I first had hints that my partner’s gender might not be what I always understood it to be more than a year and a half ago. More than a year ago I knew that he was male. From the beginning, I felt pretty good about the changes that were happening for him, but I did struggle with issues around my own identity. Still, I was under the impression that I had accepted him fully as a man some time ago.
I see now that acceptance doesn’t happen all at once. There is “I accept you” as in “I love you and I’m ready to cheer you on to do whatever works for you.” That acceptance did indeed happen very early on in his/our process. But there were aspects of his identity that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be perceived as a straight woman, and I felt anxious about losing my sense of place in the queer community. I wasn’t sure how to identify myself to others, or even how to identify internally. I felt some discomfort with being married to a man, and not just because of my identity as a lesbian. I hadn’t even dated a man in over 20 years, and I was not sure that I wanted to be with a man, even though I loved the emerging masculinity that I saw in my spouse.
Four months ago, I spent time at a music workshop with a large group of women, both queer and straight. I really wanted to let every woman there know that my partner wasn’t just a man, but that he was a trans* man, although I only told perhaps one person (he and I had discussed disclosure and I didn’t disclose to anyone without his permission). That drive was largely about wanting to connect with the queer women present, but was also about wanting to distance myself from heterosexual experience. I loved being with one particular man, but I didn’t want to be seen by others or even by myself as the sort of woman who would be married to a man.
But this past week, I spent time with a similar group of women and I realized that my internal impulses had changed. I did talk about my husband from time to time, and I didn’t feel the same pull to let other people know that my husband wasn’t born male. I think a lot of this is about having gotten used to him being a man and having interacted with him as a man over the past year. I didn’t feel compelled to make my queer identity visible, but instead felt comfortable allowing people to form their own perceptions, even if it was likely that they assumed that I was a heterosexual woman. I still wish to be seen and validated as a woman with a complex romantic and sexual identity, but I also wish to be seen as a woman who loves and is partnered with a man.
So now, even though I “accepted” my partner as a man more than a year ago, I feel like I have come a lot further in my acceptance of him as a man. I am now accepting him not just as a trans* man, but simply as a man. This feels hard to admit, honestly, because admitting it implies that my earlier acceptance of him was perhaps incomplete and conditional. But I also think it needs to be acknowledged as a natural process for a partner of a person in transition.
A commenter asked earlier this week how how I had resolved my difficulty of dating the male alter-ego of the woman I was married to, and I think the only real answer is that time passed, change happened, and I tried not to stand in the way. In my own mind, my spouse was female for a long time, then I started to think of him as a masculine woman, and then as a person without a clear gender, and then as a person who was a transgender man. I had to give up each of these ideas of my spouse in order to make room for for my real spouse, as he became himself. As I have written here before, I get frustrated with the common story line that having a partner with trans* experience is “devastating.” In fact, it is not devastating for the partners that I know, but it is challenging for most of us and perhaps part of the challenge is in peeling the layers of the onion, affirming our partners and ourselves at each stage, only to figure out that we have another layer to go, either because our partners have changed or because we have.