(CNN) — When Tiffany Woods met Bridgette, she was at a crossroads.
It was February 1987 and Tiffany was 23. She’d got married two years previously. Now her marriage was on the rocks and divorce seemed imminent. Tiffany was training to become a police officer, but her heart wasn’t in it.
Tiffany, who is trans, had also yet to come out. For much of her life up to that point, she had tried to quash her identity.
Tiffany wasn’t sure where she was heading next. For now, she was simply focused on lining up at Sacramento Bus Station to catch the Greyhound bus back home to San Francisco.
Travelers were starting to deposit their bags in the bus hold. Tiffany wasn’t paying attention, but then a young woman further up the line reached over to hand Tiffany a luggage tag.
“You’re going to need one of these to check your bag in,” said the stranger, smiling.
“Oh thanks,” said Tiffany, breaking out of her reverie.
Tiffany and Bridgette met at a Greyhound bus station in Sacramento.
Courtesy of Tiffany Woods
The woman with the extra luggage tag was Bridgette. Then 18, she was living and working in San Francisco, and on her way back there after a weekend visiting her parents in Sacramento.
Bridgette and Tiffany started chatting — first about the luggage tags, then about the journey ahead.
The person in between them, sensing this conversation wasn’t going to come to an end anytime soon, asked if they’d like to switch places so they could stand together. Why not, figured Tiffany and Bridgette, and they switched.
“We were just talking back and forth. And we were waiting for a long time in that line,” Bridgette, who has asked only to be referred to by her first name for personal reasons, tells CNN Travel.
The two were enjoying each other’s company. When they eventually boarded the bus, sitting together seemed the obvious next step.
Journeying from Sacramento to San Francisco by car usually takes around an hour and a half. But with the Greyhound’s multiple stops, and the inevitable traffic, the bus was on the road for several hours.
Tiffany and Bridgette talked the whole way.
Tiffany describes the interaction as one of “those conversations where you meet a stranger and you spend several hours with the stranger as if you’ve known them your whole life — and you also assume you’re never going to see them again, so your defenses are down.”
The two talked about everything, but also kept some things private. Tiffany didn’t mention she was still married. Bridgette added a few years to her age, telling Tiffany she was 21.
A couple of hours into the journey, a woman sat across from the pair, charmed by their obvious connection, cut in with a question:
Not long after their first meeting, Tiffany and Bridgette were inseparable.
Courtesy of Tiffany Woods
“How long have you two been together?” she asked.
Tiffany and Bridgette turned to one another and laughed. Then Tiffany turned back to the woman, and told her they’d been together since kindergarten. Without skipping a beat, Bridgette named the fictitious teacher who’d taught the imaginary class where they’d supposedly met.
“We just started playing off each other like we had been together since kindergarten,” recalls Tiffany. “I guess we just had that chemistry.”
The bus eventually pulled into the steel surrounds of the San Francisco Transbay Terminal, where a friend of Tiffany’s was waiting to pick her up.
Bridgette had been planning to catch the Bay Area Rapid Transit train to her aunt’s house, where she was living at the time.
The bus’s late arrival meant she’d missed the last train, so Tiffany offered Bridgette a ride home.
En route they detoured to a pizza restaurant, then a bar and exchanged phone numbers. When Tiffany eventually dropped Bridgette home, she kissed her goodnight.
“That was very sweet,” recalls Bridgette. “And the rest is history, as they say.”
Openness and communication
Bridgette and Tiffany both had vague plans to travel back to Sacramento the following weekend. Sometime during the week, they connected on the phone and arranged to travel there together.
Bridgette planned to stay with her parents for the weekend, so she suggested Tiffany could crash there too. Tiffany agreed, and so less than a week after they’d met waiting for the bus, Tiffany was introduced to Bridgette’s parents.
“I spent the weekend with her. We went to her parents’ home then to her sister’s high school play. She introduced me to her friends afterwards,” recalls Tiffany.
Since that weekend, she adds “we’ve never not been together.”
That Friday evening, the two were curled up on the couch in Bridgette’s parents living room. It was 3 a.m., and everyone else was asleep. They’d been drinking champagne. The fire was crackling in the fireplace.
“She was stroking my hair and she’s like ‘Oh, what’s your favorite color?'” recalls Tiffany. “And I said: ‘Purple.'”
That was an unconventional choice for a cis, heterosexual man in 1987, suggests Tiffany. By telling Bridgette this fact about herself, she was hoping to incite a deeper conversation.
“I think I have gender issues,” she said.
The next morning, feeling slightly hungover, Tiffany panicked, and tried to backtrack on what she’d said.
“It’s okay, we’ll figure it out. You’re fine. You’re okay. You’re perfect the way you are. We’ll figure it out together,” was Bridgette’s response.
“Nobody had ever said that to me before,” recalls Tiffany today.
It was everything she’d ever hoped for.
“Because there wasn’t any expectation of the relationship or anything, there was such an openness, there weren’t any consequences — there was just a complete trust of whatever the natural understanding of each other was. And as that relationship grew, that just stayed there,” says Bridgette.
