Transition and Divorce

by Anon

[This was written in response to How lies affect the spouses of TGs]

I was reading your response to a letter from a woman who had been used and abused by her "TS" ex-spouse. TS is in inverted commas because you can't help doubting that a feminine soul could exist in anyone so prepared to dump on their spouse in that way.

Anyway, you spoke of the problems you have with TSs who have married and had kids, and how they have made their bed and should lie in it. In theory, I agree. In practice, it's not so simple.

I have always felt guilty about what I did. Not that I left my former marriage to change over - I was given my marching orders because I was falling apart. By then my ex knew about my issues, but I'd only told her some years after we had been married, mostly because I couldn't admit it to myself, let alone verbalise all those weird, confusing thoughts and feelings to anyone else. It's not easy to admit that you have lived your life as a sham held up behing layers of masks.

After 7 years of marriage (and much embarrassment about my poor sexual performance) I simply hit the wall. I was finding it harder and harder to keep the masks in place so I stopped pretending to be masculine and let myself be as feminine as came naturally. But it wasn't enough. No matter how feminine I was, I was always still seen by others through a male lens and as a result constantly felt misunderstood and misinterpreted in everything I said and did.

I became deeply depressed and was having regular anxiety attacks because I couldn't reconcile the fact that I was married, with a very young son, with the growing realisation that I was trans by nature (after much denial). I felt I'd burnt my bridges.

Even though my ex kept asking for a split I kept refusing, asking her to give me more time to sort myself out. But I was in no fit state to make any decision and in the end my ex insisted on a split, which I had to accept. I had booked in to see a psychiatrist with an appointment due in a couple of weeks, but we both knew it wasn't going to change anything long term. She knew I was a lost cause and basically told me to go to save me from myself (and her from my craziness), and for that I'll always be grateful to her.

Now, 10 years on, we are still good friends. I visit and stay over (on a fold up bed in the lounge room) with her and our son (who's now 13) every second weekend. Since I owe her for all the inconvenience I put her through I pay extra maintenance, buy / cook meals while I'm there, mind the boy so she can have a break, help out with chores and homework, pay for outings, and so on.

I know I was in the wrong for saying "I do" instead of facing up to myself and, while I can never fully make it up to them, I do what I can and my family are forgiving enough to accept that. I know of others who have been barred from even seeing their children.

As for the rest of my life, finally being myself has made a huge difference. My career has taken off, I no longer get depressed, I've had some lovely relationships and have a steady boyfriend as I write. I am accepted in the wider world and lead what we like to call a "normal life".

Actually, I sometimes feel guilty about taking a stealth approach (yes, all this guilt is very Catholic and Jewish!) because in an ideal world I would be doing something about the stigma of transsexualism instead of hiding from it. Perhaps, by sharing some of my observations about a stealthy transsexual life, I can at least offer a little back to others who may be just starting out.

Being "undercover" means I don't embarrass my former spouse, my son, my father or boyfriend. After all, while transsexualism is usually seen as a solitary road, it isn't. I also feel that stealth takes the focus away from you, so you don't have to put up with that weird celebrity status I had during transition. Importantly, it also means that when spoken about I am referred to in regard to my personality and skills rather than just as "a transsexual".

Still, stealth does have its down sides. Anyone who waits until their mid 30s or later to change over has lived a lot of life in the male world, meaning you are necessarily different to other women, with a really unusual mix of yin and yang, and some people (especially some women) can find this offputting. And when you hide your background it can be difficult to make new friendships of any real depth (which is never easy for singles in middle age anyway) because being evasive about your past interferes with (platonic) intimacy with others. I don't know why these issues seem to never be raised in trans-related discussions because they are genuine isues and people should be aware of them when changing over so they don't get upset when they happen.

On another level, had I not transitioned my son would have inevitably been subjected to a lot of difficult, complex underlying stuff which he would never have been able to understand - both with my own messiness and marital tension. That deep, dark unspoken stuff - ie. shameful family secrets - can cause all sorts of problems in kids, and since I would have been my boy's father I would have been his role model, and this may have created distortions in his personality.

Even if nothing was said, children are intuitive and he would have sensed the vibes. By changing over, with everyone being completely upfront and honest about the issues, there was no confusion. Daddy was turning into a girl. "Will I turn into a girl too?". "No, you are different to me, you're a proper boy". "Good!" says he.

