Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Better Half

I need to express again that I'm aware that some of you will come to this page via Susan's or some other forum and that sometimes I will write as if I'm speaking to long-time real-life friends in such a way as it seems to exclude my online acquaintances. I want you to know I'm aware of the larger audience and welcome it but I've not yet found the terminology to speak of the personal things in such a way as to directly acknowledge that not everyone is coming here from the same place.

Forgive me that weakness, and hopefully the thoughts are of interest despite it. and yes, I'll quit starting with an apology after this one and just assume you, the reader, understand.

Pretty much everyone who knows me "in real life" knows my wonderful wife. I'm aware how trite a cliche it is to say I have the best one in the world but I often think I do. I'm well aware of my faults and failings - and I don't just mean the current bit of insanity but the things she's been living with for 20 years. Dedication, self-sacrifice, pure unadulterated love - all are synonymous in my mind with her. Sometimes even when the application of those qualities isn't the best idea (as in being too soft on the kids) she can't help it, and it's beyond my abilities to express how much I love and appreciate her.

That's not to say there have never been any rough patches before. I won't tell tales out of school but it's not a little amazing that we made it through some of the difficulties she had in the first decade of our relationship.

The reason I lay all this out as a foundation of this post is because I'm aware that for most (all?) of the people who know me, the first reaction is, instinctively, "What about your family?" and all the more so when you love her the way so many of you do.

(I'll leave aside the implied "What about the kids?" comment for another time)

The truth is, it's indescribably rough on her. Some have said that she's going through a process of both mourning the man she married while at the same time having to live with a reminder of that loss, which is a valid description. Another way to say it is that I'm putting her in direct conflict with her usual instincts to put others before herself. One thing is definitely true, in her idea of how the world is supposed to work, things like this are not supposed to happen in families like ours.

She simply has no context for how to adjust to this or deal with it. Ideally, she needs a friend or a counselor or a therapist but I've not been able to get her to open up to anyone else. I'm aware that for many people, the answer is simple - put my twisted butt out on the street. I can't say that I would blame her at all. But the thing is, in all our tearful discussions on what to do next, she remains - so far - steadfast in asserting that being together, no matter how disturbing to her, is still better than being apart. I asked her just tonight this question "If, instead of coming out to you and telling you the truth about me, I had simply left and disappeared from your life that day, would you be better or happier alone than you are now?" and she replied, as she always does, that she loves me just as much as ever and has no desire to part.

For which I am unspeakably grateful.

How I wish I could make her understand that all the qualities she is in love with, that she fell in love with 20 years ago, are still here in full force. I perfectly understand how much the change in appearance is troubling her, I'm not saying she is wrong --- I just wish I could find the words to help her realize how much of the person she loves is still here and how little that is important to us has passed away.

Those of you who know her or feel for her or sympathize with her situation, if you are a praying person please pray for her. Even if you think she is crazy to put up with me, she still needs that spiritual support.

I'd be obtuse if I didn't admit here that most of you are now thinking "If she's so great and deserves so much, why are you doing this to her?" which arises from the most common misconception that people have about transsexuals - that we have a choice.

Oh, yes, to be sure, I could have continued to wear the mask and put up a front that all of you would have accepted as "normal" - while my soul died inside me because I would know that the person everyone respected and liked and approved of - did not in fact exist at all, but was nothing more than a role being played out on a stage. I would never know whether or not anyone could respect or like ME because none of you would never really have known ME - not even my wife and kids. That eats at you. It destroys you from the inside out. Sooner or later it takes your life or makes the life you have not worth keeping. Someone wise has said "better that you hate me for who I am, than love me for who I am not."

So yeah, I could have not told her, let her believe I was "normal" - and leave her to wonder why I was ever more morose and unlovable.

But beyond that, beyond the question of whether it is more noble to be miserable so that others not be unhappy - consider what you are asking. You're asking a person who's spent over 35 years never putting their needs first, always living not just in respect for what others want and think but in abject FEAR of being themselves, even for an instant, lest you be found unworthy - you are asking that person to assume that this walk of life can NEVER change. Because there will always be a spouse, or a child, or a grandchild whom you "must not hurt with your selfish choices."

I ask you, is it more honorable to selfishly ask someone else to be unselfish? By what measure do we decide? I don't know. I'm certainly not arguing that the answers are easy, quite the reverse. I simply mean to say that one shouldn't assume that it is any easier for the transsexual to deny themselves than it is for the loved one to adjust. It is a choice between two equally bad options.

The distinction in my mind between the two comes from how I define this condition. Those who have not been through it define it as a "lifestyle choice." Let me just clear that up - anyone who would go through the astounding amount of difficulties involved in changing genders didn't make that choice on a whim, or because they really could have went either way.

There are those in the trans community which resist any discussion which defines this as a "condition" or a "defect" - I reject that just as quickly. This defect is, as far as I'm concerned, an affliction - a mental disease, a defect.

And if that is true than it presents this question: if you are married to a spouse which is afflicted with cancer, do you wash your hands of them because that's not the relationship you thought you were getting into? if they become a paraplegic and you have to become their caregiver, do you bail? if they are manic depressive, or an alcoholic does that give you an "I don't love them anymore" card? If your partner's appearance radically changes because of some disease or accident, what do you do - walk away?

I realize that it does happen that way sometimes - but I don't think most people would say that it was an ignoble choice to stay in the relationship. Even though the relationship was now something radically different than what you "signed on for."

That is the case I make for my relationship: I did not WANT to be this way, I spent decades trying NOT to be this way, I do not argue that it is fair to her that I in fact DO have this "cancer" which she doesn't deserve to have to put up with - but I do have it, and even if I put away all my clothes and cut my hair and put the "man mask" back on, it's still there - and she and I and everyone else KNOWS it's there. so the question is, just because you can't have your "first choice" ideal fairy tale happy ending, does it mean that you can't find ANY way to reconcile yourself to what you do have before you?

Again, I have no idea. It's certainly not for me to decide. If she told me tonight to pack my stuff and get out she'd be entirely within her rights. but I surely hope that order never comes. The only dark place in my life right now is knowing how much this hurts her, and that I cannot really take that pain away even if I put the mask back on. But I wanted you to know that she is, in fact, struggling with "what's next" and whether she would admit it to you or let you know it or not, she needs your support.

1 comment:

  1. I can't begin to imagine her position. I'm not sure if you've thought of it just this way, but essentially what you are asking is for a straight woman to accept being gay and sexual preference isn't really a choice either. It's simply an unimaginable situation...I adore my husband with all I am, but I don't know how I would deal if he told me he was a woman. And the pain is causes you to simply be's frankly a nightmare that no one in their right mind should believe could be done on a whim.