Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Attempt at Clarity

I say "attempt" because sometimes I think often I belabor a point until that which was once made clear is muddied again, but I'm going to try to be direct and (for me) concise here. What follows is not precisely a post about me or my journey, but some clarity is needed regarding some of the things I have said and will no doubt say in the future. These clarifications do not fit easily as a parenthetical portion of a larger post, so I'm taking time out to dedicate a post to them in their own right.

One of the dangers is blogging about personal issues is becoming self-absorbed, that is, giving the impression that everything is - in your own mind - about you. One of the ways that tendency to self-absorption plays out is in being less than clear about the people you mention along the way who play a role in the events you write about.

It occurs to me, at times, that the impression I've left of my wife is overly negative in ways which are not entirely accurate. I hope here to clarify what I mean to be negative about, and what I feel like she's being unfairly painted in a negative light on.

First, there are at least two ways in which I will not shy from pointing the finger at her. Even in these, I do not think it's entirely her fault - for reasons which I will explain - but they are the sort of things that a person might be reasonably asked to rise above and overcome. The sort of things, if you will, that a professional therapist would ask a client to work towards correcting.

The first of these is that she is, bluntly, bigoted towards homosexuality (and she defines what's going on with me as a variant of homosexuality). I entirely recognize that this is a product of the indoctrination of the culture she was raised in - the culture that all of us in the rural South were raised in, frankly, and I suspect the rural parts of most of the country. I shared for much of my adult life many of those positions (though I never felt it as passionately as the true bigot - I simply thought it was an academic truth that homosexuality was "wrong" - I didn't "feel" it on an emotional level as many do).
Nevertheless, she is not just of the dispassionate opinion that being gay is wrong, she FEELS it on a visceral, emotional, passionate level. Try being in the same room when a couple of guys or a couple of girls kiss on TV and listen. Even though I recognize she's been indoctrinated to feel this way, I think it's reasonable to ask a person to be able to explain WHY what they believe to be true is true. And absent being able to logically defend the view, be willing to change it.

The second issue I have is what I'll call "fighting style" and the inability to handle any level of criticism. These, two, are a result of her own particular psychology combined, I believe, with the home she grew up in. They have always been present, but never having had a way to remedy them, I simply learned to work around them - but that's harder to do not that conflict is such a close companion. Taking the latter first - I find that any critical word I speak is magnified to maximum proportions, far beyond my intent. For instance, if I express a mild disagreement about some interaction with the kids on a specific point, her emotional reaction is "Oh, so basically I'm just a failure as a mother, right?" That puts me on the defensive as I try to explain "No, that's not what I meant" and it makes me much more likely to bite my tongue next time.

The other - and much more difficult - problem is a classic "bad fighting" style that marriage counselors earn their checks identifying and correcting: Fighting to hurt rather than fighting to make a point. I am quite convinced that this is all the fighting she ever saw growing up. It goes something like this:

Me: "What's wrong?"
Her: "I could use some help"
Me: "I told you just let me know what specifically I need to do"
Her: "I shouldn't have to ask"
Me: "I'm not saying you should ask, I'm saying tell me the specific chore, like 'take out the trash'"
Her: "Well, you're probably too busy trying to find a dick to suck on the internet to bother"

Now to be clear, that's a very broad example, that specific exchange has never happened to my memory, but the point is that you get to a place in an argument when you are so mad you no longer care about winning the point, you just want to cause emotional pain in your opponent - usually with a comment that has nothing whatever to do with what was the original disagreement. And as it applies to the current situation, how that plays out is that EVERYTHING that is wrong around here is somehow directly caused by my transition.

That kind of fighting is juvenile and blatantly unfair, but in the heat of the moment she will go to it every single time. I don't think she knows how to do it any other way. It's her family's tradition, I think. In any case, it's something that ought been overcome long long ago.

Having said that, those are things that are in isolation pretty random things. I'm sure everyone, including me, has a certain set of negative behaviors and thought patterns. Far be it for me of all people to expect perfection in my partner. But I cannot honestly write what comes next without having balanced it with a description of that which I do thing she bears responsibility for - otherwise the reader is left to assume I'm trying to explain away ALL her negativity and justify everything she's said and done - and as much as I'd like to say she has no flaws, I can't do that and be truthful.

