Five Questions With… Christine Benvenuto

Thank you so much for this opportunity to discuss my new book, Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On.

(1) Your ex husband has, as well, written a memoir about her experiences. Did you write yours in response to that? Or were you both writing simultaneously?

By the time I heard that my ex had written a book, mine had been completed and was scheduled to be published a few months later.

(2) I know quite a lot of time passes between the experiences, the writing, the editing, and the publication of the book. Have there been any major developments during that time?

The most significant recent development is the book’s publication. It took a long time for me to decide to tell my story. Now my story is out in the world where others read and interact with it, and with me. It is an amazing experience to hear from readers. I feel profoundly honored to receive letters from other women who have gone through similar experiences and felt isolated, alone and disregarded. At the opposite end of the spectrum but equally moving are the letters from readers who haven’t gone through anything like this, but have lived through other kinds of loss, bereavement, the need to start over – and feel that the book speaks to their experiences in a personal and meaningful way.

Having these wonderful opportunities to talk about the book with readers, one of the things I am offered a chance to discuss is my reasons for writing the book. One of those reasons is what I’ve just alluded to: the desire to reach out to people in despair over major life changes not of their own choosing. I wanted to offer hope to people who may wonder if they’ll survive having their lives turned upside down, and who doubt that they’ll do much more – that they’ll ever be happy again. People need to hear that it’s possible to find the strength to create themselves and their lives anew.
Another important reason I wrote the book is that I believe my experiences illustrate the importance of supporting young people who express a need to explore their gender identities. Exploration, not suppression, is essential for a young person who feels uneasy growing into adulthood in a gender identity that doesn’t feel right. Parents need to support their children in this exploration, but they must not be asked to go it alone: we as a culture need to support parents in supporting their children. I feel so strongly about this. The more parents and families are supported, not marginalized or isolated, the more they will be able to be there for their children.

(3) Are you and your ex on speaking terms? Have you met her, yet?

As I describe in the book, I’ve seen my ex regularly without interruption because we interact over child visitation. My children live with me, but one of them currently sees my ex on a regular basis, requiring me to make those arrangements.

(4) Partners and spouses often take a lot of heat for speaking the truth of their own experience, and in most online trans community, are generally shouted down for not “getting with the program” and being on board with the gender transition. Did you find any support with trans people that was supportive of you telling your truth?

I am in awe of those who have raised supportive voices within the trans community, brave souls who understand that my book tells the story of one family’s experience with one individual in transition and is not intended to be representative of anyone else’s experience, or of any group of people.

To give just one example, I felt privileged to hear from someone who describes himself as “a man with transsexual feelings” who read my story as a cautionary tale of what he would never wish to do to his own wife and children. He and his family have worked out their own compromise, but hearing that my story is helping him to appreciate his wife and children’s pain, and to strengthen his resolve to spare them further grief wherever he can, is very meaningful to me.

Not only have some in the community supported my telling my own truth, they have recognized their own truth in my story as well.

(5) How is the new romance?

Five years along, the new romance still feels new.

6 Replies to “Five Questions With… Christine Benvenuto”

  1. Yes this hits a chord with me. I am the transsexual partner, and yes I did in many ways “betray’ my wife as she so vehemently claims. It really wasn’t premeditated, but the pain is still there on both sides. I have begun to call this situation of leaving a wife (and sometimes wife AND children) while transitioning, “collateral damage.” That sounds a bit harsh, because it infers I was going to transition regardless of whatever pain it would cause others. Actually I hardly noticed at the time?

    Well, I must confess, it is like that. We transsexual are driven by a force that somehow transposes relationships. It is that powerful. And the unfortunate accompanying force is our tendency to rush forward to what we feel is resolution, without consideration of those we love.

    So we are truly selfish, we who transition.

    But yes, in almost all cases we transsexual who chose to transition, and do so regardless of the cost, hate ourselves for being that way. But we ALREADY hate ourselves, so it is just added on to the tragedy of how we are having to live our lives. But that doesn’t lessen the tragedy you, as our loving spouses, have to endure.

