On Our 13th Anniversary

So today my wife & I put up photos celebrating our 13 years married. We met 16 years ago, in fact, but weddings & marriage are what “counts” right? I’ll save that diatribe for another day.

& Here is the thing that I didn’t bother to say on Facebook but that I really need to say: anyone who think it isn’t difficult to survive a transition can stick it. It is. It’s about the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and we two had a surfeit of love to start with. But the inherent narcissism of the thing caused her to disappear some, to focus more on the “me” than on the “us”, and that pretty much caused me to do the same in turn. As with other couples who wind up in situations that are full of one-sided caretaking, it can take a long time to get things righted, back into balance. And sometimes there’s a lot of anger and resentment and frustration while you’re trying to do that.

My wife is a beautiful woman. That I prefer to be around people who understand I chose to marry a man and will always carry some sadness about that loss seems obvious. For many people – heterosexual people, for the most part – they just see one queer couple as if they are like any other queer couple. We are still together and still happy so that’s that, right? Yeah, no. When a lesbian marries the woman she loves, she gets to be who she is and be with who she loves. And when a straight woman unwittingly marries a woman, she doesn’t. She get to be with who she loves – albeit in a slightly different form – but she really doesn’t get to be who she is. I feel lucky to have been queer enough to pull this off, but not a week goes by that I don’t miss the man I married. I loved him, after all. I married him. And I’m glad this 2.0 version was enough to keep the soul of that person in the world so I could share my life with her.

I assume I feel a lot like people who mourn the death of a loved one very deeply, who stay sad for years and years. I know you’re out there. For some, even the loss of a pet can be sad forever, and who knows why, or why we bond so deeply with some things and not with others, or why we have a hard time adjusting to some changes and not others. I am not good with change; I never have been. My hair, yes. My life, who I love, where I live, what I eat? About those things I am about as conservative as a person can get. I want the familiar; I want what feels like home.

As the trans community has changed, and awesome memoirs like Jake and Diane Anderson-Minshall’s memoir have been written, I feel more and more like I’m just supposed to be okay with this. And you know what? I’m still really not. I’m still trying to find my way in this post transition marriage, still trying to find the man I loved in the woman I live with, and some days it’s brutally hard. What sucks even more is that it’s obvious to me and everyone that my wife is a remarkable, talented, beautiful, sexy woman. She is funny and brilliant and loving and still one of the brightest lights I have ever been near. And she still adores me. So the guilt I feel some days that I can’t seem to love her the same way I loved him is back-breaking. But there it is. I can’t. I try. I fail. Over and over again, I fail. And she would tell you – tell anyone, really – that I have more than once told her that she deserves to be with someone who loves her as the woman she is and not for the man she once was. But she doesn’t want someone else. She wants me. And that’s amazing, and awesome, and fills me with gratitude and love that I can’t even contain, but it feels me with guilt, too: guilt because I worry I don’t, guilt because I worry that she is hanging around for that magical day when I feel about her how I felt about him.

So when I hear Janet Mock say that you can’t say trans women were ever men – that Janet Mock herself was born a girl – I wonder where partners wind up. I was recently talking to the filmmaker Ashley Altadonna who reassured me when she said Mock’s new paradigm didn’t thrill her, either, that her struggle – to realize she was a woman, to find the medical care needed, to come out to friends and family, to suffer some rejection and some awesome acceptance – is too much a part of her to think of herself as always having been a woman. She said it kind of sidestepped all of what it means to be trans, to be herself.

There are days I am still overwhelmed by how awesomely liberating it is as the partner of a trans person to hear a brutally honest trans person admit to something like that. For Ashley, transition was a BFD. For me, and for most partners, it is too. And while I don’t think Mock was trying to diminish or belittle or make invisible the struggles trans people and their partners go through – because that is so not her gig – I have lived so long with a woman people see as a woman and in a place where no one ever knew her as a man that I know what it means for people to see my marriage as if it is between two cis woman, where no one was ever male and no one was ever het and no one ever transitioned. And it denies way, way too much of who I am and how I am.

(For the record, this is part of the upcoming book.)

13 Replies to “On Our 13th Anniversary”

  1. The liberals have their heroines to lionize: the wives who roll with it without skipping a beat and have nothing but positive to say about the trans. The conservatives have their martyr-heroines to lionize: the wives who divorced in anger and have nothing but negative to say about the trans.

