Your Partner Came Out as Transgender; Now What?
Hello, my name is Amanda Crose, I am the cis wife of a trans woman. I am going to talk at you for a bit and then we will have a question and answer time and you can ask me anything and everything that is on your mind. I should start by pointing out my own bias, I am married to a MtF trans person so most of my experience speaks to that, I am trying to be inclusive of everyone but please forgive me if this presentation is slightly skewed.
Let me start by telling you about me and our story…
Our story starts out pretty unordinary. We met about 113 years ago in high school psychology class. It was the classic story of boy sees girl, boy likes to look at girl, boy sits by girl and bam we lived happily ever after. Hmmmm. Ok, lets back up a little. The romantic part of our high school relationship was passionate and strong as is with most teenagers lusting after each other. We talked on the phone well into the night and went on our first date on the first day of the New Year in 2003. Sadly though our romance was short lived as again many teenage relationships are. I am older than my wife so I went away to college and she finished high school. We did not speak for over a year until she called me when I came home for summer vacation, she was just getting ready to graduate. We quickly fell back into our old feelings for each other. After high school she attended our local community college for a year and then joined me at my university. I graduated in 2008 and started working while she was still in school. In 2009 we were married. She graduated six months after our wedding and quickly received a job offer in Maryland, 650 miles away from our hometown. In November 2010 she told me we needed to talk dun dun dun…she expressed concern about not feeling like a man, luckily for her I assured her that there was nothing wrong she just wasn’t into the manly things the men in my family were into, hunting, fishing, sports…that didn’t make her not a man just different from the typical man, and life went on as normal, we really dodged a bullet there, oh wait…Fast forward four years later, we now own a house, we have a 15-month-old son who I stay home with, I am a full time doctoral student, overall our life is 180 degree different than it was four years prior, and once again in November (seriously I hate that month) she tells me that while in therapy for “work related stress” she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Now I will be honest this gender issue that came up in 2010 never left the back of my mind and I was the one that made sure we kept that sleeping dragon at buy. I would shame her if her interest was too girly, you like that Lady GaGa song do you? Oh heck no you don’t that’s for girls and you are a man! So now this big scary thing that I made go away, that was always in the back of mind was now out in the open again and this time I knew I had to deal with it. Luckily, dang my wife is so lucky to have me (wink), I had a plan she could just cross dress, she could live as a woman when she wanted, but not transition medically and we certainly wouldn’t have to tell anyone and I will get back to this point in a few minutes, but as you can see that is not how our story unfolded, it also did not unfold in any of the other 8,000 ways I told her it could. The way it unfolded was “simple”. We transitioned socially and medically over a period of time until a day came when my husband was gone and the woman you see today is the one who stood before me.
So I am here today now to talk about surviving and thriving through transition. You are probably all at different places in transition. Maybe some of you are just starting, maybe some have been doing this few a few years and maybe some of you transitioned 25 years ago and have a thing or two you could teach me, but no matter where you are I am here to tell you that this life is possible and that it will be ok.
When you’re standing at the starting line looking ahead this feels so big, you can’t fathom how it’s going to work out. Then when it’s over and you’re standing at the finish line looking back at that starting line you don’t know how you got here. It was such a big endeavor how did you make it? How did you survive? But when you’re in the race it’s small changes over the course of a long time, you had time to adjust to each change before another one happened, it was day by day second by second. If you let the process take its natural course it is easy so to speak. Fighting it or rushing it will make it nearly impossible.
My wife and I tried to fight it once and it didn’t work. We have also seen trans spouses rush it and that has only left the cis spouse in the dust, and leaving one partner behind is not the equation for a healthy marriage or a marriage that will survive transition. Transition must be a partnership in order for your marriage to survive. It must be a compromise on both ends. Both partners need to lay out realistic ground rules about time tables, you must work together. For me the process was slow and grief was painful, but my wife held my hand and stuck to my rules while I respected that we were moving forward. I set out what I wanted and she set out what she wanted and we agreed. We matched the timetables we each had in mind. She wanted to be on HRT with her hair grown out to the point that she didn’t need a wig to go full time and I wanted to complete our family with a second child naturally which meant being 12 weeks pregnant before starting hormones. When everything was in place we were both ready to make the full leap we did it together. No secrets, no lies, just love.
