“I’m finding myself having a hard time reconciling my strong desire to immediately begin the transition process and my need to keep things kind of slow for the sake of my marriage. I don’t feel like my wife is holding me back, but I do feel a bit like I’m holding myself back on her account… if that makes any sense. I’m starting to wish that I was just alone so that I could explore this part of myself without any concern about what she will think or feel about it, but I don’t really want to end my marriage. I am, however, having a hard time seeing how this is going to go or even really envisioning us staying together through all of this. I can’t foresee her really being okay with me being a full blown woman, not when I know she is attracted to men, so it’s hard for me to envision her being attracted to me as a woman. I want to believe that she can do it but part of me almost hopes that she can’t so that I can be free to be myself without needing to hold back for her.” (See: Spouse Issues)
Those were words I wrote almost two years ago at the onset of this journey of self-discovery and as I read them I am filled with an odd mixture of feelings. On one hand I am impressed, if not a little saddened, by the fact that I so clearly understood my marriage was over a year before it actually was. I think in some ways my wife did as well but neither of us were ready to admit it. On the other hand I am reminded of just how trapped I used to feel inside of that marriage. When I read my own words expressing a wish to be alone so I can explore this part of myself without any concern for the thoughts/feelings of another I am forced to look at my current situation.
I am alone. I got my wish. I get to explore who I am all on my own and I don’t have to worry about how it makes anyone feel. That is both a very freeing feeling and criminally lonely one as well. You know that old adage about being careful what you wish for? Well I should have been careful what I wished for, but not in the way you might think. Being alone, for better or worse, was an inevitable consequence of my decision to burn my old identity to the ground and build anew, but what I didn’t understand was how dangerous undertaking such a large project alone could be. You see, with my wife in the picture I was able to build in a slow but steady fashion with constant inspections. Once I was alone, there was no one there to supervise my building. There was no one there to remind me that I needed to go to work, even if I felt depressed. There was no one there to remind me that getting hammered on a Wednesday night with my friends until 1am wasn’t a great way to want to go to work the next day. There was no one there to remind me that my life wasn’t over once I lost my job. There was no one there to remind me that I needed to find work and to save my money while I looked. There was no one to account for my spending or to stop me from drinking most of my money away.
I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to begin the process alone rather than undertaking it together and hoping things wouldn’t fall apart. Now that I am here, now that I have lived through all of the events of the last two years I can honestly say that there are times that I wish I’d done things differently. My wife and I knew things were over once I realized I was transgender. Both of us fought to keep the illusion going that we could make it work. I did everything I could to convince myself that things weren’t over and allowed the anecdotal stories of women sticking with their transwoman spouses after the transition to blind me from what was directly in front of me. Yes, sometimes, with extremely rare frequency transgender women are able to maintain their marriages to women after the transition. That is true, but the vast majority of marriages don’t make it, and the ones that do almost always become platonic ventures for the sake of the children.
I don’t want to break your heart if you are considering transition and you are married or in a LTR with someone who is attracted to the sex that you were assigned at birth. If you are pre-transition and are a transwoman with a wife, a transman with a wife, a transwoman with a husband, a transman with a husband, or a genderqueer/non-binary/etc. person with a spouse/partner, then I want you to understand the reality of the situation. Chances are, with rare exception, your marriage or LTR is going to either end or come to a place that barely resembles the relationship it was before. The person who has the greatest chance, in my experience, is a transman married/partnered to a woman and that is only because much of the time that transman was already rather masculine in presentation to begin with. (I’m not sure I have ever seen a lipstick lesbian suddenly decide to transition to male, but I’ve only been in the queer game for a year so I’m sure it has happened somewhere). Even then, the chances are less than great.
I think I can safely say that had my wife and I just made the decision early on (perhaps when I decided to start hormones) to call it quits then we both could have saved ourselves a great deal of suffering and might have actually survived as friends. Sure, it would have been heartbreaking, because I loved her with every ounce of my being, but we wouldn’t have gone to such extreme lengths to force something that was already over. She wouldn’t have cheated on me, I wouldn’t have gotten so depressed with how my wife didn’t want to sleep with me anymore, and we wouldn’t have bought a house/car. Don’t get me wrong, I love my house and I love my car, but I’m not sure I can say they are worth no longer having much of a relationship with my ex-wife and former best friend. I think having her as my friend and having her support present in my life would have been far better than a house that’s too big for just me and a car I can hardly afford with my criminally low paying job.
In three weeks it will have been exactly one year since my marriage fell apart and I think it no coincidence that I’ve started reading these words again. I didn’t plan it this way but something from the past called to me and here I am, continuing my blog through self-reflection over my experiences with the hopes that it will help whomever comes across these words. As this woeful anniversary looms over me I am filled with so much regret and sadness. I wanted so badly for my marriage to work out, for my wife and I to figure out our problems and live this lesbian family fantasy I had built in my head; and it was exactly that fantasy that caused us both so much heartache. I think back to the worst moments of the divorce and I remember how utterly nasty we were to one another, and all of it could have been avoided if I’d just been a goddamn grownup and recognized what needed to be done.
So many arguments could have been avoided, so many apologies wouldn’t have been necessary, so much guilt over the way we were feeling could have been avoided, and so much misery saving up for a house could have been avoided. So much would have gone differently, and quite possibly better than it did while we both pretended to make things work. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I wouldn’t have had to answer the question, “How is your wife taking this?”
