The Spirit of Marriage

You’ve broken my heart. Your story makes me so sad and so incredibly angry at the same time. The person you were with more or less committed suicide. You were totally abandoned. It goes against the spirit of love.

What happened was your husband willfully destroying his own personality in a mishandling of an existential crisis, just like somebody might get heavily into drugs or enter into an affair with a much younger woman.

The whole reason you enter into a marriage is because you’ve found somebody you admire enough to counsel you through such a crisis. And once the marriage is entered into, it’s “for sickness and for health.” You’ve made a promise to listen. The demands of a shared history and love itself should cause you to at least bend your decisions to the shape of the other’s life – their feelings, their personality, their circumstances – not to totally disregard it.

I love this description of marriage. You’ve found someone whose counsel you trust. You’ve made a promise to listen. You feel obligated to consider your partner and to bend your decisions to the shape of the other’s life. Because of shared history. Because of love.

It’s a beautiful description, and it’s what marriage means to me. It’s heartening to me to know that there are others out there who feel the same way (in lieu of such sentiment from my husband). It’s heartening to me to know that when I date again the investment I make in my partner need not be in vain. That for some people, there isn’t a personal crisis big enough to warrant abandonment of the marriage.

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the internet friend who wrote this to me, and to all the other internet friends who have saved my life during this crisis with your empathy and your boundless kindness.

What Happened to Me was Predictable

I once belonged to an email group for the spouses of transgender people. I also visited online forums for spouses. I read Christine Benvenuto’s Sex Changes and the few blogs on the topic I could find.

I hadn’t done any of that in a long while, as it had become obvious that I wouldn’t be the spouse of a transgender person for much longer. But yesterday, someone pointed me to an article, and I found myself again browsing one of these spouses’ forums.

What struck me, as I looked with fresh eyes, is that every spouse there is saying the same things, and has always said the same things, and will always say the same things. And they say them like they’re new and unique, but they all say them, and they all try and try and try to find fresh new answers, and they all fail to do so in the same way.

This came out of the blue and it happened practically overnight. He seemed happy before and none of his friends or family suspected a thing. 

My spouse is narcissistic. Everything is “Me me me me me.” He doesn’t talk about anything but himself and has lost empathy for others. 

Our sex life has ended. What can we do? We’ve tried new activities, toys, Viagra, counseling. But it’s gone. He doesn’t even look at me anymore. 

There have been no compromises. Every boundary has been crossed. He’s on fast forward, and he doesn’t care how I feel. His attitude is “take it or leave it.” He’s leaving me behind. 

He has stopped working. He won’t even look for a job. 

I do all the housework. He hasn’t washed one dish since he came out. 

He is moody, depressed, suicidal; he throws tantrums. 

He has started acting like a child. He changed his avatar to an anime schoolgirl. He is wearing a sparkly Disney princess t-shirt. He has his eye on a pair of pink mary janes and wants to wear them with white knee socks. What is this? This isn’t how grown women behave!

He won’t communicate with me. I have questions and fears, but he gets angry if I bring them up. 

He imagines he is being persecuted when he is not.

He’s insanely insecure and needs constant reassurance. 

He’s not the same person anymore. He’s unrecognizable in every way. He gets mad if anyone mentions this. 

He spends hundreds of dollars on clothes and shoes and then lies to me about it. 

He has decided he wants an open relationship. He has decided to date men. He’s told me to take it or leave it. 

He has stopped caring about his kids. 

All of these happened to me except the last few (we don’t have kids).

This is an oddly specific list. This is not the list of things experienced by the average depressed or anxious person. This is not the list of things experienced by a supposedly comparable group: gay people who come out, even those who are rejected by friends and family or who struggle to reconcile their orientation with their religion. This isn’t even a list of the side effects of HRT (or “second puberty” as some call it) because this list of things happens to transgender people who don’t opt for hormones.