This is a process and you have to start by grieving, this is what the process is. The process of grief is the process of working towards accepting that your partner is trans and working towards the end result for your partner and for some that is a full transition and for some it is not, but whatever it is the process is the same. The five stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The important thing to remember about grief is they can happen in any order and different stages can happen at the same time. Some stages last a long time, while others may only take a few days. Lets me walk you through the stages of grief and talk about what they were like for me. Remember your path maybe totally different there is no correct way to grieve and there is no correct way to transition, my story is just one example of many of how this all can play out.
Stage 1: Denial, denile is the emotional response that we use to protect ourselves from loss or emotional shook. Denial is my friend or my enemy is probably more like it. I spent the most time here. I think the fact that I spent four years making sure my husband stayed my husband made it even harder for me to come to terms with the fact that she was trans and she was going to make a full transition. Remember earlier when I said I had some really good plans to battle my wife’s gender dysphoria without having to transition? Well here is where they come into play. Plan 1, cross-dressing stage a she could cross dress at home. Now I wasn’t having sex with her dressed as a woman, but if she wanted to sit at home in a dress with the curtains closed tightly, be my guest. This plan went out the window pretty quickly. Plan 1 cross-dressing stage b She could cross dress all she wanted outside the house, we would not have to tell anyone (apparently I did not take into account that people might see us) and we would not have to do anything to her body permanently. The idea of the logistics and cost of transition scared me, to the point that it added a reason for me to push my cross dressing agenda. The problem with these plans is she was not a cross-dressed.
In this stage I was obsessed with vocabulary and terms, ok no matter what the situation is I am always a little hung up on language, but it did get worse in this stage of grief. I hated the word trans because that’s how steep in denial I was. I didn’t want a label put on what was “wrong” with my husband. A friend told her “you wouldn’t think you were trans if you weren’t trans”, I had yet to meet this friend but I instantly hated her, it wasn’t personal it was self-preservation.
Plan 2 you can identify as trans, but you don’t need to fully transition you can live with a foot in each world and I can have my husband when I want him and you can be a woman when you want. This worked for some people I knew it because of my favorite cis partners of a trans woman got to spend one day every month with her “husband”. We could do that too! The problem here is the more time “she” was around the crankier “he” became and now I can laugh because the idea of my wife presenting in guy mode one day a month, now makes me a little nauseous.
Stage 2: anger. This is an interesting stage in our process because initially I would tell you that I did not go through this phase, but when I think about it deeper I did, but my anger was targeted at other people specifically and not just the situation and not at Emily. Mostly other trans people with a few other people sprinkled in became the object of my anger. Anyone that knows me will tell you it’s a bad idea to make me mad because I hold on to things so even now, fully transitioned and living a happy fulfilled life I am still angry at some of the people that were my targets in this phase even though nothing was their fault and most don’t know that I took their help so negatively. Some of the people who tried to support my wife I saw as the enemy, they, in my eyes were enabling her. They worked for her and against me. That friend that I mentioned that told her “You wouldn’t think you were trans if you weren’t trans”, well this contradicted my work to convince her she was just a cross-dresser. I informed Emily that this friend didn’t know her, she might know about being trans but she didn’t know her so therefore her thoughts were invalid, and this point carries over into bargaining which I went through simultaneously with anger and we will get to that stage next.
Early on we went to another trans couples house for dinner, at the time we were still using “daddy”, “husband”, male pronouns, and her birth name. I was not nearly ready to use the femme versions, but the other couple was. I defended my self, without them having asked or mentioned it because being defensive is another part of this whole process. I wanted them to see that I was accepting that I was a good loving wife, but that I just wasn’t there yet. I have seen this from other trans couples we have worked with since. A marriage, a relationship is a sacred space what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for someone else and that’s ok. If you and your spouse are comfortable that is all that matters. You do not need to defend your choices and anyone that tells you differently is wrong. We lost a friend who told Emily I was going to leave because I was not comfortable with identifying as “cis”. This goes back to my hang ups on language, I came around I identify as cis I use the word without any qualms but that wasn’t the case then.
