On Being a Partner

Posted by – April 19, 2005

One of our MHB board regulars mentioned that she feels she might be rationalizing away that her wife won’t stay with her through, and post-transition. The idea of it alarmed me, because I think a lot of transwomen want to transition so badly that they kind of glaze over a lot of the realities that might be coming: like a wife who leaves, children who are angry, job loss, etc.

This was my response:

It’s entirely possible for someone to rationalize that she’s going to stick with you through transition, even if you don’t think she will, or if she’s stated she won’t.

That would be a very huge mistake, imho.

I talk to gender therapists sometimes (y’know, for fun) and the cases of wives going ballistic/vengeful are out there. Plenty of them. & While I know you are certain that your wife is an angel of goodness (as am I & all the other partners on here, ahem), you really never know.

Hell hath no fury like a woman whose partner transitions.

But you might replace ‘fury’ with sadness, desperation, frustration, anger, rage, bottomless sorrow.

When I’m feeling coldly rational I think – if Betty transitions, well – I’m only 35 & we have no children. We’re both young enough to find others to love and who love us, & Betty would be better off with a lesbian who loves having a tall, gorgeous woman for a partner instead of me, who really does love & is turned on by her guy self.

And then I think of my wedding pictures, or of the time we went to Scotland when we got engaged, or of when we first met & made a game of making each other guess the name of obscure new wave records, or of how last night she helped me changed the default colors on the new site, or of… many other million things.

& Then I feel angry, & sad, & frustrated, & I want to kick the universe back for the kick it’s given me in the teeth.

Some days, I kick betty instead, when I don’t mean to, but I don’t know what to do with my anger at feeling like I’ve had a really dirty trick played on me, what I was calling for a while ‘the smoothest bait & switch ever perpetrated.’ I mean, I meet the boy of my dreams and it turns out… well you all know how it turns out. The boy of my dreams wants to be 1) the person of my dreams, while also being 2) a woman.

& I don’t see any way out of this that makes any sense. Either he gets what he wants (to be a woman & to be with me) or I get what I want (for him to be something like male, & to be with me). We’ve been traipsing around a middle ground where Betty is sometimes a boy and more often now a girl (even when she thinks she’s passing as a boy, in fact) and right now – it’s like we’re kinda happy. Neither of us is thrilled.

And I consider options: finding a man I could have sex with (but then I realize it’s not about sex). or deciding that having a partner – but maybe not a romantic partner exactly – isn’t so bad (but then I realize I would have ‘married’ one of my gay friends years ago if that was all I wanted). sometimes I think I can live with the burden of being “the reason betty never transitioned” and other days I realize I might, at the end of my days, decide I’ve been a silly, stubborn wretch of a person who put my happiness before betty’s, & how I would regret having done that. some days I think we’re stuck in an O. Henry story with a happy ending, and other days I think we’re stuck in an O. Henry story that has no happy ending, & that – at the end of the day – love & self-sacrifice will not be enough, and that self-sacrifice is just a story, a mug’s game, & just one of the ways we rationalize not making hard decisions about ‘mutual incompatibility’ and all those other things divorce lawyers turn into legalese.

I’m on a partners’ list where a woman who had a hard time supporting her partner’s transition was just told – post-transition – that her partner discovered a desire for men. She will not be the first (or the last) transwoman to discover such a thing, & I’m sure there’s a thread on here somewhere where Dana talks about how that happens (since it happened to her). & when I think about the fact that I might manage going through transition with betty, only to realize that would never happen, I realize too that betty has also told me 1) she didn’t want to be a woman, and 2) that she’d never transition, and 3) well you get the idea. Being with a transperson is all about not knowing what they might figure out next.

So the only way around it, as far as I can figure, is telling Betty that I love her, and trying to dissect what it is that makes me unhappy about having a female partner. There’s the sexual issue. There’s the public identity issue. There’s the “she’s a skinny bitch” issue. There’s the “this brings her so much joy & I only feel sorrow” issue. There’s the feminist issue (because I really don’t see any male partners sticking through transition, no husbands on here wondering what to do when their female wives start taking T.) there’s a lot of compromises I’ve already made & I hate making more. There’s wondering if dealing with this shit is just another version (new & improved & updated for ’05!) of being a doormat.

There’s the fact that often, I feel like with writing the book & making plans to write another, I’ve simply made lemonade out of the lemon I was handed.

& What Dana says – about lies – is all true. You all did lie, maybe to yourselves first & well, & then to us. & to everyone else you know. & though I can forgive that, I don’t know how to not be mad about it.

My goal, you see, is to be able to look at our wedding photos after Betty transitions (if she does) and still be able to say, “That was the best day of my life.” I can’t yet. Right now, I’m going through a period of feeling like it was a sham of sorts. Because Betty’s “self” was. & as a result, I’m not sure who I married.

There is nothing selfish about wanting to be whole. There is nothing wrong, either, with self-expression (though you seemed to take that as my belittling the ‘why’ behind transition, which it wasn’t). what the problem is, is expecting to have the rest of the people in your life be okay with this, to accept your new “self” as having been the only “self” all along. Because we – your partners, your friends – we really liked the old “self.” we fell in love with the old self. We made a commitment to the old self.

& We don’t like being told that there’s a (wo)man behind the curtain, because we feel foolish, tricked, and stupid for having believed the lie.

The only way I live with Betty not transitioning for my sake is to realize that it is, ultimately, her decision. She could gamble & lose. She could gamble & win. But it’s her decision.

Mine is to stay, or to go, to be generous or vindictive. But I can’t change what I’ve been handed at all. Neither can you. & most days, that’s what helps us: is knowing that neither of us wanted this, that both of us would rather have it otherwise, & that all we can do, at the end of the day, is try to find our love somewhere in the shared difficulty of knowing we have to deal with this.

Helen

The entire thread is proving to be one of the most thought-provoking to show up on the boards for a while.

1 Comment on On Being a Partner

  1. Emma says:

    That’s a lovely piece of writing, Helen! You’re so brave and generous to share all this! Thank you!

    If it helps, I should point out that, having just read the forum pages, your marriage sounds to me like one of the most genuine and healthy human relationships I’ve ever come across. A rare beast indeed. Enjoy it while it lasts, and I hope it lasts you and Betty many good years yet! (apart from anything else, I want to read about you both some more!)

    But, detail person that I am, I noticed a small turn of phrase that I thought might be worth mentioning. You said: “My goal, you see, is to be able to look at our wedding photos after Betty transitions (if she does) and still be able to say, “That was the best day of my life.””

    At the risk of being thought superficial, I wonder: Is it really such a great life goal to be always looking back at that day as the pinnacle of your as-yet-hopefully-far-from-finished life?
    Whether Betty transitions or not, and whether your marriage survives or not, why not set your goals (and the best days of your life too!) as something yet to come?

    Sounds like a small thing, perhaps, and forgive me if I’m miles off target here; but psychologically, I suspect that’s quite important.

    Every day should be better than the last, I think I read somewhere!

    :-))

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