A partner recently sent me this piece she’d written for a contest and I was struck not just by the writing style but by the deep urge, as ever, to get a partner’s truth you in the world. Enjoy.
Transition in 2000 Words – by Ariela Rosa
May 24, 2022
I wanted to say I appreciate R’s commitment to building community and giving everyone a voice. Their style in leading with heart, reaffirming that the conversation is a safe space, and being open to everyone’s inputs is so appreciated.
I stop to ask R, my spouse, if he has changed his pronouns.
“Oh yeah,” they say. “I was encouraging people at work to put their pronouns in their email signatures, so I started by putting mine. And when I went to put “he/him,” it felt wrong. So I just put they/them.”
This casual decision completely devastates me.
They came out as trans two years ago, 16 years into our relationship. I could not promise that our marriage would last through all the changes, but I of course wanted to treat them with dignity and respect, starting with the most basic of the basics: calling them what they wanted to be called. So I’d been checking in constantly about pronouns. They promised they’d let me know when they were ready, but suddenly I find out that I’ve been misgendering my spouse without knowing it.
I am angry at us both. Once again they’ve made a decision without letting me in, but also I want to get this right, and because I had no warning there is no way for me to not fuck this up over and over.
Saying “they” makes my heart ache for me.
Accidentally uttering “he” makes my heart ache for them.
December 23, 2021
“Hey, I got this for you for Christmas. I know it’s not much, but…”
I’d bought a few pairs of earrings that reminded me of my
husband spouse. One set was two halves of an avocado with smiling faces painted onto the pits. I paid for his lobe piercings two weeks ago, crying later that day about this step in his evolving womanhood. Buying the earrings is my way of manning up.
I get on a plane to Utah the next day. I was tired of asking a dysphoric person to hold me through my tears as if I were the one suffering and needed to be someone else’s problem for a while. I also needed to know if I felt better with or without him.
The trip did not help me figure this out.
He called on Christmas Day to thank me. I sobbed.
My friend sends me back from Utah with a gift certificate to Sephora. “I want R. to go to somewhere where they will take care of him and treat him with respect.”
What a thoughtful gift; I am happy and know he’ll love it. But also, I’m so angry; I feel a responsibility to go with him so I can shake my cis privilege at everyone and ensure that he will be treated right. But that also means seeing him glow in his foundation and eyeliner, watching “him” fade further away.
He shares that he’s afraid of looking like a man in a dress.
But what’s wrong with being a man in a dress? I could totally handle that! I tell myself to shut the fuck up; what awful thoughts. If there is a hell, then I’m sure I belong there.
We have fun for once; I’m proud that I was able to ignore the lump in my throat the whole time.
Back in the car, he cried. “They made me feel so valid,” he said. I tried extra hard to smile in spite of myself.
My spouse’s summertime online affair came to an abrupt end when I found the transcripts of him and his partner sexting the other week. I had suspected the affair from the beginning, but I felt an extra sting when I realized that the other person had treated my husband like a woman when I felt I couldn’t. He even gave this person his chosen name while telling me he wasn’t ready to make that change yet. The potent mix of rage, guilt, and despair boiling all over my body makes me want to tear off my own skin.
Perhaps it is because I feel so much loss, pain, and eroding trust that I decide to finally confide in one of my best friends about R. being trans, hoping to lean on someone else for a while.
I do not tell her about the affair.
Still, she is angry. “OH MY GOD, THIS MAN IS ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING TO YOU!”
I stop her and explain sternly that my spouse being trans isn’t doing anything to me, and that she can’t be mad at someone just for being trans.
I do not lean on her for support.
“Well, do you WANT to buy girl’s clothes?” I ask.
“I guess I should,” he replies.
“Cool beans. I will take you to Torrid, and we will get you a dressing room. And if someone dares to say something I’ll fuck ’em up.”
We find some vibrant skirts and blouses. I choose many of the options, insisting that he try everything because he has no idea what he’ll like. He is too shy to ask the sales associate for help, so I do.
“Hey you,” I say with as much non-nonchalant confidence as I can muster, “My husband wants to try on these clothes.”
She opens a room without hesitation and with a warm smile. Turns out I didn’t need to beat up anyone today. Lucky her.
I ask what he thinks. Turns out a shirt I had chosen was less than flattering. If he wants my opinion, I will gladly give it to him. But I also will encourage him to buy the damn thing if he disagrees.
