"The unexamined life is not worth living" Socrates

- - scatterings of ideas sent to my younger self, a sensitive girl who was fooled into believing she was a boy because of anatomy - -

Sunday 8 April 2012

Self Care or Martyrdom?

It has been over a month since my last entry here and it might have been longer but for reading Debra's post "Goodbye Letter to My Biological Parents".

Her situation saddens me terribly, and her response through her post seems to me to be the only healthy thing she can possibly do. It is necessary for her, and if her parents take it to heart, it will be healthy for them too. I felt and still feel angry at parents who lack unconditional love for their child who has gone through so much. I wanted to write a comment that might comfort her somehow, but couldn't think of anything helpful to say.

Upon reflection, here are some ideas that reflect my feelings on the subject of tolerance/intolerance from family.

Imagine parents waiting for the arrival of their child. Does dad want a boy? Maybe, but if he gets a daughter does the world end? Well if it does (are we in China now?) he isn't much of a parent. Does mom want a girl? She gets a boy and loves him just as completely as she would have a girl.

Now run the scene forward a lot of years and let's tell mom and dad that  *surprise* the son they 'thought' they loved, the person they got used to and 'brought up' is in fact not a son at all, but a daughter. Tell them how painful life has been for their child, trying for all she was worth to be the person they wanted, but finally, she had to either become the woman she was destined to be, or die trying. This might be startling news and it could be hard to get used to, but let's be honest, there is only bigotry in suggesting you can only accept your child as being a male. In my opinion, you either love your child unconditionally, or you don't love them at all.

The rejection Debra experienced may be an extreme illustration of something I have noticed in many parents; the ones who use children as a way to live vicariously. They exert pressure to conform and succeed in a life they have imagined for their children. This is not parenting, it is slavery.

Sisters, brothers and children of a transsexual might find acceptance difficult but we need to give them time and let them realize that the alternative to transition is in fact death. No one goes through gender reassignment and all that goes with it for a lark. So, in time and with information that assures them that their parent, or sibling is still the same person, just healthier and happier, we can only hope that they will accept and build a new and hopefully stronger relationship.

Now a few words about spouses.

There seem to be all sorts of reactions to finding that your man isn't quite as manly as you expected. Some marriages manage to survive, even into transition. For a while (and incorrectly I will add), stories like this seemed to say something bad to me about my wife. "Why couldn't she be tolerant?" "Why doesn't she love me that much?" That was in the past.  My perspective on this now is that it says nothing about my wife, but instead says something about those spouses who are able to accept and build a new relationship. Perhaps they could have fallen in love with another woman at any time. The fact that their current spouse revealed that side caused less upset for them because for them, love is love and they are comfortable as a lesbian.

My wife has always said she married a man and expects to live with a man. When my therapist and I discussed this, she suggested that if there is real unconditional love, then it shouldn't matter. I felt very uncomfortable at that suggestion and its implication that somehow my wife was flawed because she just didn't love me enough to accept this part of me.

The truth as I see it now is that my wife is not one of those who could ever have fallen in love with another woman. She is not comfortable becoming a lesbian. It seems my wife and I both have conditions that are not negotiable. I am transsexual. She is heterosexual.

I can hear that chorus telling me these are not the same sort of thing, so let me elaborate. For my wife to continue to live with me, either I need to remain visibly male, and hide the feminine parts away, or, she needs to become a lesbian. If she tries to be a lesbian, as someone who has the 'heterosexual condition', she will suffer from dysphoria. In other words, for me to be cured, we must separate, or she must get sick.

It is over two years since the start of this blog, my search for a way to stay a man on this strange planet, even though I was becoming more and more female.

Somehow, I must find the balance between self care and martyrdom.