Then there was the first time I was told I am a lesbian. We were at a local gay bar and a gay man called me a lesbian. I told him I wasn’t and he said “but you look like a lesbian couple”. I didn’t care what I looked like I knew who I was and I wasn’t a lesbian I will return to this idea later as well when I address sexuality. I was defended by another spouse who explained why this look could de deceiving, yet to this day if that particular gentleman shows up at an event, I should add he was not a random stranger, but we run in the same LGBT circle in our area, I feel myself get angry.
One of the hardest things for me about helping other couples is this exact issue. I tell them the same things we were told that made me so angry because the fact is they were right. I see the people I speak to have the same reactions I did and I know how they feel, they, as I was they are looking for someone to tell them there is a different road, but for most there isn’t. Yes, there are cross-dressers, but no there are not people who think they are trans that aren’t really trans, sadly for me in that time Emily’s friend was right.
Stage 3: bargaining. So like I said I went through bargaining and anger together. In my case bargaining was literal, I literally bargained with Emily. I tried every tactic I could find. I really must have thought I struck gold with the cross-dresser thing. It was something I could accept and something that I thought would bridge the gap between a full gender transition and just living once and a while as a woman. I joined a support group for the wives of cross-dressers it was great hmmmmm, it gave me a place where I could talk about our dirty little secret, since at the time we were not out to anyone and it gave ammo to use to prove to Emily that she was indeed a cross dresser. The rules of the group were simple if your spouse did decided to transition and did start identifying as trans and not just a cross dresser you had to leave. This rule was meant to protect the rest of us emotionally, to not depict a situation that could possible happen to them to. I told Emily about this rule, I told her how much I loved the group. I guess if she cared about my happiness she would have to continue to only cross dress so I could stay in the group.
Stage 4: depression. I have heard of the female partners of trans women going one or two directions in their own feminity while their partner is beginning to transition, one being over the top femme or becoming more masculine. Now I am a girly girl. I love pink, and glitter, and nail polish and getting dressed up, the whole nine yards. So when Em came out to me I went the opposite direction. I didn’t want to tempt her I didn’t want to show her how awesome it was to be a girl, so I worse sweat pants and t-shirts and no make up. This was part of my stage of depression. And the thing about depression is its circular, the more frumpy I made myself, that was my goal to look frumpy, the worse I felt.
And the tears. I cried a lot. My life, in my eyes at the time was shattered. My happily ever after was stolen from me. My choices were limited to staying or leaving and leaving meant going home to Michigan and living with my parents with my toddler.
I think my depression stage was mild, I have seen partner suffer more than I did in this phase. Many people seek counseling I did not. I have friends who have even needed the help of an anti-anxiety medication or an anti-depressant. However you feel and whatever you experience in this phase as well as what you need to do for yourself to get through it is personal. You do you as they say.
Stage 5: Acceptance. In a letter I left on our counter for Emily on May 8th, 2015, 6 months after she came out me I wrote on the outside “Babe warning: this is about gender, if you’re not in the mood feel free to save it for later.” this I should explain was because our lives were revolving around gender it was all we could talk about and it was getting old, Emily and I had sort of taken a little break from it. “Babe, the last 48 hours have been tough, lots of soul searching, thinking about and crying. I decided to crawl out of my cave of denial land face the facts, that is why I told you yesterday what I see for our future. I am facing the facts that you’re not just a cross dresser, and you most likely will not be happy until you’re living full time as a woman. As crazy as it seems even to me now sitting here writing this I’m ready for this. I’m ready to start the transition-obviously at your pace and your way, although I am still insistent on baby #2 before HRT. I’m sure you’re scared I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t too, but I’m excited for you and for us to be out and living life as you want not having to hide and just move on. You need to trust that I am not going anywhere, I am here. We might not be the perfect American family anymore, but what we are is perfect enough for me. I love you, Manda
And that was all she wrote, I was ready to accept I was married to a transgender woman and we were going to medically and socially transition.
So my advice on grief: No matter what you feel or when you feel it let yourself feel it, work through it, your feelings are valid and they matter. Lot of people will have lots of advice from you; your friends, your family, other spouses of trans people like me, but no one else has been in your shoes. Even if my story is similar to yours we have not walked the same path to get to where we are and that creates differences in our stations. You must process you must feel and then you can move on and decide what is best for you.
Now lets move on from grief. At this point you have grieved you have come to terms with what your future holds, but now what? What do you do? How do you move forward? Lets walk through some topics and things that you are going to face in this new life.
