Over this last year, upon finding out that (a) I’m trans, (b) doing something about it and (c) that Gail and I are still going strong, several friends have said things roughly like “Of course you’re doing well, A loves you. She wants you to be happy, and you two have always been good at working through hard stuff.”
But in how it’s played out on the ground for us, it’s really not that simple. Or rather, maybe it is simpler. It’s true, Gail does love me. She does want me to be happy. I want the same for her. Yes, we are good at working through stuff.
But there are some key things this summary doesn’t quite capture — first, wanting someone you love to be happy isn’t at all a guarantee you’ll still be attracted to them during/after transition, and if you’re a person for whom sexual connection is an important part of a marriage (which is true for both of us), that’s a pretty big deal. Second, navigating this transition as a couple (so far) hasn’t exactly qualified as “hard.” Plenty has been challenging, sometimes extremely so, for both of us, but not in terms of how we relate to each other. Our relationship has gotten stronger, more exciting, and yes, easier. For us, staying together “through transition” isn’t a heavily negotiated agreement or some kind of compromise. By all indications, it has just worked. Really well.
I was chatting with a friend the other day and said roughly “I’m sure glad things have worked out this way, because if Gail were pulling this, it would probably not fly.” My friend seemed pretty shocked — after all, here I am, a trans guy who never even breathed a word this might be coming down the pike until I’d been with my partner for over TEN YEARS (in my defense, I didn’t conciously know this was coming down the pike either…), and despite all my initial hemming and hawing, it turns out that actually this isn’t just a little thing. No, I need to Transition (with a capital T).
I more or less said “So honey….actually…it turns out I’m a guy” and she more or less said “Cool. You’re way hotter now. I like you better. This is awesome.”
But I’m pretty sure that had things been reversed, my reaction would have been nothing like that. I think I can honestly say I would have tried. And as noted above, Gail and I are good at working through challenges and we may well have worked it out, but I’m pretty sure it would have actually been hard. It’s possible I’m wrong, it’s possible that if it turned out Gail were trans and taking medical transition steps, things would have clicked like magic and I’d still find Gail super-attractive, but my very very strong hunch, is that it either wouldn’t have worked, or it would have been a hard compromise to stay together.
I wonder sometimes if this played into my initial hesitation to come out. If Gail was attracted to me as a woman, how could I expect her to still be attracted to me as male? I mean, I couldn’t imagine such a thing, so obviously it wouldn’t work. (Granted, I was looking for more or less any excuse, so that’s not necessarily saying much)
These contrasts, between what I expected and what actually happened, between how Gail has reacted to me and how I imagine I would have reacted in her shoes, feel a little tricky to understand. I empathize with people who decide they can’t stay with their trans partners, but I also have evidence that one should never assume that a relationship won’t survive or even thrive. I see in my own life that coming out of hiding, growing into myself in this way, has made my relationship better, that it is absolutely better to know than to not know. But I also understand (at least hypothetically), that it could be absolutely crushing to suddenly find out that you hadn’t known something so core to your partner’s identity for so long, that even a strong relationship might not survive.
I try to remember to feel lucky (instead of guilty, or like I’m getting away with something). I sometimes like to think that maybe Gail was attracted to the male version of me even if she couldn’t have put a finger on it at the time, that perhaps we have taken to our new form so easily because she knew me well already, and could easily see that this was a good path for us. I try not to think too much about the many what-ifs.
Most of all, in trying to understand these contrasts, I come away with a deep respect for the spouses of trans people who are willing to navigate these tricky waters with us, even if they may ultimately need to step away.