Another interview with a partner whose narrative is in Transgress Press’ Love, Always.
1. What didn’t you write about in your narrative but wish you had?
I wish I had known at the beginning that they were going to discard the conceit that it was a “letter to our partners”; I submitted early, before they abandoned that title and theme and opened it up to all sorts of contributions. (I actually love the new approach and think it was brilliant, so I’m not complaining about the change!) It seemed weird to me to write to my wife about things that she was there for, so I omitted a lot of discussion about, for example, the times when the year she spent in transition was tough in ways I never anticipated. I knew the “big stuff” would be a tremendous deal, but I didn’t expect to find myself crying every time I looked at her newly pierced ears, or that sometimes her gender issues would overshadow everything to the point where I’d be desperate for a conversation about something banal like who forgot to pick up cat litter. I didn’t realize that the process of transition wasn’t going to be about huge milestones so much as a million little things, all of them nibbling away at the life I knew and replacing it with the unknown. There were indeed some huge milestones, but when they came, I tended to have had a lot of warning and to cope very well.
I also didn’t want to make her feel guilty, and composing a letter ostensibly to her of “ways you made me suffer” seemed likely to do so. Particularly when, at this late date, we’ve both hashed this stuff out often enough that it would seem like re-opening wounds that have (genuinely) healed. But I think that sort of thing is important to tell because it shows that happy ever afters are possible… and that like most things in marriage, it takes work and determination and sometimes tears.
Oh, right, and lest I look like a saint, I kind of wish there’d been a way to shoehorn in the anecdote about the time I screamed “How can you be fine with growing breasts but afraid to buy a bra?!!” at the top of my lungs and then fled weeping into the bedroom and slammed the door. It’s easy to tell a story with smoothed edges and narrative flow after the fact, but the reality was messy and complicated and sometimes involved me completely losing the plot.
2. What is the biggest misunderstanding you confront as a partner to a trans person?
That would probably be the misguided sympathy. I’ve had people coo over me for “putting up with that,” respond by saying “I could never do that,” and the dreaded “you’re so brave.” I overhear/see them telling others that I’ve “settled” and it might be because I’m “financially dependent.” (All of these are in quotation marks because they represent actual comments made many times.) Ironically, she was considered a real catch back when she was a guy, and nothing has changed about those appealing qualities since then! I try to explain that I don’t see myself as unlucky or trapped or settling at all – that I consider myself fortunate every day to be in love with and allowed to be married to this wonderful woman – and then I can tell they think I’m being defensive or protesting too much. It’s frustrating as heck. I’m happy to be in this relationship; I’m also too strong-willed and intelligent to be with her unless I’d chosen to be. In fact, I sometimes had to make that choice every hour or every day… but I’ve never regretted for a single instant that I did re-make it over and over until we got to our happy ending on the transition journey.
A close second, however, would have to be the assumption that my sexual orientation is defined by my partner, even when that partner is the same person. I was presumed to be straight before, and a lesbian now, and neither is true. This is a headache bisexual people often have to put up with in general; the additional irritation is simply that nothing has changed about our relationship except HER apparent gender, and that shouldn’t reflect on my orientation at all. Of course, I’m also not fond of people who think I’m a martyred straight woman suffering in silence!
3. Where do you get your support?
These days, I know quite a few people individually on Twitter, Facebook, and G+, as well as several partners’ support groups on the various social networks. I don’t see myself as needing support now, however; transition was almost six years ago and I came to terms with it a long time back. As for how I found support back then, quite simply, I didn’t. The closest I found was reading She’s Not The Man I Married and My Husband Betty, which at least gave me the idea that it was possible to survive transition together and happy.
4. Cool to hear my books helped. How has your experience been in bringing up your own difficulties with the trans person you’re partnered to?
She has been nothing but sympathetic throughout. In fact, she has expressed frustration that some trans* people treat partners like afterthoughts or intrusions, and she’s been very clear that she considers me to have walked this path alongside her. (She actually dropped a couple of friends who were verbally abusive on the subject of partners of trans people, though to be honest I think they were kind of toxic people in general.) She understands completely that I want to be her literal partner, and not someone dragged along for the ride.
With that said, there were many times when I chose not to bring up problems that I knew I would work through on my own (I don’t deal well with change, but I’ve learned to recognize the times when I simply need to sit with it for a while and/or whine and I’ll be able to cope eventually), because I knew it would make her guilty and depressed over things she couldn’t control. Of course, since we’d been together since high school, she generally had a good sense of what I was feeling even if I didn’t say it! I’ve always been clear myself that transition is not something she did “to” me, and that she feels terrible to this day about how much I suffered for it. I told her then and still believe that it was worth some short-term pain on my part to gain long-term happiness for her and for us, but that didn’t make it easier for her to watch.
In retrospect, I think I probably should have trusted her more and leaned on her more often. One thing the estrogen and transition have done is make her even better at being sympathetic and soothing without being annoying. That’s a knack that, well, I haven’t entirely mastered myself. Oops.
5. Do you think you would partner with other kinds of trans people? That is, if you are partnered to someone feminine spectrum, would you date someone who is masculine spectrum? If they’re binary, someone genderqueer?
I don’t see why not. I’m bisexual and don’t consider genitals as a primary selection marker (nothing against people who do, that’s a valid expression of orientation as well). That said, I prefer “genderfuck” in a partner, so I probably would not be initially attracted to someone who was strongly binary-identified and also heavily stereotypical in gender expression – whether that person was cis or trans.
6. What motivates your ongoing activism in trans rights and partners’ rights?
Put simply, when it comes to partners’ rights I’m trying to be the change I wanted to see. I keep reaching out, and participating in projects like this one, because I want to be the voice of support and encouragement and honesty that I wished I could have found back then. I’ve teared up now when I see a new, profoundly upset partner turn up on the internet and a group of us gather around and try to comfort and support them. It’s not much, not compared to the network of transition support I’ve seen in some corners of the internet, but it’s more than there was and it’s beautiful to watch.
My involvement in trans rights, such as it is, comes from the fact that I think it’s abominable to pretend that certain classes of people *don’t* deserve rights! I don’t deserve any special accolades for that, as it’s the very least I can do.