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Ten ways to handle “the conversation”

by The Wife on July 12, 2008

For some people, finding out that their spouse or lover is a transgendered person or a crossdresser can be a shock. People who have been married for years, say 20 plus years, can feel betrayed and disappointed. For others, it can be a small deal or even a positive outcome to what might have been an emotionally charged first conversation.

You may have already been told that your loved one is a crossdresser, but if not – if you suspect it – here are ways that you can react or cope with the news.

Listen. This is one of the most stressful conversations your significant other will likely ever have, let alone that it is with you. By telling you this they are likely telling you their last secret, the final thing that you may not know about them. This is about them. Yes, it is about you, too, but you have not had to live with the lifetime feelings of guilt or “otherness” that they may have likely experienced their entire lives. Make sure you respect that and listen to what they need to say to you.

Try not to be accusatory. You may feel like you have been betrayed. This is normal. At the same time, though, it doesn’t help you or them if you make accusatory statements and say things that you will later regret. Instead of asking, “Why are you doing this to me?” say, “I am hurt that you did not tell me sooner, but I appreciate knowing.” It is important that they understand how you feel, but ultimately it is your choice how you choose to let that information affect you, there will be plenty of time for both of you to express your feelings. They are not telling you because they want to leave you, they are telling you because they trust you.

Ask questions. This will likely be one of the most revealing and memorable moments of your relationship. Just know that these first conversations can end up making your relationship so much deeper so ask them if they are comfortable with you asking them questions if you are curious about their reasons for crossdressing. Again, make sure your questions are not accusatory and respect them as a human being.

Understand that they are not gay (or straight if you’re already in a homosexual relationship). There is a definite difference between someone being transgendered or a crossdresser and being gay. Often “transgendered” is lumped into the same category of gender issues as gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual (LGBT = lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered), but transgendered is not about a person’s sexual orientation. It is about how they view their gender and what sex, if any, with which they identify. True, some gay people are transgendered, and some transgendered people are gay, but it’s more than likely that this person loves you and is telling you because they love you, are attracted to you, and want to be with you. Less than 1 in 10 of crossdressers have any interest in the same sex, the vast majority are hetereosexual.

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Ask for some time to adjust. If this news makes it hard for you to see your lover in a different way, tell them that you need some time to adjust and accept your new reality of knowing this information. They may have just changed your perspective on what may or may not be culturally acceptable for gender, so ask them to show you the same respect as you have shown them by letting you think about this news and information a while. It is okay to take it slow – you deserve that and they will likely be willing to go slow with you.

See a counselor, and seek more information. If you feel that you need to talk to someone else about this, you can talk to a trusted friend first, but you may want to seek out a counselor instead. Be sure that you see a counselor that specializes in gender issues, because just like medical specialties, there are psychiatric/psychological specialties and some doctors will be more knowledgeable than others on crossdressing and transgenderism (look for words like “gender dysphoria” as well). It may also be advantageous for the two of you to go see a counselor together. There are also numerous websites, support groups, and books that can help you gain a better understanding. It’s worth taking some time to become knowledgable on the subject.

Make an effort to accept. Even if you are uncomfortable, try to take baby steps. Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse to take it slow, but be open to seeing this person dressed how they like, or to assist with manly or womanly things that you have typically thought was solely yours in the relationship. Understand, though, that you both have different tastes and they may not have the same style or approach you do as a man or woman. There’s a tendancy to think that “this changes everything”, but most of the time when it comes right down to it only a few small things change – most people realize that it isn’t as big a deal as they originally imagined.

Find out if this goes beyond crossdressing. Some couples experience crossdressing in their relationship in a very minimal way. It can be weeks or months before your partner chooses to crossdress again. There are other couples that experience this more frequently, and yet others who come to the realization that this is not just about crossdressing – this is a need to actually become the other sex (only a tiny fraction of cross-dressers truely want a sex change). If you both want to stay in this relationship, you need to determine if you are willing to stick it out. If you are a woman and you find out your husband wants to be a woman, staying with her will not make you a lesbian, and vice versa if you are a man. You married this person for sexual reasons, but you also married them because they (hopefully) fulfilled you intellectually and emotionally – your connection is deeper than just the surface. These kinds of relationships work for some people, and not for others – but it will take time for you to determine if it works for you. You can learn to broaden your horizons if you want to stay together for the rest of your lives.

Be supportive. Whether it is helping them pick out makeup or clothes, or just being their rock, you should be there to support them. What they are looking for is acceptance, and more than anything they want to know that they have your support and can depend on you. It may not be easy, but eventually you may be able to offer them all the support they need.

Understand it is okay to leave. You may feel a lot of guilt at not being able to accept this new situation, if it is truly different than what you are used to, but for some people it is hard to marry the idea of what you are comfortable with in a relationship with what has fundamentally changed for you. It is not easy to leave this person behind, but make sure you are doing it because you have tried your utmost to make it work. It is unfair for you to leave if you haven’t tried to understand or make it work. At least put your best foot forward and give it some time genuinely trying to understand your spouse.

Crossdressing is most of the time a private matter. Realize that your spouse likely doesn’t want others to know about their cross dressing. There is an immense pressure especially put on men who act in any way “girly” their entire lives – your spouse likely does not want others to know, and honestly you probably don’t either because of the social stereotypes. Whether or not you choose to stay with this person, it is important that you do not talk to anyone else about their transgenderism or crossdressing without talking about it with your spouse. Both of you should respect the privacy of the other and keep this information to yourselves (with exception to a counselor) until and unless you both feel it’s appropriate to tell others.

It’s easy when spouse comes out to think that they have betrayed you, but this isn’t necessarily the whole picture. In a way, a spouse coming out to you reveals a level of trust and love for you that they’ve never experienced with any other person (including their own parents). It’s true, they have held something from you, and it’s fair for you to express any frustration you have with that. But you can also use this conversation to explore a side of your spouse that they trust you enough to see. Many couples say that their relationship improves after the conversations they have with their spouse about crossdressing. Most people are fearful that this means that their spouse doesn’t love them, or wants to leave them – the opposite is true. Your spouse likely has lived with horrible guilt for not telling you, but tremendus social pressure to make sure nobody knew.

The main thing to remember throughout this discovery period is that you and your partner are both human, and that your partner is still the same person. They have likely lived with this aspect of themselves for their entire life and they probably haven’t shared this with anyone else before they shared it with you. Take it as an honor that you have been entrusted with this information, and do what you can to understand them, transgenderism and/or crossdressing. Education is one of the surest ways that you can more fully appreciate them, and be the supportive person that you both need you to be.

Image credit: malias.

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