All the foregoing, then, serves as a platform to say this: she's as much a victim of the demons in her head as I am.

I explain this at the risk of appearing indiscreet. But you cannot truly understand without this information. My wife has suffered from clinical depression since before I met her. There are, I believe, circumstances which contributed to this but it's also, apparently, a chemical imbalance issue. Her ability to put on a mask of happiness and keep any of her family or acquaintances from seeing this is astonishing to behold. So for the most part it's just been me and her dealing with it. for years she refused any suggestion of getting help because "if I go to a nut doctor that means I'm a nut" was the sum total of her view.

I spent literally years on the wrong side of completely irrational fights, went to work countless days not knowing if she'd be alive when I got home, and developed a VERY patient and deflective skill set in terms of dealing with it because the "events" when she was emotionally out of control were relatively brief and she was very very regretful once she "came to herself." And we might go several days, even a week or more, between "events" in which she was, though often not really "un-depressed," not at all an angry hurtful belligerent attacker. The rages were not typical behavior, but aberrations from the everyday norm.

Eventually we got medication which was just somewhat helpful and kept trying until we got to one that really balanced her emotions and made her "whole." When I came out it had literally been YEARS since we'd had anything that anyone could reasonably have called an argument. Some of that was my having been "trained" by the hard years to be a bit afraid of saying certain things, but a lot of it was that she'd gotten help.

I tel you all that to say that I had no doubt at all, in those early years, that she had absolutely no control over the negative emotions which caused the "events." The remarkable thing is that in the last year or two, as we've had ever increasing conflict over my transition, the pattern of events is EXACTLY like the pre-medication days. We go days at a time, occasionally weeks, in a relatively placid, though somewhat depressed state. Things are not "normal" due to tensions about many things related to the issue but things that sometimes "set her off" like how much makeup I have on or whatever will very often NOT provoke anything more than a sad or disappointed look on her face.

But every so often...on average once a week or so?... something DOES "set her off" and we're in for a Full On Attack of enraged irrationality, complete with every nasty remark in the book designed to cause maximum emotional pain. Now, I DO, on an emotional level, resent what goes on in those fights. Part of the reason we have difficulty rebuilding any bridges is that when she "comes down" I'm still processing a lot of pain from what has been said, even though on an intellectual level I know a lot of it wasn't an expression of how she really feels. It's difficult to be talked to and about like that and then come back later with a hug and a kiss, which is what she needs emotionally after she comes down.

Back n the old days, I knew that the hurtful things didn't matter because they were so wildly inapplicable to me. So it was easy for me to just let them slide off and be there to comfort her when she came down and rebuild the connections. Now, the hurtful things are much more personal and cut to the heart of the places where I've made myself vulnerable and they are not at all easy to "let slide" and so both of us are left with lingering pain - me from the remarks and her from the lack of reconciliation.

The point in all this, though, is that I DON'T think she's any more able to control the "events" or the rage she pours out in the midst of them now than she ever was. the patterns are far too similar. Whatever might be said (and will be below) about what would be happening if there were no rages, I simply cannot assume that the person I see when they are going on is the person she wants to be, or the way she wants to behave. Whatever is going on inside her brain that makes it possible for those events to happen, they hurt her just as much as they hurt me. And what's more, I can no more ask her to "just stop it" than she can rightfully ask me to stop being trans (even though she does ask) - it is a burden she has to bear.

This doesn't make up for her bigotry, or her generally negative manner in dealing with this issue at hand. I am convinced that even if she were unable to live with me as a woman and as a part of her life, there is a "part as friends" way to handle these situations in which one can mourn and be sad, but not feel as if your spouse is your enemy. If there were no rages, I'm not convinced that we would otherwise be taking that high road - but even admitting that, I cannot leave you with the impression that her most angry and hateful actions are those which she is fully in control of because I don't think they are.

