The Blame Game

I wrote this recently in response to a question, or an assertion, that nobody chooses to be born trans, but that often, the advice is that you can choose what to do about it. My wife says that a lot, and it makes some trans people unhappy. The way she puts it: you got a shit hand, but you still get to decide how to play it.

Whether or not to transition itself is a choice is an idea I will leave for another day. But here, in a nutshell, are some basic tenets I hope are useful.

does it matter why?

i don’t know what trans is – genetic, medical condition, etc.

no one makes any distinction between nature/nurture anymore. nature is what? DNA? as in, something made out of protein that is created within a physical environment which is impacted by all our culture. just forget it. that binary is over, done with.

are people trans?


do they need to transition?


should they own their shit & do so as responsibly as possible?


should cis people start to fucking understand transness is not going anywhere, that it IS, in the same way that, say, queerness IS?


if you got married & you’re trans & you’re going to transition you’re going to wreck your wife’s life, pretty much. own it. minimize the damage however you can.

your life was already wrecked by transphobia and represssion and who knows what else.

your transition will give you the chance to change in a way that you’re looking forward to. your wife may, in turn, change her life into something she wants, too, but in either case, you will both experience a great deal of loss. none of it is fair, not a damn thing about it, & not for anyone.

but stop, STOP, making it all about you. if there is anything i say to trans people all the time that none of you listen to – & that includes my lovely spouse – that is it.

as she likes to say: trans people make Narcissus weep.

17 Replies to “The Blame Game”

  1. Great post!

    The nature/nurture argument is over indeed. Nature wins out because everything human is a product of nature, even culture itself. Human thought tends to tries to invent us as something above or outside nature but the facts speak for themselves. From Dawkins extended phenotype to more controversial ideas like Sheldrake’s morphic resonance it’s pretty clear that we are not only all products of nature but active participants, co-creators of an ever evolving nature.

    The reality can produce some discomfort at times but it is what it is!

  2. I’m interested in knowing more about what you wrote earlier about this. I’m not real clear on who’s asserting what. I know for myself as trans what is what, but the choices issue is always the main question if we have spouses. Please share the rest of the story.

  3. You say it all the time and I believe that you are right, but there are legions of trans that are very annoyed with you for saying it, if not downright hostile.

  4. I love this, though it amazes me how hot the emotions still run. I think the problem many of us have as trans people is our morbid desire to define ourselves rigidly when we are in fact bobbing in an ocean of constant flux.

    I love the boards of MHB because no one point of view can ever attempt to dominate without being called out.

  5. a wife I met this weekend encourages me to make a clarification: if your transition is going to wreck your wife’s life, then it will. some wives’ lives are not at all wrecked by their husbands’ transition. but for many, it is.

    mine was not, but that doesn’t mean i don’t also miss the man i met and married, too.

    the point, however, was that no one is to blame for how much this can suck. but pretending that a mid life transition from within a marriage is NOT as huge a loss as it sometimes is can make the situation worse.

  6. Hi Helen, It’s certainly a POV to which I ascribe. “To be born Transgender is not a choice, what you do with that, is a choice.” Keystone Keynote 2012. Now we enter the world of Philosophy, where free will is a biological property of the brain. If you wish to understand this, you must read or take the Harvard course of Robert O. Doyle. “Free Will: it’s a normal biological property, not a gift or a mystery,” Nature, 459, June 2009, p.1052. The opposite view is to believe that you are predestined or predetermined to transition for which I find no evidence. Our POV will certainly make some TGs “unhappy”, especially their wives.

  7. I do think there’s something to trans people, especially late, married, transitioners jumping head first into transition. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful or correct to assume that they are narcissists though, and that’s what your quip at the end seems to imply. I think it’s more of an awakening that is overwhelming, than a lack of concern.

  8. @Cerise, For some transgendered the decision to transition is about on par with the the decision whether to pull ones hand from a fire that it was forced into. I fail to see how this decision would make their wife “unhappy”.

  9. @JennL, My premise is simple, I “choose” to transition. Now when we start to qualify and quantify the definition of transition as partially or fully, we enter the realm of Psychology. Certainly the desire and drive is different for everyone since we are uniquely individual. I cannot know what drives some TGs to contemplate suicide, but it certainly exists in many cases and everybody understands “suicide”. Your last sentence “I fail to see how this decision would make their wife “unhappy” is certainly an understatement, if not completely erroneous. Your wife’s loss must be understandable on all levels or you’re missing something called “empathy”. Now of the few wives I know that “chose” to stay they exhibit commitment, empathy and love on their part which is measurable by their actions. Your “Hand from the Fire” is Hyperbole.

  10. @ JennL, Sorry, but pulling your hand from the fire is reflexive and not related to our decision to transition.

  11. if, by pulling your hand from the fire, you elbow someone else in the eye, both are possible – your reflex, & its legitimacy, & the unhappiness of the person whose eye hurts.


  12. A couple of things:

    1) The Narcissus comment is mine, not Helen’s. And I stand by it. I have yet to met someone mid-transition who doesn’t exhibit hardcore self-involved behavior. That’s not a value judgment by the way. It makes perfect sense to me and in some ways can be justified. But it’s still narcissism.

    2) The hand/fire metaphor smells like a straw man argument. It also begs the question: Did you choose to put your hand in a fire? If so… um, choice!

    Transition is hard and it’s crazy. Saying that doesn’t invalidate those things, but please, let’s not pretend otherwise.

    Finally, this is all my opinion.

  13. Looks like I ruffled a few feathers with my last comment. Hyperbole yes, but only to make the point as simply as I could. Gender dysphoria can be painful and I don’t think anyone chooses to experience it. So although the decision making process behind transition is more complicated than pulling ones hand from a flame, I think we can all agree that for some it is an attempt at moving away from a serious threat. That is a survival instinct, not narcissism.

    I wouldn’t feel unhappy with a decision my life partner made if her survival or longterm happiness could depend on it. Her happiness is essential to mine and we came together for more reasons than just being gender opposites.

  14. Deciding to transition is a conscious decision that forces us to decide a course of action to resolve the enormous internal struggle and risks of giving up. Not all spouses can accept, regardless of their love for us, the same sex partner. We risk so much by going forward, that continuing with the known as the “wrong” gender may seem safer. I would love to know the percentages of us that do not transition.

  15. Jenn, you’re missing my point re: narcissism. I’m not saying that transition is narcissism or that gender dysphoria is. I’m saying that exhibited behavior DURING transition looks a lot like narcissism. And that it’s understandable, I think. But its still narcissism.

    Again, this is based on my own observations as Helen’s partner seeing and meeting a lot of mid-life transitioners. It’s not a blanket statement.

  16. Ok, thanks Betty. I think I now understand what you were trying to say. To begin to see oneself finally appear as you have felt you should since childhood would be quite overwhelming in middle age. That experience is so complex, I don’t think a single word could describe what’s going on.

  17. So judging from the responses, we all have wives or partners who are accepting. We are the exception to the rule. In my area, which is very socially accepting, we are 6 couples who meet at local restaurants monthly and maybe occasionally during the week. Our goal is to be out in public and engage the straight public in small talk, so they can meet TGs. To know one is to love one. I once calculated from international studies that only 2% of the MTF TG population transition completely with surgeries. But that number rises to 10% in one Gender Clinic population, who have been in hormonal treatment for many years. There are only poor estimates in the US and the true numbers will come out of the EU Gender Clinics. It’s impossible to say how many GRS are performed annually. The ratio of MTF and FTM in US Gender clinics is similar to the Dutch at 1:1.

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