I have been on my transition journey for over a year now, and throughout it all, I have remained married. The process has been an incredibly difficult one for both myself and my wife. Spouses and partners are oft forgotten people in a transgender person’s transition. So much focus is placed on the person—the bravery, the celebration, the support… even the selfishness—but the plight of the significant other (when one exists) is ill documented but quite painful.
I do not wish the pain of transition on anyone. Being transgender is not a choice. I do not choose to cause pain. I do not choose to complicate my life and completely rewrite my future. I do not choose to have this deeply indescribable conflict inside me. At the same time, my wife did not choose to have this emotional pain inflicted on her. She did not choose to be married to a transgender person. She never had intention of having a wife. She married a man who was the one who was supposed to be her husband for the rest of her life. As she has always clearly stated, this is not what she signed up for.
Throughout my path, I have tried to empathize with my wife and continue to be as supportive as possible when it came to everything else in her life. The hurt that my transition causes has impaired my ability to be supportive, because honestly, how does one draw support from the source of the conflict? My intentions may be clear to me, but they frequently are misinterpreted on the other end like a game of Telephone. Things are frequently lost in translation due to misinterpretation or simply because emotions get in the way.
I know that life for her is extremely difficult. Without being in her shoes, I can never truly know how difficult, but I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy either. Truly, I love my wife, and I have done everything in my power not to sell her short, be overly critical of her, or bad mouth her to my friends, therapist, or support group. She is the love my life—the one I chose to marry. I have never regretted that nor would I be the person I am today without her influence. I have tried to keep our marriage together in the face of impossible odds, and ultimately, I have lost that battle. And that’s not anyone’s fault. Most marriages cannot survive one partner’s transition.
Now that I have found clarity and need to move forward toward embracing womanhood, I must also let go of my marriage and the life I built up to this point. Divorce is imminent. We cannot survive together. We both suffer unspeakable pain caused by my need to transition, but again, it is not a choice. I do not want to separate. I never have. But as the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and she doesn’t want to dance with me anymore. I cannot blame her for that. She will feel pressure from society to support me and stay with me because it is the “right thing to do,” but that is faulty advice. The best thing for her is to follow her heart, just as I am following mine. I cannot expect her to stay in an unhappy marriage. As much as I claim that I am basically the same person, it will not ring true for her. She has lost her husband, and there is nothing I can do about it to change her mind.
My wife has removed her wedding rings. She has changed her last name on Facebook. She is done, and she seems more or less emotionally ready to get plenty of space between us. Not to say she isn’t hurting. She feels I have been dragging my feet trying to figure things out, that I somehow intentionally hurt her. The reality is this: It has taken me time to figure myself out. There is no set timeline for solving when and if to transition. In my case, it has taken over a year. Some say that’s actually fast, but when you live the daily drama, a year seems like an eternity. To her credit, she has stayed this long, but now that my questioning is done and my path is more clear, there is no reason for her to try to continue living a life with me, except as it pertains to our children. Any support she had for me has ended, and she is setting me off on my own.
My wife has resolved that divorce is the answer. I don’t know how she processed that decision. For me, it is a great emotional loss. A death, if you will. While the consequences of transition have been clear and fairly well-defined, it doesn’t mean I am ready to actually experience those consequences. My love is deeply rooted. I cannot simply throw it all away, but now I am asked—neé forced—to let it go, and that is not easily done. While on one hand I am happy to have confirmed my path, I am greatly saddened by the result that comes with it. She asked me to take off my wedding ring, and I am not ready to do that. It is my choice when I make that choice. I must grieve in my own time.
By her own admission, she does not understand me, and there is probably not a capacity to do so. This is because she is not the one transitioning. She cannot feel my pain. Apparently, I am doing a good job hiding my pain because in her eyes, it’s easy for me to be doing everything I am doing. She does not understand the distances I have traveled to arrive at my conclusion, how much much stress and grief and loss I have already processed, and how there have been times that I wanted to end my life. The last part is hard for me to admit, for I am a rational, reasonable person. I know suicide isn’t the answer. However, I have never experienced depression to this degree, and I would be lying if I said it has not crossed my mind. In the end, my children are my saviors. My wife may have chosen to let me go, but I have a responsibility and a great desire to be the best I can possibly be for them. At their young ages, they do not yet resent me or judge me. They have not formed opinions on the world, and they have no idea what transgender is until the day I share my story with them in the near future. Simply, they love me for me, and I know they will love me whether my title is father or mother.
That’s all I really want: to be loved, be important in someone’s life other than my own, and have the freedom to be authentic to myself at the same time. I cannot have that with my wife anymore, and again, I will not fault her for that outcome. Without my children, however, I might not have survived this most incredibly difficult thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. I have strong resolve, but even I have my breaking point.
She has reached her breaking point, and as she cannot understand my pain, I cannot fully empathize with hers. To complicate her life even further, there do not exist many support groups for significant others as they do for the transgender person. According to my wife, even the groups that do exist tend to encourage partners to stay in their relationships, and that is not the type of support my wife needs. I feel for her. I really do. I wish I could ease her pain, but I the only way to do that is to deny myself. She asks if I still want to be her husband, and I claim that is an unfair question. Yes, I want to remain married and be supportive and do all the things a loving partner does, but I need to do that as a woman, which by definition, does not make me a husband. I wish it could be as straightforward as that: Love conquering all. The dreamer and idealist in me longs dearly for that notion, but the reality of the situation is that love does not always win, and it is no longer my choice. I must move forward in both my transition and what is soon to be a single parent lifestyle because that is how how it has to be.
I grieve the collapse of my marriage. I cry over the evaporation of nearly 10 years of love and dreams. I will eventually remove my wedding ring. All with time because it must be done. I am forever changed by my wife, my children, and my transition. Life goes on one day at a time, and I am doing the best I can through a period that paradoxically combines great relief & joy with great sadness & loss. I welcome the birth of my authentic self. I mourn most everything else. All I can hope for is a peace at all levels when life settles down. I wish peace for my wife as well, for I will always love her. Despite the pain she feels now, I hope she never loses sight of that and one day can forgive me for the unintentional and non-malicious torture I have caused her because, truly and honestly, I did not have much choice in the matter.