Can a marriage survive transition?
A spouse's perspective
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My name is Julie and I am the spouse (partner) of a Male to Female. Jennifer and I married 10 years ago when we were both in our 40’s. It was my first marriage and Jennifer's second. Our relationship was always one based first on friendship and companionship. We have always felt a strong connection and have always considered each other our best buddy.
The day the earth moved - Do you remember the day you learned that your spouse was transgender. If I really look back at the whole picture I think I always knew Jennifer was different I just didn’t have a name for it. After 10 years of marriage and full knowledge of Jennifer’s cross-dressing we finally confronted the stranger in our closet.
It was August of 2004 and we decided to spend the weekend away for Jennifer’s birthday. It was to be the first time she would travel completely as Jennifer with no male clothing for backup. We went to a town about 250 miles from our home and had a great weekend shopping, visiting and spending time together. On our trip home Jennifer turned to me and said “I wish we could live somewhere about 3 months out of the year that I could be Jennifer full-time”.
It felt like a train hit me, yet at the same time I had a huge revelation. I turned to Jennifer and said “That will never be enough”. I knew in the instant that our relationship had changed forever. Neither of us could deny what was happening nor could we stop what needed to change.
My initial reaction was that I needed to support her but had to do that from afar. That in order for her to move forward and truly live as a woman she would need to leave our little community and move somewhere that she could begin again totally anonymous. It rather felt like a death to me. In order for Jennifer to truly be happy and live as she should I needed to let her go.
We talked non-stop for weeks, we fought, we cried, we sat for long periods of time in silence. The pit in my stomach grew and grew. I was losing my best friend, my lover, and my soul mate. We decided to seek counseling to get us both through what needed to be done. I will never forget the words from our counselor. She had worked with us early on in our marriage and was aware of Jennifer’s cross-dressing. When we told her why we were there she said “What took you so long”.
Our counselor was a wise woman who knew of a male to female counselor in a town not far from us who worked with “transgender” people. She made the referral and we began what was to be the first of many long hours with this woman.
I really don’t know what I expected when I first met Anne. I know I was curious and frightened. I felt that I was entering the enemy camp. After all weren’t we seeking the advice of someone who had “already crossed over”. And weren’t they always going to side with “their kind”. Well I was proven wrong on all fronts.
Anne is a gentle, strong, kind, intelligent woman at peace with herself. Comfortable in her body and accepting of all mankind. After meeting her I began to believe that anything was possible. Jennifer and I worked through many aspects of us, our relationship with each other, and our relationships with others, our fears, and our disappointments. Anne showed us all things were possible.
Soon into our counseling we both began to realize that we didn’t want to separate, that we could take this journey together. I realized that the things I had always loved most about Jennifer were truly her feminine qualities.
Trust me when I tell you that the process is tough. It requires a deep look into yourself and requires you to take stock of whom you are. Our biggest hurdle was the ever present “What will people think”. For about 6 months we lived this never ending cycle of what about this person, what about that person. We delayed going public due to business relationships that we felt would suffer once the news was out. Finally in February of 2005 we came out. Our first step was to tell our family. We told my brother in person and received a lot of words of support. He told us he only wanted us to be happy and to go for it. Next we sent a letter to Jennifer’s sister who wrote back a week later saying she had always believed that Jennifer was possessed by the devil and this confirmed it. We have not heard from Jen’s sister since. Next we told some close friends, they were not surprised. Had always felt Jennifer was different but thought possibly she was gay. Our next big step was to tell co-workers. We did this through a letter and much to my surprise the people I thought would be the most red-necked truly acted much different. In general what we heard was live real, life is too short.
For the most part Jennifer’s transition has been met in a positive manner, our friends have stayed by us and treat us much the same as they always did.
