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.

No comments:

Post a Comment