“Yeah, hell no, ick.” I breathe a sigh of relief. We throw it aside and laugh.
After making passionate love, we cuddle in bed as a stream of afternoon sunlight shines through the window and onto our nakedness. I cry while I caress his chest hair, which glistens from the light and the sweat of our sex. He is going to shave his chest for the first time today, and with laser starting next month I know that this is the last time I will ever feel this part of him.
His hair is so coarse, long, full, curly. We used to make jokes about the possibility of his chest hair poking through his t-shirts, making him and the shirt one and giving him super powers.
He won’t feel like my person without this hair.
He holds me tight, giving me this last chance even though it kills him. I apologize.
When he finally goes to the bathroom, I sob and scream into my pillow until I fall asleep.
R. is having a bad dysphoria day.
I just want to gouge out my own eyes. I feel like a fraud. In my head I imagine people referring to me as ‘he’ but then I feel like I’m referring to myself that way and it makes me feel like I’m lying if I keep misgendering myself. I feel lost and can’t function.
I should be there to help them through this, but my deadlines don’t care. So I work while I listen, trying hard to understand something that I know I never will.
I know. It’s ok. I think I just need to say it. Sometimes just sharing things with you helps.
I feel guilty for missing the man they need to get rid of to feel right.
“Oh wow! And you’re okay with that?” This seems to be the chief question during the public phase of my spouse’s coming out.
“I mean, we’re a work in progress,” I giggle because I don’t know how else to respond. “Anyway, he hasn’t changed pronouns yet, but I’ll let you know when.”
What I really want to say is fuck you. I don’t think I get to choose or “okay” the core of my spouse’s self, assholes.
Or is everyone asking whether I want to stay married? This seems like a terribly invasive question that I can’t even answer for myself yet.
“It’s so great that you are supporting him—oh, I mean her? Is that right?” They look for me to assure them that they are indeed not transphobic. But I don’t have energy to help anyone else.
Instead of expecting me to take care of them or make them comfortable, why doesn’t anyone ever just ask me what I need?
Today that online group for partners of trans folks posted a meme: “As a trans person you don’t transition to become a different person. You transition to stop pretending to be someone you’re not!”
This stings. I know it’s correct. I also know that I fell in love with the person my spouse was pretending to be. I miss that person every day. I write this in response to the original poster.
“My wife is trans,” OP replies. “I tend to focus on how much happier she is.”
“I’m gonna order some books on gender and sexuality,” he mutters while I’m in the middle of a Zoom meeting. There is maybe six inches of space between the back of my chair and the side of his. Our second room barely accommodates our desks, but I’m insistent that we separate our work space from the rest of the house so they don’t meld together. This work from home thing is temporary anyway.
I wave him away so that I can pay attention.
The books arrive a few days later. One book in the pile… is a gender workbook?
“Babe, are you questioning your gender?”
He doesn’t look at me when he says yes.
The floor has fallen out beneath me.
“I can’t do this! Of course you can transition and I will always support you, but I cannot be your wife! We need to divorce NOW. Seriously, what the fuck! 16 years! After everything we’ve gone though, you didn’t tell me?! 16 fucking years!”
“I didn’t know either.”
When R. was five, a bunch of her cousins visited her apartment, and her first instinct was to pick up some cans to join the girls in playing restaurant. The room fell silent: every adult whipped their head around, instilling deep shame into her as they said “boys don’t play like that.”
That’s when he was born.
So I know he’s right: how could he have known?
But how do I reconcile falling in love with a mask? I’m grieving him while she is alive; I grieve him even though he wasn’t right. I don’t understand my reality or my feelings.
It doesn’t take long for her to peak through and for him to start fading away, though in the quiet phase of the transition he comes back sometimes to keep up appearances for those who do not yet know.
I envy my friends for getting to keep him for just a little longer.
We met through a mutual friend when we were 17 and 19. I was about to graduate high school and was pretty sure I didn’t have a future, so I had stopped dreaming by the time he came along.
But being with him made dreaming seem possible.
After talking each other’s ears off for a week over the phone, we met for pizza, walking across the Harlem Bridge to the Bronx. On the way back, we stopped in the middle of the bridge to enjoy the light breeze and cloudless sky. We held hands while watching the late afternoon sun bounce along the water.
Something felt so familiar in this moment, like I’d known him before and would know him again. I already could not picture my life without him.
“Hey, I just want you to know… I can’t predict what will happen with us, but no matter what, I will always be your friend.”