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Transitioned: Podcast Transcript

Anita Rao 0:04
A decade ago when I was going through a rocky period in a long term relationship, one of my best friends gave me some sage advice. She encouraged me to remember that being with someone isn't a choice you make once, but something you choose every single day. Those choices are informed by how each of you is growing independently and how the two of you are evolving together. For many trans folks, coming out and affirming their gender identity can mean the end of a relationship. But it doesn't have to. For one Danish couple staying together was the choice they continue to make after one partner transitioned.

Jackie 0:46
I don't think there was ever really any talk about splitting up. We'd been together for about a year and a half, and we loved each other very much and just wanted to be together.

Anya 0:56
Yeah, exactly. Open and loving communication was really important to us. And we just kept talking about our feelings. We didn't have any secrets. We didn't have any resentment. We just dealt with things as they came up and talked together through it all.

Anita Rao 1:11
That's Jackie and Anya. I'm Anita Rao and this is Embodied, our show about sex, relationships, and your health.

March 31st marks the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was founded in 2009 by Michigan-based activist and therapist Rachel Crandall-Crocker. She wanted to honor the contributions of trans folks in the queer rights movement and shine a light on ongoing challenges faced by the trans community. But also she wanted celebration — and moments of joy.

Rachel Crandall-Crocker Clip 1:48
I created the day because I wanted a day that we could be proud of what we are. I wanted a day that we could celebrate. And, you know, I kept on waiting for someone else to create it. And I waited, and I waited, and I waited. And then finally I said to myself, if no one else is gonna start it, I will.

Anita Rao 2:31
In honor of the 15th International Transgender Day of Visibility, we are spotlighting trans love and the experiences of couples who have navigated a romantic relationship through a partner's transition. Our first story begins at the birthplace of many modern love tales: on Tinder.

Lucy Aalto 2:49
Well, truth be told, the only reason I was on Tinder that day was that I was procrastinating a university assignment. I think I swiped yes on about two people that day and Summer was one of them. I thought her profile — him at the time — was really funny and charming. So we got to chatting. And very soon we agreed to go on a lunch date that weekend.

Anita Rao 3:14
That's Lucy Aalto. She and her partner, Summer Tao, are both freelance writers based in South Africa. The pair first connected virtually in 2018. One date quickly turned into two, then three, and very soon they were in a committed partnership. Before meeting Lucy, Summer had experimented with her gender presentation. And says she characterized herself as a cross-dressing man.

Summer Tao 3:39
I lived as a man, did the manly things, took on the masculine role in society. Three out of 10, wouldn't do it again. When I got to university, I began to cross-dress, I started buying and trying feminine clothes, both in private and in public. I put myself in some very queer-affirming friendship groups. So when Lucy and I started dating, I would say that was actually around the time, I would have said that I tapered down my cross-dressing stuff. Because at the time, I thought, "Okay, it's time to form a relationship as a man in the masculine role. So I'm going to put all of the women's clothing away for a while." I kept Lucy aware of this, but I didn't do much during those first couple of years, because I was still just playing to my own script.

Anita Rao 4:28
Lucy, what did the kind of dynamic look like in your eyes in those first couple of years? I know that you have both said that there was a lot that clicked, a lot that was working really well. But you've also said that you felt like in some ways your relationship wasn't reaching its full potential. Tell me more about that.

Lucy Aalto 4:46
Yeah, so it's not like there was anything massively wrong with our relationship when Summer was still presenting as a man. I think it's only in retrospect that we can both see that her mental health wasn't as good as it is now. And we weren't as close and connected and as on the same level as we are now. At the time, you know, I knew Summer was a cross-dresser. And I know that a lot of trans people use cross-dressing as kind of a stepping stone to explore their identity, or almost as like a soft coming out. But it was never on my mind as like, "Oh, she's secretly a trans woman, and I'm just waiting for her to come out." I always just took what she said at face value. And I thought, it's not really my place to speculate and push my thoughts on to what she's actually doing with her gender presentation.

Anita Rao 5:42
So Summer you did come out to Lucy in July 2020, during the pandemic. The two of you were living together, you were quarantining together. And you've described the moment that you came out with the phrase, "My mouth got ahead of my brain before I was certain." That's such an interesting phrasing, and I'd love to know more about that. And what led you to telling Lucy when you did.

