Letter To a Wife

Posted by – November 21, 2008

My friend Shirene, who I met while I was researching My Husband Betty, and at a SPICE conference to boot, has contined to work with wives who have just found out their husbands are crossdressers. She wrote this letter recently to one such wife, and I thought it was worth sharing here, for any husband who might want to use it to help come out to his wife, or for any wife who has just found out.

I don’t necessarily agree with how she simplifies certain issues – like the “crossdressers are heterosexual” meme – but a lot of the rest of it is a good “talking down” for a new wife who might be completely panicking.

Dear Jill,

Hi.  I hope you don’t mind receiving a letter like this from a stranger, but my husband is  transgender also and I know that if I could have received a letter such as this when I found out, it would have made it easier on both me and my husband. My name is Shirene, I’m 43, we live in S******, IL and I’ve known about Shayla since ‘98.  We’re at 555 555 5555.

I will admit it’s somewhat of an adapted form letter so please ignore the things that don’t apply to your situation and please excuse the things I’m telling you that you already know.

Of course it’s all a spectrum, but my husband identifies more as a crossdresser than transsexual. I’m not sure where Bob is telling you he falls?

I’m not sure how much you know about the TG community so first a few definitions, though know that there is not consistency in definitions even within the TG community.  Crossdressers, like those who are gay, usually figure out as young children that they feel different from stereotypical gender expectations. However, most crossdressers (and since the majority are males I’ll always be referring to male crossdressers when I say “CD” from here on) by definition are heterosexual, but need to present themselves in a feminine way some of the time. Often it’s a stress reducer for them. So it’s important to know that sexual identity (what one feels about their own sexuality) is separate from sexual orientation (whom we are sexually attracted to). Like other heterosexual males, transgender genetic men may only want to have sex with women. They adore the feminine qualities of the women they love SO much, that they want to become some of that themselves at times. I know it’s hard to understand and hopefully in the coming years and decades we’ll learn more.  We do know that 1 in 20 heterosexual males are crossdressers, and that’s a lot.  That doesn’t mean they all do it.  Some commit suicide before allowing themselves to give in to that urge. Once you start paying attention to it, you realize that it comes up all the time in our society. Can you name one actor that hasn’t appeared in a movie, TV show, play or commercial in drag?  There are jokes and references to it almost daily, which tells you how fixated our culture is on traditional sex-role stereotypes.  Unfortunately, we laugh at things that we’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with so all crossdressing is shown as comedic, (or psychotic) which doesn’t make it any easier for all of us dealing with this very serious issue.

There is a wonderful website www.myhusbandbetty.com hosted by Helen Boyd, author of “My Husband Betty” and “She’s not the Man I Married”. I believe you email engender@five.pairlist.net to be added to the mailing list for the newsletter (it comes out twice a month). There’s also a good quarterly magazine for us (we’re called CDSO’s, significant others of crossdressers) called the Sweetheart Connection that you automatically get when joining Tri-Ess, Bob can sign you up for that if he identifies as a crossdresser and you join Tri-Ess, which I recommend (if you’re not already a member). There are also conferences where we can learn more. One, called Spice, is very non-threatening because the men are not allowed to “dress”. At other conferences some of the men will be dressed but it’s really not bad once you get used to it. At my first conference, two CDs told me two things that really made it easier for me to accept Troy (my husband) when he/she is presenting as Shayla. One said, “You know this has nothing to do with you, don’t you?  It’s nothing that you are or are not providing to him that causes this; he had this decades before he even met and fell in love with you.”  The other said, “And you understand that this is a need?  Not a wish, want or desire, but an actual need that will never go away.”  From reading I knew both of those things in my head, but it was really hearing them from other CD’s besides Troy, that enabled me to start believing it in my heart. Tri-Ess can also hook you up with a “big sister” if you like, someone like me who is also married to a crossdresser and is at the point where they can be more accepting of it and help wives who are just learning about it.

