George and Barbara Dugan first connected online in February 2014, but Barbara stood George up three times before they finally met in person 10 months later. “I always felt bad about it,” Barbara says. “He was a really nice guy, but my friends warned me that recently divorced guys were bad news.”
About a month before George sent Barbara a message on OkCupid, he came out as gay to his wife of 30 years, and they divorced. After the split, George, 60, began exploring dating websites. Within the first year of his divorce, he started identifying as pansexual, meaning that he is attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity.
Barbara, 49, was dealing with depression during her 10-month friendship with George. She was a closeted trans woman who didn’t think she could ever come out. When she decided to take George up on one of his invitations, they met for the first time in front of the Academy Sports & Outdoors store in Spring Branch.
Prior to their meeting, George had no idea that Barbara was not out. As George waited in the store’s parking lot, Barbara approached wearing masculine clothing and a baseball cap. She had just gotten off work and decided to stay in her uniform.
The two ate dinner at Pappadeaux Seafood, where George, who says he’s typically extremely confident, was so nervous that he forgot his credit card at the restaurant. After dinner, they shared their first kiss and set a date for the following weekend.
On their second date, Barbara dressed in feminine clothing in public for the first time. George says he was blown away when he picked her up at Vanity’s Boutique in the Heights after she had a professional makeover. They had dinner at Theo’s in Montrose, watched a drag show at JR’s Bar & Grill, and rode around the Galleria area looking at Christmas lights until almost 3 a.m.
“Every time we hit a stoplight, we were kissing and holding hands,” George recalls. “We’ve been inseparable since then.”
In January 2015, Barbara, who had just a handful of online friends who knew that she was trans, came out to her parents and told them about George. They accepted Barbara’s news and welcomed her boyfriend with open arms.
“My relationship with George inspired me to come out,” Barbara says. “I was pretty good at hiding, but I got tired of living a double life and hiding who I was from my family and people at work.”
After she came out to her parents, Barbara, a maintenance technician of 10 years at National Oilwell Varco, came out at work, prompting the multinational oil-and-gas supply firm to adopt trans-inclusive policies.
George, a technical sales manager at CETCO Drilling Products Group, was rejected by some of his close family members after he came out as pansexual. However, to his surprise, his father was not one of them. When he told his father that Barbara was not cisgender, his father’s response was, “If you’re happy, that’s all that matters.”
“I told my dad that I had never been happier in my life,” George says. “He told me that I was lucky to have found Barbara. I couldn’t believe that this was the same Archie Bunker-type man who raised me.”
George and Barbara say their favorite activity is taking road trips together. In their first year of dating, they put 5,600 miles on George’s car. On their first vacation together, the couple drove from Houston to San Francisco with stops in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.
In 2015, George and Barbara went to San Antonio and double-dated with George’s close friend Brandi and her girlfriend, Amy. Brandi had taken George to a support group after his ex-wife publicly outed him and bashed him online. While on a carriage ride along the River Walk, Amy proposed to Brandi. When their proposal concluded, George got down on one knee and gave Barbara a promise ring.
“The promise ring was our official engagement,” George says. “Immediately following it, we went to Zales and started picking out wedding rings.”
Plans for their October 2017 wedding were pushed up because Barbara had some issues with her documentation. She moved to the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico, with her family when she was 16. Her parents and younger brothers and sisters became U.S. citizens, but she fell through the cracks of immigration law and could not become a citizen.
“I was losing sleep,” George says. “There was a possibility that Barbara could be detained. She would have lost her properties, a job that she loves, and I would have lost her. I couldn’t bear the thought of that.”
A judge told the couple that Barbara could live in the U.S. legally if they got married sooner than they originally planned. On March 11, 2017, George and Barbara eloped to a Harris County Justice of the Peace courthouse, where they were married.
They had their full wedding ceremony and reception for friends and family on April 30 at the Pavillion on Gessner, where their clothing and decorations matched the colors on the trans flag. The minister who married George and Barbara wore a rainbow stole to represent both of their sexualities and gender identities. Their first dance was to Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”
For their honeymoon, the couple purchased an RV and went to Wyoming’s Pride celebration in June 2017, and then watched the total eclipse of the sun as it passed over Wyoming.
This year Barbara got her name and gender marker changed, so the justice of the peace had to marry the couple for the third time.
George, who was born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, currently resides in Denton, Texas. During the week, he travels out of state for work, and on weekends he comes to Houston where Barbara lives and works. George admits that a long-distance marriage is tough, but they plan on buying a house together as soon as possible.
The two have become activists in Houston’s LGBTQ community as members of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT). Since joining, George and Barbara have traveled to Austin to testify against anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills. At Houston Pride 2017, the couple carried OLTT’s banner during the parade.
Barbara now has a work permit and has undergone some gender-confirmation surgeries. Barbara says that aside from marrying George, transitioning was the best decision she ever made.
“We show people that being transgender doesn’t have to be an obstacle in marriage,” Barbara says. “We’re living proof that couples like us can do it. We’re both out and proud of each other.”
This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.