One of the revelations I had at First Event came as a result of talking to one trans woman after I did my talk and she ripped me a new one about partners needing more support, precisely because hers was a wife who refused to learn anything & refused to accept anything & left. She spoke to me from a place of pain & I appreciated her honesty. Later, someone else told me that her wife requested a divorce & the date of separation listed on the decree was the day she told her spouse she was trans. Those two experiences explained the resistance I feel sometimes when I talk about having partners become more involved in the larger trans community, or even when I speak as an advocate for partners at all: there’s just too much pain for a lot of trans people around the subject of relationships, that too many trans people don’t think partners need support because their own partners didn’t want it, didn’t look for it, and just wanted out.
The second half of that revelation is that partners really do need the support. The group I hosted was varied: some lesbian-identified partners of FTMs, mostly wives/girlfriends of crossdressers and transgender and transsexual MTFs, and one male partner of a younger MTF. We didn’t always share outlooks, or life experiences, or even attitudes about transness (though we did agree that nobody knows what causes it). But the one thing that came up over & over again was the sense of isolation we all experience, of not knowing others like us, of not having anyone to talk to about the most intimate parts of our lives.
What occurred to me is that I feel like I have to stand up, & want to keep writing & being visible. I thought later that trans people have so many role models, so many sources of (various forms of) success: the Christine Jorgensens and Virginia Princes and Jenny Boylans and Kate Bornsteins and Robert Eadses and Jamison Greens and Leslie Feinbergs. So many I can’t even list them all. But is there any partner of a trans person whose name people know? Is there anyone partners can point to and say, “She did it”? There isn’t, not one. & I don’t really want to be that person; I’d argue that I’m NOT that person. But in some ways I want, at least, to keep talking about partners and partners’ issues not just because partners need the role models, but because trans people should know that they can and will be loved for who they are. I want trans people and partners alike to be able to see that trans people do not exist in a void, that they have lovers and spouses and children and parents and siblings.
Sometimes I don’t think trans people realize just that simple fact of it. You all may have paths that are difficult to find, that leave off just when you think they’re going somewhere, or that stop cold, but partners are still standing at the edge of the jungle, machete in hand. There isn’t even a bad path visible.
But mostly I don’t think the pain of how badly things have gone for some people should dictate all our lives, which is why I keep talking, and keep pushing therapists and the trans community at large to find ways to support the partners who have at least made a commitment to try. What I want to see is not for all couples to stay together, but more that couples separate without the kind of bitterness & hostility I’ve already seen too many times.