  1. Well, you said that better than I ever could!

    Er.... ;-)

  2. Or just the way you might? :-)

  3. Halle,

    That was a great post that hit on some important points. As to being a transgender child or sibling, I missed out on that one since my brother and both parents passed away before I became aware. I have a feeling though that my brother would accept his sister, and while my Dad would have had some difficulty, he would be able to eventually adjust to me as his daughter. That leaves Mom. I believe that after telling her that I was going to be transitioning, she would have replied, "So what took you so long to find out?!" I agree that parents who try to live through their children indeed miss the mark and wind up disappointed in the end. Frank Zappa described these parents, "'A perfect child? Of course! We have one right here - he's under the coffee table. Ralph, stand up! Play the violin!"

    Then we segue into marriage. For the spouse of the transitioner, I think it's more about being perceived as being lesbian than actually being lesbian. Attractions aren't always very malleable. I'm taking you somewhere interesting, hang with me here. If the wife in the relationship is bi or pansexual, then there should be little problem for her to adjust through transition and out the other side. But if she is strictly hetero (as most are), and she can find something besides sex that makes staying in the relationship worthwhile, she probably will. Much of it depends on what she expects out of the relationship. Also if she values the marriage (and her spouse) over what everyone else thinks, then she will probably find little reason to abandon her marriage. This is what wound up happening in my case. Earlier I made the distinction to being a lesbian and being perceived as one. As to perceptions, if two women are seen in public in closer than usual contact, they will more than likely be seen as a gay couple. The difference is the amount of importance the couple place on the opinions and remarks of others. What really matters is what's in the hearts and minds of the people in the relationship. Here's where it gets interesting. If you were to ask my spouse if she's a lesbian, she would answer, "no." And she would be telling the truth for she is not attracted to women. If we were looking for a label, a more accurate way to describe her in this relationship is "trans amorous." She married a male who through transition is becoming female. And at the end of it she is still in love with the same person. And for that I am eternally grateful.

    1. I see the distinction and thank you for pointing that out Sarah: "The difference is the amount of importance the couple place on the opinions and remarks of others." Being seen to be homosexual would be very hard for some people and that is what we are asking isn't it?

  4. Keep it simple, Halle. You are TG. You are 'trans'. Be well with that. Be the 'man' your wife married, loves and needs, and....be the 'woman' that yu know and need.

    Discreetly two-spirited.

    Be well,

    Your Friend

    1. I will admit that finding a way to "be the woman" while still wandering around in this very male body is becoming increasingly difficult. Thank you at any rate. I can never have too many friends, although I will admit to wishing I could put a name on them all. As you know, I am not averse to pseudonyms. :)

  5. Sarah, it sounds as though your spouse may be heterosexual, but homo-(or bi- or pan-)romantic. I am increasingly seeing younger people separating their sexual attractions from their romantic attractions; while for most those two line up, in a few they don't. You are very lucky that you've found yourself with someone who is able to romantically love you as the gender you are, even if that's at variance with their sexual orientation.

    I don't think the importance of perception should be downplayed, however. It is more than just the opinions and remarks of others. It is usually very important to trans people that they are perceived as their true gender. Is it less important for someone to be perceived as their true orientation? If you could disregard the opinions of others (that you're "male"), and remarks (calling you by a male name and pronouns), and that what really mattered was what was in your heart (you're female), then transition wouldn't be necessary.

    1. Sonora,

      Thank you. I feel both lucky and blessed. As far as perceptions go, I admit that I pick and choose on that one. I place more importance on being perceived as a woman than what my orientation may show. After I became aware, I was finally able to make the distinction between orientation and gender. Once I could discern between the two, the most important one for me became obvious.


  6. Re others' perceptions. Wondering how far it varies depending on how out the trans person is. Can imagine that a spouse would have problems of misperceived sexual orientation if the transitioner wanted to be stealth, but if out then people's attitudes towards the spouse would surely be far more generally sympathetic, and far less likely to categorise her as lesbian. However sad that may be.

