When There Were No Words: A Search for Sexual and Gender Expression with A Partner

Twenty years ago a client consulted me explaining that she was a man imprisoned in a woman’s body who yearned for a partner, commitment, and children. This is the story of our work together.

Before words noting complexities of gender and sexual identities entered our lexicon — words such as agender, cis male, cis woman, gender fluid — a clinical experience confirmed what my professors had stressed: Our clients direct their own therapy through our concentrated listening. We never impose wishes or philosophies. We use all we know only to ease pain, erase muddle and offer direction.

But it also confirmed something more: If you long to find a partner, know and be true to yourself; be creative (but also be safe); do not settle; and do not give up.

“How can I be helpful?” I asked ‘Marjorie,’ the slender, attractive 36 year-old woman sitting in a chair across from mine on a brisk November morning.

Marjorie responded quickly, with intensity. I had never heard anything like her sentences, and they startled me: “I am convinced that I am a man imprisoned in a woman’s body (which today many would translate as ‘transmasculine,’ or ‘masculine of center’),” she explained. “I am not ill and refuse to ‘fix myself through intensive therapy,’ as one therapist urged. A second therapist suggested I consult a surgeon to explore a sex change operation, but I like my body the way it is. The third therapist told me she had never heard of my ‘strange condition,’ and hadn’t a clue about ‘appropriate treatment.’ And so I am here.”

“What makes you sure of this prison?” I asked.

The response: “The best answer is an intense feeling, a voice within, always there.”

Marjorie insisted we not “waste time” concentrating on her past: “My parents’ marriage is solid; they are great people and parents. I get along with my two sisters and two brothers, each married. I’m here for one reason only — to get out of ‘my relentless prison’.” With these three words a composed exterior cracked. Marjorie wept as she explained, “I want to belong some place. I want marriage and children. Although I have not told my gynecologist of ‘my difference,’ he knows my sadness and how much I want kids, and assures me I am fine.”

Looking for direction, I asked who had referred her and learned it was a gay couple who feared telling their parents of their commitment. “But I am not gay,” Marjorie explained. “I have tried sex with various women. It does not work. I want a relationship with a man, but that does not work for me either.” Although delighted that Marjorie scheduled a second appointment, I was clueless about how to help her.

That Friday evening as I lit the Sabbath candles for our family of six, the thought of my grandmother flashed in my mind. So did her definition of ‘beshert’: “When each child is born, God selects his and her “beshert” — a ‘meant to be’ partner in life. But it is up to each of us to create our path and find our ‘beshert.’ God does not do this work for us.” My grandmother concluded her instruction with a down-home wind up: “In other words, every pot has a lid. Never settle for a lousy fit!”

Marjorie was not Jewish. However, since my grandmother always assured her grandchildren that “God is the essence of kindness and love for all” I was sure that if ‘beshert’ held any validity for those of my faith, it held validity for all.

By our second meeting, a direction developing in my mind, I shared the ‘beshert’ concept with Marjorie: “It could all be ‘hoey,’ but who knows?” I said as we laughed together, Marjorie responding, “One can find hope in strange, unexpected conversations.” This was the perfect segue for hinting at a possible solution — “Is there direction in this hope?” As if a light bulb went off — my client said giddily: “I’ll just have to look for a gal imprisoned in a guy’s body, won’t I?”

Though the explosion of social media was years away, Marjorie lived in a downtown Philly neighborhood, where many coffee shops and casual restaurants offered bulletin boards for messages. Energized by direction, she posted the following note on all: “I am not sick or one to fear. What I am, however, is a man imprisoned in a woman’s body, one I like a lot. Is there a man out there who also likes his body, yet is sure he is a jailed gal?”

By our fourth session, Marjorie had received both kooky and cruel responses in her stated PO Box. But she had also heard from “Carl.” By our fifth and final session Marjorie and Carl met. They married before the new year. A post card from their London honeymoon arrived, as have subsequent holiday cards with updates on their three kids. There is always a rendition of the following message, “Pot and Lid doing well. Despite continual, necessary adjustments, gratefully living the magic of ‘beshert’.”