Nearly two years ago, just before I decided I had to leave my home and walk away from my marriage, I tried to write from my wife’s perspective. I wrote Who does she think she is? It was an honest attempt to see what it was like for a husband to be replaced by an intruder, a woman, uninvited. At the time we were in therapy, and she objected to this post, despite its caveat, and asked that I remove it. One of our therapists said no, it was my valid experience and expression. I still feel that I captured something, even if it wasn’t my wife’s voice as she would have written it herself.
This question: ‘Who does she think I am?’ is again my imagined question, as if from my ex, in response to my protestations over the past few years. Again, I cannot claim to speak for her, I’m only trying to see the other side.
This week was bruising. I am a writer, and I can’t resist the urge to write. In my work I am meticulous in removing ambiguity, in my poetry I ‘show not tell’, deliberately introducing ambiguity. In my emails, at least with my ex, I am a terrible writer. I write when I should not, and I write in a way that is easily misunderstood, and probably show misunderstanding. I can hardly write dispassionately and objectively though, so I constantly make mistakes. Every time I attempt dialogue, she feels I’m invalidating her feelings, every time I try to stretch her imagination, I remind myself that it’s all over and that it is not my place to know her life as I used to. It is factually immaterial that I lost all family life, along with all we’d built together. It is not for me to claim that I lost more than she did, and there is no point speaking about the responsibility each of us shares. Everything has gone and we both lost. No-one won in this one.
And then an exchange on Facebook about trans suicide rates came up. Add to the ‘at least attempted’ all those who considered it, and the score is horrifically high. Fundamentally it is because being transsexual robs you of your place in society, among friends, in your family, and wrecks a large slice of your personal life. Faced with the choice of being wanted or loved for what you are not, and being authentic whilst losing it all, sometimes the only way out is down.
Then an entry in the thread, by a wife, pulled me up short. Suicide can be for spouses and partners too.
It really is that big. Why should you have to change your world view? It’s an earthquake in your life; it is traumatic, unexpected and unwanted. ‘What have I done, for my very macho, strong, secure, masculine husband to be removing all his body hair and transforming into something that looks a bit like a woman, whilst claiming that’s what they are?’ How can you live with that? This person who used to love you as a man is willfully undermining everything you hold dear, every reason you loved them, becoming a stranger and negotiating very little. How can that be OK? You do not have to go along with it, and maybe your survival means detaching from it. No, I was not the macho husband-man, nor was my ex suicidal. But I still perceive the reaction:
It’s obvious, isn’t it?! Who does she think I am?
From the inside, from the other side
Never ask a transsexual person to understand what it is like to be ‘cis’. We honestly don’t know. We can only imagine from the other side of transition, when memories fade. And don’t ask us to remember like you do. We can’t. Every single one of us can only remember our past experience in terms of what it meant or felt like to be ‘me’, from the inside. I wrote to my ex: ‘In a land without mirrors, my face has become ugly, and everyone can see it except me.’ What I meant was not that I am completely unattractive, but that (a) from the inside I cannot really understand why no-one wants to get physically close to me any more, and that (b) all my memories are from the inside of me, whilst everyone else’s memories of me are of the outside.
But I do still try to understand the impact of my transition, and I don’t take it lightly. Grief, rather than belligerence, mars my understanding. I do know that my wife had a man as a husband, and that this was the deal. Had I known at the time that I was born with gender dysphoria, I hope I would have been honest and dealt with it then. I would not have enjoyed 30 years living with my wife; we would never have married, because she was not looking for a woman. She would not have looked twice at me, and today, perhaps we would simply be writing occasional letters as friends from university days.
I am responsible for dissolving the husband/man façade in front of her eyes, pleading, yes, to be seen as a person not as a strictly gendered accessory. From my perspective, I can’t see why sex is so confined, and why people aren’t more attractive than their bodies. I can’t see why intimacy has to be hetero-binary. I can’t, because this is not the land I live in. But I do know that in her land, the ‘normal’ land, this is exactly how it is. Adam and Eve, Tarzan and Jane, and that is the way that most of us are made. It isn’t about the intellectual explanation, or the analysis I’ve been at pains to work through on this blog. It isn’t open to persuasion. My land is not her land, and she’s gone home. We went to the border, and she waved me off. If I was writing an apologetic for my country, then as a writer I failed, I was unpersuasive. That pen must now finally be put down.
If I have anything to say to you dear reader, if you have a transsexual spouse, or know someone who has, we may be unable to escape our gender dysphoria, but it does not mean we don’t try to understand how it is for you. It is just that authenticity comes first, and we have been forced finally to face inescapable realities that we have no choice than to embrace. You have that choice, and we cannot presume to make it for you. I hope your love is of a kind that prevails, but sadly it is rare, and you would not be unusual.
I argued a long time back to my then wife, that in the land of the blind, my hands would still feel the same, and love would not be turned away. I just see things differently, and as much as I cannot describe the colour blue to you, other than by attaching it to things, so I must accept that I could never describe my world to her. Her land is her land, and I no longer have a passport, but she has a life to lead, and maybe I’d just better not try to meet through the wire.
Which reminds me of a poem some while ago: Losing my touch (I counted on you).