Asked and answered
I’m going to do something a bit different with this post, and I know that when I do there will be a great deal of traffic that usually doesn’t come to this site so before I begin, a disclaimer:
This site originated, before my time, as a resource for crossdressers created by someone who, at the time, was in the process of processing her dysphoria via that activity. it’s often seen among people coming to terms with their identity that they try to “put a band-aid on it” by defining themselves as “just a crossdresser” – a phenomena I had thoughts about but that is not a subject for today. When the owner, my friend, approached me about writing for her I told her upfront “I really can’t serve the cross-dresser audience very well, that’s not my experience. By her grace I’ve been allowed to steer the content here to a more mainline transgender issues commentary. We have been discussing what the next generation of this site will look like but in the meantime, I trust you can discern this is no longer primarily a crossdressing resource (if, indeed, at all). I hope that newcomers look around, find something that speaks to them, and possibly comes back from time to time. Feel free to share links to anything you think is worthy.
It’s also half-again too-long, mainly because of this disclaimer.
What makes this post unusual is that it’s really the first time I have done this. I am, those who know me have surely noticed, given to verbosity. A former friend once teased that if you asked me the time I’d tell you how they made the watch. However much that was hyperbolic at the time, it is certainly true that when I speak to complex subjects such as political worldviews, theology, or the trans experience, I DO go out of my way to use as many words as necessary to be sure that the thoughts I’m expressing are not misunderstood or misinterpreted because I cut some rhetorical corner. I also spend a lot of time on Twitter and given the nature of that site, every few days I’ll respond to some point of conversation with a thread of tweets that runs into the double-figures. Today was one such day.
One of my favorite new “follows” on Twitter is married to a transwoman who came out after their marriage and, in a rare coincidence, also has a trans daughter. This, and her loving openness about their lives, has made her a favorite target of right-winger and TERFy concern trolling and outright attacks. She responds every time with positivity and grace (which as y’all know I often recommend over anger as a method of engagement) and if you have Twitter, I highly recommend you follow Amanda Jette Knox. Today, I picked up on this bit of criticism directed at her and her family:
What happens to the spouse of the person ‘becoming themselves’? What are they supposed to do? Where is the support to help them rebuild their shattered lives? When a woman’s husband decides he’s now a woman, he has taken away the man she married.
What follows is an expansion on my long-winded response.
“Amanda’s got you on the often positive outcome – let me give you an answer for the occasional negative one. What follows flows not only from my experience as a later-life transitioner who was involved at the time in a long-term (almost 19 years then) when I “confessed” to her the reality about my identity, as well as from my interactions with thousands of other similarly situated trans people of my general generation who experienced a wide range of outcomes arising from the moment they accepted their identity and re-introduced themselves to the world. My spouse and I were both hard-core Southern Baptist (I had been a licensed preacher for 20 years when I told her about myself, the entire time she had known me) and I was politically a “Tony Perkins” sort of conservative. I will not digress in this post about how such a person comes to terms with themselves and comes out, for the sake of length, but perhaps I will retell that in the near future.
In any case, a person who makes a late life transition does so as a VERY last resort to cure unending misery. We understand full well that it is a VERY big risk to everything we hold dear. I was advised, truthfully, to “be prepared to lose everything” because often, in an ill-informed and bigoted society, that’s exactly what happens. I have directly interacted with people who lost high-paying careers, and family, and social standing, and ended up barely surviving alone on the ragged edge of homelessness as a result of the shunning that transition can sometimes produce. I don’t know of any of them who would take it back, though logically some exist. Yet even with the potential of losing everything we still find it’s the only acceptable choice among the available bad options.
Broadly speaking those bad options are:
1. unexplained (to bystanders) suicide, which would obviously be even MORE devastating to the spouse than transition;
2. becoming a bitter, withdrawn, misanthropic shell of a person, possibly given to substance abuse or destructive behavior, possibly given to outburst of anger, maybe even violence. THIS too would be devastating to a spouse (and their kids) to watch the person the love turn into an anti-social antagonistic “monster” they can’t get along with for a reason that is a mystery to them. That would likely lead to a painful divorce that destroys their “picket fence” dreams as much as transition;
3. Transition – which, while certainly a massive adjustment preserves the heart and soul of the person you fell in love with, indeed elevating and improving all the non-physical traits that you fell in love with in the first place. Can it be very hard? YES, particularly if you are deeply invested in religious traditions that tell you to condemn it. But it’s not AS hard as the other alternatives, by an order of magnitude. Plus, let’s be clear what you ask: “I demand you remain suicidally miserable for the rest of your life in order to save me from the difficult task of loving you through this” – THIS is what love looks like? No.
Finally, consider this – using my own experience as illustration: about five and a half years after I told my wife that I intended to transition, and a little over four after I made that a 24/7 commitment, I suffered an on the job accident in which I literally broke my neck. There was HIGH degree of possibility that I would be a quadriplegic for the rest of my life. This, too, would have devastated my wife’s hopes and dreams, created a hard life that was “not what she signed up for” and required unthinkable adjustments to our life, and that without any positive impact on either of us (indeed, I often question whether or not I could have maintained any will to live in that circumstance). Yet I have zero doubt she would have been there every day by my side regardless because that IS what love looks like. There is only one substantial difference between the potential of living with a person so severely disabled, and living with a person who has transitioned, in terms of her reaction – that difference is that the world is full of ill-informed people who affirm her in the opinion that one of those outcomes is freely chosen and optional – that I could just as easily chosen not to and been the healthy happy well-adjusted man that she thought she was marrying (which was always a false front) – and simply opted to hurt her when I didn’t have to. That is a deadly lie.
In fact, it is a variation of THE lie that led to her being married to a closeted trans person in the first place – because it has been so pervasive in our culture that I believed it myself 30 years ago. I did not conceal my nature from her in 1989 because I was engaged in some willful scheme to set her up for emotional devastation when I dropped the other shoe in 20 years. No, I had been brainwashed by the bigotry that I had been saturated in during my entire life to that point. I had been trained to both hate myself, and to believe religiously that God would “fix” me if I only believed hard enough. I did not tell her because a person in my decision dare not tell ANYONE unless they enjoyed the idea of living the rest of their life alone. I’d been told God would fix me and I desperately wanted him to, so that no one would ever need to know – especially her. But that is the lie. “Be ashamed, you freak, hide your perverted self lest we judge you!”
When you lot STOP telling falsehoods based in your abject ignorance about people you don’t understand then the very situation you are wringing your hands about DISAPPEARS. Because it creates a world in which trans people are not shamed into silence and no one ends up married to someone who’s in the closet for fear of . . . people like you.”
My wife still struggles to deal with me, still relies on her religion more than faith in me and refuses to acknowledge that this HAD to be done. We are not the happy feel-good story that Amanda’s family represents. And yet, it will be 10 years since I told her in in just under six weeks, and we’re still here, both still essential to each others life, both despite it all, still in love with each other more than we desire to be apart. Neither of us would call ourself “lesbian” but such labels are not a part of our relationship. Others have a happier outcome. Still others a much more heartbreaking one. But the one thing we all have in common? None of us ever had the option of “just don’t transition and everyone will be happy.” No such world exists.
Photo by: Aaron Stidwell