    That leaves no faction to lionize you, or even affirm you, even though you deserve it at least as much. That’s stinky.

    A happy anniversary to you both, though the happiness be complex.

  2. I’m the trans partner. my wife is the spouse who doesn’t want to be perceived as in a lesbian relationship. It is a BFD that she stays with me and loves me. It is a smaller bfd that I stay with her and love her. Ours is a constant and changing negotiation, one that has gone on for 29 years next month, plus another 4 and some from when we met. As an aside, we celebrate the anniversary of when we met, when we really got married, and half anniversary of when we were married, and due to a clerical error dating out marriage license we also have annual anniversaries of our legal anniversary and average anniversary. the negotiations, the package deal, the compromises of our marriage have changed over the years and decades, depending on what society would allow (we met in 1980), what she could live with, what I could live with and without. we never dreamed early on that so much would change over the years, with us, with ourselves, with the world around us. There were great fights and fear and sadness and costs, sometimes it returns. There were great gains and growth and peace, and there is great love. Our relationship changes, and there are and were challenges, different in type but not degree from many other marriages and loves. our compromises currently are that my transition is social and professional but very minimally medical, and at least for now we can both live with that. I have insisted and she has agreed mostly that I have the right to be myself, to present and live and be accepted as my truer gender. She has insisted and I have agreed that she has the right to be herself, to present and be accepted as her true orientation. Not easy on either of us, but how could we insist on out own rights and needs without giving the same to the one we love. I am constantly amazed by this woman I love.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your deep felt feelings about your marriage. I have recently transitioned and my wife has been very supportive. I do know it is a struggle for both her and our two daughters to deal with the transition of our family. One of my daughters is very supportive but said that even though it was best for me as a person to transition as a Dad it was like I died. My wife deals with this by seeing me as “me” first and gendered second. It is a struggle for sure as Laura Michelle says as well.

    I do not feel the need nor desire to deny my past presenting as a guy. That did form who I am and it was a big part in my wife’s desire to marry me. To deny this is to deny reality for me. It was a BFD to change and it has impacts. Neither my wife nor I see our relationship as a lesbian one even though it sure appears to be one. We have to live with that I guess and overcome it. All the social labels are so frustrating for sure. But life is more complex than the labels.

    I am truly amazed by my wife and appreciate her effort to deal with this for us.

  4. I’ve come to believe that the only thing in this life I am truly passionate about, that makes life worth living, is hearing the truth spoken clearly, eloquently and unadorned.

    Et voila.

    Seriously, screw all the “narratives” and memes; Helen, you shine through, as does your love for each other.

    Amazing to have friends like both of you.

  5. We all need to prefix our statements with the “for me” disclaimer.

    I’m with Janet on this. For me, I feel that my gender has been unashamedly female all my life. The process of transition was something I did to help others stop misgendering me.

    Relying on recent transitioners to back up generalisations is also problematic. When I was being misgendered as a child and young adult, I constantly negotiated. I was desperate to find an identity that could work for me that might be acceptable to those I was close to. I tried on every label under the sun; gay, androgynous, trans… It was only years after transition that I could reflect without the pressure and see things a little more clearly.

    Why is Janet’s identity a problem for you? Surely you of all people know that teh trans is a complicated intersection of identity and circumstance, and that every one of us will experience our lives in our own unique way.

    Janet’s narrative is hers. Ashley’s is hers. Yours and Rachel’s is yours. Just as it’s unfair for them to step on your narrative to feel better about themselves, so to its unfair for you to step on theirs. She doesn’t need to be “born a boy” for the sake of your relationship. You’re bigger than that.

    Oh, and happy anniversary

  6. Happy Anniversary to you both. My wife and I have been married 34 years and I’m the trans partner. She accepts and supports me after a long while of trying to understand but I know she has some concerns. Though I haven’t transitioned physically she has commented on the feminine mannerisms that I possess. I’m sure that I’m not going to have GRS but I’ve left the door open. Gender is something that can’t grasp in my hand.

    I really understand what you’re dealing with because my spouse does also. I always reassure her that I’m the same person. It hasn’t always been easy but I wouldn’t change anything.

  7. Happy Anniversary.

    But yeah. I don’t get the comparison with Mock. One woman’s feelings about her marriage isn’t “the truth” it’s just her deal with her wife.

