I am the wife of a trans woman who transitioned during our marriage. I am writing this to support partners as there are significant areas in common for us all but each of our paths on this journey may be very different. I also write to the trans person and just hope you both talk to each other. We want to keep our marriages intact.
There is no clear cut care pathway for partners here so do not be afraid to seek help and counselling. This journey can’t be done alone. Local GPs and counsellors are not specialists, so the more we speak up the more awareness will be raised. This is not a life choice for either of us; something that took me years to understand. I still ask myself: ‘why me’?
I had advanced notice before we got engaged that my husband was cross dressing since childhood. She agonised over telling me but we still got married and have now been together for over 30 years and married for 27. The prognosis for staying together is much higher if surprises and shocks are limited. We decided never to have children and life is a lot less complicated. However, it was still a shock when my partner decided to transition and, before I could understand the implications, she was self-medicating secretly. I went through hell. Women are good listeners and can be sympathetic, but I don’t like dishonesty, hiding or deception. We can detect little signs, and you may think your partner is having an affair if female clothing is found in the house which does not belong to you.
For the trans partner: please remember that this is like a bereavement but with no body and no funeral. If you are going to throw clothes from your previous gender away warn your partner and, perhaps, allow us to keep some sentimental items – even if just for a while, so we can grieve in our own time. Acknowledge this grieving process is just like any other, it HURTS!
Keep open channels of communication at all times and also agree to stop talking if it is getting too much. My counsellor suggested we have a password to use if this is happening, and we then agree to talk later at an agreed time. So far that works for us.
The trans person may be tempted to rush into transitioning (coming out, HRT, ‘real life experience’ and possibly surgery) because it is a lifelong desire to change gender. For the partner, it is a constant ‘in your face’ tornado of selfish wants that completely ignores and threatens the relationship. The effects of HRT on the mind and the body are visibly shocking and can be upsetting for the partner who knew another person intimately. Thankfully, there are now several good books out there and web sites. Bear in mind that by ‘outing’ yourself as being trans, you do the same to your partner and they may be concerned about what others think. The partner of a trans person may worry about peoples’ perceptions: are we a lesbian couple, sisters, sisters-in-law…?
Our particular relationship has been strong enough to overcome this. My partner first attempted a kind of dual life of living as a woman outside work many years ago, but this time around its permanent and that was a big adjustment for me. In transition we now tend to avoid the same haunts we frequented because waiting staff would recognize me and wonder if I have a new relationship as we sit at the same table ordering the same favourite meals. Even in places we have never been to, the ‘couple’ in us still comes out as we say ‘we’ the whole time when talking. I have to be very blunt here and say a part of our success is that my partner is completely convincing and I doubt if I would remain if she was not. Do not ‘carry the monkey’: other peoples’ reactions are their problem not yours. Who to tell and when is up to you. We have now told all our best friends and family, but my partner’s family proved to be the most negative.
For me this is not a linear process either. I have not gone smoothly from timid enquiry, anger, depression, thinking and reading to acceptance. Some days are better than others. Several times I revisit each emotion forwards and then backwards. This is where counselling helps. You are not alone. Also, bear in mind this is no-one’s fault so try not to blame when you are at your most angry to accuse. If you think that is easier said than done, I totally agree as I am guilty of doing that often – even now. I was quite shocked in one professional counselling session in the UK to be told I had in fact married a woman all along! To be told it was all to do with conception, what happens in the womb and the brain was earth shattering. Read, read and read. I have found it quite fascinating, painful and absorbing.
Having gone through more than a woman should for love, my partner wants a Gender Recognition Certificate. In 2014 with same sex marriage legal, the process is still unclear for married people where a partner transitions and, yet, retains the same legal rights. The irony that we already live as same sex couples after surgery is lost on them.
To end on a lighter note; there have been many fun moments, e.g. I now get to buy more clothes than before as she understands the need, but co-ordinating what to wear out can be a laugh. In the end love is more important than gender.
(Photograph is not of the post author but of Helen Boyd and her partner, Betty Crow. Helen is the author of She’s Not the Man I Married.)