Summer Tao 6:04
So the thing about the pandemic is, we had quite a firm lockdown procedure in South Africa. And suddenly, we were basically cooped up for weeks on end. And I was left with a lot of time to just reflect on my entire life and structure of my life and the role I had in society. What happened was I'd actually been pacing back and forth the apartment for weeks with my earphones and thinking about all this stuff. Hadn't said a work of it to Lucy, because, you know, I figured I'm just thinking, as I always do, she doesn't need to know everything. I was reflecting on, you know, my past interactions with gender. I was thinking about my upbringing and how it shaped myself. I was also especially thinking about who I was becoming and what I'd like to become. The person I was on the track to be. And my most distinct memory is stopping mid-pace, still standing, looking over to Lucy, pulling my earphones out and just telling her, "I think I'm trans." Which could be a bit of a bombshell in many contexts, but for us it was just a bit surprising. And that's how my mouth kind of got ahead before I'd really compiled my thoughts, but it's out there now, I have to deal with it. Life carries on.

Anita Rao 7:25
Lucy, take me to your perspective. You're on the other side of the room, you're watching Summer pace back and forth, she stops, she says this. How did you react? What were you feeling in that moment?

Lucy Aalto 7:37
It wasn't really the most dramatic bombshell of a moment. As I say, I wasn't, like, expecting that Summer was trans. I didn't secretly have my suspicions. But considering that she had long been experimenting with her gender presentation, it also wasn't the biggest surprise ever. And I have identified as bisexual for a long time. So the idea of her transitioning into a woman was not like the immediate relationship-ending bombshell that it could be for some people with a more restrictive sexuality. I was a bit unsure. You know, I have never really navigated a gender transition with anybody that closely. I didn't know what the next steps would be. But believe the thing I said immediately was, "Okay. Do you want to talk about it?" Because I just really wanted to know what was going through her mind. And what had made her come to that realization, why now and what she next wanted to do. And it turns out, she mostly just wanted to think about it some more.

Anita Rao 8:46
With Lucy by her side, Summer dove headfirst into research. She scanned through support groups, message boards and Discord channels. And as Summer met more trans folks online, she began to see more and more of herself within their stories. Eventually, she concluded that she wanted to start hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, with estrogen.

Summer Tao 9:08
I distinctly recall that the first time I started estrogen, within a couple of days, the first change I noticed was actually emotional. I felt mellower in my body, more relaxed, less agitated, for the first time in my life. As though a persistent buzzing noise just stopped in the back of my mind. And then as the weeks progressed, the physical changes start to come in. That means some breast development, changing skin texture — in the first couple of months, my skin softened. And every single time I noticed something new it only made me happier, which only confirmed in my mind that this was the right decision for me. I had always left the path open that if I decided I didn't like HRT and estrogen and its effects, I was always able to turn back. And we are now three, four years into it, have never considered turning back. It's magnificent.

Anita Rao 10:03
Lucy, as the two of you became a visibly queer couple, did you notice any shifts and how people responded to you, or people treated you in public in particular?

Lucy Aalto 10:13
A little bit. Summer and I are both pretty lucky in that both of our social circles are very accepting of queer people and our relationship specifically. And we also live in a university town which is disproportionately young and educated and queer-friendly. Sometimes when I visit my hometown with Summer, which is much smaller and more conservative, I do notice a lot more looks. It is hard to tell why we're getting those looks though, because my hometown is also predominantly white and Summer is ethnically Chinese. So I don't even know if it's because we're a visibly lesbian couple, it could be because they aren't used to seeing an Asian person around. But the most harassment we've received has actually been online. But I will say that the types of comments we've received online have been pretty inane and easy to ignore.

Anita Rao 11:17
Summer came out in 2020. But the political and cultural climate they entered as a queer couple has a very different history than the one we've experienced in the U.S. After the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, South Africa adopted a brand new constitution. And in 1996, it became the first jurisdiction in the world to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. A decade later, it became the first country on the African continent to legalize same sex marriage.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula Clip 11:51
In order to give effect to the Constitutional Court ruling, same sex couples have to be allowed to marry, so that they can enjoy the status, obligations and entitlements enjoyed at the moment by opposite sex couples.