    1. "However sad that may be"; hmm, sad indeed Sophie, because that sort of 'sympathy' might not really be welcome as a lifestyle would it. Imagine going through life with others looking at you in sympathy. You might also feel as though others are blaming you that you were not woman enough to bring out the man, etc.

  7. There is so much that a female partner has to be or has to become in order to remain in a relationship were the male partner transitions but in my opinion she will never become a lesbian just because she opts for staying in this relationship. How does one become a lesbian - I may be wrong thinking that one is born homosexual.

    1. Well, I cannot say if one is 'born homosexual'or born bisexual for that matter, but it seems to me to be like transsexual, that once established within, you either are or are not and no amount of thinking can change it. So Ellena, I think we are in agreement. Opting to stay in the relationship after it has the outward appearance of a lesbian relationship must be hard for those who have no innate tendencies.

  8. After reading your post and the comments, I must agree with Ellena. I have seen both sides of this coin, as my first wife filed for divorce because she couldn't live with another woman in the marriage. I now realize that filing for divorce was out of a great deal of fear of being rejected by her family, rejection, by her friends at work and church; as she has recently made her peace between us and we are talking again. On the other side, I developed a relationship with Kay as 'John' and she knew about my being trans and possible transition before we became an item. But she stayed and our relationship blossomed and we married.
    As we talk to college classes each year, the question of how she sees herself invariably is asked. Her response has changed progressively each year. Was she a lesbian, or a heterosexual woman? She has given herself many labels in between the time when we became a 'heterosexual' couple until I realized I had to transition. It doesn't matter to her what label others need apply to satisfy their need to put someone in a box. I am the person that Kay has grown to love; all the things that Kay found to love in 'John' is still in and with the person she loves as Sarah. But that is her answer, I think of myself as a lesbian, as I have loved two women in my life.

    1. Sarah, I was hoping you might comment. I wonder, do you think of yourselves as a lesbian couple when teaching your college students?

  9. I agree with you about unconditional love being the only kind that is really love. Unfortunately, some people, even parents, are not capable of that kind of love. In the case of having a child who was born transsexual, maybe they would be able to love if they really grasped what that meant. But very often, they do not.

    I have said before that I pass no judgment on spouses who leave when their spouse changes sex or even announces transition. I consider that a pretty normal reaction, one that I myself might have if such a thing were to happen to me. I consider those spouses who stay and create a renewed relationship to be extraordinary -- not better, just different.

    I disagree with your therapist. Why do people think that the sex of a person is unimportant? It was important enough to me to make a huge change in my life and the lives of those around me! It was vital to my well-being! So how could it not matter to those closest to us? Being female or male is probably the second most fundamental thing about a person (after being human).

    And even if a person continues to love their spouse unconditionally, that doesn't mean they can stay in an intimate relationship with the transitioning person. Really, if I married a man, I would want a man. That might be a bit narrow-minded, but it's the way I feel in my gut (which might, of course, change if I were actually in the situation).

    Your "diagnosis" of your wife's "condition" was spot on. I really don't understand how some can expect it to be otherwise.

    My spouse and I are perceived to be a lesbian couple. She's OK with that. We know lots of lesbians, and we fit in well. We also fit perfectly well with heterosexual people. Around here, for most people anyway, it's not a big deal. But she didn't come to acceptance of that instantly. And she might well have said no way. And I could not have blamed her. After all, if I weren't already with my soul mate (and definitely not leaving), I would almost certainly be looking for a male partner -- one whom I would want to remain male!

    - Ariel

    1. Ariel, I love the way your thinking cuts right through it all sometimes. Your third paragraph on how important sex is makes me wonder why that had not occurred to me. Spot on, as you say!

      Have to agree with you now too about what I would be doing if it wasn't for my spouse, who I care about more than my own life. If not for her, I would make this body right and yes, I would be heterosexual too.

