The truth can sting

  • Posted on February 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I often reflect on why people love each other, and what can change that, as times and life changes. There is the obvious case of a husband who turns to drink or to crime, and we would all urge the wife to leave him – or better, kick him out. It’s unacceptable behaviour, unlikely to change, and we recognise it. So why do some stick by their man and take the punishment, claiming still to love him? I won’t attempt to answer that here.

Flip that thought now, and think of spouses who have to deal with accidents, illnesses and disabilities. We pity parents with disabled children, thankful it is not us, but recognise that one can’t divorce a baby that isn’t quite as ‘normal’ as expected. But the husband or wife, when the other goes blind, loses their faculties prematurely, or becomes immobilised? Again, we pity, we sympathise, we even help if we can, but we recognise that it can all become too much. And for a young person, we endorse a divorce that allows the healthy one to find a new and more fulfilling partnership for the rest of their lives.

I just watched a BBC 4 Horizon programme on what makes us good or evil. It was disturbing in concluding that psychopaths have a clearly marked genetic disposition that, combined with an abusive or damaging upbringing, makes them prone to acts we would describe as evil – and yet it is not entirely their fault. Somehow their free will (still present) has been compromised. What if all our antisocial traits have biological roots? The programme asserted the role of oxytocin in making people team players (it is measurably increased in pre-match warm-ups), whilst recognising that testosterone creates the aggressive competitive drive so the team wins the game.

No-one should endure violence, physical or psychological, just because they see the good in another, and with a good understanding of causes, maybe we can make ‘evil’ people less dangerous. And there passes the shadow of clinical cures for homosexuality … and the assignment of gender identity disorders in directories of mental illness.

But as these thoughts about causes drifted around my head, I also remembered a story in today’s Daily Mail. The headline was ’My husband became my wife: transgender woman reveals how a bee-sting led to her sex-change … and how the woman she had married stayed by her’. Setting aside the mis-concept of sex change, the story reveals that a very rare reaction to the sting toxin led to a dramatic reduction in testosterone.

There are two strands that came out of this for me: first, the woman, Chloe, was actually only unmasked. Beneath the testosterone there was something about her ready and waiting to be fully expressed as female. It wasn’t the bee sting that was powerful, it had been the testosterone. She did have a prior history of some gender uncertainty, but had fathered children and been a good husband for eight years. She too had no choice in the matter, and genetically, psychologically, she simply became what she was beneath the influence of the male hormone. But second, was the response of her wife, Renee. We find in the article that they are no longer married (they are two women, neither of whom describe themselves as lesbian) but they do share their home and family as two women together in a committed relationship of love.

What is it about Renee’s love that meant she didn’t wave goodbye to Chloe? Many women would have done. Those who have read Helen Boyd’s account of living on the brink of her husband transitioning to female in She’s not the Man I Married, find how heart-rending it can be (and Helen and Betty did stay together through transition). I don’t think anyone would equate the decision to stay after gender identity change, with the decision to support a disabled partner (total loyalty through major change) – but should they? Does either break a marriage contract, in that neither situation is one of choice?

That takes us on to the issue of Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC), and the requirement to dissolve a marriage in order to be officially recognised in the gender that feels most authentic. (How odd that you could then reunite in a civil partnership, even though neither partner identifies as lesbian …) It makes us examine our authenticity, and the awkward concept of who you are in context of what you are. We do contract marriages and partnerships because of what we are (male, female, fertile, intelligent, capable, wealthy even), but it is really more because of who we are (supportive, loving, helpful, kind, lively, entertaining, like-minded). Yes, the two do merge, but what I mean here is that I am still the same person if, once wealthy, I fall on hard times, whereas I am really not the same if I lose my loving and kind personality. The GRC says that the what has changed even though the who is merely a lot happier – and therefore ‘something must be done’.

My heteronormative upbringing meant I never even entertained the possibility that I might find a man attractive. I was only looking at women when I found my wife. I’m still not attracted to men in any way, and my wife’s experience is the same the other way round. So it’s hardly surprising that the question of attractiveness comes up. Big time. I am still attracted to the woman I love so much; she, of course finds it rather difficult. What I am has been changing. Who I am, I maintain (from the personal, internal experience) has not.

Back to where we began: what makes people love each other? Or stop loving? Why, or how much, does my gender identity affect yours? Am I validated as heteronormative by you fitting my heteronormative picture, (and that can seem very important)? What trumps who, time and again. If my heteronormative picture isn’t that strong (as for Helen Boyd) it is less of a problem, but still there. So when does love become a decision, with a decision tree to help you get there (and yes, how and if you do sex is a box along the way)? Can I only be a non-lesbian woman in a partnership if you are not a woman?

The whole business of how much we choose to be what we are, regardless of who we are, is fraught. Serious crime and punishment? Dead easy, but now, perhaps, disturbing. Antisocial behaviour? Easy. Disability? A source of sympathy. Gender? Ah, now there you have me. Because I am not a woman, I am transgender, and even the most loving people can have a hard time deciding what I am and whether the who has changed and which was the main source of love. Congratulations to Chloe and Renee, Betty and Helen, and all those who have made it through, and most of all for sharing your stories, to keep us on our toes.


  • And as so often, I have a poem in sympathy with this thought: Hands


« A normal transgender person Hands »


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