Anita Rao 12:07
While the South African constitution and legal system are progressive, Summer says the country as a whole is still pretty conservative. And how you're treated can vary greatly based on geography and race. Existing as a queer person there and everywhere is inherently political. However, Lucy and Summer have found support from their family and friends. And they say that Summer's transition has actually brought them closer in some unexpected ways.

Lucy Aalto 12:36
I have endometriosis, which was diagnosed when I was 20. But I had been experiencing symptoms since I was 12, which is the common story for people who have endometriosis. And before Summer came out, and before she transitioned, there were times that she maybe wasn't as sensitive to what I was going through on my period as I would have liked. But when she started HRT, though she doesn't get a period proper, she does experience almost like a phantom hormonal cycle. So she will have sort of like period cramps, and she's experienced something which I have compared to ovulation pain, and she also experiences food cravings. And while they're nowhere near as intense as what I experience, it does give her a baseline of understanding of what I'm going through. And I remember when she first realized what was going on, she just started apologizing to me profusely for how she had acted as a man about my period situation. And it was amusing and sort of touching and brought us both closer together.

Anita Rao 13:52
Summer, one other piece of that HRT experience I wanted to ask you about is how it impacted your sex drive. I know that the doctor noted to you when taking hormones that they would impact your sex drive, how did that affect the sexual dynamic in your relationship? And how did the two of you work through that?

Summer Tao 14:09
So the thing about HRT on sex drives is people whose bodies are fueled by estrogen tend to experience a slightly lower sex drive in general than those on testosterone. And that was the warning that was given to me. And that generally did turn out to be true. My overall masculine desire to have sex, and have it often, and be sated, definitely waned to something much more comfortable. But overall, I also found that estrogen and HRT and the social qualities of my transition made me experience attraction more strongly. And now my attraction was less physical, more emotional, calmer, more present. We took it very carefully. We took it easily. And once things settle down, realized the space we want to be in was A) I want to drop the masculine script I've been living in. The one where I have to take charge in my day-to-day life, I have to take charge in the bedroom. I wasn't really interested in doing that anymore, that was sort of a mask. I would say, we have a lot less sex than we used to. But the amount we do have, the quality is higher, and we're much more in tune with each other emotionally, and we're much better connected. And there's nothing I would ever give up for that.

Anita Rao 15:25
As you all reflect on the past four years, I'm curious about any advice you would give to a couple who might be in the very early stages of navigating this shift in their relationship. Lucy, let's start with you.

Lucy Aalto 15:38
I would say that the most important thing, if your partner comes out as trans, is not to assign any blame. While it's completely normal to have complicated feelings and be unsure about where the future is going, it's very important to recognize that a trans person is not, like, doing something vindictive to you. They're not betraying you. It's not even about you, the partner. It's about them individually, and what they need, and how they need to live their life. And while sometimes when a person transitions, they become someone who you are no longer compatible with — and that is, you know, it's perfectly fine to break up for that reason — I would urge people to give their trans partners more of a chance than society suggests you do. Because it's often framed as this relationship-ending bombshell that, you know, you've been betrayed by, you know, your man, your your husband, who's secretly your wife, you know? And I don't like that script, because it's so — it doles out so much blame where no one's done anything wrong. And yeah, I would just encourage people to take it slow, to think things through and to just decide what it means for you and your relationship.

Summer Tao 17:06
If I were in the position of giving out advice to people who were in this situation, the first thing on my mind is the basic tenets of having a good relationship still stand strongly when someone decides to transition. That means communication, openness, honesty, trust. Many of those tenets actually become elevated, because transition, it can be a wonderful thing for the person going through it. And it can even, in our case, greatly improve the relationship. But I don't think there's any situation where transition makes a relationship less complex. Transition is a time of flux. A person has to rethink and reform their entire physical and emotional and social self. That won't make things any simpler in a person's life. It'll introduce complexity, and current capable relationships can navigate that complexity, and often come out having learned something from it. Even if the thing they've learned at the end is, this may or may not work for us. Maybe this won't work for us and we'll have to part. In our case, after all the long conversations, the long discussions, we ended up sticking together. As you said, we kept choosing each other every single day. Even though I have repeatedly advised Lucy to move on and find someone a little bit more emotionally stable, she staunchly refuses to do so. Fine, we're stuck with each other, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Anita Rao 19:04
When one partner transitions, a learning process begins. And it goes both ways, with each person discovering new truths about themselves and their relationship. Danish couple Jackie and Anya, who you met earlier, found this process to be incredibly enlightening.

