And it’s… not great but also not the worst worst? Definitely not GOOD, but also understandable. Unless I am way off base. Am I way off base?
Q. Transgendered Husband: I believe transgendered people should be treated with the same respect and imbued with the same rights as cisgendered people. I have always felt this way, and I have several transgendered friends. Then my husband, whom I love very much, told me he wants to become a woman—or, she has always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, and if she doesn’t begin transitioning, she will be emotionally crippled. Initially, I promised to remain married to her during her transition and for some time afterward, to give our marriage a chance to adjust to her transition and sex change. It has been three months, and as much as I love my husband, I am miserable. To a certain extent, my love for my husband is rooted in his manhood. The more my husband transitions into becoming a woman, the less romantic love I feel for her. I just don’t think I can remain her wife. I am heartbroken and feel as though I am a widow, which sounds so dramatic. My husband is emotionally fragile right now, because she’s lost some important people to her because of her transition. Everyone commends me for supporting her and sticking with our marriage, so I feel like a fraud now too. She loves me so much; I cannot imagine how to tell her I want a divorce, that she has lost me because she is transgendered. Or is it better to be a bad person and leave? And yes, I am seeing a counselor.
A: Of course people change and grow during the course of a marriage. Marriage would be stiflingly dull if that wasn’t the case. But if your husband confesses to you he plans to start growing breasts, he has so materially changed the contract of your marriage that I completely understand that you feel the husband you knew has died. In a way, he has and is being reborn as someone new, and you are not obligated to stay in the marriage under those circumstances. People would not expect you to stay (and you probably wouldn’t) if he said he realized he was gay, or he wanted to enter into a polygamous relationship. This feeling he is a woman trapped in a man’s body is not a new discovery for him, and he withheld absolutely crucial information from you prior to your marriage. It’s great that you still love him and want to be an emotional support for him. But you must be emotionally fragile too, and there is nothing wrong with your realizing your husband’s change of life requires you to make your own.
Obviously the use of “transgendered” does not reflect any sort of even surface-level understanding of trans issues, and that rubs me the wrong way. Prudie’s comparison of trans identity to gay identity or polyamory rubs me the wrong way, to put it mildly. And on the one hand I want to say, “Look, you married a person, with all kinds of complexities and issues, and the gender of the person you fell in love with shouldn’t matter.” But when it comes to sexual and romantic love in a gender-binary society, gender does matter to many (most?) people, doesn’t it? And if you’re sexually attracted to men, and you fell in love with a person you understood as a man, well… I can understand how that person being a woman would be a deal-breaker for you. And all of the love and the wishing it were otherwise may not change that.
This woman’s wife, too, deserves someone who will love her fully and as she is — not someone who is forcing romantic and sexual feelings based on a particular past. The transitioning wife deserves support, but maintaining a marriage isn’t the only form of support there is.
I wish Prudie had given the letter-writer the go-ahead to leave the marriage if she’s sure she doesn’t want to be married to a woman, while still emphasizing that the letter-writer can be a helpful support system to her ex. She can, first of all, respect her wife’s (or ex-wife’s) identity as a woman, in all spaces. She can fend off accusations that the transitioning partner somehow ruined the marriage. She can encourage the rest of their social circle to be supportive, and to see the ex-wife as a person going through (duh) a tough life transition who needs an extended social network to step up, be respectful, and allow the ex-wife to put her own needs and health first. Most of all, she can actually be supportive, rather than making herself a martyr.