Monday, January 3, 2011

Transition (or Coming Out) When Married

The LGBT community is well aware of the arguments over what marriage is and what it isn't. I want to point out first and foremost that this article is not intended to define or even discuss the details of gay marriage; instead it is written to deal with a specific type or marriage. That of an existing one involving a partner who comes out as trans.

I think we all can agree that for any marriage to work the partners must trust each other and love each other. When one person in a marriage comes out as trans, these two things are among the many that can be strained heavily. While the sobering reality is that many of these marriages fail, I will not or cannot say that this is always the case. It certainly wasn't in mine and I know others who have stayed together as well. On the other hand I know a lot of couples that did not.

Now, I do not want to start out on a negative note but you must understand one thing if nothing else: Coming out as trans to your wife (or husband) can end your marriage right then and there! This is not to say don't do it, you just need to balance the risks. This is one of the many reasons we MUST see some kind of therapist. This isn't to validate who we are to the outside world, but rather to explore our feeling and understand what the risks and benefits of transition really mean. Are we truly prepared and do we really want to do this. Do we need to transition? What if we don't? These are just some of the questions that must be really considered. When it comes down to it I'd suggest starting therapy long before you ever even think about coming out.

People who have made that choice need to understand their non-trans partner may respond in a vast array of ways. We need to realize that how they respond may not just be reactions; instead they are valid and even reasonable emotions that the couple may or may not be able to resolve. We have to be prepared and understand that coming out as trans is both selfish and a one sided. By coming out to a partner who is unaware we are asking, demanding even, that they accept a fundamental change in the relationship.

The "Ultimate Betrayal"

While reading Julia Serano's book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity I remembering her mentioning a comment by the director Jane Anderson who directed the Emmy Award Winning HBO movie Normal. This comment was that she (Anderson) chose to make a movie about a married man who decides to transition to show the struggles of a marriage dealing with what she calls the "ultimate betrayal". While I believe this comment shows a lack of compassion (especially from a lesbian!) and points to blatant exploitation and misrepresentation of trans women, it does raise a point. As I said before, many wives feel this very way when they find out their husband wants to become a woman.

There is the very real possibility that the person's partner may feel lied to, hurt or even tricked. They may be enraged, depressed, or even disgusted. These very feelings may be the single biggest reason these marriages fail so quickly. Unfortunately I have seen these relationships end in very hurtful ways. Also, even if the partner does decide to stay, the relationship is far from safe. These feelings may creep in over time (more on this in a bit).

Struggling With a Changing Identity

One reason a partner may chose to stay is that they figure since they love their partner they want to be their for them, you know "Til dead do us part", "sickness and health", "good times and bad". What they don't realize (neither of them in many cases) is that transition changes people. After all, isn't that the point? I know that I have changed a great deal over the last couple of years, far more then I thought I would when I started. As I said earlier, my wife is one of those women who decided to stay and she has truly been a huge supporter; still it has been hard. Our relationship has come very close to ending more then once. Six months in and we were both searching for a meaning in our marriage. There were times when if you asked either of us if we truly loved the other I think we both have said “I don't know”. As I said earlier those feelings of doubt and betrayal are always lurking. The further the trans partner gets in their transition the further way from the person that their partner married they become. We tend to forget (or ignore) that our partners and loved ones are mourning the loss of their husband, son, father, brother or wife, daughter, mother, or sister. I repeat this a lot but remember, transition is by it's very nature selfish so it is easy to forget these things.

We also fail to realize in some cases that we (the trans person) may change our minds about the relationship. While many married trans women do love their wives they may start to feel the need to explore their identity in ways they did not anticipate beforehand. They may also be more comfortable exploring their sexual identities as well. Again, this highlights how we are naïve about how much we change!

This all sounds so bad but still I assure you it is not. I am just trying to paint a realistic picture. I forget where I heard it but I remember this bit of advice: You know you are ready to transition when the risk of loosing everything is less then the risk or loosing your life. Again, transition is far from the “ultimate betrayal” but the fact remains that the person you may love (and the person who may love you completely) may not or may not be willing to love the person you are becoming.

So What Can You Do?

Well if your partner decides to leave, and there is no hope of reconciling the relationship, the best you can do is not be hurtful. Understand how that person may feel but also try not to let them take advantage. This can be a very sticky situation that may involve lawyers so I will not give specific advice; just know that you cannot make someone accept you. Not your wife, not your mother, not your children and not the clerk at the corner store. The best you can do is educate. You give them the knowledge they need to make an informed decision and hope they are receptive.

On the other hand, if your partner is willing to try to make it work you must do all you can to set the relationship up to succeed. You both need to understand, accept and expect that you will both change. There is a great deal of very helpful information in both books and on the web. Two wonderful books written by author Helen Boyd are My Husband Betty and She's Not The Man I Married. Also consider join-therapy sessions. During the hardest point in my wife and my relationship the one time we both went to my therapy session may have saved our marriage! Another great idea is if you both attend a support group. Also your partner may want to reach out to others non-transitioning spouses. I know my wife benefited a lot from the small group of non-transitioning spouses that agreed to meet in our area.

My goal is that people will read this and find hope. By having a realistic viewpoint we can make better decisions. Understanding how people react (or understanding they may not react the way you would like) may help you choose to give them the news in a way that may make things easier, and who knows, maybe that spouse who would have just freaked out may stop and consider staying.

5 comments:

IWASNTBLOGGEDYESTERDAY said...

Such a difficult topic, I sometimes think that it must be outside influences, what other people think that make this such a difficult and traumatic issue. Unconditional love...is just that.
But then you have the whole concealment issue, and the how did I not see that?, which brings a guilty feeling with it as well.
ahh why is it so complicated?

Katherine said...

All those things really... Guilt, shame, deceit... Plus even with "Unconditional love", as I stated in the end of my post here, the non-transitioning partner may feel that type of love towards the man they married; however they may not feel the same for the women he becomes...

It gets complicated.

Anthony St.Angelo said...

I am 1 year into transitioning and my marriage is on the rocks BUT I am doing everything I can to make it work but intern she starts up fights just because she can. How do I try to turn fights into a conversation verses both of us getting angry. She has threatened divorce severe times if I make a move to transition any further and she is using threats guilt shame hatred and so on to try to keep me the same old me. She doesn't understand the feelings I have inside are emotional mental and heart felt that the transition MUST go forward. I can't help it. It is who I am inside. What can I do.

Anthony St.Angelo said...

I am 1 year into transitioning and my marriage is on the rocks BUT I am doing everything I can to make it work but intern she starts up fights just because she can. How do I try to turn fights into a conversation verses both of us getting angry. She has threatened divorce severe times if I make a move to transition any further and she is using threats guilt shame hatred and so on to try to keep me the same old me. She doesn't understand the feelings I have inside are emotional mental and heart felt that the transition MUST go forward. I can't help it. It is who I am inside. What can I do.

Katherine Jean said...

Anthony St.Angelo, this is hard. First off understand that what you are doing is changing not only your life but try to see that you are changing her's. I understand you probably realize this but it can be hard. When you married you were man and wife, not she find herself in a relationship with not only a different person in many ways but a woman. My suggest is if you both want it to work seek couple therapy. This is not something that there is a magic button to fix. Sorry :(