The other day I published a brief interview with Christine Benvenuto, who wrote a book about her marriage to and divorce from a trans woman.
I blurbed her book, let me admit up front.
I blurbed it because despite some transphobic tendencies (not respecting her ex’s change to feminine pronouns, most notably), I think it’s important that partners get their stories out there – as important as it is for trans people to do so. I’ve been enabling the latter for a long time, and I’m proud to have done so. But I see so often that partners who are having a hard time or who are bitter about a divorce or angry about transition are told – in trans community spaces – to STFU, pretty much. And that really sucks, a lot.
The thing is, nothing about her memoir struck me as patently false. I’ve known a lot of trans women and a lot of wives of trans women over the past 13 years. A LOT. And Benvenuto’s story, just as she told it, is pretty goddamned typical. I have seen behavior by trans women that is sexist, misogynist bullshit. I have seen trans women spend their kids’ college money on transition. I have seen 401Ks emptied. I have seen all of that, and more.
I have also seen the wives of transitioning women take out all their rage on their trans spouse – financially, emotionally, even physically. I have seen rage that I didn’t even know was possible in the wives of trans women. And I have seen them be unwilling to let it go.
That is, I have seen a lot of awful behavior on both sides of this coin. Trans people are not excused because they’re trans just as women are not excused because they’re women. We are all faced with loss and betrayal and heartbreak and all of the emotions that accompany those things. How you choose to express them is entirely up to you.
I can buy the argument that now is not the best time to be airing our dirty laundry in public. Maybe it is. Maybe right now is the “let’s put a good face on it so the public grants us our rights” period for trans issues. But I don’t think there ever is that time, to be honest. I think that’s the kind of thinking that results in shaming some members of a community over other members of that community.
Because, I would argue, the crap behavior of some trans women who come from lives of male privilege – & here I’m specifically talking about certain kinds of later transitioning trans women – is a fact. It’s not made up. I can promise you that. And what we want, as a community, is for trans people to be happy. For them to have people to love and who love them. For them to be accepted and loved by their families.
And transition after 20 years of marriage is very, very rarely going to make that happen. It just isn’t.
So if we as a community want trans people to be happy, people need to know what kind of devastation a late transition can cause on families and wives and communities and of course on the trans people themselves. There is so, so much pain, on everyone’s part. People need to know it. People need to transition younger so that some of this can be prevented.
That said: partners deserve to tell their stories because they’re their stories. There are other reasons, but really, that’s the nut of it. There is no saying who is “right” when it comes to he said/she said. There never is. But as far as I could tell, Sex Changes felt real. It felt hard to write. There were parts that made me cry to finally see things I’d felt in print.
So no, it’s not a perfect story. It could have been kinder, but my gut still says it was honest and that is worth having in the world. Honesty can only shed light in dark corners, and transition-fueled divorce is one of the darkest corners I know of.