Early on I expressed my worries to my assessing psychiatrist about how to explain things to my son. He said: "If he asks you something, answer his simply and honestly but son't go on too much about it". So he fully understands the situation; he has a mum and an erstwhile "auntie" who both love him to bits and he's totally relaxed about it (and for the naysayers, he's thoroughly heterosexual and does brilliantly with the girls - although if he was gay, that would be fine too - God forbid that he, or anyone, be forced into a life that's not right for them!).

Whatever, while my life isn't a bed of roses, no-one I know has a perfect life either. I don't expect perfection and I know that The Change was the right thing for me. Each year I become happier and find a little more success both professionally and socially - nothing grand, but I'm happy enough with things (although having a decent surgeon would have helped).

So why did I get married and put my poor ex (and son) through all that upheaval before sorting myself out?

Two things - stigma and ignorance.

I was bullied badly in high school. You know how in every school there is one kid who is "it"? That was my role. My name was "fairy". Every day the bullies would follow me around, throwing things at me, punching me, spitting on me, insulting and threatening me. Had our school not been so strict, I expect I would have been beaten up too. In my first year I would often get home, throw myself on my bed, cry my eyes out, say "Everybody hates me, I wish I was dead", over and over. When my mother complained to the school she was told "it will make a man of him" ... obviously they were wrong - lol. I was too humiliated to tell Dad about it until I was in transition.

During the Christmas holidays, just before facing up to year 8, I made a decision - I was going to toughen up. I started smoking, being rebellious, and basically trying to be as tough as possible. Of course, everyone thought I was a joke and the bullying got worse year by year no matter how "normal" I tried to act. Behind the scenes I was crossdressing and feeling totally confused and messed up and thinking that if my whole personality package was put into a female body then I would fir in ok. In the end I was driven out of school by the bullies without doing my leaving certificate, after failing almost everything despite being measured with an IQ of "well within the top 10% as compared with university graduates in the state".

By then I'd resolved to be *really* masculine and worked hard on cultivating a masculine image so I could attract girls and gain some sort of male credibility. I had a few local friends and my role with them was that of "the clown" - they laughed at me and I laughed with them. So I learnt the drums and played in bands, drank and smoked pot constantly, took any other drug that crossed my path, swore often and loudly, and dressed almost exclusively in torn and tattered t-shirts and jeans, and performed dirty work in factories to pay the rent. It worked, too - in time almost everyone thought I was a normal (if slightly mad) guy, although only men ever seemed to be interested in me.

At age 25 I had resolved to clean up and soon afterwards I met the women I married. In hindsight I can see that it was ridiculous, but I couldn't bear to admit what I was; I couldn't stand the idea of the bullies at school being right about me. I was even too chicken to be gay - knowing that I would still be seen as a second-class male - and instead formed these weird one-on-one close, but platonic, friendships with men, which often raised eyebrows in my group of friends.

I really knew nothing about trans issues, and this didn't help. As I neared puberty my parents started giving me facts-of-life books. One of them was "Everything you wanted to know about sex but was afraid to ask". I still remember what I felt as I read the bit about transsexuals: "So-called transsexuals are nothing more than castrated and mutilated female impersonators". Well! At that time I was still a bit of a goody two shoes (think Hermione in Harry Potter) and of course female impersonators were those terrible underworld prostitute / stripper types, weren't they? And I certainly wasn't one of them!

Sorry for being so in-depth about my background but I'm hoping it may help you see how fear of stigma can lead a transperson to seek heterosexual married life.

Even today there is strong resistance against teaching children about human diversity when it comes to sex and gender. And given that we are still shackled by the remnants of patriarchy, more confused kids will continue to marry, thinking that it will somehow "make them normal". Michelle, put it perfectly in her letter to you: "if a person has a gender issue, they cannot resolve it by marriage and producing children. It only hurts those closes to them".

Thank God for the Internet, which is our best hope of preventing such hurts from happening again ... as long as fundamentalist Christian types who blithely ignore 50+ years of psychiatric research and think that transsexualism is "curable" don't undo too much of the good work.

While I could never say that the birth of my son was a bad thing, what I did was still not right because it inconvenienced my favourite people. I guess the ideal moral of this story is an adaptation of Yul Brynner's famous line, "Whatever you do, don't marry!" (if you have gender issues).

I'm sorry this is so long but I hope you found it enlightening, or at least interesting.

All the best

Anon