Our next step was to begin the “surgeries”. In June 2005 Jennifer and I traveled to another state for the Breast implants and trachea shave. What was to be an uneventful surgery went south and Jennifer coded on the table. They worked on her for over 15 minutes to re-establish a normal heartbeat and she then spent 4 days in intensive care while every test under the sun was run. After all the tests they found that she was a perfectly healthy female. No heart problems, no health issues, she was just 1 in 250,000 that had a bad reaction to anesthesia. So in August 2005 we returned under excellent medical care and Jennifer completed the breast implants and trachea shave. All will no complications and she is doing fabulous.
We are always trying to find the good in things that happen to us and I believe one of the reasons for the adversity was it gave me the opportunity to meet some incredible woman in the transgender community. It gave me a clearer understanding of Jennifer’s desire and need to proceed with her transition and it also was an awakening for me that there are many intelligent, vibrant, courageous people out there who have completed SRS. I will always be indebted to these fabulous women for their support, understanding and knowledge.
Jennifer is set for her final surgery in November and we are both looking forward to it and a bit afraid of what is to come. I know that loving caring people who will support both of us during this time will surround us. A time of rebirth and a beginning for Jennifer of a life as she was born to live.
So in short yes your marriage can survive Sex Reassignment. If you are willing to throw out all the pre-conceived labels that society puts on your relationship. If you will open you heart and soul to the person you love and allow them to live real you will be rewarded in many ways you never knew possible. You will also realize that they are the same person you always loved you have just allowed them to be wholly who they are.
Life throws opportunities and challenges at us daily – you decide what to do with these. Love to your fullest and it will come back tenfold.
Well the big day has come and gone and Jennifer has completed here SRS surgery. Jennifer and I spent 16 days in Scottsdale - Jennifer was in the Surgery Center for 9 of them. The surgery went well and Jennifer's recovery has progressed nicely. At this point we are 30 days since surgery and she has little pain, she is taking Advil about twice daily. The toughest part has been re-establishing her hormone levels and ridding her body of all the narcotic drugs. This has caused some emotional upheavals for her and has also affected her sleep.
The toughest part for me during the surgery was the endless waiting. I am not what you would call particularly patient and sitting still for any length of time was difficult for me. The surgery center does not have high speed Internet so I was unable to work as I had hoped. Jennifer was able to get up and move around day 3 and we took walks both around the center and outside. I brought in Chinese and Mexican food and we watched some movies on our computer. If you have access to a DVD player that was be your best bet. We also visited with other girls who had also just finished SRS.
I guess I have been waiting for this giant revelation. Some clap of thunder and bright light – some bold announcement that Jennifer is now anatomically a female. That hasn’t really happened. I have not seen any real changes in her – she remains the person I have always known. A little worn out but that is to be expected. I sit and visit with her while she dilates (this is a long process in the beginning, 4 times daily for 15 minutes each time. By the time you prepare, dilate and clean up a good 45 minutes has lapsed. So needless to say that takes quite a bit of a day. Yesterday we started on the twice per day and that sure makes in less time consuming.)
I had a couple of days during the hospital stay that were pretty lonely for me. The support in Scottsdale is really great but there were no significant others to visit with. While the trans community has always treated me wonderfully I sometimes sense they don’t feel I really get it and that I can never understand what they have gone through. To that end I would say that I too have transitioned. Though I have not changed my gender or undergone any of the life changing surgeries - I have had to re-shape my whole thought process. I am now viewed differently and the way people relate to me is changing. Some communication is getting better – other is fading to just the topics of the weather etc. I have also lost my brother through this process and my co-workers want to blame everything that goes on with me now on the fact that my spouse is transgender. It becomes a catchall to all the life throws at us. I liken it to PMS - women are largely grouped into a category of not functioning up to par because we are on our periods. Well now as I have bad days or make silly decisions it is blamed on my spouse’s transition. I suppose that simplifies matters for people.