This is just the transgender experience. Narcissism, sexual dysfunction, partner neglect, childishness, temper tantrums, lack of impulse control. Tell me again why this is a normal human variation?

It didn’t matter that I thought my marriage was stronger than most, that I thought that my husband was smarter and kinder than most. This was my inevitable trajectory.

Indeed, when I first told my therapist, who is experienced with couples in which one partner is transgender, that I intended to stay, she said, “I’ll support your decision but you’re in for a world of hurt.” I looked at her askance; I didn’t yet know what she could have meant.


How to Care for a Sad Person

My ex recently shared a web comic called “How to care for a sad person.” It spoke of wrapping them in a blanket, hugging them, showing them movies and giving them food.

He did this because he is sad and frequently lets the Internet know.

Good list, but I’d like to add my own suggestions for caring for a sad person.

  • Tell them they are perfect the way they are. Don’t tell them that their body is wrong, or that the relationship between their body and their personality is wrong, or that there are some good reasons for them to harm their body.
  • Don’t romanticize suicide. Don’t normalize the idea that suicide is inevitable for them if they don’t find themselves getting the outcome they’re interested in.
  • Don’t train them to place their self worth in falsehoods that are easily and frequently contradicted by reality.
  • Don’t tell them that the people who have historically loved them and cared for them when they were sad (spouse, friends, family) are now their enemies for holding unauthorized opinions like “sex organs determine sex.” Don’t train them to reject the compassion of these people who care for them.
  • Lead them to a good counselor and let them benefit from the counselor’s professional opinion instead of telling them what their counselor is allowed to think.
  • Care about how they got sad in the first place.

Disclaimer: These didn’t work for me, but I stand by them.

You got everything you wanted.

Well here we are. You got everything you wanted. You didn’t make a single compromise, ever, in the year and a half since your “gender identity” suddenly appeared and became the focus of your world. You didn’t give me anything.

When you were a crossdresser, you once blogged that I was allowed to set boundaries on when and where you dressed. Your relationship with me was the most important thing in your life, you wrote. The control I supposedly had was never exercised, and it quickly faded.

When you made the appointment to have your beard removed via laser treatment, you did it without my knowledge and you signed away a couple thousand dollars just to ensure that no one could do anything about it. I didn’t want you to do it, but you didn’t care. It was clear I’d never stop it. So I asked you to do me a small favor and grow out your beard for two weeks and let me say goodbye to it, because you were getting your way forever, and I was only asking for two weeks. You pouted about this request. You stomped and cried. You refused.

When one of your best friends asked you to spend her birthday with her because she was lonely, and the date of her birthday happened to clash with your first laser appointment, you threw a veritable tantrum. You ranted wild-eyed for hours, days, about how everyone was trying to stop you. But you got your appointments. Your beard is gone forever. There was never any need for you to trample over the feelings of your wife or your friend, because by golly, nothing was going to keep you out of that laser salon for even a week.

When you spent a year lying on the sofa, crying, not working, not doing any housework, and after several big fights about housework, and after I gave up even expecting you to do housework, I asked you to do a tiny thing for me. I asked you to clean the bathtub. I asked this because I didn’t have time to do it, as I was going to work, then we were going to a party that evening. And I wanted to take a nice warm bath in between, because it was cold out, and the bathtub was actually unusable because a contractor had been working in there and it was filled with dust and debris.

But you didn’t do it.

And that same thing happened several other times. “If you don’t do anything else today,” I would say, “could you please do me one little favor and cut up the honeydew and put it in a container for me?” Because I was running all the time, because I was doing everything. All the working, all the housework, all the errands, all the everything always. And I wanted a healthy snack for work to keep me from grabbing vending machine snacks which cost too much and were putting weight on me. And I just couldn’t get to that damn honeydew. Because of all the other shit I was doing for me, for you, for us. And you weren’t doing anything, at all, so maybe you could find time to do it.

But you didn’t do it.

