I’m not the first person in history who’s ever gone through this. If you read the Reddit sub r/mypartneristrans you will find many many women (and some men) in similar situations. But when it happens to you it feels like you are completely and utterly alone. After all the thing about being trans is trying to pass. It’s a secret club. Unlike being gay where you are loud and proud, the goal of being trans is to be invisible. So we as wives are invisible too. Yes, there have been a few books written and there are some secret FB groups. But for the most part, I was alone. When I tried to reach out I found two kinds of support. There were angry wives who were divorcing their spouses, some of whom had kids, were religious, or were just mad. I didn’t fit in there. And there were the “you are with us or you are against us” wives who had accepted everything and thought any crack in the support facade was a sign of trans phobia. There was even one lovely woman who runs a FB group who claimed that any failure to support your spouse 100% in transition was emotional abuse. Sigh. I’ve always hated true believers of any kind. Nothing is that simple. There must be room for other feelings.
My therapist of many years tended to look kind of deer in the headlights when I talked about all of this, so I found a second therapist who specialized in treating the LGBTQ community. I called him out of the blue one day while literally walking down the street on my cell phone and pretty much poured out the entire story. He remained calm. So I started seeing him. He listened to my complaints about the changes, the hormones, the instability, the ridiculous amount of change. Without him I think it all would have fallen apart. He was the only person I could share my doubts and fears with. It was great. But my spouse wanted a gender therapist too. So I thought we could see this therapist together. And that ended my confidant and my support as we engaged in what has become horrific couples therapy which I dread and wish I could get out of. I continue to look for support.
My spouse started going to a support group for people in transition. And I admit I was jealous. And scared. Both that she had found more people to talk to and I was still all alone and that now she would be sharing all this with other people while I sat at home. My spouse said I was afraid she would be influenced by “the trans agenda.” But I was mostly worried that now she wouldn’t need me anymore. Suddenly it wasn’t our process anymore. I lost any sense of control or input. It was just her process and I was along for the ride. I don’t even get to hear her process, now she does that with her group. I was sullen and sulky. Which as you can imagine made my wife so much more willing to chat and share. Yeah, I know. But it did feel like she came home from group with new ideas and new courage about transition. So maybe I was worried about the trans agenda. It was hard to face that I wasn’t really ready for what was about to happen. As this became more than the two of us my anxiety level rose and I started to wonder if I had gotten myself into more than I had bargained for.
Lately I feel more alone than ever. That’s why I started this blog. You dear readers, imagined or real, are the support group in my head. And I thank you for that.
So the friend from college was supportive. If fairly noisy about our sex life. Seriously? Here is a good lesson in manners. Someone being trans doesn’t change the fact that asking about their sex life or what they have or don’t have below the belt is rude. Geez.
But in general it went well. We are happy to have one person who knows and supports us. Or supports my spouse. I admit to still feeling out here, on an island. Alone. Why is it so hard to find support as a spouse?
You might notice a change in pronouns going forward. Pronouns are a big thing for a lot of transgender people. They don’t want to be called “he” when they are a “she.” I’ve decided that as we start to become more public I’ll start to use “she” and “her” and “wife” to refer to my spouse. But it isn’t a big deal in our house. In part because so many people don’t know and I don’t want to screw up in pubic.
The who to tell saga continues as the holidays approach and I am trying to decide if I should tell my family. I admit to being scared. I think they will be supportive but that doesn’t change that it’s difficult and awkward. So I keep kicking the can down the road one more day. But Christmas approaches and it’s time to shit or get off the pot as my mother might say.
When you figure out you are trans deciding who you should tell or if you should tell anyone is complicated. If you tell the wrong person you could lose your job, be the victim of violence, or get kicked out of your home. For us the decisions were more subtle. We own our house. We have relatively safe jobs, although you can never be sure. But deciding if we should tell anyone terrified me. On the one hand I felt like I should tell people. It seemed honest. It seemed like my relationships with family and friends could suffer if I was hiding something like this. But not least of all because I needed someone else to talk to. However, my terror won out and I told no one. Well, I told my therapist. But I stayed silent other than that. I didn’t tell my mother, my sister, my friends. And my relationships did suffer. I cut myself off a little. Maybe a lot. Because how do you talk to people when the biggest thing going on in your life is something you aren’t talking about?