But we cannot ever know - the rages build walls and set in motion feelings and actions and words that cannot easily be overcome. No one can say what might have been said or done in the absence of the events.

What is even more troubling is the reality that this cycle doesn't stop even if we part. I've said before in this space, and I believe this to be true, that this situation is literally going to kill one of us. If I attempt to go back to wearing the mask of the man I was pretending to be, it will take my life. At some point you will pick up the paper and read that I am dead, whether it be an obvious suicide or not. This is not intended as a threat, just a recognition of truth. On the other hand, if she forces me out and refuses to reconcile, I think there's a pretty high probability that she will commit suicide, or at least attempt it. and whatever logic might say, emotionally the guilt will be on my hands (both from myself, and from all those who love her).
I see no way out of this dilema, no happy ending. In the former case, losing me will still end up crushing her - so it's only a question of HOW she loses me. In the latter case, how do I embrace my future knowing how high the price was which I paid to obtain it?

I've been told that what I've just described to you is a classic case of emotional abuse. That claim is, in my opinion, true. With the caveat that most emotionally abusive people do not realize what they are doing. As such, my staying and trying to fight through it is a form of enabling - setting myself up for more abuse and legitimizing that which has come before. Again, I do not think it is INTENTIONAL - but it is what it is. The dispassionate academic answer to that situation is to get out. Walk away with your sanity somewhat intact and let the chips fall.

But my reply is that I feel obliged, even knowing what's going on, to go the extra mile anyway. I feel like, especially having gone through those early days when she desperately needed me to stay and see her through and NOT say "this is too hard for me" and bail out, that I should be MORE than just honorable. Part of that is for the kids - I want them to see that I made every last effort to do the right thing. Part of it, I'm sure, is for my own peace of mind if the worst happens, I want to be able to say that I did all I could to keep it together. If that means I take more abuse than I should have, I can live with that.

And of course, beyond all that - and here is where I'm probably being the most irrational of enablers like the woman who keeps going back to the drunken and violent boyfriend - a big part of it is that there's still the hope that somehow, someway, she'll wake up one day and realize that she will be far more miserable if she makes me leave than if she learns to adjust to the new reality. At one time I thought that was a pretty reasonable possibility. Now it seems like one in a hundred. But for the time being, I have to give that one chance a little more time.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Worst Christmas Ever?

That's an ugly headline, and it can lead to untrue conclusions. I do not want to say it was a BAD Christmas, nor do I want people to jump to conclusions about what I found unsatisfying about it. But compared to others in my life, it's got to rank at the bottom.

There's a lot of factors that go into a conclusion like that. On the most basic level, I've had SO little money for SO long that every purchase, every choice, is a stressful issue. I'd hoped to have, and had reason to expect, somewhat more available cash this month then I ended up having, but that's not the heart of it. The way that things got complicated this year was my wife's almost obsessive desire to get the kids every last thing they wanted - even when the kids themselves said "if we can't afford this it's cool" - in some sort of misguided attempt to make this a special Christmas in the face of the drama that might be coming soon. How do you point out that one more video game in December isn't going to make things better in March without coming across as a cheap bastard who's looking to dodge a little spending?
Then, of course, I can't buy her as much as I'd like because we spent it all on the kids - and again I'm an unfeeling and uncaring SOB (not that she would say it and probably doesn't consciously think it but I pick up enough negative emotion to feel guilty about it). That's not to say that I think that happiness at Christmas is about gifts - it's not. BUT attempting to buy happiness with more gifts and measuring how much someone cares by what the think they can afford MAKES it about gifts. They become emotional proxies for feelings which are assumed to be absent.

On top of that, she's rightly down because her mother passed last month and because, on top of that, some members of her family are behaving less than lovingly in the wake of that event. It's been some six weeks and most of her kids still haven't had the chance to go through her meager belongings and find some keepsakes of her. My wife spent much of Friday in tears thinking of such things. She has a right to feel that way, but that's compounded by also feeling I am not interested in providing her emotional support - support which I can't give because of the distance she's put between us. It is a maddening paradox to be accused of being distant and unsupportive while so often running into a cold shoulder when you try. But even if all that is somehow my fault, it surely can't lead to much of a Christmas when you are mourning your mom.

