Why Trans Partners Should Tell Their Stories

The other day I published a brief interview with Christine Benvenuto, who wrote a book about her marriage to and divorce from a trans woman.

I blurbed her book, let me admit up front.

I blurbed it because despite some transphobic tendencies (not respecting her ex’s change to feminine pronouns, most notably), I think it’s important that partners get their stories out there – as important as it is for trans people to do so. I’ve been enabling the latter for a long time, and I’m proud to have done so. But I see so often that partners who are having a hard time or who are bitter about a divorce or angry about transition are told – in trans community spaces – to STFU, pretty much. And that really sucks, a lot.

The thing is, nothing about her memoir struck me as patently false. I’ve known a lot of trans women and a lot of wives of trans women over the past 13 years. A LOT. And Benvenuto’s story, just as she told it, is pretty goddamned typical. I have seen behavior by trans women that is sexist, misogynist bullshit. I have seen trans women spend their kids’ college money on transition. I have seen 401Ks emptied. I have seen all of that, and more.

I have also seen the wives of transitioning women take out all their rage on their trans spouse – financially, emotionally, even physically. I have seen rage that I didn’t even know was possible in the wives of trans women. And I have seen them be unwilling to let it go.

That is, I have seen a lot of awful behavior on both sides of this coin. Trans people are not excused because they’re trans just as women are not excused because they’re women. We are all faced with loss and betrayal and heartbreak and all of the emotions that accompany those things. How you choose to express them is entirely up to you.

I can buy the argument that now is not the best time to be airing our dirty laundry in public. Maybe it is. Maybe right now is the “let’s put a good face on it so the public grants us our rights” period for trans issues. But I don’t think there ever is that time, to be honest. I think that’s the kind of thinking that results in shaming some members of a community over other members of that community.

Because, I would argue, the crap behavior of some trans women who come from lives of male privilege – & here I’m specifically talking about certain kinds of later transitioning trans women – is a fact. It’s not made up. I can promise you that. And what we want, as a community, is for trans people to be happy. For them to have people to love and who love them. For them to be accepted and loved by their families.

And transition after 20 years of marriage is very, very rarely going to make that happen. It just isn’t.

So if we as a community want trans people to be happy, people need to know what kind of devastation a late transition can cause on families and wives and communities and of course on the trans people themselves. There is so, so much pain, on everyone’s part. People need to know it. People need to transition younger so that some of this can be prevented.

That said: partners deserve to tell their stories because they’re their stories. There are other reasons, but really, that’s the nut of it. There is no saying who is “right” when it comes to he said/she said. There never is. But as far as I could tell, Sex Changes felt real. It felt hard to write. There were parts that made me cry to finally see things I’d felt in print.

So no, it’s not a perfect story. It could have been kinder, but my gut still says it was honest and that is worth having in the world. Honesty can only shed light in dark corners, and transition-fueled divorce is one of the darkest corners I know of.

Beatie Complication

The Beaties were just trying to get divorced.

Thomas and Nancy Beatie are eager to end their nine-year marriage, but their divorce plans stalled when Maricopa County Family Court Judge Douglas Gerlach said in late June that he was unable to find any legal authority defining a man as someone who can give birth.

“Are we dealing with a same-sex marriage?” Gerlach asked. He noted Arizona has banned such marriages and refuses to accept those performed in other states. The judge added no court here is allowed to declare same-sex unions valid.


“What you have is a man and woman who are married, and their relationship is ending,” said Minter, who isn’t involved in the Beatie case. “And it’s no different, fundamentally, from other people in that circumstance.”

And Beatie, whom I’ve never been a gigantic fan of, redeems himself with this:

David Michael Cantor, one of Thomas Beatie’s attorneys, said it would be more financially favorable for his client if the marriage weren’t recognized by the courts, because Thomas could have to pay Nancy alimony. But Cantor said Thomas wants the divorce as an official recognition that their union was legitimate. “He loses money, but he wants to be told it’s valid,” Cantor said.

As a friend pointed out: it’s sad that he doesn’t want to pay alimony simply because it’s the right thing for a man to do in a sexist system, but at least he wants to see his marriage upheld as legitimate so as not to set a precedent (or rather, more precedent) that puts any other of our marriages at risk. Let’s hope he gets his way.

You can read the whole article here.

Dan Savage’s Family Values

I”m sure plenty have already seen Mark Oppenheimer’s NYT column about infidelity; in it, he talks a lot about Dan Savage, who I love (and whose show I was on back in January). Despite how angry people are about the transphobic way he talked about the dilemma’s of a trans person’s relationship with her wife & son, I can’t really disagree with it, either. (Although I’d add, too, that sometimes children and wives are transphobic; still, giving loved ones a little while to get used to the idea would be great, and may preserve some familiar relationships that will not sustain a very speedy transition.)

Still, that’s hardly what’s interesting to me about this column. First off, he said it a few years ago, & Savage has been sucking a  little less on trans issues. He is, in my opinion, someone who could have been an amazing ally if he weren’t shouted at every second he said something stupid (but not necessarily hateful). He is, in my opinion, one of the people we lost with the overuse of the word transphobic, a la Christine Burns.

But what’s more interesting to me is the way this article paints him as something like a conservative. Really… Dan Savage? But yes: he’s always been pro nuclear family, that’s for sure. He’s opinionated in ways only ex-Catholics can be (she says, securely seated in her glass house). But that idea that someone could be considered conservative even as they suggest that perhaps nonmonogamy should be on the table for heterosexual marriage kind of blows my mind. I don’t disagree. I think in plenty of cases, nonmonogamy makes perfect sense. I’ve been learning a lot more about it – not just from friends who practice it, but from Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up as well, and I was in a relationship during my 20s that wasn’t monogamous. But still: I sorta kinda love the idea of Savage being seen as conservative because he is advocating nonmonogamy in order to preserve marriages, because being married/partnered for life is a conservative value whether you’re gay or kinky or not.

And that’s the kind of thing that makes my feminist hackles rise.

Because Coontz – who Oppenheimer mentions and quotes – has said elsewhere that in happy marriages, both people benefit. But in unhappy marriages, men continue to benefit, but women do much, much worse in terms of their health. Even a miserable wife feeds her husband vegetables, she once cleverly concluded in her Marriage, A History. (It’s a great book, absolutely 100% worth reading.)

So the idea of preserving a marriage simply because preserving marriage is what you’re supposed to do strikes me as kind of wrong-headed and — well, sexist. It’s not like Savage will have been the first gay man to give out sexist advice unthinkingly, but it’s still a surprise.