Married and Transgender: When One Partner Transitions, the Other Does Too
Transgender Transitions: Reflections from the Other Side
You can’t hate someone whose story you know.
— Margaret J. Wheatley
I am a transgender woman.
I completed my legal transition in August of 2021, and my medical transition in May of 2022. I am completely, physically, and legally a woman.
The old man is dead.
This reflection is on my/our transgender marriage. Thankfully, our marriage survived my transition. My wife, Patty, and I are thriving.
I wrote previously that when I came to realize I had reached my breaking point and had to transition, I wrote a four-page letter to Patty. That letter destroyed her world as she had known it.
While writing that letter, I was very aware that it could destroy our marriage. It was a gamble I was forced to take because of my bigger picture of choosing life and what I was about to put myself through.
I knew I was transitioning my body to match my heart and mind. But for my wife, I forced a transition of her heart and mind about me. I knew she had the harder job. Reflecting on it now, I think there were many factors that contributed to our survival as a couple.
The first factor is Patty’s resilience and her sense not to overreact. She was not familiar with the concept of transgender. She wasn’t even familiar with the word “transgender.” So, instead of reacting to her Christian doctrine and saying, “I’m out of here,” she took time to educate herself.
My therapist maintains a reading list — not only for those questioning their gender and those diagnosed transgender — but also for those impacted, or soon-to-be impacted, by a transition. Patty read several articles, pamphlets, and books. She came to understand what dysphoria is, and how it impacted me.
One of the ways I described how my dysphoria affected me is that I was living with a perpetual “chip on my shoulder” or an “anger that was always just under the surface.” Of course, there would be many times that chip or anger would leak through to my external world in the form of an overreaction, or a grudge held about something I would hang on to for far too long. It was a part of my personality that irritated Patty. (How’s the quote go? “I love you. You annoy me more than I ever thought possible. But I want to spend every irritating minute with you.”)
Three months into my transition, I started hormones. Over the next few months, as the hormones took hold, I found my inner peace, and that inner peace started showing in my external world. Things that would trigger me before didn’t trigger me, or my response was much more appropriate for the irritant. Patty noticed that about me. In time — as she came to see me as a happier and less irritable person — she became my biggest supporter, cheerleader, and ally.
Patty worked through her grieving process. Yes, the man she knew was dying. She suffered shock, anger, denial; all of it. This was the time where I heard and endured it all.
My husband is dead. You’re a pervert. You’ll never be a woman.
Eventually she reached the point of acceptance. I still remember the morning she walked out of our bedroom to me in the kitchen and said:
I know it’s going to be all right. I know we’re going to be all right.
Of course, that moment was followed with a long tight hug, and both of us crying profusely.
I knew enough not to throw any gasoline on the fire I had started. I made a point not to infringe on her feminine territory. That meant I would get my own hair care and body care products and not share hers. I would acquire my own jewelry and not borrow hers. I would create my feminine identity on my own so that she didn’t feel I was usurping hers.
Today, except for size differences in clothing, we share pretty much everything. That said, we still have our personal preferences for antiperspirant. That is only shared when one of us suddenly finds ourselves out!
I didn’t ask Patty to keep secrets. I trusted her judgement on the timing of outing me to her circle of family and friends. My only request was that she informed me of who she outed me to. As such, her sisters knew of my transition before our daughters did. How that didn’t leak back to our girls still amazes me.
I didn’t ask to change, or attempt to recreate, history. After all, I lived as a man for 58 years. I was the father figure to our daughters. I’m still the father figure to our daughters. There are over 35,000 digital photos that exist of me, of us, of our extended family. We keep our wedding album, and a back-in-the-day portrait of us still hangs in our hallway. I changed my body to match my heart and mind. Yet the person that is me still lives, in many ways, unchanged.
I included Patty in my decision making and allowed her input to, and some control over, my timing of procedures. I allowed her time to learn about what I was doing to my body. I included her in my first appointment with my endocrinologist. I periodically included her in my appointment with my therapist. My therapist connected Patty with her own therapist, giving her a forum to process her transition.
I included her in evaluation consultations with my FFS surgeon, my BA surgeon, and my Affirmation surgeons. All this made Patty a part of — and allowed her to get used to — the coming changes as they were happening. When we determined she would be my primary care giver in the weeks following my Affirmation surgery, she was included in all my preoperative education my surgeons required of me.
I listened to Patty when she would teach me what womanhood was about. Although my therapist had resources for learning about makeup, hair styling, and wardrobe creation, etc. — and I made use of some of those resources — I accepted Patty’s advice. I accepted the gift when she would find me shoes, a top, or a dress. I kept myself willing to listen to her. After all, she has many more years playing this woman game than I will ever have.
The summary to all this is simple: when one person in a marriage transitions, the partner must also transition. Initially, the non-gender-transitioning partner is most likely reluctant. That was my case with Patty, and to this day I can’t blame her for that reluctance. However, I made it a point to recognize I was forcing a transition on her. I incorporated her needs into our transition, and appreciated Patty transitioning with me. That is why I think our marriage survived.