Sunday, January 2, 2011

That Whole... Talking... Thing

Most people, from my experience, do not like to deal with stressful situations. We all handle stress differently, invoking the fight-or-flight response in an infinite number of ways. While we all have some kind of stress at home... standard stuff like finances, troubled children, aging parents, lousy job... most of the time it's stuff we can handle. The big stuff... cheating, having another family somewhere, being secretly gay, being transsexual... these are things that we generally don't ever think we will have to face. We trust our partners, after all.

I don't think most people trust their partners, anyway. How many people do you know who got married because it seemed like the thing to do? Maybe a child was on the way or since the couple had been together for so long, they gave in to pressure - either internal or external. Maybe they got married because they loved each other at the moment. How many of us really do trust our partners? Do we find ourselves second-guessing why she came home late or had to work late, or why he ended up going to lunch "with friends from work" when he said he was planning to work straight through lunch? Do we feel that little sigh of relief when that little voice in our heads are proven wrong? I know lots of people hear it. So many are just waiting for that one reason to believe that their marriage is no longer as good as it was the day they were married. Look at the divorce statistics and try to claim that this isn't true.

When a partner comes out and says that he or she is a transsexual, it is REALLY the last thing a partner expects to hear. There is no way to prepare for that kind of news. Natasha had been "cross-dressing" for about two years before she came out, but I still hadn't suspected. I trusted. My trust was compromised in that instant she told me. So, why didn't I kick her out?

Had she... he... said that he had cheated on me, out he would have gone with not a second thought.

In that moment when she told me, I had no thoughts except to ask what happens next. I did not think immediately that I should leave or that she should leave. I certainly contemplated it when she was going whole-hog on the valley girl behavior, but that was later. When my brain cleared, what I knew was that my husband had not cheated. He had not lied. He had not DONE anything TO me. This was happening to both of us. My husband was born with something... a birth defect.

We kept talking. We talked a lot. It was horribly painful for over a year. Every time we talked about it, I cried. She cried. Our son was old enough to know that something was wrong on my end and he actually comforted me once or twice. He worried. But we continued to talk. This was two-way communication. She told me what she needed, even if that changed from day to day, and I told her what I needed, and that changed over time.

So, when a partner finds out about something as "unbelievable" as this and then is excluded from the process, what do you think might happen?

I know that lots of partners don't want to deal with it. Their fight-or-flight says, "Shut up or I'm outta here." The fact is that if you don't talk about it, the partner WILL leave. Most don't want to understand what is happening, if only because they are in such shock. If you, the transsexual, honestly had been trying to "rid" yourselves of your dysphoria, if you truly BELIEVED that you had "let go" forever those feelings, then your partner can not blame you for "doing this" to the marriage. That causes conflicting emotions. Now, if you were just trying to hide your transsexualism and just couldn't do it anymore, well... it's your fault for lying to your partner, but I have found that this is rarely the case, so I'm not going down that road any further. For everyone else, you have a partner that does not understand what your "condition" means. All you have said is, "I want to be a woman (or man)." So?! What the heck does that MEAN? You start dressing the part and are on HRT, so they see the changes, but you have not actually INCLUDED your parter in the process... even if he or she said to go ahead. "Go ahead," is two words long. It's not hard to say even if you don't mean it or aren't really listening.

If your partner is not being responsive to your attempts to talk about it, you still have to make them talk about it. My advice is to corner them... figuratively. Ask, "Do you love me?" If the answer is no, whether or not she/he means it, you have an answer and can move on without remorse. If, however, the answer is yes, then you have the upper hand. Your immediate response should be, "Then you owe it to me and to this marriage (relationship) to understand what i'm going through." Ask if he/she really wants to end this marriage based on something never explored. Remind hin/her that you are scared out of your wits and that you need him/her to understand that you DID NOT CHOOSE THIS. Make it clear that you know your partner must be in a lot of emotional pain and that you are immensely sorry that you are the cause of the pain, but also that you would take that pain away if you could... but you CAN'T. You are both suffering and you need each other. If there is love between you then remaining in denial (your partner) will only make things worse.

Also, if you are not talking as much as you should be, you owe it to your partner to STOP doing what you are doing until there is some kind of resolution. If YOU, the transsexual, truly love your partner, then you can not force this on them. It is as difficult for you to be going trough this as it is for your partner to know that it is happening. You are not communicating well if you continue on your path as if you were alone.

The bottom line is that your partner will never be okay with you transitioning if you don't include him/her in the process. Still, your relationship might come to an end; however, it would be so much better for everyone if it ended with you two being friends rather than enemies. If your partner is the one that is resisting communicating about it, you must do whatever you can with all the love in your heart to make him/her talk. If it is you who is too afraid to broach the subject and face the raw emotions you invoke, then you are doing a disservice to the one you love.

Marriage, as they say, is a two-way street. One person can end it, but only two people can keep it together.


Halle said...

You have stated this so very well.
What I am going to write will sound like a big whine, but others need to know they are not alone.

For us, the right time for me to force the conversation will probably be the day I decide to move out. I will be leaving in order to stop feeling as though I am dragging a person I love through hell and back. I now know that I won't force the conversation before that, because she has told me too many times she cannot fathom that this is not something I am in control of. I am convinced she really does not want to know how I feel, or what it is like, so I won't go there. I am tired of being told that I always choose the worst times to say something. I can accept what I am; she cannot, it seems.
I will do what has been done for so many years to cope, for as long as I can, hoping against all evidence that somehow it will become better.
One person can keep a 'marriage' together. I have proven that.