Maybe if we’d just made the adult decision I’d still be in contact with my former in-laws. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like I’m completely cutoff from any sense of family most of the time. Maybe my nieces and nephews would still be in my life. Maybe I’d still have a relationship with the sister-in-law I adored. Maybe I’d still have aunts and uncles within driving range. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost the family I gained from my marriage. You cannot see them because you are just reading my words but there are tears streaming down my face as I type these words. I miss my family, even if they were her family to begin with. I didn’t think about that when I decided to buy into a fantasy rather than reality. I didn’t consider all I had to lose by gambling on a, “maybe we can make it work,” instead of betting on the more likely, “maybe we can part ways amicably and stay close friends.”
I know I probably sound like a Debbie Downer right now, especially if you are in a situation that pertains to this discussion, but I have to call it like I see it. I didn’t do that then and it hurt me in the long run. I can honestly say that the chances of me turning to drinking the way that I did would have been drastically lower had I called it like I saw it. Maybe I wouldn’t be in AA and maybe I could go to the bar to drink like a normal person. I used to be able to do that. I used to have that control but after the marriage fell apart I eventually lost that ability, and I cannot help but wonder how different things would be had we taken the alternative route.
I simply wish to offer these thoughts and reflections as a means of giving you an alternative perspective on pre-transition relationships. Most people will try to convince you that you can do it, even as they question you at every turn about how you think it’s going (because they secretly think you are screwed but don’t want to hurt your feelings). I don’t want to hurt your feelings either, but I want you to know what you might want to think about as you begin this journey. Even if it might be painful and difficult to end things early on, what potential disasters might you avoid in the long run? How do you feel about your spouse/partner no longer wanting to have sex with you? How will you feel when they break down into tears because you enjoy wearing that new item of gender-affirming clothing you bought? How will you feel as you look in the mirror and see someone that you are proud of, when your partner mournfully sees the person they loved melting away little by little? Worse yet, how will you feel as they ogle someone on TV that is your assigned-at-birth sex? How would you feel about them divulging that they are attracted to a coworker of your assigned-at-birth sex? How would you feel about them deciding to sleep with said coworker because they can’t be with a woman/man/non-binary/etc.? How might you feel if you lost your in-laws because your marriage ended poorly instead of civilly? How many different ways are you holding yourself back on account of them and how would they truly react if you stopped holding back? If they would react poorly to you no longer holding back then what does that say about your relationship’s future?
I miss my ex-wife. I miss having that friendship. I miss getting to share things with her. I miss getting to see her be proud of me when I did something brave. I miss getting to celebrate in her successes. I miss so very many parts of that relationship that had nothing at all to do with being married, but we cannot go back. I cannot salvage that relationship because we allowed it to go too far. We allowed ourselves to play out the fantasy of making it work for too long and its consequences were nearly terminal. Sure, we still maintain some contact with one another but pretty much only out of necessity. If it weren’t for the shared assets that we still have together we would probably never speak to one another. As it is, I can never have that friendship I want with her because seeing her is practically devastating. Getting a text message from her can be like getting kicked in the stomach by all of the regrets I have over how things went.
Yes, she was angry with me early on because she didn’t want things to have to change, but she was also understanding of why they had to change. If I’d been brave enough to risk her ire for a hot minute while we separated, I could have built on the foundation of her understanding of why things needed to change. As it was, I was too afraid to lose her. I wanted my cake and wanted to eat it too, so if you are in a challenging relationship situation of any kind I want you to ask yourself, are you trying to have your cake and to eat it too? If the answer is anywhere near a yes then I’d encourage you to swallow the bitter pill of reality and call it like you see it. Your two-years-in-the-future self will be grateful you did. They won’t have to write a blog entry like this one lamenting over their failure to do the only logical thing.
I loved my wife, and yet even in the beginning of my transition I knew that I needed to be alone to really be who I knew I was. Now that I am alone, I wish that I’d been alone longer because maybe then I wouldn’t be quite so alone. Funny how that works, choosing to not be alone out of fear results in me being so very alone and cutoff from the family I grew to love, whereas choosing to be alone despite the fear would have likely meant I’d be far less alone and would still have the family I grew to love.
That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes ever:
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” –Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
So, if you are considering chasing that rabbit down the hole into the wonderland of gender transition, then I encourage you to take a good, hard look at what you might be losing out on, either by choosing to let it go willingly or by having it painfully ripped from your fingers. Be you. Become you. Shine brightly as you become that fabulous trans* person you were meant to be, but look beyond the changes of today. The future is impossible to predict, but many of us have ventured ahead of you and have left you bread-crumbs along your trail. We’ve also left warning signs to help you avoid the pitfalls of transition that we either couldn’t or wouldn’t avoid ourselves. This is one of those warning signs. If you are in a relationship before you transition then you need to have a very frank and candid conversation with your partner to decide if staying together is really the best option for both of you. There is no right or wrong answer except for the one you both agree on, but make sure that whatever choice you make is coming from a place of love and not fear.
Well that’s all I have for today. I have a lot of work coming up over the next two weeks so it might be hard to find time to write but fear not, trans-advent is back on course. No more floating aimlessly in an ocean of uncertainty about our direction.
Stay fabulous. Stay beautiful. Stay powerful. Stay you, and never apologize for being your authentic self.