Why We Stay

Posted by – May 31, 2005

Every once in a while, one of the partners in an online support group will get up the courage to ask, “But really, why do you stay?” It’s usually asked by someone new to the group, new to transness, who is looking at the prospect of having her husband become either a part-time or full-time woman, and who honestly can’t imagine herself staying, and can’t come up with one good reason why any woman would. I know I’ve told several women friends they could date CDs, and that’s about all they hear before they change the subject. It’s rare to find a woman who would even be open to dating a CD, much less finding one who would want to.

But it’s good for partners especially to cut through the sentimental stuff about love and soul-mates – not because that stuff isn’t true – and get to some of the more pragmatic issues at stake. I really appreciated having one of the older women on the list admit that her partner transitioned close to their mutual retirement age, and that neither of them had the funds to live separately, anyway. She added, as well, that after a few decades’ worth of marriage, her and her partner’s extended families had become her own. That’s a practical answer, one I believe more than the ones full of love. (I’m not much of a romantic: I’ve read way too much sociology.)

Deborah Feinbloom said in the 70s that we must all either have low self-esteem or be latent lesbians, of course. For me, that was a little too clinical, a little too cold an analysis, but over and over again I hear things from partners that make me wonder. Not about the lesbianism, but about the self-esteem. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that, either. That women don’t believe they can live in the world on their own might explain women who stay with alcoholics, abusive husbands, cheating spouses. But it still doesn’t explain us, the partners of transpeople.

I just read an essay called “Explaining stable partnerships among FTMs and MTFs: a significant difference?” by Frank Lewins on the differences between the FTM and MTF communities when it comes to relationships, and the writer came to all sorts of conclusions that had to be sought out – while avoiding the obvious one. In study after study he cited, transpeople with female partners turned out to be the ones who were in relationships. It didn’t matter if they were FTM or MTF.

I wonder, often, what that means about women. There is socialization: women are raised to value relationships and family more than men are. Women do tend to put relationships and family before career and status. Maybe there is a maternal instinct: women who love too much are not unlike partners of transfolks, who in some ways need to be protected, taken care of, and encouraged. I’ve never denied that one of the important, albeit Freudian, aspects of a relationship is the way two people might parent each other. But I don’t think that’s the whole of it, either.

I am pretty sure that a lot us simply don’t want to be single (again). We don’t want to live on what we can earn ourselves, because we’re still getting that 69 cents on a man’s dollar. Some don’t want to be single parents, and others are just plain used to their partners. Grayson Perry’s wife was quoted as saying something along the lines of “perverts are very loyal” so we know a little bit about why she stayed – loyalty weighed in as a stronger “pro” than the “con” of being married to a man who others view as a pervert. (It’s also obvious by her comment that she came armed with a sense of humor, too.)

But I still worry about the economics, and the fear, and how much of both motivates the partners of transpeople to stay. I worry because I know I’m one of those open-minded souls, who doesn’t mind taking the path less traveled. But others aren’t, and yet they stay, too.

Once I get past the “because Betty loves me and I love her, and we’re soul-mates” stuff, I end up back at “because I can.” All relationships, I think, are moderated by how close the relationship comes to what the person expected, and how much they get out if it vis a vis how much they put into it. I spent my whole life dating men for whom I had to put in 85% to their 15%. Betty puts in a lot more. She can talk. She likes politics. She values having a smart wife who’s a writer. She understands, as a basic premise, that relationships are full of compromise, unexpected joys, and most of all – friendship. For her, no matter how difficult I am, at the end of the day she knows she’s lucky to have a friend who is her lover – as am I.

Sometimes the obvious answer is the closest to the truth, even when it isn’t the whole truth: I think the only real secret of any successful relationship is that both people want to be together more than they want to be apart, and they do whatever it takes.

5 Comments on Why We Stay

  1. lawyersara says:

    I agree with you… I’d much rather see partners stay in the relationship due to love, committment and open mindedness rather than economics. If the partner stays solely for economic reasons, the relationship could get marred.

    I recently had a conversation with a FTM friend, who was having trouble dating. He is gay and told me that he does not want to have full genital reassignment. Hence, other gay men reject him as being “a woman.” I told him that they are rejecting him too quickly and he should find someone willing to look at his soul.
    But, how can he suffer through this rejection after all that he has been through? It breaks my heart…

  2. nmonster says:

    Helen:
    Can you explain the connection between having read a lot of sociology and not being a romantic?

  3. helenboyd says:

    nmonster: it was a little bit of a joke, but if you read sociology on the nature of relationships, they’ve found interesting correlations: about how people tend to date people who live near them, are about the same age, come from about the same class, educational background, etc. that is, to sociologists, falling in love is more about finding someone who fits a demographic more than it is about finding your “soul mate.”

  4. nmonster says:

    Ah, I can see that. I think there is definitely some truth in that – although, I think I am a romantic at heart and can’t quite give up the “soulmate” idea :) .

  5. romanaxx says:

    I suppose some might characterize my wife and I as being “soul mates,” and I do remember a certain feeling of karmic connection when were were dating. Since I am a Tibetan Buddhist and do not believe in the Christian concept of a soul, I am not quite sure if there is a word to describe us.
    Near the end of this month, we will celebrate our 25th anniversary. We probably will not renew our vows as two women, but my wife is also evolving at the same time as myself. Not long ago, she declared that she would never accompany me to all those public places that are so routine for us now.
    I have a new web page that is the most up-to-date commentary about us. I admit that it is quite clinical:
    http://www.annetteonthenet.com.....ssion.html

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