Then on top of that, we confirm what I already knew - that I have no close family except my mom. You shouldn't read this as a complaint on my part. I had a pretty good idea that I was in for a life of rejection, and while I couldn't in most cases predict the sources, I am not surprised or dismayed about the price which is to be paid. I read so many of my sisters write in obvious pain around the holidays about how their parents or siblings or kids or whoever treat them so coldly and unlovingly at Christmas and my heart goes out to them but I don't share that depression. Maybe I am too callous and cynical after all. I often feel like I don't really know how to love anyone enough to feel that kind of pain. (Maybe that comes from too many years letting the false front be the vehicle for all emotions given or received?) But beyond that I also know that I can't build my life around whether or not my dad or my brother or whoever can stand to be in the same room with me. I refuse to grant anyone that power over me. I care enough about my wife and kids - more love there than I could muster for the whole rest of the world combined and doubled - to be making every effort to do the right thing by them (and even that has it's limits) but beyond those three? You don't have a prayer of thinking your disapproval is going to affect my peace of mind.
Besides, the honest truth is that since the grandparents passed, most family functions feel like people who don't especially care for each other going through the motions because that's what families are "supposed" to do. Frankly, I've rebuilt my life around taking off masks and that's one mask I certainly have no real interest in putting back on. I'd rather be alone as be with people who have to pretend to enjoy my company.

BUT I'm married to a woman for whom family is precious (even though many of her own family are almost abusive in how they treat each other) and somehow, someway, the pretense of caring is supposed to be important. My dad has neither appeared, nor called, nor written to make contact with my kids (the ones he's not laid his eyes on since LAST Christmas) this year and not only does it hurt her that he doesn't make a token appearance (I despite token affection myself, and I don't think either son is a great fan of their "grandpa" anyway) but it's yet another brick to throw at me (i.e. he's taking out his feelings about "this mess" on our kids). Never mind what it says about him that he can't be burdened with ignoring our differences long enough to visit, or bring a gift - it's MY fault.

Nor am I arguing that I was the perfect child when it came to maintaining relationships before I came out. But an unbiased mind could analyze the history of interpersonal relationships in our family (on my dad's side, my folks divorced when I was in my teens) and find a strong pattern of "fucked up" long before I went crazy. Still, he doesn't show? MY FAULT.

And for the icing on the cake, we got entirely too close to having yet ANOTHER discussion about how I need to make a choice and how I was obliged to "act right" to prove my feelings if I wanted to save the relationship. On Christmas f'n DAY!

I've spent the last several days reading the posts on Facebook and on a few message boards and on Twitter as people speak, apparently sincerely, about family get-togethers and how blessed they are and how happy they are. . . and it pains me I can't make that sort of happiness a reality for her. The kids are content, I'm content, and she's miserable. I can't control life and death, of course, but beyond that - just more guilt. Of all the emotions I was prepared to deal with during transition, I don't think I could have ever imagined the almost infinite number of ways I could be made to feel guilty.

So yeah, not the best Christmas.

(I should say here, that I feel like I owe a bit of an explanation about WHY things are as they are emotionally. Despite all I've said I don't really blame her for a lot of this - she's as much a victim of her own mental wiring as I am. I think I have a good handle on why things are going as the yare going, even though I'm utterly hopeless to change it. But until I review what I've said before, lest i repeat myself, I'll save that for next time. Besides, this post is long enough)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I don't even know how to write this. I've started in twice now and twice I've cut the text and set it aside. it's too much, too big, too personal.

I cannot talk to you in this place without speaking of her, and when I speak of her it's all too easy to leave you with a wholly negative opinion of her. She reads this too and if I say the wrong thing, or even the right thing in an unclear enough way to be misunderstood, there will be another "event." Just telling you that might cause one. And yet I cannot speak with any insight into the situation, or even enjoy the therapeutic value of simply discussing it, without running that risk.

Moreover, some things which I wold like to say cannot be said in any way that really communicates the feelings behind them. for instance, I am happier than I have ever been in every way that matters save one - but in that one matter I am quite unhappy. There are no words I can use that do not seem self contradictory to express how that feels.