Until recently that stayed true for both of us. We told no one. Then my spouse decided to tell his best friend from college. By email. And I was terrified.
For a little while after I put my grief in a box there was a period of magic. A time when we just lived and breathed each other. Because what helps a marriage of 18 years like something new? And this was new. My questioning didn’t stop. But we also had a lot of sex. Which might sound odd. Considering my husband just told me he wants to become a woman and I’m a confirmed heterosexual. Be that as it may, I can only retell the story, I can’t always explain it. Perhaps it was that this revelation made us feel closer. Perhaps it was that my accepting my husband exacting as he is and as he might become was a relief to him. I won’t tell you the gory details but it was like a honeymoon.
And I felt magical. This grand gesture of acceptance was so life changing for our marriage. It was like it wiped away all the past grievances and petty fights. If you could do something and it would prove to the person you love that you loved them more than you cared about your own happiness, would you do it? I was convinced this would make our marriage better and therefore be good for me in the long run, even if it hurt for now.
I also had to reassure him a lot that I wasn’t leaving. That the magic wouldn’t go away. That I wouldn’t change my mind. But that’s not me. I’m not going anywhere. Especially not just when my love was finally finding happiness. How could I not stick around for that?
Life goes on so transition was not the only thing happening in our lives. Although it often seemed that way.
My cat was sick and I was taking care of him constantly. I was sick. I was having constant bleeding and pain. It seemed ironic that my basis of my femininity was causing me so many problems while my husband tried to transition. But I didn’t have tons of time to think about it while I rolled around in pain. I finally started down a long road of going to doctors and having tests, an extremely traumatic process for me because I was a sick kid and I’ve never gotten over my fear of doctors. So between me going to the doctor and taking the cat to the vet it was fun times.
For one lovely weekend break from all of this the Women’s March took place and all my old friends came into town. I felt like Cinderella. Then the spell ended and I was back in my life.
All of this was pretty much taking up all my brain power so I wasn’t very focused on my business or my workout plan. While means my routine went to hell. Never good for me. Too much crisis, too little self care leads to a crash. And I was headed for a crash.
Unlike many other crashes in my life this one took place kind of in slow motion. I just kind of stopped sleeping. Well that’s normal. I never sleep much. But gradually the physical pain and emotional pain and PTSD all wore me down to the point where I wasn’t really functioning. I was just moving through life like a zombie. Hoping no one would notice. I didn’t feel much of anything. But I knew there was pain I wasn’t feeling being pushed into the pit in my stomach and waiting to come back up.
I wasn’t much fun to be with or spend time with. I think my spouse assumed this was all about the transition. But mainly the physical pain was grating on my nerves to the point I couldn’t think or function without being a total bitch. I tried. But I was largely unsuccessful.
At some point you have to breath. You can hold on by your fingernails for so long. Then you crash to the bottom of the twelve story building. Splat. Yes I’m mixing metaphors. Sue me. But I lost my grip on perfect supportive wife and started to sob. And sob. And sob. And panic. My anxiety level went through the roof. No amount of xanex would calm me down.
So I did what I always do when my life falls apart and there is no problem to solve. I walked. I got on the treadmill and walked to China. And listened to angry girl music. Tori Amos mostly. Tori Amos is a sign in our marriage that I’m really losing it. And I was losing it. But I just kept walking. And walking. And crying. Until I wore myself out. Until my husband was willing to approach me and talk. And a whole second set of questions came out. What does this mean? Do you still like women? Are you leaving me? Until I ran out of questions and lost my ability to be angry.
I was angry. I was sad. I wanted the life I planned. My heterosexual life. My life as a wife. Protected. Safe. I wanted everything to go back to the way it was and let me have my place as a wife. Why was this happening? But then it would come flooding back that this was really what was best for the love of my life. How could I even begin to deny him that? I couldn’t. If you love someone you want the best for them. So I put my grief in a box and separated it from my love and decided to go on.
