A Page for Partners and SOs
Not too long ago there was very few resources for spouses or partners of trans folks, and frankly, there aren’t a ton now. But, there are some. Two of my own pieces are relevant. The first. Crossdressing 101, is a primer on crossdressing designed as an introduction. The second, Where Love Lives. is a column on couples. There is a third, Beyond Appearances, is a touch more academic, but still readable. Click on the titles to open them up.
Let me be clear about one thing: there is no way that finding out that your partner is a trans person is easy. A heterosexual (het) woman who is married or partnered to a guy who turns out to be a crossdress (CD) or transsexual (TS) does not have an easy road. First of all, she is a het woman, and is attracted to men, so her husband looking like a woman is, often, not a turn on. She already has friends to go shopping and have lunch with. What she doesn’t have, her husband hopes, is another guy to make love with, a man with rough skin and a sexy musky smell. She’s not a lesbian; she’s heterosexual, and if you’re het, you have a man as your husband or lover, not a woman.
It’s also not always easier for a lesbian woman whose partner moves from being butch to being a man. Sure her partner may have always been pretty masculine, and maybe didn’t even own a skirt, let alone makeup. But, she was a woman, and they were lesbians in a lesbian community. Now? Well, just like the het women is supposed to become a lesbian, the lesbian woman is supposed to become straight!
What’s actually amazing is that this recipe for disaster doesn’t always end up that way. Many couples find a way through all this and stay together with a deep, rich love. I know of het and lesbian couples who have gone through the process and come out the other end still together. (I don’t, by the way, know of a het couple where the female became a man, so if you’ve heard of that, please let me know.)
The articles here and the other resources i will recommend can help you. Counselling and support groups are a terrific aid. If your partner is CD and not TS, three’s lots of room for negotiation. Consider attending some conferences or events where others sharing your experience can exchange stories and information. There are several books I can recommend, and a myriad of websites. But be careful, sometimes people with websites have no special knowledge and may give you dire expectations, or make you feel inadequate or mean. So think about the credentials of your experts.
One issue I do want to mention before I provide some resources has to do with time. When a CD or TS, especially in the male-t-female (MTF) domain, comes out and announces his need to cross dress or transition to being a woman, you are looking at the culmination of a process that has typically taken years and years, not infrequently a lifetime. The person in question has finally exploded - the internal pressures to do more, to not keep everything inside, to live and be as one must, has finally overridden every other ingrained prohibition and taboo. This, in itself, is part of the partner’s dilemma: she knows that what she is being told, or has sometimes discovered, is a true and real part of the person she loves. How can you deny it? How can you demand it be put back into the closet? How can you insist that Pandora’s box be resealed?
At the same time the trans partner has finally expressed himself, has finally spoken the truth and come into the light. This does not, unfortunately lend itself to a great deal of patience on the trans partner’s part. Having finally crossed the Rubicon, having after years of stress and inhibition, seen the Holy Land, that person is not inclined to let others take as much time to absorb the realities as he or she had. No, to the contrary, too often it is a case of, here I am! Accept me!
The truth is that no one can absorb that much change or, more realistically, go through the five stages of grief in that sort a time. So, the only bit of advice i will actually give here is, go slow. Take your time, and don’t rush anything. That goes for both partners and all solutions. And, it’s just advice. If you want to know everything that I know to be absolutely true, click on my Everything I know to be Absolutely True link.
In the meantime, here’s some stuff to read, and a few websites to check out.
Boyd, Helen. (2003). My husband Betty : love, sex, and life with a crossdresser. New York: Thunder Mouth Press.
This is one of the most honest books about being married to a CD ever written. Helen tells about her issues with Betty’s being CD, but does not forget her joys as well. Helen also has interesting things to say about how dealing with betty’s crossdressing brought her to reflect on her own gender issues.
Rudd, Peggy J. (1995). Crossdressers : and those who share their lives. Katy, Tex.: PM Publishers.
Peggy Rudd’s books on CDs are classics. A supportive wife, she will speak to our desire ti remain a couple, while respecting a partner’s needs.
There are other books, some of which I don’t care for, usually because they are one-sided, (e.g., books by Virginia Prince, and the more recent Alice in Genderland, by Richard J. Novic M.D.). You can find many more books at the IFGE Bookstore. There yu can also find back issues of Transgender Tapestry, the best and most widely circulating trans magazine in which I have a regular column.
Most major trans conferences, usually called “events,” have components devoted to partners and couples. Fantasia Fair, for example, has couples workshops every morning, as well as workshops solely for partners and wives. Southern Comfort in Atlanta ha more than six sessions devoted to family, with a special emphasis on children. For other conferences it pays to examine their seminar offerings and see what seminars are listed. In addition to couples and partners workshops, events alas give you an opportunity to meet people who are in your situation. You will find people who are happy and people who are not - not surprisingly just like any other conference or convention you might go to.
One conference, SPICE, The Spouses' and Partners' International Conference on Education, is specially devoted to workshops for and about couples and partner. It was, however, concelled in 2008, and I’m not sure what the situation is for the future. Do check their website at SPICE.
In terms of the Web, a search of “transgender, partner, SOs” resulted in over 70,000 hits. As always when seeking information on the Internet, be careful. Being able to post a web page does not mean that someone is an expert, and may mean they have an axe to grind.
Speaking of experts, let me reiterate that I am not a psychologist, social worker, family therapist, or other highly qualified person. I’m a philosopher who thinks a lot about trans issues. I hope you find these pages helpful, but feel free to visit my Absolute Truth page for everything I know to be absolutely true.