It is bad enough to face divorce at any time, unless it really is a relief and an escape for you. It must be awful under the existing regime, to be a transsexual marriage survivor and have to choose between your legal gender identity (Gender Recognition Certificate, or GRC) and your marriage. Identity is your most essential right, and to require another’s permission or conditions, to be registered for who you are, is plain wrong. Under the proposed Equal Marriage legislation, a transsexual partner will still require permission from their partner to request their GRC. This too is entirely wrong, simply on principle. For a working marriage, of course it is not a barrier, but it is in no-one’s rights to even have the capacity to grant or withhold another’s identity.
Write or wrong?
Should I write about my divorce? I cast no blame and I accept none. It is personal, but also it is not private. This is a public declaration of the dissolution of a marriage. That is the whole point. Marriage is specifically public, and divorce is too.
I want to relate the experience as I go through it, because I think it raises issues of equality, fairness and justice. Let me say that what I write is not against my wife in any way, but against the system in which I feel trapped.
At this first stage, I asked to be petitioned (rather than be separated for two years) for two reasons. One is financial, and there is no need to discuss that. The other is that my GRC really matters to me, and that I can claim it long before an uncontested two-year separation, which would allow the marriage simply to dissolve. I believe it is wrong that my identity depends on my marital status, however that has been damaged.
More than this, I was brought up sharp by the realisation that legally I am still male. I cannot divorce as a female, or stay married as a female, and therefore cannot be identified as a female in the petition. And so, Ms Andie Davidson is ‘he’ throughout. There is no alternative; Catch 22. My old name and title cannot be used (I have the legal document), nor can my true gender (I cannot obtain that legal document). I have to be mismatched, and I find that objectionable.
Is it unreasonable?
And then there are the available grounds here in English law. It would have been a lot more fun to have had an adulterous affair, then at least I could have enjoyed what would lead to a very easy petition! But because I still love my wife, and because I will not call anything she has done unreasonable, there is, for people like us, only one option: to say that being transsexual is both a behaviour, and unreasonable.
I do not believe that you can call the traumatic coming out as transsexual, and the long trail up to a formal diagnosis, unreasonable behaviour. But I have to. I recognise that it was not a process of reasoned and calm discussion: ‘Darling, I think I’m trans. Can we talk about it and find a way to understand this together?’ No it was years of not understanding, longing to be discovered, and pleading to be accepted. We become not so much unreasonable as irrational in believing that clues about ourselves will make sense and derive sympathy rather than revulsion. And along the way I could have done some things better. But the outcome would have been the same. People like me live in utter fear. And the more they love, the more scared they are. I used to say: ‘I can’t walk away from this. You can. Please don’t.’
Was it unreasonable to buy heels for going out in? Or only to keep them discreet? I guess the old battered brown loafers would have looked just as unreasonable with a skirt. Is it unreasonable to wear a skirt when you know you are really a woman? Or was it unreasonable to live in fear and hide things away rather than leaping home with: ‘Look at these lovely shoes I found today!’?
Well, you tell me. The bottom line for me is that, contrary to the solicitor’s expression (I will not blame my wife for any of the actual words), I am, and was not, a transvestite, indulging unfairly in cross-dressing for perhaps fetishistic reasons in expectation that she would accept or enjoy it. Anything I did that was unreasonable was due to being undiagnosed, and therefore not knowing what was going on, or how I should live with that knowledge.
So, for me to claim my identity as soon as I wish, I must ask for divorce, and to obtain a divorce I must be named as male, indulging in ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which in the end was only congruent with my identity, which should not be in anyone’s gift to withhold from me.
In legal terms, I do think that we need at least to provide for an unwilling partner in a marriage to say that, their partner having been diagnosed as misgendered, the agreed contract of marriage has been simply broken. No blame, no bad words, no necessary legal accusations, just that formal diagnosis changes the basis of the original contract.
I have to say that being written about in this way in the petition, and at such length, has been like a victim having to relive their experience, be taken through court and cross-examined, accused and threatened, when the fault is none of their own. I don’t see myself as a victim of anything, only that the scenario of being named male, and my identity spoken of as behaviour and unreasonable, puts me back through a lifetime of self-hate that I have left behind.
So please, understand that this piece is not a personal statement of what I have to do, in order to slight anyone else. This is rather a protest about the confusion of law and its incapacity to deal with people like me fairly. If marriage were a conditional contract rather than a pretence of unconditional love, then the grounds for annulment would be much more straightforward. But of course it isn’t. Some marriages put up with adultery and are ‘open’. A few embrace an altered gender recognition (it isn’t gender change). The former, however, is grounds for divorce, the latter is not. Or maybe we should just have ‘I shall marry you and stay faithful for as long as it suits me’. That, at least would be honest.
And the rest
What I haven’t discussed here, is those not diagnosed as transsexual, but who are not in the regular, ‘legal gender binary’, and who similarly feel that being honestly who they are in gender terms is no more a choice than mine. Why should their status be regarded as unreasonable or behavioural? If you married someone who turns out to be gender queer, or who was born intersex and mis-corrected at birth, or indeed whose sexuality was not clear, they should not need to be blamed in legal terms just because you dislike it to the degree that you prefer to end the marriage.
I have to say this again, because it is near the bone. The only real reason I need a divorce on grounds, rather than after two years irreconcilable differences, is to secure my identity. The decision to end my marriage was not mine, but since it has been made, comfort in its execution should not be reason to delay obtaining my legal identity. If the marriage were not ending, I would wait for the Equal Marriage legislation to catch up, however wrong I feel that to be.
If my self-understanding is correct; if my clinical diagnosis is correct, then my wife married, loved and lived with a woman in a man’s body for 30 years, and enjoyed what we were. She doesn’t have to like that fact, now we both know it, but this scenario does not have a legal reference in order to deal with it fairly and properly.