was living in Long Beach, finishing my graduate school studies in pathology.” After the brunch party, they went their separate ways and he didn’t expect to see her again.
In spring 1994, Ben moved to Sacramento in northern California. By then, Anna and her girlfriend had split up. “I was still thinking about Ben and begged one of his friends to set us up,” she remembers, laughing. He was reluctant at first because of Anna’s previous relationship with his friend, whose birthday brunch it had been. However, he says: “She was fine with it, so I decided to go and see her.”
They met in San Francisco a few weeks later and spent the day walking around the city visiting craft markets, before sharing some tacos. “It was a super sweet date,” says Ben. “She was really cute. I was really happy to be with her.”
The following week they met again for a cinema date. “It was a scary movie, so good for snuggling,” says Ben. Afterwards they kissed for the first time.
They dated until Ben moved to San Francisco in early 1995. “I’d never thought about having a long-term relationship before Ben, but we were so happy together,” says Anna. Things became more serious and the couple moved into a shared house in 1996, before holding a special ceremony the following year. “We made up our wedding, which is what gay people did back then as same-sex marriage wasn’t actually legal,” she says.
In 2001, their first child was born, followed by twins in 2002. “Rather than going to a sperm bank, we decided to ask a trusted friend, Tex, to be a donor,” says Anna. The family moved into a house in Oakland with Tex in 2004. “He has a separate flat but we’re all really close. He is an uncle to the kids,” she says. Later that year, Ben and Anna attempted to formalise their relationship, after the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, now governor of California, announced plans to legalise same-sex marriage in the city. “We queued for hours but our paperwork was rejected two months later.” Within a month of the announcement, 4,000 same-sex couples tied the knot in San Francisco but then the California Supreme Court ruled all the marriages invalid. “[Mayor Newsom] didn’t actually have the power to make that change,” says Anna.
Two years later, Ben told Anna that he no longer identified as a gay woman, but as a transgender man. “The process was more of an evolution than a line drawn in the sand,” he says. “My gender presentation had not changed, but I made the decision to have hormones and surgery so that my body could match that. My transition isn’t a binary one, but it’s a shift in how I feel and how I’m seen in the world.”
For Anna, this wasn’t a surprise. “I was waiting for it to happen. Everyone we knew was very accepting of different gender expression, so it wasn’t foreign to me at all. I wanted him to feel comfortable.” In 2014, they were finally able to marry legally, surrounded by friends and family. “We also have a wedding celebration every year, on the anniversary of the one that was disallowed,” says Anna.
After nearly 30 years together, she still appreciates the way her partner keeps her grounded. “I have ADHD, so my brain can be everywhere. He is very fair and always honest. He doesn’t always do the easy thing but he does the right thing. He’s a great artist and an amazing parent.”
Ben appreciates Anna’s creativity. “She knows what’s in her heart and she is never afraid to share,” he says. “She always shows up, and I love how she sees the world differently to me. It helps me see things I’d never notice.”
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