Another thing that helps to know is that Bob did not ask for nor choose this, it’s just the way God (or whoever) made him, for whatever reason.  Many wives become less angry when they start to realize it’s not their husband’s “fault” and that they were born this way.  What is their fault is when they don’t tell us before marriage, something they often later regret.  They usually believe that the need would go away once they are wed, but, of course, it never does. Many transgender people don’t or can’t accept this part of themselves, and they must do that before they can own it and admit it to someone else. Then after they’re married, often with kids, the fear keeps them silent. Fear that she’ll leave him, fear she’ll turn the kids against him, fear that she’ll “out” him, fear that she could get him fired.  So he stays silent, then when he finally tells her she has to deal not only with the crossdressing but the secrets and the lies. That, of course, is painful and he doesn’t want to hurt her, hurt the kids, hurt himself, so he continues keeping the secret because he has been trained to do that his whole life anyway. So try to respect how hard and brave it is of him to have told you. (I’m assuming he told you and you didn’t discover it on your own?)  In other words, try not to punish him for telling you, you don’t want him to regret his honesty. That’s my advice anyway. I only want the best for you both, so I hope you don’t mind getting this advice from a stranger.

The next thing to understand is that Bob would not be who he is if it wasn’t for his female persona. In the Tri-Ess directory my bio says, “To be honest, I wish that my man was my man all of the time. But I’m so in love with Troy, and I’ll never be able to know who Troy would be without Shayla, that I wouldn’t risk changing Troy.” Like all American women, I was socialized to want my man to be strong all the time, always male. We actually have to go through a grieving process of losing our vision of Prince Charming, because in the fairy tales the Prince never has a need to dress like a princess sometimes. We want to be the only woman in the home and now I have to share some of my house and life with Shayla. And when I’m spending time with Shayla, that’s time I’m not getting to be with Troy. But I now know the reason Troy is such a good man, such a good husband, father, son and brother, is because of Shayla. In other words, they’re all package deals. And it is said that once a CDSO can not only tolerate her spouse, but actually come to accept “her”, that we can have the best marriages of all, because adversity that doesn’t destroy the marriage makes it stronger. And they say eventually you can even have fun with it. I didn’t understand nor believe that at first but now I do. I apologize if I sound preachy. I don’t know if we’ll ever communicate again so I’m trying to say everything.

Some women who try to deal with this eventually start feeling guilty, blaming themselves for not being more supportive. “Why can’t I be more like Shirene or whoever? Why is this so hard for me?” And I tell them it’s never the CDSO’s fault. None of us were ever given any instruction how to be supportive to a crossdresser. We shouldn’t feel guilty for being mad or confused. We can’t control our feelings any more than the CD can, and it was never taught nor modeled to us how to behave.

Having said that, I do want to say one more thing. You know so many women who will stay with a man who abuses them, who is convicted of a crime, who is alcoholic or drinks and drives. . . So many women will put up with men who PURPOSELY make horrible choices. But more women, when finding out this news, may consider leaving their spouse for something that he can’t control and something that really harms no one (as long as he can learn to be totally honest about who he is, and respect your needs and boundaries). So what if he wears lipstick sometimes? Isn’t it more important that he doesn’t abuse the kids? But it’s hard because we SEE women stay with an abusive man and we can understand it. The women who stay with CD’s are invisible, so it’s back to that lack of modeling thing. Troy didn’t let me tell anyone about Shayla for five years, and that was a very lonely place. We didn’t know about Tri-Ess or the conferences, and “My Husband Betty” hadn’t been written yet. Peggy Rudd had written “My Husband Wears My Clothes” and others but we didn’t know then. So avail yourself of resources. And try to keep things in perspective. Wouldn’t you rather have news about the type of threads of clothing Bob wears upon occasion, than news about a horrible illness? It’s not easy to always keep perspective but considering things such as in this paragraph helped me.

I wish you the best of luck. I don’t know Bob, but I hope you feel he is worth going through this period of adjustment. I’m sure you must be very special. They say partners of TG’s are ordinary women tackling extraordinary things! If there’s ever anything I can do please let me know.

Hugs,

Shirene

14 Comments on Letter To a Wife

  1. […] Letter to a Wife November 21, 2008 Posted by Valentina Simmons in coming out, transgender. Tags: coming out, spouse, transgender, wife trackback From Helen Boyd’s Blog: Letter to a Wife […]

  2. Diane Frank says:

    Helen,

    I think you meant “meme” and not “mime” in your commentary, and perhaps “researching” rather than “reaching”. (no I never mke tpyos)

    This sentence of Shirene’s is particularly opaque:

    So it’s important to know that sexual identity (what one feels about their own sexuality) is separate from sexual identity (whom we are sexually attracted to).