The first few days after my husband’s big reveal were basically a question and answer session. And I expressed support and love and reassurance. While I freaked the fuck out a little. The questions were many. Did you know this as a kid? No, well maybe. What are you planning to do? No idea. Of course not. In our relationship I’m the one who takes action. My dear husband can spend three weeks deciding to buy a $10 item. And then regret it. I’m not sure why I thought this process would be different. But he does assure me no surgery. Thank goodness. I hate doctors. And so does he. He has a week long anxiety attack before the denitist (as do I) so there is really no one to stay calm if someone needs surgery. But I’m researching like crazy and I know by now there are a million other things that he could do. Hormones and makeup and laser. I don’t ask about all of those.
Instead I take him shopping at Target and try to get him some girl clothes. It kind of worked. He gets nervous and defensive. Sigh. Raising a wife is going to be more work than I anticipated. But he bought a skirt and a dress and we bought nail polish. Nail polish became part of our routine. I can do his toenails and that brings happiness and calm. Whew.
But I’m holding my breath. I’m trying to be the image of a perfect supportive wife. And holding my breath. Which you can only do for so long.
So you might be asking yourself what does it mean to be transgender? How can someone not be the gender they are born? After all, what is more basic than when you come into the world and the doctor announces “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl.” That’s the beginning of your identity in so many ways. Even assuming you have modern liberal parents who paint your nursery yellow or green you are going to get a lot of gendered messages. Girls like certain things and boys like certain things. Toy commercials will tell you which toys are for you. Video games will be made for you or not. Despite your liberal parents best intentions you might, like I did, want frilly pink dresses and patent leather shoes. My mom dressed me in primary colored overalls and kept my hair short. And as soon as I could talk and choose anything for myself I wanted tights and dresses. So much for all those feminist intentions.
But being a boy or a girl is more than the outside trapping of toys and clothes. It’s also how you feel inside. Confused? So was I. After all, if you never questioned your gender this seems a little crazy. Of course I’m the gender my body assigned me to be. But the brain works in mysterious ways. And some kids, like my husband, spend time wishing and hoping they would wake up a girl. Feeling like a girl. Doesn’t that just mean they’re gay, you might ask? Nope. Gender identity and sexuality aren’t related. Gender identity is how you feel inside. Are you a girl or a boy? If you feel like the thing you were born, congratulations, that’s amazing. If not, you have a hard road ahead. But it’s not something the person can change or fix or resolve. It just is. And not dealing with it can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Is transgender a product of genetics or how someone is raised or something that happens in the womb? Hard to say. I’m not a scientist, as my college biology grade would confirm, and there are tons of theories. If you want to find out more I’ll create a resource page. But in the end it doesn’t really matter. What a person needs to live a whole and happy life is to live the gender they feel. The medical community is in agreement on that. So let’s move on.
So dear reader you might be wondering if this will be the story of my husband’s transition in chronological order. Nope. Those posts will be interspersed with other posts on transition in general, things I’ve learned, and our life before transition (flashbacks if you watched TV in the 90s). I don’t know if anyone will ever read this so I might as well do whatever I want, so if you are reading, bare with me. The story will continue, I promise. But I don’t promise it will be in any particular order. It’s just me. Here. Talking to you.
Just before New Years 2017 my husband of 18 years told me he was questioning his gender. Actually he said he was “having gender issues.” But I knew. I knew instantly. It was like a puzzle piece fitting into place. I never suspected before that moment but when he said it I knew. My husband was really a girl.
I do really well in a crisis. I was bathed in crisis my entire life and I was always the only adult in the room, even when I was eleven and everyone else was a nominal adult. So I reacted to my husband’s revelation with the calm, cool, crisis management style I would handle a house fire or an empty bank account and a bunch of utility bills or a funeral. I’m great at funerals. I put on my bravest face and I started gathering information. How did he know? When did he know? Who else knew? If it sounds like an interrogation perhaps now is a good time to mention I’m a lawyer. But I tried to be calm and keep a low voice and stay reassuring.
I assured my dearest friend and companion for my entire adult life that I of course wasn’t leaving and hugged him (her?) and pretended to sleep. Once I was alone with my thoughts I started swirling. And crying. And eventually morning came. That was the beginning.