Soul-mates Mark Cummings and Jessica O’Donnell have each faced a lifetime of abuse and discrimination simply because of their sexualities.
Mark used to be a girl called Maritza while Jessica was a boy called Shawn. But neither could hide from their true selves, entombed by their bodies and unable to express who they really were.
Jessica even attempted suicide as a teen and her family all but disowned her when she finally told them her secret, while Mark endured bigotry and prejudice throughout his youth.
But two years ago their paths crossed and love-at-first-sight washed all their troubles away.
True love: Mark Cummings and Jessica O’Donnell shop for rings two years after they met
‘Going through all the pain we’ve been through it’s almost like we were rewarded by being placed in each other’s lives,’ said Mark. ‘With Jessica I have found true love for the first time in my life – It’s like something you see in the movies.’
Earlier this year, Mark, who transitioned in 2003, helped Jessica find the confidence to remove her testicles.
Now they are engaged and say their love is as powerful as that of any couple. They plan to wed next year.
‘For years I thought I was a gay man,’ revealed Jessica. ‘But now I know who I am and Mark completes me. Our relationship is the kind that people dream of – our first kiss was magic.’
Now the pair, from Wilton Manors, Florida, host Transition Radio – a show aimed at raising awareness about issues facing transgender people.
‘Losing my virginity to Jessica was special’: Mark says he loves taking care of Jessica at home in Wilton Manors, Florida, and admits that before meeting Jessica he was a 48-year-old virgin
Mark, an occupational therapist and bodybuilder, said: ‘Because she has gone through the same journey as me she knows the pain and suffering that it can be to be a transgender person.
‘Now I don’t believe being transgender is a curse and I want to make other trans people feel good about themselves.
‘If people want to judge us for our relationship I would say, what makes your relationship better than mine?’
Like Mark, Jessica suffered discrimination and gender identity issues growing up.
She even attempted suicide before admitting to her family that she was transgender.
Now she has taken Mark’s surname to show her love and the pair had each other’s name inked onto their bodies.
She said: ‘Growing up knowing I wasn’t who people said I was left me feeling alienated and alone.
‘I couldn’t see a way out, it was the worst feeling in the world.
‘The first time I saw Mark I thought he was cute but I would have never guessed he was born female.
‘When he told me I was wanted to know more about him.’
As well as hosting Trans Radio, Mark and Jessica play music and plan to record an album together.
Mark said: ‘To the outside world we are a normal heterosexual couple but being transgender I feel like we are even more in tune with each other.
‘Having been a female I can understand what Jessica is feeling and vice versa.
‘We share this incredible bond, which is almost like sharing the same brain.’
And Mark admits that before meeting Jessica he was a virgin at age 48.
He said: ‘Losing my virginity to Jessica is something incredibly special that I’ll never forget.’
After years living as a man, Jessica told her family that she was trapped in the wrong body when she was 35 years old.
She said: ‘It took months before I could finally tell my parents, but I didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for. Only my grandmother really stood by me.
‘Meeting Mark helped me to fully accept myself and love who I am as a trans woman.’
Mark, who used to lift weights as a female bodybuilder, added: ‘I love fulfilling the role as Jessica’s provider and protector.
‘I love taking care of her – I call her my princess.’