    I suspect that this was supposed to be about gender identity vs sexual identity but one way or the other repeating sexual identity is just confusing.

    Diane

  3. helenboyd says:

    thanks, D. i’ve been a little busy lately.

  4. akakatie says:

    I think the focus on helping a wife “feel better/more accepting” and discouraging her from thinking about leaving her husband might not be the most helpful direction.

    I think crossdressing as an issue in a marriage is overly simplified in this letter. It’s not “just wearing lipstick sometimes.” This woman’s husband has a need to express a gender she may be fundamentally not attracted to. That doesn’t mean the CD/TG is a bad person, but it may mean that their marriage is fundamentally incompatible, and this can be rightfully devastating.

    Encouraging a wife to stay with her husband just because he doesn’t do anything truly terrible like “beat the children” isn’t supportive of her feelings. Sexual compatibility and gender identity are HUGE issues in a marriage. Rationalizing it with “at least he doesn’t beat the children” could severely minimize a wife’s true feelings on the subject. She doesn’t need to get perspective or rationalize, she needs to understand and she need to explore how she really feels.

    My advice to a wife who just found out that her life partner is not the gender she thought:

    Feel your feelings, and stay true to yourself. Your life is about to unfold in a direction you didn’t expect. Don’t make any fast decisions, but pay attention to your internal landscape. Be empathetic and kind to your husband, and be kind to yourself, too. There are no “shoulds” about your feelings. Even if gender identity is merely a social construct, it is a social construct you were raised with and believed in and is deeply ingrained in you. It’s not something can be easily brushed off.

  5. Renee says:

    Hi Helen, and everyone…

    I hate for my first interaction here to be one of discontent, but I profoundly disagree with the tone and content of Shirene’s letter. I have no doubt she really does have Jill’s best interests at heart, and I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with a SO coming to appreciate a spouse’s gender expression (whatever flavor that may take), but there’s absolutely nothing in this communication that would make a wife feel better about herself if it turns out she can’t arrive at a place of acceptance. As you well know, there is a lot of pressure on wives to keep their families together and their marriages strong, no matter what, even if it means sacrificing their own happiness in the process…and this letter reads like that.

    Not only does it push the homophobia button, but it hits the suicide button, the “they were born this way and it’s not their fault button”, and the “it’s not as bad as being with an abusive husband/boyfriend” button. These are not persuasive arguments, they’re guilt-trips.

    I’m not saying a SO should call up the divorce lawyer as soon as she finds a bra in her husband’s laundry. I’m not saying a husband and wife shouldn’t work together to understand each other. I’m not saying that compromises can’t or shouldn’t be made to keep the relationship strong. I definitely think it’s good that the SOs know about the support resources that are available to them. But I think they should also be encouraged to explore what happiness means for them, and to defend that position if that’s truly what they want out of a relationship.

  6. helenboyd says:

    Renee and Katie

    Please note that I didn’t say I agree with this letter, and there’s a reason I pointed out that I met Shirene at SPICE (which is a Tri Ess event). I don’t want to criticize it at length because I think you two have both pointed out its flaws.

    I agree that it puts way more pressure on the spouse than on the CD, & I’ve got a (feminist) problem with that, as well. It takes a lot of communication and a deep understanding of yourself, your partner, & both of your relationship needs to make it work.

    In other words, there’s a reason I wrote 300 pages on the subject; My Husband Betty is, in a sense, my “letter to a wife who just found out.”

  7. Renee says:

    Funny how this has been out there for over 24 hours, and Katie and I crossposted nearly identical responses just now.

    And Helen, while your oeuvre suggests otherwise, your introductory paragraphs read as tacit approval. Heck, it took me 24 hours to decide if and what I should write in this space…and in the end I decided maybe you had ulterior motives for posting it the way you did.

  8. akakatie says:

    That’s funny Renee, because I also deliberated for a while. I wrote a long response last night that I deleted and then rewrote today, in a hopefully more sensitive way. I felt so emotional about this I needed to sleep on it.

