Advice to a Wife

I get a letter every once in a not-too-rare while from a wife who has just found out her husband is going to transition. Sometimes he is already starting to, sometimes he is still deciding and she expects he will, and sometimes he isn’t at all but she is convinced he will – eventually.

And I don’t know what to say, really, to any of them, besides: the loss is huge and it never really goes away, but like with mourning, you feel it less often, if not less acutely.

I tell them it’s not for everyone, that it’s okay if you feel like you have to go, because sometimes going and not being angry and not making the person you love miserable with your anger is the better thing to do.

I tell them about the online support group I still have and run.

But mostly I don’t think any of this advice is useful, except otherwise to say: you’re not crazy for being sad or angry or confused or bewildered or — well, full of despair. And I can and do say, as well, that no, there isn’t much out there for us, and it’s very unlikely you’ll ever meet a therapist who can help much. They’re not prepared for us – not the gender therapists, not trans people, not really anyone.

I wish I could do or say more. I wish there was a checklist.

There isn’t.

If you’re a partner and have some advice or something that someone told you to help you figure out if you could stay or go, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to email me privately with words I can post here, or just go ahead and post it yourself.

2 Replies to “Advice to a Wife”

  1. As an aside, I think the loss has gone away for me… I still miss the het privilege, the societal validation, the way I used to be able to say “my husband” without the tiny internal flinch waiting for the repairman/salesclerk/nurse/whoever to react badly (they never do, but I flinch anyway). But that’s not the same as still grieving the loss of the actual husband. In an odd way, I think I processed that grief and have moved on to a happy relationship with a new spouse – who just happens to be the same person as the last one. So if there’s anyone out there who’d be helped by know that *someone* can get to that point, here’s an anecdote.

    A lot of what you say there is exactly what I do, including validating people’s feelings and agreeing that this is tough and there’s not much out there by way of resources.

    The most important advice I received, and the information I now pass on without fail when I’m talking to another partner in the initial stages, is to say that it CAN be done. That relationships do survive, and thrive, and some couples are happier together than before. I’m not the only one out there, either. Once the shock wore off and the fear abated enough to let me think (a little), I realized that while I was worried about and terrified of about fifty million possibilities, the thing that rendered me nonfunctional with pain was the thought of losing her. So what I needed to hear, first and foremost, was that it was possible; that transition is not the death sentence of a relationship, as we were often told.

    After that, the advice is oddly similar to the generic suggestions to people making this sort of decision in any marital context. “Can you imagine staying together?” “Does it hurt more to think of leaving than to face what comes next?” “Do you BOTH still love each other, and are you BOTH still willing to work really damned hard to make this work?” If, and only if, the answers to these sorts of questions are yes, then you can try to keep your marriage intact. Nobody needs to make any promises about the future, and there are no guarantees, but so long as you both want this to work and still have enough love and commitment to try, take it a day or an hour at a time if you need to. And if the answers to enough of those questions are no, then separate with as little recrimination and anger on both sides as you can manage (because those emotions will be damaging to *you,* not your partner, once the relationship dissolves and they’re safely out of range).

    Insofar as there is a checklist, it’s basically “do you think you can get through the next few hours/days/weeks, and if so, is this person and this relationship worth it.” If it’s possible to try to let the future take care of itself, that’s the way to go, especially in the beginning – focus on the next step, not the next 25. I’m a total hypocrite here, since I worried so much about the future at that point that I still have an anxiety disorder as a gift of those years. But I wish I’d been told this, too.

    As far as incompatible orientations are concerned, there are even a handful of straight men and women who have negotiated staying in relationships with a partner transitioning to a non-target gender. It’s tougher, and there’s no criticism or shame at all in anyone who can’t do it, but if there’s anyone out there wondering if *that* is possible – it is, and it’s happened. And don’t let anyone define your orientation but you. The rest of the world may perceive you as in a gay/straight *relationship,* but you still don’t have to allow your partner’s gender to define YOU.

    My wife transitioned five years ago. If I’d known then what I know now – that we’d be content, healthy, and joyful together now – it would have been much easier. But there I’m with you : there’s no crystal ball to tell someone how it’ll all turn out, and I guess it’d be cheating anyway. 🙂 The best any of us can do is muddle through. Every relationship will have its challenges, and some of us have just been dealt particularly “unique” ones.

    To anyone else out there : you’re not alone, you’re not weird for feeling what you feel, and there *are* a few partners trying very hard to not only blaze a trail but keep it open for you. Good luck.

  2. SO . . . I’d always tried to get previous (male) partners to crossdress. And they always said NO. So when my lady “came out” to me I was like “AT LAST! REALLY?! WOW! This can happen? To me?!? It isn’t a happy dream?”

    I think if you don’t have a basic, deep-down *desire* for her (with “her” being your partner’s female self or female self-image), not just “love” but something so rooted it feels like an orientation, it won’t work.

    Grudging acceptance isn’t enough. It has to be joyous affirmation. I mean, would *you* want to be with someone who accepted your femininity only reluctantly?


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