    Rarely is there a working compromise made.

    Elizabeth Jenkins

  2. It’s hard not to feel defensive about this; among online reviewers, there’s a strong presence of generalized hostility to trans people, and the most hostile ones clearly take delight in this book… they’re not interested in Ms. Benvenuto’s disclaimer that she’s not trying to generalize.

    Telling Ms. Benvenuto not to tell her story is obviously not the correct response, though. I guess trying to coach trans people to manage their marriages and, when worse comes to worse, their divorces better is the answer; but that feels like saying “the answer to war is love”; true but good-luck-with-that ambitious.

  3. I’m also a transitioning divorcee, so my experience is obviously different than Christine’s. When it was clear the marriage was not going to survive my transition, my ex and I set out to make the split as painless as possible. Of course it had some ugly moments, I don’t believe any divorce after being together for 8 years (or more) is a fun thing, but we kept the bitterness in check and didn’t fall into many of the traps other couples find. Just over a year later, she’s dating again (I’ve met him, he’s a nice guy and I hope they treat each other well) and my transition is rolling along. We still talk on a weekly basis and are pretty good platonic friends. The love is gone, and that makes me a bit sad, but it wasn’t a total wreck in the end.

  4. It never occurred to me until just now that perhaps a trans woman transitioning from the power and privilege of being a white male makes kind of an annoying victim in the overall narrative of transness, and that those of us who find ourselves in that position need to be ever mindful of that.

    Christine is simply speaking her truth, and the fact that it may be creating waves in the Bizarro world of what passes for Trans Opinion says more about her detractors than her. There is some truth that it seems like the only choice for trans people is to be selfish or miserable, but we remember people who are miserable without any good choices.

    I you want to be accepted as a woman, listen to women. I’d add “then shut up” but it seems mean-spirited and it’s not always applicable.

    Hopefully there’s a generational shift at play in here too; people my age figured this shit out way too late and had little permission to express it.

    Ding the loving thing can mean leaving, or staying, or nothing at all. Damndest thing, life.

  5. “among online reviewers, there’s a strong presence of generalized hostility to trans people, and the most hostile ones clearly take delight in this book… they’re not interested in Ms. Benvenuto’s disclaimer that she’s not trying to generalize.”

    I agree. And her statements such as the following:

    “for me there is something slightly creepy and more than slightly sad about a man in women’s clothes.”

    are deeply unpleasant regardless of their “truth” as to her own feelings, regardless of her reasons for feeling that way, and regardless of the fact that she isn’t generalizing (except insofar as she’s stating that ALL men in women’s clothes — and implicitly, all trans women — are creepy and sad). People forget how common it was in the mainstream media as recently as the 1960’s and 1970’s for statements exactly like this to be made about gay men — the creepiness, sadness, and pathetic nature of two men kissing, etc. — and lesbians Nobody, regardless of their own personal “truth,” could make such statements today about gay men and lesbians without progressive, feminist people rightly reacting with distaste and revulsion. Certainly no book containing such statements would be reviewed without condemnation of such sentiments. Will that ever be true of such statements made about men in women’s clothes, whether or not the statement is also an implicit characterization of all trans women? I doubt it; not in my lifetime.

    I think the saddest part of this interview, though, is the reference to at least one of the children not seeing Joy. How much of that is Christine’s doing? What efforts is she making to encourage all her children to see their other parent? None, I would guess, from the exceedingly grudging reference to being “required” to make “arrangements” for the one child to see her other parent, as if she wouldn’t be willing to do so unless forced. Ugh.

  6. Thanks for the heads up, Helen. I ordered Christine’s book an Amazon. It arrived yesterday, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

    Her book is just amazing. I think it should be required reading for all transgendered people considering transition within a relationship. Never mind that, it should be required reading for both people _before_ entering a relationship.

    Transition is a brutally self obsessive time for all transitioners. For people later in life, mix in an enormous dose of privilege and a lifetime of internalised self hatred and misogyny. The result is never going to be pretty, especially for dependants.

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