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Off the Beaten Path: Emily and Jackson’s Whirlwind Romance Transitions into the Marriage of their Dreams

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By Henry V. Thiel
Photos by Heather Tusing

“Jackson and I met in October of 2012,” Emily Nesselrodt recalls. “I had just moved to Houston and started a new job at Methodist Hospital. Jennifer Wills, an acquaintance who now is a dear friend, worked with Jackson [who was born Rachel Fox] and sent me a text saying, ‘I think I have the perfect girl for you.’

“Keep in mind I had just moved 1,100 miles for a girl who promptly broke things off after just nine days together, so I was super gun-shy,” Emily says. “So my response was, ‘Um, no thanks.’”

But Jennifer was persistent. She kept saying Rachel was perfect for Emily: tall, tattooed, and a super-polite, kind southerner who also worked in a hospital. Emily relented, and though still skeptical, she asked for photos. Whatever doubts or misgivings she had promptly vanished. “Within minutes, I got two pictures that would change my life,” she recalls, all wide-eyed with a big smile. “I still have those two photos on my phone!”

The next day Emily received a text: “Good morning, Emily, this is Rachel. How are you?”

“I’m sorry I did not text you last night. I’m not very good at this stuff lol,” was Rachel’s second text.

After about a week of texting, Emily called Rachel. They made plans to meet. When that fell through, Emily decided to visit Rachel at work.

As Emily sped up Interstate 45 to Rachel’s office, she was certain they would fall madly in love.

When she saw a tall woman wearing khaki pants and a collared shirt with rolled-up cuffs that just barely revealed full-sleeve tattoos, she walked right up.

“Hi Rachel, I’m Emily.”

Rachel politely shook her hand. Smiling while they made small talk, Rachel finally stopped stealing looks at her watch.

“Oh, it’s a pleasure to meet you finally.” She smiled. “I’m sorry to be rude, but I really need to get back to work.”

“I felt foolish,” Emily confesses. “I didn’t even think about how much of a nuisance I was being. I figured I’m not ever going to ever see her again, so I planted a big one on her lips!”

Rachel smiled sheepishly.

“What’s that for?”

“Just for being you,” Emily replied.

They went to dinner at Chuy’s two nights later. They’ve been sharing Mexican food ever since.

After moving to Virginia, they discovered there were many ups and downs to living together as a lesbian couple. Emily began to accept the fact that she couldn’t make Rachel happy.

Then one day, Rachel came to Emily. “I haven’t been honest with you this whole time. And you deserve to be told the truth, and be given the opportunity to leave if you so choose.”

Emily was terrified. Was Rachel not attracted to her? Was she dying of some terrible disease?

Love Will Find a Way: When Jackson Fox (r) came out to Emily Nesselrodt (l) as a transgender man midway through their relationship, she knew their love was strong enough to make it through his transition.
Love Will Find a Way: When Jackson Fox (r) came out to Emily Nesselrodt (l) as a transgender man midway through their relationship, she knew their love was strong enough to make it through his transition.

“I’ve never felt like a girl,” Rachel admitted. “I have always known that I was supposed to be a man, but I could never do it. I didn’t want  to disappoint my family, or lose them again. I didn’t want to lose my partner at the time. But now, I’m scared I’ll die if I don’t do this. I am going to transition, and I totally understand if you can’t be a part this—if you want
to be in a relationship with a woman, and I’m not a woman. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, and for how I’ve been treating you. This is my issue, and I just didn’t know how to deal with it.”

After catching her breath, Emily remembered a brief conversation she had with Rachel within the first few months of dating. Rachel had asked how Emily felt about transgender people. Emily told her she didn’t feel one way or the other. She confessed she wasn’t interested in that type of person, though at that time she didn’t know any.

By March of 2014, Rachel and Emily had made it through the start of transitioning together. Rachel would now be known as Jackson. They started telling their friends and family. It was on a long weekend away in Philadelphia, where it was cold and rainy with flash floods the entire weekend, that Jackson popped the question.

Jackson decided to cheer Emily up by taking her to dinner at Bonefish, her favorite restaurant, where Jackson had conspired with the waiter. When the waiter arrived with dessert, he presented a plate with the words Will you marry me? encircling a strawberry shortcake and, in the center, a ring. Emily remembers saying, “Yes, of course!” while everyone in the restaurant applauded.

Since their families haven’t always been on board with their relationship, they decided to keep their wedding intimate. Emily decided to borrow a coworker’s wedding dress, and a headpiece from an old high-school friend. Everything was coming together—except for the venue.

After months of searching, Jackson found The Golden Horseshoe Inn, in Standardsville, Virginia.

The owners are a father-and-daughter duo who had run the inn for over 30 years. Emily liked the fact that they featured a few gay and lesbian couples on their website. They invited six friends to their wedding, which was held outdoors on the patio, overlooking a river surrounded by fall foliage in vivid oranges, reds, and yellows.

The laid-back couple chose a traditional Irish blessing as part of their ceremony, as well as verses from the Song of Solomon. Emily’s twin brother walked her down the aisle. Their first dance as a married couple was to “True Companion” by Marc Cohn.

“It was, quite simply, the most magical and lovely day of our lives,” Emily exudes.

Henry V. Thiel is a principal with The Epicurean Publicist.

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