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No couple stays married 50 years without adjusting to changes. The former Mr. and Mrs. Giles of Bennett Valley, for years now Ms. and Ms., certainly have.

Ask Diane and Anne Giles what's been the most challenging and rewarding development in their long marriage and they'll cite their becoming parents to 10 children — eight adopted and two "homemade."

"In our lives, the biggest thing is the kids," said Anne, who's 70 and a retired occupational therapist and homemaker. The youngest of the Giles children is now 42, the eldest 53, and they've brought Anne and Diane 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

The simplest math dictates that if adapting to a houseful of kids was the No. 1 greatest change in this couple's life, the adjustment to Diane's transition from male to female can rank no higher than No. 2.

Seventeen years have passed since the former Dick Giles, for more than three decades a respected professor of mathematics at Santa Rosa Junior College, took the deepest breath of his life. He announced to the world, at age 58, that he would no longer live an anguished charade and would from that day forward dress and conduct himself as a woman.

He became she. Transgender surgery would follow. Six-foot-one and 180 pounds, she had heads snapping on the SRJC campus as she arrived for class in 1996 in a dress.

"It was very scary," she admitted. "There was no law that said the college had to keep me."

Apart from the reaction of one female colleague who would abruptly change course and flee at the sight of her, she was deeply warmed by how accepting and encouraging the JC's administration, faculty and students were.

An August, 1996, story in The Press Democrat by Bob Norberg had strangers walking up to congratulate her for following her heart. Fellow denizens of the closet thanked her for the inspiration they drew from her coming out.

In the years that followed, more than one person tormented by concealing his or her true sexual identity or orientation reached out to thank her and credit her courageous example with saving his or her life.

The liberation of Diane Giles, who'd secretly cross-dressed for decades and came to realize that she was in fact a woman in a man's body, played pretty much the same at home.

"I just had one daughter who wouldn't speak to me for two and a half years," she said.

A big step was revealing the transformation to her late mother, who was then 82. Diane Giles said her mom sat for a moment with the news that her son had switched to a daughter.

"She looked at me and said, 'Well, welcome,' then she took me out and bought me a blouse."

But by far the most remarkable response came from the wife of the former Dick Giles. She stayed, and changed from being a man's wife to the spouse of another woman.

"I won't say it was easy," Anne Giles said at the couple's longtime country home off Sonoma Mountain Road. "There's a whole lot of adjustment, to say the least."

Through most of the first 30 years of her marriage, she had accepted her husband's powerful but contained desire to dress in women's clothing. Early on, Dick Giles had allowed her to catch him because he didn't want to keep secrets from her.

They both thought he was simply a cross-dresser and that the need was fulfilled by him privately indulging the desire. But over time Dick Giles grew increasingly tormented by suppressing his true identity.

One of his greatest fears was that were he to stop impersonating a man and instead embrace his femininity, he would lose his spouse and best friend. Many people who make the transgender switch do.

But he was honest and open with Anne, who chose to stay in the marriage and change, too.

"I refer to myself as a situational lesbian," she said.

Diane gazed at her with profound gratitude and admiration and said, "This is more her story than mine. This is a very special woman to do what she has done."

Nearly 20 years after the switch, Diane, now 75, and Anne live happily as two mothers and grandmothers who remain deeply in love and are content to let others assume what they may about the nature of their relationship.

"This (the gender switch) really isn't a big part of our lives any more," Anne said. "Family, for us, is much more a part of our lives than being transsexual."

For their recent anniversary party, the Gileses welcomed in 29 family members, included nine of their 10 widely scattered children. It was second nature for the grown children to toast Mom and Mom on their 50 good years together.

"In any marriage," Anne Giles said, "you have to work things out."

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)