Jackie 19:24
For me, I know this is banal, but I learned that it was okay to be myself regardless of how other people saw me. And of course, I learned that my wife has a big beautiful heart and that she loved me through everything. I was really worried at first. Because I'd heard all these stories, "Oh, no, what will, what will my partner do when I come out?" But was just no issue, and it was just amazing.

Anya 19:57
Yeah, I think, I'm a very willed person, and I was ready already at at 16 to stand up for who I am and the ones I love. It didn't really matter to me what other people thought about me or our relationship. And I think what I learned about Jackie is that there was this whole vibrant person hiding under the surface that I had, I had seen glimpses of, but she just emerged more and more as she transitioned.

Jackie 20:30
I was just waiting to be found and loved. Yeah.

Anita Rao 20:38
For Kate and Patty Redman, this period of discovery came 22 years into their marriage. The two of them are retired and live in Kansas City, Missouri. Kate used to work as a software architect for IBM, and Patty as an office manager and accounts clerk. Despite presenting as a man until she was in her late 50s, Kate had known something was different about her since she was a young child. What started as an inkling eventually grew into a certainty that she could no longer ignore. And in 2018, when Kate's kids were grown up and out of the house, and she had officially retired, she began to confront questions about her gender identity head on.

Kate Redman 21:17
I did reach a breaking point. I had basically lost all my distractions, or all my coping mechanisms. Which involved, you know, the kids' activities with volleyball and band and, and my customer contacts. I lost all that, and I was left with alcohol. And I started drinking too much. And also was having some heart symptoms. And I was in the hospital one night, I'd, I'd had a episode with some cardiac symptoms. And I just came to the point where I couldn't do this anymore. I was destroying myself, I was destroying my relationships. And I felt that I could still lose the relationships. But if I didn't make a change, I was going to be dead in eight years or less. And so I decided to make a change.

Anita Rao 22:19
You decided to come out to Patty through writing a letter, tell me a bit about that letter and what you've shared in it.

Kate Redman 22:25
Well, that letter, when I finally realized and finally came to the conclusion that I had to tell Patty, I didn't know how to do it. And one of the things that I do to clarify my thinking a lot of times is I'll just sit down and start writing. And so one evening late, Patty had already gone to bed. I just sat down and started writing about what was inside of me what my plans were, which were to go back into therapy. And I intended to undergo hormone replacement therapy, and ultimately complete a complete transition of my life from living as a male to living as I am, which is that of a woman. And that letter took probably most of the night to write. I cried a lot that night. It was about four pages. And when Patty awoke the next morning, I shared the letter with her.

Anita Rao 23:34
Patty, take me back to that day when you got that letter. What was going through your mind when you were reading it? How did you feel?

Patty Redman 23:43
I just took the letter. And as I was reading, things got more and more confusing in my mind. I was not wanting to understand or even know about a transgender personality. I am older, I'm like 71 right now. So it just was not something that was ever, that I knew about. So actually, as I read more and more about it, I thought she was telling me she's leaving me because I've just figured, "Well, if you're a woman, you're, then you're going to be attracted to a male and you're just telling me that you don't love me anymore."

Anita Rao 24:27
So what happened from there for the two of you? How did those next couple of weeks go as this information sunk in? Kate, what's notable in your memory?

Kate Redman 24:39
I would say for the next several weeks, things were very tough. Obviously, I had basically turned Patty's world totally upside down. You know, she needed to process that. She needed to have time to think through. I will say that it was never my intent to leave her. I was very, very hopeful that the relationship would survive, but I knew I was playing with fire. And I knew that she could be the one that says, "I can't do this." And it was a risk that I had to take.