She ask me, some days ago, "do you not ever get lonely?" It's a fair question because I know that she does, and rightly so. what she longs for I cannot give her (she says "will not" but how can you convince one who's mind is made up that they don't understand?) but the answer is far from as simple as the question. I would love to be able to communicate to her, or to anyone, exactly how I feel about that subject, but I'm not sure it is possible to do. There are competing instincts, competing emotions, competing desires, competing obligations, all bound up in a massive tangled ball of contradiction. It is so very easy to leave someone - particularly one with a preconceived idea - with the wrong idea, simply because they will seize upon that which confirms their bias and ignore the rest.

I do NOT want to descend into a matter of competing blame - I am perfectly willing to accept the blame for everything. But if I begin to describe how I feel about things now, it is inevitable that some of it will come off as assigning blame. And no matter that I say "I'm not blaming you" the appearance will be there.

At it's most basic level, it's not possible to describe any of it. For instance: in one sense, I am the same person I ever was, only with the best qualities magnified, yet in another sense a great deal of what I was before was nothing more than a well rehearsed act, a mask that once taken off can never be convincingly worn again. Both these things are very true yet in many ways they would be seen as contradiction. This sort of thing applies to almost every level of my existence.

Take sexuality - several times I've been ask, both hostilely and genuinely, "so you like men now?" (although sometimes in more rude terms). You would think that's a simple answer but it's not. Far beyond the most basic level that too many people don't grasp that it's possible to answer "both" or "neither" to that question, the thing that confuses them most of all is "undecided." I don't understand it myself. I can tell you in deepest sincerity that I would be perfectly happy to remain in the current relationship, if it still had the sort of love trust and respect it had 3 years ago, for the rest of my life - including on a sexual level (full disclosure: she absolutely rejects the idea that there will ever be a female-on-female sexual relationship involving her).

On the other hand, at the tremendous risk of saying things which will be used against me, I am given to understand that sometimes one's orientation shifts (or resolves itself?) during transition and I can honestly say that I have a great deal of curiosity about the theoretical possibility that I might, should this relationship end, come to a place where nothing would sound better to me than having a boyfriend. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that deep down there's something intriguing about that thought.

But I can't honestly talk about such feelings because I'm either supposedly admitting I want out of this relationship, or that I'm gay, or both. No one seems to appreciate that both can be true. So, for the most part, I keep my mouth shut. And when I dare to speak honestly of any such thoughts, I do nothing but provide ammunition that will ultimately be used against me. I have no doubt that should the day ever come when we split, you will be told some of the most outrageous things, and some of them will be drawn from my being honest about that which I could just have easily kept to myself.

And there's another example - if I even acknowledge the possibility that we will split up, it's taken as if I'm counting the hours until I can get out, which is insane. EVERYthing about this transition would be easier if I had the love and support of the person who's been more important to me than all others combined for the last 20 years. It shouldn't be an indication that I am anxious to go simply because I recognize that she insists her position is non-negotiable. It is entirely possible - and is true - that I both very much would like to continue in some sort of respectful and loving relationship with her and, at the same time, recognize and prepare myself for the eventual implications of her stated position.

Do you see where I'm going with this? There is no outlet, no one who understands (don't say "therapist" unless you know how I'm gonna pay for it), no one who won't read their own assumptions into what I say and assume one part of the apparent contradiction is true and the other a lie.

In theology and philosophy, there's a concept called an "antinomy" - two truths which appear to contridict but are nevertheless both true. That's where I live right now. Every conversation is a minefield, every discourse potentialy dangeorus. It's why I've not posted in most of a month - there are plenty of things I'd like to speak of, few of them safe. I haven't said almost anything here that I set out to say. much of it was self-indulgent, much more woldn't have ended well.

Every subject which I mentioned in passing or illustration in this post, I would like to devote an entire entry to - every one of them I feel like I've said just enough to litter the screen with misconceptions and misunderstandings. Which, in itself, illustrates my point.

I hope?