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Transition and Divorce
by Kristina-Maia DeMott
According to numerous self-revelatory accounts by male-to-female TGs and significant
others, a high proportion of born males that have reached beyond sporadic hobby-level
cross-dressing behavior have also soon divorced. In most cases, the gender shifting
process is cited or blamed (depending on which partner is doing
the dishing) as the primary cause of the rift. The situation takes on relationship-threatening
dimensions at different points: usually when increased time and resources are
spent en femme, or when the TG person begins to talk about transitioning to
Whether the person ever goes full-time or not doesnt appear to be the
main issue in most accounts. The fact that they were seriously considering it
throws a monkey wrench into domestic bliss. It also isnt a matter of reaction
to dramatic changes; the seeds of most of the splits I have heard of or read
about were sown long before the transgender or transsexual person began dressing
daily, started hormone therapy, or had surgery of any kind. Some of these folks
relate that they have now found relationships with more understanding partners.
The matter remains; the process of discovering the inner woman led to separation
and irretrievably broke the original marriage.
This brings up philosophical questions and uncovers a puzzling (for the TG
at least) self-centeredness on the part of the SO. The most common Genetic Girls
reactions, a la the archives of S.P.I.C.E., writings by members of online support
groups, and as related in venues such as the Tri-Ess Mirror, is to dump the
radioactive relationship fallout squarely onto any married male cross-dresser
who takes the activity too seriously. Recalcitrant trannies are
often chastised by henpecking-style rhetoric disguised as counselor-talk. They
are stamped with the rubric of selfish' or 'insensitive' man"
(pronouns, pronouns!) who refuses to live up to marital expectations, including
regular and conventional sex. Moreover, the assumption is that these are simply
understood to be major failings. The critics apparently find reassurance in
making continual reference to some phantom Rules of Order, as if there were
a common and accepted thread of appropriate behavior running through the crazy-quilt
of life in modern society.
From the other side we hear things such as I had to leave her out of
respect for the marriage, I did the right thing for my family. Anecdotally,
however, the born woman has usually already insisted that behavior change back
to the norm or else. The TG in such cases may be simply rationalizing
the break as a personal decision.
On a scientific level, the cited rationale behind this high level of rejection
by SOs is inconsistent with current medical thinking. The newest HBIGDA or Benjamin
medical treatment standards state clearly that physicians should recognize by
now that gender dysphoria is a true medical condition, not merely
a social choice. This counters one marital objection, since late-onset diabetes,
atherosclerosis, prostate infections, and other conditions are a greater threat
to health. The disease and necessary medications often affect sexual performance
more deeply than the changes that may accompany a TGs exploration of femininity.
A friend once remarked that there are probably very few trans in
POW camps or in communities where everyone is scrabbling for the essentials
of life. This observation, however, only holds true where the strictest punitive
regimentation is imposed. Particularly impressive, to name only one instance,
is the almost universal appearance of female-inhabited men in archetypal hunting
and gathering societies, for instance those who took the role of Shaman in certain
Native American tribes. Several of these Shamans appear in images by the 19th
Century western photographer Edward Curtis. Additionally, a facet of current
outreach initiatives is targeted on deeply impoverished transgender street
youth and other poor transgender people in the inner cities a population
that has been beneath the radar for decades and is only now receiving
attention from diversity advocates.
Most TGs seem to stick by a blanket assertion that we are claiming a basic
human right to express our inner nature. For others, to admit that these qualities
are embedded implies helplessness or a lack of choice. They would rather view
cross-dressing as a hobby or chosen pastime. The latter certainly comes closer
to satisfying the mandates of conventional marriage. No matter, in a setting
where born women are present, attempts to defend the married TG on issues of
overindulgence usually lead to accusations of selfishness, gender euphoria,
or at least to raised eyebrows and tut-tut admonitions, even from transgender
"men" (!) in the group. I write men(!) again here, because
it seems strange how often John Wayne-style protectiveness toward GGs asserts
itself out of habit in such situations. To paraphrase Walt KelleyWe have
met the enemy, and she is us!
Generalizations flourish. The Christian Right is especially fond of pointing
the bad finger at all non-standard social behaviors. GLB&T lifestyles in
particular are singled out as antithetical to the Judaeo-Christian traditions
on which many (erroneously) believe Western civilization was founded.
With this kind of entrenched double standards at work, its no wonder
so many TGs are in marriages that appear to be loaded down with 19th-century
moral baggage. Perhaps we are trapped by genetically wired expectations that
rule marriage or long-term relationships; maybe these factors defy all efforts
at finding alternatives. Conversely, is it possible that many married women
are simply too fixated on continued validation of social position, or so compliant
with outside-family expectations that they can't allow for experimentation within
their prime relationship? If the former is true, then so be it until
evolution finally reveals a solution. If it is the latter (and I suspect that
in most cases, it plays the major role in the short term), the outlook is so
blankly bourgeois, so socially Darwinist, that it doesn't speak very well for
born women in general, or for the deeper understandings that one assumes underlie
a good marriage.
What, then, constitutes the deepest of feminine attitudes toward someone who
is truly loved? This matter deserves full consideration between partners facing
a breakup situation involving transgender behaviors.
To tentatively characterize it, what appears in even the most accepting GG
attitudes is also an attempt to cope with irrational (in the strictest sense
of having no specific logical basis) feelings of disenfranchisement and rejection.
We may be dealing with a gut reaction, to what the proto-anthropologists labeled
"taboo" behavior. TGs are asking for an adaptation that challenges
taboo: one that goes beyond the simple grace of allowing someone to wear gender-opposite
clothing and adornments in the shared abode.
On the other hand, we have (at least) 4000 years of romantic tradition that
rejects the mere externals, enshrines loyalty to the essence of the love-partner's
true being. Why not just become a figurative 'lesbian,' if, in fact, one truly
loved the other person's essential qualities in the first place? Such adaptations
should present no problem, given the expectation of unshaken loyalty implicit
in even in the most mundane of civil marriage vows. In sickness and in
healthwell, isnt gender dysphoria a medically describable
condition? Many physicians say so, and enlightened psychiatric professionals
are increasingly prone to move transgendering out of the abnormal psychology
realm. Moreover, the transgender individual really is, after all, the
same person at base. If we take the opinions of post-operation transsexuals
at face value, they have simply become the person they always knew they were,
or have come to understand they always were.
But thats not all. We arent dreaming. Perceptions of a broadening
in the spectrum of human gender differentiation on a worldwide scale are also
very real. Humanity is changing through interaction with advanced technology,
population pressures, and other grand-scale factors. Obviously, we already require
a third gender definition, probably even a fourth. The concept is not a new
one; researchers turn up handfuls of examples by merely scratching the surface
of anthropological studies. More importantly, in order to survive we must develop
effective mechanisms to quell the deep and inchoate fear in the minds of those
who would attempt to hold back this essentially unstoppable tidethose
who feel it carries a challenge to species preservation, which it does not.
On the contrary: we must either evolve to embrace such change or face the very
extinction they fear.