Patty Redman 25:22
Well, it seemed like, for the first two weeks, I was a comatose zombie. Spent a lot of time just crying. I don't know if Kate and I even talked that much. It's very vague to me. But I think the thing that Kate realized was that she needed to explain to me that this doesn't mean our marriage is over. Because that's all that I thought at the time. Kate was very caring as I, a lot of times, she'd find me just sitting balled up in a corner crying. But it seems like after a couple of weeks, I was just like, you know, I don't know what all this means. But I know that that doesn't mean that Kate's anything different. It doesn't change who she is. So I went out and I just told her, "I don't know, but I think we're gonna make it."

Anita Rao 26:23
In the weeks and months after Kate came out, Kate and Patty processed together and sought out support. Kate brought Patty into some of her therapy sessions, shared a lot of resources and research and helped connect her to some support groups specifically for family members of trans folks. Kate says that she was well aware that when one person transitions in a marriage, the other person must transition also. And she tried to anticipate some of Patty's needs.

Kate Redman 26:53
I think that I, well, I know I was transitioning my body to match my heart and my mind. Patty had to transition her mind and her heart about me. And I realized I had given her the harder job. And thankfully, she stepped up to the plate. Knowing that she had the harder job, of course, I knew I had some education because I was guilty of keeping the secret. I knew this was in me since my childhood, and I thought I could manage it. And I thought I could keep it under wraps. I thought I could keep it under control. But in the end, I couldn't. So when I made my decision, I wanted the marriage to survive. I wanted to stay with Patty. I needed to do what I could do to help her with her transition. And I kept, you know, her needs in my mind throughout my process.

Anita Rao 27:55
Over the course of your transition as you were being more public and accepting and embracing your femininity, you were really intentional about not wanting to infringe upon Patty's femininity. Can you talk a bit more about that and what that looks like in practice?

Kate Redman 28:11
Well, okay, I knew as part of my transition, that in forcing Patty to transition, I needed to be careful not to invade her space. Because she was processing probably a lot more than I was processing. So when it came to things like haircare products and personal care products, I made the point that I would acquire my own. I acquired my own curling iron, I acquired my own hairdryer, I acquired my own straightener, I acquired my own skin products. The thing that I wanted to make sure was that she still had her personal space where she felt comfortable, and that I wasn't infringing on that. And that was a conscious effort.

Anita Rao 29:00
Patty, what was it like for you to kind of walk alongside Kate as her presentation changed, as her physical body changed as well? Because she started taking hormones and sought multiple gender-affirming surgeries. What was that like for you?

Patty Redman 29:15
It was fun. I did a lot of the first shopping for her. I found her her first shoes. I found her her tops. In some ways I saw what she was doing. But I was thinking, "Well, you don't need to spend all that extra money. If you want to use this you can."

Anita Rao 29:33
Well, Kate, I mean, you, you wanted to seek input from Patty throughout the process of your physical transition. Why was that important to you? And how did you weigh that with kind of doing what felt important to you in that moment?

Kate Redman 29:48
Well, I knew where I was going, and I knew what I was going to complete. It was going to be a medical and legal transition from male to female. I involved her in my early contacts with various surgeons for the facial surgery and my affirmation surgery. I also made sure that I respected her need for timing. And that, you know, I didn't rush into something that she wasn't ready for. So knowing that she had to transition her mind about me, I made a conscious effort to give her the time and the space to accomplish that.

Anita Rao 30:32
Summer and Lucy were talking earlier about how some aspects of the physical transition impacted their sexual and intimate relationship. Patty, what were some of the dynamics around sex and intimacy that you two had to renegotiate?

Patty Redman 30:45
Um, well, once we decided that everything was going to be fine, we had some wonderful sex. I am one who likes penetration so that at the beginning was still available, and then just navigating ... I'm having a struggle with the word.

Kate Redman 31:09
You don't see yourself as a lesbian.

Patty Redman 31:11
Yes. But I do see myself loving Kate. So we are learning how to, you know, what touch feels comfortable still. And how we reach out, we definitely are intimate with each other. And just in terms of how comfortable each person feels, is how we navigate that.

Anita Rao 31:33
Yeah, I know that renegotiation of boundaries around intimacy as your body's changing can be challenging for folks. Kate, how did you get support around that? How did you figure out how you wanted to communicate about that with Patty?

