We order drinks, settle into a booth, and she tells me her story from the beginning. Kintz grew up one of 11 children in a “loving home” in the tiny town of Sublimity, Oregon, dutifully attending Catholic mass every day. She tells a story about how, when she was 5, she and her younger brother tried on some of their sisters’ clothes, just for fun. “I had on the prettiest flower dress that twirled when I spun around,” she remembers. “The next day, when my brother said ‘No way’ to doing it again, I realized, ‘Oh shit, this probably isn’t good.’” As Nick matured, so did his desire to feel more feminine. The daily internal war between how wrong he felt in his skin and the “eternal damnation” his Catholic upbringing told him he’d face if he ever came clean was in full roar.
Despite his emotional turmoil, while in college Nick met and fell in love with Kim, a nursing student from Pendleton. She was his first serious girlfriend, and the two married on September 29, 1979. Confident in his heterosexuality, Kintz hoped that marriage and children (the couple had two sons and a daughter, now ages 26, 23, and 19, respectively) would “cure” him of his urges to live his life as a woman. But it only made the lies deeper and more painful. Kintz says he cried himself to sleep most nights. Seventeen years would pass before finally, in 1996, he confessed to Kim the secret he had never uttered to another human being.
“Kim’s response was, ‘That’s all?’” Kintz remembers. “We really thought our love for each other was bigger than this thing.” The resolution seemed simple: Nick would dress as Nicole when he needed to, and the marriage would continue as planned.
It worked. For a while. The years that followed brought some highs—keeping the family together—but a lot of lows. As Kintz remembers it, Kim tried, but she could never really compete with Nicole for Nick’s time and attention. There were a lot of close calls, too, like the time their younger son came home early and, in a panic, Nick forgot to remove the earrings from his ears. (He kept fishing line in the holes to prevent them from closing up.) The charade was exhausting, and in 2006, after 10 years of trying to negotiate an impossible situation, Nick moved out. In January 2008, the divorce was final. “I think Kim got tired of my mood swings,” says Kintz. “She was the one who decided to end it. I never wanted to divorce.” Kintz says the pain of losing Kim, “the love of my life,” has been at times unbearable.
Kim declined to comment for this story, but wrote via e-mail: “It has been a difficult transition for our family … a very personal situation to me. I choose to keep it private.” The Kintzes’ daughter, Kendra, who’s studying industrial engineering at Oregon State University (all three kids are engineers), says her mom is doing “exponentially better now.” “I’m also a lot closer with both my parents after all this,” says Kendra, who still refers to Nicole as “Dad.” “He is so happy now. He was never really emotional before, and now it’s just pouring out of him. All it takes is five minutes to see how genuine he is. I mean, how could you not want to support that?”
Back at the Blue Moon, we’re on hour three, and we’ve tackled every topic except, well: “My bottom surgery?” Kintz says. “Yes, I hope to do it. When I get dressed in the morning, there’s a sense of ‘Which one of these things doesn’t belong?’ I do feel very incongruous, but I’m not in a huge hurry.” And she can’t be: protocol that’s known in the medical field as the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care (named for the Berlin-born physician who, in the 1950s, was one of the first doctors to treat and write about transsexuals) advises transgender people to live openly and consistently in the desired gender role for at least a year (for Kintz, that would be this July) before undergoing sexual reassignment surgery. And it’s not cheap. The procedure can cost upward of $26,000, and it’s not covered by most insurance policies.
By 10 p.m., we’ve been gabbing for nearly three hours, and I tell Kintz it’s probably time to wrap up. It’s a school night, after all. “I’m telling you,” she says, “this is the riches of life, sitting here reconnecting with my past as the person I always wanted to be. It’s like Christmas every day.”