The whole world learned this week of the death of Nelson Mandela. I’ve heard and read a lot of opinion, recollection, reflection and analysis over the last few days, some seeking balance about a man who refused to renounce violence. But no-one can refute or deny that here was a man who changed the world. It wasn’t just his incomparable role in dismantling apartheid, nor his fortitude through 27 years in prison, rather it was his ability to seek reconciliation rather than revenge, and working together rather than division. He became the paradigm for truth and reconciliation, to be used as a model elsewhere and into the future.
Beyond politics, beyond nations, there is a principle in truth and reconciliation that was unique at the time, but which speaks in many situations now.
I tried writing a letter. I rewrote it. I asked myself how much I was writing for myself, and how much for the recipient. My expression of care and concern: was it because I wanted to be heard, or because there was something that did need to be said? Was it my place to speak? Or even be concerned? Was it more my seeking to be understood, or genuinely to help the other, where understanding might be helpful?
It was quite a quandary, and in the end the letter went into the recycling. I wasn’t sure about the motive, and in the end it became a much reflected-upon telephone conversation. It was, I felt, much-needed communication with my almost-ex wife who, I felt, has not really worked much out in a deep way about my transition. I shall never know what it is like to be faced with having an unexpectedly transsexual spouse. She will never know what it’s like to face up to being transsexual. Between us we have very deep questionings about the nature of love and the role of the body in showing and sharing love. Some find it easy, some impossible, some in-between. I guess that’s us.
I guess we both know the truth as we see it. I feel utterly rejected and betrayed because the worst I did was understand the way I was born and adjust to it. The best I did was to love in the same way as always and hope to continue. But what was forced upon me was the deepest and most honest assessment of my identity, my self, my expression of life itself, and I fell into place, looking and sounding somewhat different from the husband-as-was. I shed fear and self-hatred but gained the agony of losing the love of my life.
She was never rejected, nor her love, but must have felt my rejection of the male role that defined her role, quite keenly. It’s not really for me to say on her behalf. I do know that my female presence felt competitive rather than complementary, and must have challenged her sexuality. But she was not obliged to dig as deep, as I was, into her furthest recesses, and I expect has surfed the loss in order to keep going. Don’t we all do that much of the time? Yes, it’s easy to over-analyse, but it’s also a lot easier to cope with things by skating lightly on thin ice, hoping to get to the other side.
We each have truths to face full-on, if we are to remain balanced people. Mine is to recognise that even the most in-loveness and commitment does not signify unconditinal love. I have to accept that the reality of human love truly can be entirely contingent and dependent on being what’s needed. Yes, I was to a sufficient degree wanted for my body more than my loving, for my means more than my self.
It’s a truth, and it’s hard for me to chew on.
Her truth is that if indeed I was born female with male body bits, as per my complete clinical diagnosis, then she was married for over 30 years to a woman. That neither of us knew this possibility is immaterial. The truth is that I have not become a woman, I am just a woman who is finally aligning her way of life and body to what she is.
It’s a truth, and it’s hard for her to chew on.
Isn’t truth a difficult thing sometimes? It won’t go away by not thinking about it, or by making excuses for prior beliefs, and the best thing you can do with it is to speak to it, voice it and embrace it. We have to change to fit the truth, because it won’t change to fit us.
So why am I blogging this? Isn’t it just a tad unfair to be the one who always writes, and about pretty personal stuff? These dialogues are very one-sided when I write them out, and maybe I am inventing what my wife is really thinking, presumptuously and unfairly. I don’t know, because she hasn’t expressed these things as I have. All I can do is try my best to imagine what it must be like (see also, from earlier days: Who does she think she is?).
And that worries me on her behalf, and I know that she will be no more alone as a spouse/partner of a transsexual person, than I was as an emerging transsexual person myself. For every one of us who is married, there is a spouse coming to terms. As transsexual people, we get to know each other, go for diagnosis and resolution. They have little or no real support or help, no reason to meet, and have less to invest than we do. They can walk away and rationalise it as they wish. We can’t, and that makes it different.
And yet we reach a truth that makes sense. We are leaving fear, self-hate and denial, and finding self-love and acceptance. They may never do that, and rather find themselves feeling diminished, self-doubting and fearful, or in denial.
That’s why I write – to observe and present these difficulties as issues to properly resolve rather than avoid.
I have sent over-long texts, emails and letters. I have been overwhelming in my self-explanation and insistence that I, myself, me, am still here. That what is in my head and my heart, my soul – is unchanged. More openly understood and expressed maybe, but not different. Don’t I deserve to be loved for myself?
I try to be honest about my motivations, but yes, I have often written just hoping for a touch of that old love, affection and partnership. Wrong fishing line, wrong hook, wrong bait. Truth must precede reconciliation.
So what is reconciliation? It means no more nor less than bringing together again. I don’t expect anything more than friendship, but it does imply acceptance of truth and being able to step beyond old understandings and beliefs into a shared space.
And divorce? Isn’t that about irreconcilable differences? Or is that also about unwillingness to face truths? Our grounds, for pragmatic reasons of a gender recognition certificate, had to be those awful declarations about my unreasonable behaviour in wearing women’s shoes (among other things) and being seen in public!
No, somewhere beyond all that crap, I hope that there may still be the kind of friendship that only 30 and more years of shared memories and parenting can give. But we shall not get there unless the truths are faced. My plea therefore, is that attention be given to spouses, partners and relations to properly understand that having a transsexual partner does not change you, and that recognition of the underlying nature of another human being does not change their intentions towards you. At present there is absolutely nothing available. If you are diagnosed with a debilitating disease, there is support available for carers. It is respectable to be related to someone who suffers. Not so if that someone is transsexual. It reflects on you, makes you feel you must be something you don’t like or respond to (OMG – don’t even suggest that I may be bisexual, let alone lesbian!!). It is not obviously OK to tell your friends and family that your beloved is trans. (See my early poem: Not like a bone.) But it is almost exclusively the response from friends, that leaving a trans partner is the only reasonable thing to do. How can you explain? No pressure there, then!
For me, reconciliation requires the wholehearted recognition that I have always been a woman, unknowingly having the wrong outward appearance. It is also a wholehearted recognition that human love is not what we idealise, but is (perhaps most commonly) contingent on outward forms and meeting expectations.
The Mandela motif
To the last, Nelson Mandela was kindly, warm, smiling, human, both ordinary and somehow supreme. He achieved world-betterment through both truth and reconciliation.
Dear partners, wives and husbands of transsexual people everywhere: your truths may be unpalatable and force changes in the way you see yourselves and the world, but they are truths. They alone stand between you and reconciliation. You don’t have to want that, of course. But they also stand between you and peace with yourself. Whether you stay in partnership or not, there is no point in not being reconciled with yourself, and no future in not resolving your truths, between you and yourself.
Sometimes the world is just not the way you have been used to seeing it. Sometimes it is not black and white.