Kate Redman 31:47
Obviously, once I had my affirmation surgery, penetrative sex was an impossibility for me. So we talked about this, you know, going into my surgery we talked about, you know, to a certain extent, our relationship is probably going to move towards more of a platonic relationship. But what we've found is we found other ways — whether it be, you know, a touch or a massage, or just caressing each other and holding each other — other ways to maintain that intimacy without the penetrative sex.

Anita Rao 32:26
As Kate and Patty adjusted to a new sex life and Kate came out to more family and friends, they tried to find a balance between finding new social support and relying on the networks they already had. They started attending a support group held by the Transgender Institute in Kansas City, and Kate became a regular to a weekly girls' night out gathering where she connected with fellow trans women in the area. Patty and Kate are also both practicing Roman Catholics and have always found solace in worship. But lately, their faith has been tested due to the Church's stance on transgender parishioners.

Kate Redman 32:59
I will say that, in the United States what the Roman Catholic USCCB, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has published and has said, they have strained our relationship with the Church. But we haven't totally walked away from the Church. We've also been involved a little bit in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender outreach organizations within the Church. But to be honest with you at the moment, it's strained.

Anita Rao 33:36
Patty, if you could go back and give yourself any advice at the beginning of navigating this transition, around any of these aspects that we have been talking about — faith, intimacy — what would that advice be?

Patty Redman 33:50
I find that keeping your spirituality open. I've just was blessed that I didn't fall into that God is just one way. And I had wonderful, wonderful spiritual teachers all through my life that really, when Kate came out, you know, after my couple of weeks it was more about, you know, you're helping me as a Christian to become more of what God says is right, and that we are all created equal.

Anita Rao 34:26
So, we're releasing the show right around the International Transgender Day of Visibility, and I would love to end hearing about what aspects of trans love and particular that you all would like to make more visible.

Patty Redman 34:40
I just would like for more people to not dance around the subject of trans, but be outspoken and, and challenge people to step up and be there for anybody and — whatever gender they are.

Kate Redman 35:00
I would like to see us in the United States be more accepting. We need to stop judging in this country and for trans love, for Patty and I, the thing is we had made a commitment to each other 28 years ago. And here we are today, even through massive, massive change in how I navigate the world. We've honored that commitment with each other and we still wake up every day. We still hold each other, we still sit and talk in the morning over morning coffee. And at night, we still kiss each other good night. And I think that's the important thing, is just not to judge people for how they choose to live their lives or how they have to live their lives.

Anita Rao 36:27
Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast, consider a contribution at now. Special thanks to Anya and Jackie of the YouTube channel Wives vs World for their contribution to this episode. This show was produced by Paige Miranda and edited by Amanda Magnus. Kaia Findlay also produces for our show, Skylar Chadwick is our intern and Jenni Lawson is our sound engineer. Quilla wrote our theme music.

Before we go, I want to share a message with y'all that we got in response to our egg donor show from a few weeks ago.

Catherine 37:06
My name is Catherine and I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I donated my eggs three times while a young woman in New York City in 2002 and 2004. In November 2022, just over a year ago, I received a Facebook message from a stranger that said, "I found you through and my own DNA tests. I want you to know that I've had a wonderful life and I have really nice parents. Thank you so much for what you did for my family and I hope this provides some closure to you." My heart started racing, I felt dizzy, I immediately started crying. I had no idea this could happen. I signed papers in New York to be contacted. But this young person had gone around all of that through at-home DNA testing. She looks more like me than my own daughter does. And my whole family is confused and amused by the situation. It was one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life. Fast forward — I'm actually going to meet her and her family in April, we're flying to the Northeast. I know that in your podcast, everything that you talk about the confusion and anger that donor-conceived children have, she has felt. And I just want to thank you for talking about this important subject. It's something that's very personal to me. I set it on the back burner for about 20 years, and now it's resurfaced in the most wonderful way.

Anita Rao 38:35
Catherine, thank you so much for sharing that story. And we are truly honored that our episode resonated with you. If any of y'all have thoughts after listening to this episode or any other, we would love to hear them. Leave us a voice note in our virtual mailbox SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. You could also write us a review and let us know why you listen. Do it on your podcast app of choice. Word of mouth recommendations are the best way to support our podcast and we so appreciate your support. Until next time, I'm Anita Rao taking on the taboo with you.

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