What I am finding out is that life just continues on, we still have struggles, joys, fears, and all the normal human emotions. We still argue about the same differences we always did. What I am finding amazing is that even through all the body changing surgeries, and the fact that Jennifer is now a fully functioning female and I am still physically attracted to her. I still love her touch and still love her smell. I have always been able to calm myself by just smelling her neck and that is still the case. I am looking forward to walking this new path with her, to discovering what life holds for us. Look for the good in whatever comes your way because in all that life dishes out there is usually something positive to take from every experience.
I have been asked to share some of the personal experiences that I have had during my spouse’s transition from male to female. It has been interesting and sometimes very hurtful the response that I have received.
Early on in the transition process I confided in friend what Jennifer and I were embarking on. This person had known us for about 5 years and I considered them intelligent and a good confidant. After a long discussion she said to me “You need to realize that your friendships will also change. For example if you were to go on a road trip with a group of girls now, I doubt anyone would want to share a room with you.” Puzzled I asked why. “Well because you are now a lesbian, a lot of woman would not be comfortable being in the same room with you. Fearing you might make sexual advances towards them.” My response was “OK even if I were a lesbian don’t you think I would have to be attracted to a person to make a sexual advance. Do you believe all lesbian’s just jump the bones of any living, breathing female.”? The response was “Well don’t they”.
I found it interesting that the immediate response was that my sexual orientation now changed and also the grouping of all lesbian or gay people into a nice little box that due to our orientation we were only interested in sex. With whomever, wherever we could get it.
Further on in the transition a co-worker who I have known for about 20 years asked “Were you always a lesbian and this is just your way of coming out.” Wow that would mean that I looked long and hard to find a person who was transgender, convinced them to transition just so I could come out as a lesbian. I told her there were certainly easier ways I could have come out.
The most shocking response I think I witnessed was a family member who declared if she were in this situation she would never stay. I asked her if her spouse were unable to perform sexually or was in an accident and lost their penis would she leave the marriage. Her response was a resounding “Yes”. If her sexual relationship were changed at all she would not stay in the marriage. I responded by saying, “I didn’t marry a body part – I am sorry that you did - your marriage must be extremely lonely.”
I found that most people’s concern for me was whether I would still be in a fulfilling loving relationship. That usually met a sexual one and everyone believed that Jennifer and I could no longer have a loving relationship if body parts changed. They were most curious about how we would have sex. When I explained to them that in a loving relationship pleasure could come from a myriad of places it seemed to make them more comfortable with the idea. I find it interesting that so many couples define their relationship strictly on the physical side. But looking back to other relationships that I have had with men I guess the only time we ever really connected was during sex. For Jennifer and I the connection has always been both inside and outside of the bedroom. We have always had a relationship based on good communication, on mutual respect and admiration so I wasn’t losing any of the intimacy we had shared before.
I have to say the hardest part of the transition for me has been in the description of my relationship. What was easily understood in society is now much more complex. I am no longer husband and wife. I am now partner, spouse, and significant other. If I use the word spouse when introducing Jennifer I confuse people who have never met her before. If I refer to her, as Partner the immediate response is that I am a lesbian. I don’t feel compelled to share my life story with every person I meet so I still fall back to the language of husband when discussing Jennifer with someone who has never met her or knows of my situation.
A friend gave me a great description - she tells me I am a “situational lesbian.” I like the word and the meaning and it sure stops people in their tracks.
I want to say one more thing - people tell me constantly that I am very brave that I show a tremendous amount of courage. I don’t feel courageous - I feel somewhat selfish. I love Jennifer and I want to stay in my marriage. I feel fortunate to have an open relationship with her and feel privileged that she trusted me enough to be totally honest with me. I don’t think we get that level of honesty very often in our life. I also know that working with her during transition I have had to examine myself and that has been a real eye opener. I have lived the majority of my life trying to please someone – and that usually was not myself. I have spent a great deal of time in bad situations because I wanted approval from the people around me. This experience has shown me I can be real and totally honest. The only I risk is having people leave me life and I can now live with that knowledge. I have found that people who truly love me, love me regardless of my packaging and that is whom I want to spend the rest of my life with.
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