“We clearly always had, I think, the soul mate connection,” says Tiffany.
Tiffany and Bridgette now have three teenage children.
Courtesy of Tiffany Woods
As February slipped into March, Bridgette and Tiffany continued to get to know one another. Their relationship was deepening, but Tiffany wasn’t sure how to bring up the fact that she was still married.
She hadn’t mentioned it right away, and now it had become a secret.
Eventually, Bridgette found out. It was fraught.
“I was very angry,” says Bridgette. It took a while to work through. She says today that this memory “is one of the little scars.”
“I took complete ownership of it,” says Tiffany.
Tiffany and her ex-wife, who were already separated, got a divorce. By September 1987, Tiffany and Bridgette had moved into a small apartment in San Francisco.
The two started building a life together, working through what they wanted from their careers, families and for themselves.
Becoming a cop, Tiffany had decided, was not for her.
“I was going to be a police officer, because I couldn’t ever see a path of transition,” she recalls. “And so that’s what we did as trans folks in the 70s, 80s, 60s, we kind of went into hyper masculine professions.”
But the unconditional, supportive relationship she had with Bridgette allowed her to reevaluate. Together, Tiffany and Bridgette started looking into how Tiffany could be herself.
“If you don’t figure out your gender identity and your issues in a healthy way and start to build a healthy foundation, then it’s always going to be a struggle,” says Tiffany now.
In the late 1980s, there was no internet to turn to. There was also a lack of trans representation in the media or public eye.
“It was so different, there wasn’t resources, there was so much stigma, there still is now,” says Tiffany. “I mean, now we’ve come a long way — we’re still having obviously backlash of the trans visibility — but at that point, I was just trying to figure out if this was even a reality.”
But as the new decade drew in, the two found a new sense of belonging as they immersed themselves in San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community.
“We just found a lot of kindred spirits and a place and belonging and a purpose,” says Tiffany.
It was a turning point, but the impact of the AIDS epidemic on their community, as well as the “double life” that Tiffany, who hadn’t come out to her family, says she was living at the time, was tough.
When she decided to fully transition, Tiffany stopped talking to her family altogether.
“Fear is a huge barrier,” she says. “I was afraid of rejection. So I rejected them first, because then I could control the rejection. But I also, I didn’t give them the opportunity to affirm me or support. That’s the flip side of that.”
A spontaneous wedding
The couple married in December 1996.
Courtesy of Tiffany Woods
Bridgette had always wanted to get married. Tiffany had been less sure — she’d already been married and it had ended badly.
But by 1996, the two were in agreement that it was the right thing for them both.
Backed by the enthusiasm of their gay friends, who were unable to marry at that time and told Bridgette and Tiffany they should “get married for us,” the two tied the knot on December 28, 1996.
Tiffany and Bridgette weren’t sure how the minister would react if they both dressed in a traditionally feminine way, so Tiffany wore a men’s tuxedo with soft make-up and a ponytail.
But afterward, the couple’s housemates, who were drag queens and experts in styling, helped Tiffany get ready for the evening celebrations. Then the newlyweds went out for food and cake with their close friends.
A few years later, with the dawn of the new millennium, Tiffany and Bridgette decided to have children.
Bridgette had always wanted kids, but Tiffany had taken longer to come to that decision.
“I figured the kids would reject me, because I didn’t know how to have those conversations — you know, at that time, there wasn’t a lot of trans parents,” she says.
The two decided the first step was to rebuild the relationship with Tiffany’s family.
“We wanted to change the narrative and create a new path that’s healthy for our family — also, knowing that we needed the support of our families, navigating a world as a trans woman and perceived as a lesbian couple,” says Tiffany.
After the years of silence, there was some hurt there, but Tiffany’s family were excited to support Tiffany and Bridgette through parenthood. The old wounds gradually healed.
Today, Bridgette and Tiffany have three teenage children.
Tiffany’s fears of rejection from their kids proved unfounded, as Bridgette always said they would be. They give her, Tiffany says, “nothing but unconditional love.”
‘Things happen for a reason’
The couple say they are proud of where they are today.
Courtesy of Tiffany Woods
Today, Tiffany and Bridgette say they’re focused on doing their best to make a difference in the world and raising their children to do the same.
Bridgette has her own company, while Tiffany works for the California Department of Public Health as the state’s transgender health specialist.
Tiffany is also on the executive board for the California Democratic Party, and is the LGBTQ Caucus co-chair.
Today, whenever they see a Greyhound bus on the road, the two think of their serendipitous meeting. They’ve not been on a Greyhound together since, but they enjoy road trips together from time to time.
Tiffany and Bridgette say they’re both proud of where they are today, and how they’ve grown together over their 35 year relationship.
“Anything is possible, you just have to believe you can make things work,” says Bridgette.
“Don’t be afraid to take chances,” agrees Tiffany. “I think we all meet each other for a reason, things happen for a reason. And we may not understand what the reason is, but be open to them. And don’t let fear hold you back.”