When I asked you to avoid hormones, you said you could not take it off the table. I passed along the stories I’d heard in the spouse’s support group: erectile dysfunction, extreme pain and sensitivity in the genitals, repeated but failed attempts to maintain a sex life with Viagra and cock rings, loss of libido, and the eventual, inevitable marital bed death. I had pledged to you my sexual exclusivity, I argued. I needed to have a sex life.

But you said no. You weren’t sure now, but what if you wanted hormones someday? That would clearly be more important than our commitment to each other.

Then later, you actually used this as an example of a time that you compromised. Because you considered it. And then said no. In your mind, considering it before refusing me was so painful that it registered as a compromise to you.

When our marriage really started to suffer, I asked you if you’d consider giving up transgender activism if I told you it would save our marriage. Because it’s my life too, and it’s my safety, and it’s my image. And because I’m not publishing and signing my name on an opinion piece about how I support Germaine Greer speaking at Cardiff, because it would embarrass you, and I care about that, and I’d like you to care about how I feel in turn. And anyway, if we could slow down on the relentless pursuit of transgender activism long enough to have a frank, honest discussion at home, to talk about our needs, to compromise, it would help me, and maybe you could return to it later.

First you said yes. But you were lying to my face. Because you had just been featured in an article in the local newspaper to be published that weekend, without telling me of course. You intended to hide that article from me while pretending to acquiesce to my request. But someone showed it to me.

Then you said no. You can’t compromise on who you are, you said.

But while you can’t help being transgender, you can help whether or not you go to the papers about it. It isn’t really about getting what you need, is it? It’s about getting all of everything that sneaks into your little head, without a single compromise. It’s about getting all the publicity you can muster, all the social media praise you can extort.

It’s about getting a room full of men, and they are men, regardless of how much Max Factor Miracle Touch they’ve spackled on, to tell you that you’re brave, that you’re pretty, and to tell you over and over every day, because they want to hear it too. How can a compliment, a plea or a lifelong commitment from a stupid girl compete? You didn’t stand for my petitions for your sympathy. You rejected them wholesale.

When I proposed that you live as a woman, but not say you’re a woman — especially to say you are literally a woman, and expect me to agree, as if I don’t know what a woman is, and to expect me to lie to myself and to you and to everyone we meet about it forever — you refused.

When I told you that the only thing left that could possibly save us was honest and open communication, and the consideration of all my concerns, and a fearless and charitable response to those concerns, you shut down those conversations with all that was within you. You cried. You screamed. You declared some questions unanswerable and some topics off-limits. You spoke of suicide. You spouted rhetoric. You imagined persecution where there was none. You used the words “I will not hear this.”

Eventually, you told me that you would no longer talk.

You got away with it all. You couldn’t be bothered with any compromise whatsoever. I was never even a consideration; I was a means of support and a roadblock that you have now removed. You can choke yourself to death with hormones now if you like, without the inconvenience of someone who loves you looking on, worrying about you, trying to maintain intimacy with you.

You will surely tell everyone that I rejected you for being a transwoman. You will surely omit that you fell on your sword not for being transgender, which I fervently labored to accept, but for publicity, for praise, for compliments, for the use of certain words and phrases, for release from uncomfortable conversations, for unfettered access to anything and everything you might ever want.

Update, 2 years later: I must be psychic. Yes, he did just that, and more. He accused me of abuse and name-calling and hatred that I never did. Because telling people the truth, which was that I thought gender was a social construct and sex was a reality of consequence, just didn’t arouse in others the hatred for me that he was hoping for. Because as it turns out, that’s a mundane view that most people agree with.


The Vanity of Identity

“Isn’t everything we do and buy about identity?” a friend asked recently. I balked. I was pretty sure that everything I do and buy is about providing enjoyment for myself.