All of this, and I know you are right; that the way you are talking and working together is the way a real marriage should work.
My admiration for your wisdom, and courage to make these hard choices.

Leslie Ann said...

Casey, what a powerful post. Sadly, I can copy nearly every word that Halle wrote, and they would hold true for me as well.

My partner doesn't want to talk about it, won't read anything offered by me or her therapist, and tells me that she doesn't have time or energy to deal with my issues. My problems are not even at the bottom of her list. Yet she insists that she wants to stay married.

I truly envy what you and Tasha have, and I wish I had a fraction of it in my marriage.

Anne said...

So I guess my question for two of the commenters, Halle and LeslieAnne is why stay married to someone that you are not "one" with?

Leslie Ann said...

If you must know, Anne, it is because we have three kids (one with special needs), and we don't have the funds to support two households. I do love my wife, and I have no desire to destroy the family we created. I know this all sounds very practical and logical in the face of strong emotions, but that is the way I was raised. I just feel that I have earned more respect than I am getting. And yes, we may not get through it. I won't be accused of not trying to make it work.

Halle said...

Well, I am one of those who "truly BELIEVED that (I) had "let go" forever those feelings" when we got married.

As I said, I do love her, and will not run away from our relationship until every other option is (or I am) totally exhausted.

In every other respect, ours is a very caring relationship.

Casey said...


Halle and LeslieAnn, my impression is that if the two of you were not transsexuals, you would have good marriages. If that is true, then I strongly suspect that your spouses do not want to end the marriage. I say this because neither of them have actually LEFT. They make the excuse that they don't want to hear it or talk about it so that they can remain under the illusion that nothing new has altered the relationship.

Honestly, I didn't want to hear about it, either. The difference, I think, between me and your spouses is that I forced myself to hear it. I am a college professor, so my natural inclination is to gather facts. I started to do research on my own and brought that information to Tasha, where she either confirmed or corrected what I had learned (the corrections were more about what kind of gender dysphoria she had, rather than the validity of the sources).

You don't want to force the issue now because it is immensely painful. She knows intellectually that she is "losing" her male husband and can not fathom that your core personality can withstand that change). You can not bear to hurt the one you love. But if you truly believe that yours is a strong marriage, then you MUST NOT WAIT.

Anne's question is valid. If, on the other hand, you suspect that your marriage is not strong - that perhaps you are more committed than your spouse - then you should, for your own sanity, be making plans to get yourself out of the situation. LeslieAnn, I understand that you have kids and heavy financial burdens. Natasha and I discussed that. When I was unsure of how I felt, I knew that I was "stuck" with her anyway because neither of us could possibly afford to maintain a household for our children (and six pets) alone. We would be forced to be roommates, and that idea just killed me. But you cannot expect to stay that way forever. Additionally, you must ask yourself what kind of message you are sending your children. Should marriages be stressful and full of mistrust? Should a "good" spouse be treated with contempt and disrespect and put up with that behavior?

It is time to question where your values come from and if they serve you well. I am not suggesting that you leave your church or dump your best friends. I am suggesting that you challenge what you believe to be "the right way." Trust me: I was a professional martyr sometimes, and I didn't even realize it. I learned to figure out when it was right to stand my ground and when it was right to put myself first. Yes, when children are involved, they are a high priority. But please remember that you are their role model for what humanity should act like. LeslieAnn, your spouse (Halle, I'm sorry. I don't know if you have children) is not teaching a good lesson, either, and she should be made aware of it before she learns her mistake from the behavior of her children when they are grown.

Ladies, I am not sure that you don't have the same kind of marriage as Natasha and me. You owe it to your marriage to test the theory, and the only way to do that is to challenge its strength. Please forgive my directness, but it doesn't sound like you have done that yet. Presenting the "problem" of being trans is not the challenge: dealing with it as a couple is.

May good fortune shine upon all three of you this year! Be strong and do not give up.

Ariel said...

Thank you for another excellent post, Casey. This is why I added your blog to T-Central even before you put in the request. It's important for more people to hear your voice.

Casey said...

Wow!! Thank you, Ariel!! :-D

I do hope I can help.

Anne said...

Yes Casey, you are a valuable addition to the reasonable, empiricle and honest exploration and assessment of reality.

Obviously we cannot make those difficult decisions that everyone must make for themselves. All we can do is ask those difficult questions which are so easily, (or NOT so easily) avoided.

"Presenting the "problem" of being trans is not the challenge: dealing with it as a couple is."

Thank you so much for your honest and heartfelt perspective.


Leslie Ann said...

Wow, thanks for the lengthy reply, Casey. There's a lot to think about there. We've been dealing with this issue intensely for three years now. I've had to push for most every concession I've gotten, and we have hashed it out several times. Denial is the watchword, certainly. My daughter's autism is priority one, and it should be. I'd just like to rate, too.

The two words she uses most are "trapped" and "roommates". I honestly think she would already be gone were it feasible, but she feels dependent on my income. We get along quite well much of the time, and she enjoys my company as long as I am being the husband. I think she does want it to work, but on her terms.

I do believe that the children need to know, and it needs to be in a controlled scenario, not finding something or catching me by accident. That is trauma in the making. I'm alone in my thinking there, sadly.

Tasha has access to my private blog, and you are welcome there. I can send you an invite if you like.