    Also Helen, I know this is not your perspective, and I know YOU have gone about your process in such a thoughtful way, with a 360 degree perspective, and I have witnessed every step with a huge amount of admiration for you. I’m really reacting to the tone of the letter, but I was surprised a little that your presented it in a way I thought was positive, but what I now understand was meant to be neutral :)

    As “Katie”, the subject of MHB’s “infamous chapter 5″, I’d be happy to talk to anyone who would like more of an initial debriefing without an agenda of preserving the marriage “at all costs”. If this letter is an example of the generally available advice women are getting (and I realize this is the SPICE/Tri-Ess perspective) I’d really like to be available as an alternative – as I know you are, Helen.

    If anyone wants to email me, Helen has my email address and is welcome to share it.

  9. helenboyd says:

    Renee – no ulterior motives, but Shirene is a friend. i will also admit to being a bit more tentative when it comes to CD’s wives as Betty is now medically transitioning (& has been socially transitioned for the past few years).

    & because the complaint has come across, lo these many years, that my Chapter 5 “unnecessarily” panics wives of crossdressers who will stay crossdressers.

    Still, this is good dialogue. I’d like to hear from more partners, former partners, etc.

    If either of you want to write a letter you think would be better suited to the wife of a CD who has just found out, I’d be happy to put it up here.

  10. akakatie says:

    That’s interesting that your chapter 5 has been criticized as “unnecessarily” panicking wives – not that I am surprised. I think it points to the fundamental disagreement I feel with people who’s approach is to “soothe” a traumatized wife.

    Panic is a rational response to a piece of knowledge that rocks one’s entire perception of one’s life and marriage. An attempt to “calm down” a terrified wife to me sounds like trying to suppress her valid emotions. Even if her spouse does not transition, it’s a seismic shift in the marriage. She should be encouraged to experience and acknowledge the full range of emotions this brings up.

    I can see why people who try to “calm down” a panicking wife wouldn’t like chapter 5. It’s a harsh reality. But sugar-coating it can only delay pain, it doesn’t alleviate pain. What do your critics suggest, you simply leave out the possibility that their husband will ever want to transition? Denying that possibility led me to marry into a situation I thought I could “handle”.

    Even as an “accepting” partner of a crossdresser, in the early years of my former relationship, I always wanted my spouse to dress a little less often and she always wanted more, so there was rarely a happy balance. And “success” in our relationship was always when I, the wife, learned to be comfortable with more crossdressing than what I wanted and my spouse had to compromise less.

    I think a wife should be given a realistic picture of what her life most likely will look like, which is often fraught with negotiated compromises that are deeply painful to both parties. Not an idealized picture of a rarely-achieved mutually fulfilling balance.

    Helen, I guess with my posts here I am writing my letter to a newly-processing wife. Thanks for making the discussion possible, I hope this can be a resource as a full range of perspective to wives who are struggling.

  11. helenboyd says:

    Honestly, Katie, I have no idea what they want: for me to emphasize that many crossdressers never transition? Something like that.

    But I still can’t do that, & we both know why: too many of them do.

  12. Renee says:

    I’m neither partner nor former partner of a trans-person, but rather a transsexual woman myself. While I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy advocating for wives, my primary audience has always been other trans-people who can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that what they’ve brought into the marriage is a lot more severe than forgetting to take out the garbage. I’m not sure I’m qualified to write a “partner-to-partner” letter, but I empathize insofar as I too have some ideas of what I’m looking for in a man, and I would hate to be shamed into thinking I was a bad person for wanting what I want.

    The letter I would love to see would have to come from my own former partner. Somehow we were both able to take stock of our own wants and needs, and realizing they couldn’t be fulfilled with each each other, moved on…and yet we remain best friends (and after a lengthy separation, are even roommates again). It was easier for me because I had the prospect of the life I had always wanted ahead of me. She thought she had the life she wanted and now she has to go looking for it all over again. I honestly don’t know how he she managed it all.

  13. Diane Frank says:

    I’ve been trying to think of what to do with this…I’ve been ‘stuck’ with handling the mail that comes to us from upset wives, some truly horrific. I was thinking about using Shirene’s letter as a start…and now I’ve come back to this exchange. This chain of letters and discussion echoes many things I’ve said in the past. I’ve love to repost this, if only so people could see that I’m not the only one who thinks about these things this way.

    Diane

  14. akakatie says:

    You are welcome to re-post any of my words. Just give a link to Helen’s site so she gets the traffic and the credit for creating this space.

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