But then I thought about it more. Certainly the clothes I wear exist solely to signal what I am to others: variously, a professional, a bohemian, a hipster, a music lover, an artist. Otherwise I could pare my wardrobe down to the number of items needed for comfortably enduring snow, sunshine and rain, and drastically cut the time I spend doing laundry.

Is this pure vanity? Am I no better than the high school kid who goes through a goth phase, caring way too much about whether he is “misunderstood?”

It could be argued that it is important to signal an identity, that it puts you in touch with what you want and need in life. Wearing a suit to an interview lets the employer know that you clean up nice and will impress customers. Wearing a gay pride bracelet makes you visible to potential dating partners. Wearing a thrifted dress and horn-rimmed glasses helps you find the people at the party who brought the IPAs and have the Bon Iver tickets. Never mind that in a perfect world, we’d talk to everyone, give everyone a chance, and like who we like, regardless of what they’re wearing.

I signal my interests to others, but I recognize it as vanity. And it goes without saying that I would never sacrifice love, family or friendship at its altar.

Most of us, especially women, came to grips long ago with the fact that we don’t look like what we want to look like. We’re chubbier or mousier or hairier or less attractive than we want to be. We mature and we learn that it doesn’t matter. That there’s a grace in living life and not giving a shit what anyone thinks, in being a genuinely interesting person despite a mediocre exterior, in learning that people who won’t get to know you before judging you aren’t worth your time.

My husband’s transgender identity signals that he is a woman. To be more specific, it signals that he has a vagina. Political claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Because let’s be honest, his ultimate goal is to be indistinguishable from a native vagina owner, not to merely be seen as one of those (perfectly legitimate, in his estimation) “women” who has a penis.

But what does signaling that he has a vagina do for him? It’s irrelevant; having a vagina doesn’t say anything about a person except that she has a vagina. It’s also untrue, making the purpose of his signal even more dubious.

It’s not to attract mates, as both men and women preferred him before his transition. It’s not to let someone know he can bear their children. It’s not because he might need to borrow a tampon. It’s not even a sign that he has certain interests.

This particular signal delivers no information of value to those who receive it. It is a signal that is relevant to the sender alone.

The transgender identity literally signals itself: “It’s important that you think this about me, for no other reason than it’s important that you think it.”

And for that, for the mere, meaningless need to convey to strangers an assertion about his anatomy that isn’t true and doesn’t interest them, he was willing to destroy his marriage.

Dragging Him Along

Last week he said for the first time that he didn’t want to talk anymore, had lost hope of reconciliation, was going to move on.

Last night I had a disturbing dream.

I am crouching on top of a man, having sex with him. Actually, we are mostly clothed and we are not moving — I’m just there, sitting on top, joined with him. It isn’t a “sexy” dream. He doesn’t seem to be anyone in particular.

He is unconscious or perhaps even dead. We’re in a hallway, in a semi-public place.

Someone is coming around a corner. I don’t want to be seen. I’m not sure if that’s because the situation is sexual or the because situation is suspicious. Instead of getting up, I scoot along, dragging him with me, heading for a bathroom I see down the hall, where I can close the door.

I’m through the bathroom door when someone glances down the hall, spotting the limbs of a lifeless body being dragged into a bathroom. “Hey, what’s going on over there?” the stranger shouts.

“Nothing! We’re ok!” I yell, as I try to get my unconscious partner fully inside the door.

I wake up. Holy shit, what is wrong with me, with this rapey necro dream, I think. But shortly it becomes obvious that this dream was not really about sex.

He is no longer with me. I am trying to maintain intimacy with someone who is gone.

He is being dragged along, by me, the dominant partner, the conscious partner. I am trying to carry this relationship alone.

I am trying to believe that “we’re ok” when we are not.

I am trying to hide my struggle from those who might be watching. I am embarrassed; I am alone.

Last night a friend had shared an inspirational photo meme with me. It said: “But grief is a walk alone. Others can be there and listen. But you will walk alone down your own path, at your own pace.”