  10. I have been working on a post about this very subject... that is... like you and your wife... pertaining to my wife and myself. But what I am trying to figure out... is... what all of this means to us as a Christian couple in a Christian marriage where homosexuality is wrong. If I ever get it finished I will certainly publish it for all to read.

    About Debra and her parents... I tried very hard to come up with a comment that would be of some help to her... but alas... the only thing I could think to do was to simply pray for her and her parents as I have been doing for almost two years now. Sometimes we have to be patient and wait on the Lord to answer as only He can. Sometimes waiting is tough, but we have to be patient.

    Halle, thank you for posting what I and I think others feel is a very important subject. It is... I think... a lot easier for us as older transsexuals to see ourselves with a woman... as that is who we have dedicated our lives to... our wives. I know that I don't want to be with any other person than my wife. The problem is my wife, and perhaps others' wives feel that they are somehow now supposed to become lesbians when that is not what they signed on for.

    Everyones comments have certainly given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks everyone!

    Hugs and Prayers,

    Cynthia XX

    1. Cynthia, even since leaving the organized church for my own reasons, I still try to imagine what Jesus would say, or do if he was with us.

      Personally, and in spite of what some churches have to say, I believe strongly that Jesus would say that love is love, and God does not make junk.

      Looking forward to your post.


  11. Amazing blog and comments, Halle. I just want you to know I haven't forgotten about you and I still plan to answer your last email to me. What you blogged about here is what has been brewing in my brain for some time now. My wife, though accepting, still does not fully understand what we feel. I spend quite a bit of time meditating about how to explain it. I'll fill you in soon. Thanks for being so open with your life and feelings. :)Suzi

    1. It is so difficult to find a path somewhere that honours both sides of our natures. Having people around you who are actively attempting sabotage just makes it harder. Such are the well meaning members of family, and sadly spouses who feel threatened.

      Looking forward to your letter my friend. :)

  12. I have always been shocked by the negative reactions of parents, choosing to create a child is an enormous leap of faith, the ultimate lottery. Nobody gets to set conditions on eye colour, physique, intelligence or biological sex...

    Sadly we live in a society where it is almost impossible for most transsexual children to express themselves early enough and get parental support. We have to stagger through hell and part of this is the question of "will they still love and support me", a question which nobody should have to ask themselves about a parent.

    How much is about fear of how the world would perceive them having a transsexual child.

    The same goes for wives, husbands, partners, when one transitions.

    What does the world really know about the dynamics of a coupled relationship? Not much but it surely has no problems jumping to unjustified conclusions!

    Relationships change through time. Mine has lasted half a long lifetime and over thirty years we have each changed in so many ways as has the degree of physical intimacy. My partner initially felt uncomfortable with the idea of the world assuming that she had "transitioned" overnight into a lesbian as if there was something wrong with being a lesbian! She has many friends who are and has always been accepting and comfortable with their orientation but still found it difficult to think that she would no longer be considered as part of a heterosexual coupling no matter how theoretical that had been for so many years...

    Our life together is better now that I have transitioned than it has been for some time when I was withdrawn and depressed. Her gamble to stay the course has paid off and all her fears have proved to be unfounded...

  13. Hi Halle. I'm a new reader of yours... anyway, just thought I'd comment on one line:

    "Somehow, I must find the balance between self care and martyrdom."

    I really can't say this with certainty, but it seems to me that perhaps it's not so much a balance between two opposites, as a third way. I think perhaps it's quite a difficult way, and subtle, not easy to find, yet there in front of us. Maybe...

    As I say, I am not certain... Um, by way of background, I believe my situation is similar to yours, and I suspect you may be hearing more from me...

    In the mean time, I do appreciate your writing. Please keep it up.


    1. It is pretty likely that from an outside view, what is really going on is always some third way that is neither one nor the other. For me it is about noticing when what feels like martyrdom is threatening to take over and gently refusing to go there.

      Hmm, if your situation is similar to mine, you have my condolences Charlene. :-)