    I guess some will always “identify as transgender”. Others don’t. Transitions are events for some. Not life long labels.

    How could a woman (like Mock) get on with life like any other woman affect or “diminish” a transgender identified couple? By… *not* having any connection to each other?

    In this case wouldn’t a lesbian couple do more to “diminish” the transgender identified couple more than a straight woman like Mock?

    If so to apply the same logic in the blog post – do we get to tell the lesbians that they were not lesbian at birth. They only identify as lesbian and can only claim that after they came out?

    Seems like this transgender stuff gets held to another set standards sexual orientations (or anything else?) doesn’t, no?

  8. Happy anniversary. This is a touching post. I follow your posts in part because I hope that if your marriage can survive, maybe mine can. I haven’t transitioned. Each tiny step I take to expressing what’s inside generally makes my wife upset, so I usually end up taking that step back. I never want to hurt her. But I feel bad. I feel bad if I do nothing and I feel bad if I do something. She’s made it pretty clear she doesn’t want a woman as a partner. the problem is she already has one. Just not one that looks like a woman. She says she loves me. She even says she loves “all of me.” But she doesn’t want to see all of me. She wants to want to. She wants to be supportive. She says she feels bad that she can’t give me that. I guess there is no way for her to. If I’m female she can’t see the male part. I feel I can’t live without her and I can’t live without being myself. You shouldn’t have to feel you are supposed to be ok with this. My wife shouldn’t have to feel like she should be ok with this. It’s understandable. I understand why my wife gets upset. I understand why you feel how you feel. If I could take a pill and get rid of this I probably would. If I could go back in time though, how could I change what’s happened. I have a beautiful wife I love and two children who are great. We’ve had great times and fun things and we have plans for the future too. I just wish someone could come and tell me how to fix this mess. I just wish someone help me find a way to think about the world without feeling jealous of the people who get to walk around feeling normal in their bodies they were born with. It’s a really crummy feeling: anxious and angry and embarrassed because I feel like I have conflicting signals in my brain about how I feel and what I want and what I’m supposed to act like. It’s kind of amazing that my wife has stayed with me. I try not to let that mess inside of me show, but she knows it’s there whether I say anything or not.

  9. Your situation with Rachel is indeed a BFD. The fact that she has changed, and you have changed and while she still adores you, that you struggle to love the one you’re with not the one you married is a horrible burden. I hope you find a way to make it move from where you are to beyond “good” to great.

    I also appreciate the pointers to other couples issues with similar (if reversed) stressors on their marriages. Thank you for those.

    I want you to know for certain that you are not alone even if you step outside the trans community. My wife and I have been together for thirty-seven years. She is the love of my life, mother of my (now very adult) children, and in every way my darling dearest.

    Sadly, that is no longer true for her. While our relationship hasn’t weathered the incredible change that a trans partner brings, my life, my profession, my position in the community, my relations with peers and customers and others has resulted in my life and my person being very different than the small town high school teacher she married. What we have, and what I am is not what she signed up for. She struggles daily with the urge to leave and to find someone who loves her who fits her internal model of the spouse she should have. That urge fights with thirty-seven years of shared experience, shared pain and shared joy.

    I’m not belittling the truly unbelievable pressure that a trans spouse must bring to a relationship. I stand in awe of your and Rachel’s work with the community, with finding a niche for yourselves at Lawrence, and making a life from what, in may other’s hands, has turned into a tar pit. Please accept my congratulations and my wonder.

    All I want to share, and all I want you to know from this comment is that your issues around your and Rachel’s unbalanced romance, isn’t uniquely “trans” or even gender derived. When partners change, you pray that they will grow together, but sometimes the paths turn out to be orthogonal. Then, the couple has to decide, over and over, if the benefits of being that couple, the shared pain and the shared joy, add up to more than the benefits of searching for better. The ring drawn around ‘couple’ get stretched wider and wider.

    Knowing how many marriages fail, I long ago decided that this was more than good enough for me, but I’m not the one who had their partner change on them.

    I have followed your blog since soon after you published the first book, through the move to Lawrence, through Rachel’s transition, and through the path you’ve carved in the LGBT community. I will wait eagerly for the third book. I will also continue to pray to whatever gods there may be that you and she find a way through.

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