Rules: First things first rules. In my humble opinion as someone who has been down this road rules are so important for everyone to feel comfortable and the great thing about rules is they can and they will, I promise you that, change. There are two people involved in this, remember you have come to terms with the fact that your partner is going to make a full gender transition, it is going to happen and you have to allow it to happen, but you still matter so how do you want things to work? What is your timeline? What are you ready for and when? What do you want transition to look like? Things are going to come up that you will have to talk about that on your wedding day or when you became a couple you never thought you’d have to talk about. What is your comfort level? My number one rule was no using my things, and I think this is hilarious now, remember I said they will change? If Emily dared to buy something now that I already had I’d smack her for wasting money, but from early on in transition we have two pair of the same leggings because I wasn’t comfortable with her wearing my clothes and we both wanted the same print. We had separate shampoo and conditioner. Believe me this all sounds so silly now, but at the time is was anything but silly, like I said your feelings matter and those were my feelings.
Behavior of partners: the difficult reality of this situation is the only person you can control is yourself. The other half of this equation, the trans person you love is out of your control. I will not lie I am lucky because my wife made me her partner, she never did anything behind my back, she never lied, and she waited for me. She values my own transition, and our transition as a couple and respects it all the same way she respects her own gender transition. This is one of the biggest reasons our marriage works. She never deceived me. So again while you can’t control your spouse, if you are the trans spouse listening right now please remember if you want to make this work, respect your partner, make them your transition partner as well as your life partner, make this a team effort. Include them, ask for their help, don’t hide, don’t lie, don’t do things behind their backs. And cis partners communicate your needs, don’t hide your feelings share them, do what you have to do to help your partner see when their behavior is and is not ok. I have seen trans people run up credit card debt buying clothes, I have seen trans spouses start hormones behind their spouses back. These behaviors hurt and they leave what can be impairable scars in your relationship.
Self Care-If you are a new member of this prestigious club you are about to embark on a new role in your relationship as a care-giver to your partner in ways that you didn’t imagine when you became a couple. I mean if you’re married you probably said ‘for better or worse”. Transition is by nature selfish. They will be doing a lot of focusing on themselves, learning who they are as well as spending money in ways that may impact your finical situation because transition can also be expensive. The circle of care places the trans partner in the center and you in the next ring. Next to the trans partner you are the most important person in this equation, you are the most impacted. You have to take care of them and everyone else has to take care of you and yet you also need to take care of yourself in order to take care of them. So this is where self-care comes in. For me I am a care giver I take care of my wife, our kids, our dog, our house, other peoples kids (literally that’s my job) and its easy to forget about me. There have been times that I have let my needs go to the point that I was on the verge of a breakdown. This is not what you want to happen. So how are you going to take care of yourself? Join an activity? Get a month massage? Whatever it is you must make that a priority. Just do a search of self-care on pintrest and you will get hundreds of ideas.
Coming out-The hardest part about coming out is its not totally up to you, but it should not totally be up to your partner either. We came out to the people who needed to slowly. Close friends that lived in our area followed by family. Since our family lives in another state we were pretty free to go out in the world with Emily in femme since we knew we would not bump into anyone. Family wise we came out to my mom, then Emily’s mom, her dad later and sadly for him my dad last. The rest of the family was sprinkled in there. The weird thing about coming out is you set expectations for others reactions that may not be correct. My dad was last because it was assumed he was going to take it the worst. He is your stereotypical conservative late middle age, white dude. He generally holds some very bigoted opinions and thinks his way is the only right way, BUT he was oddly fine. I don’t know if he did or if he even does now really understand being trans, but he is kind he uses the right pronouns and names every time which Emily will attest was a shocker. He even stopped calling people and please excuse me for using this word “fruitcakes” out of respect for us. The person who did take it the hardest and struggled the most was my father in law, Emily’s dad. We had to limit our contact with him and he did eventually come around. Today he is mostly fine, like my own dad I don’t know how much he truly understand and I get that. I get why its hard for a cis gender white man to understand this particular struggle. He does know our limits and he knows that to be a part of our children life he must be respectful, use the proper names and pronouns and not make certain comments.
So after we came out to the people who deserved to hear it from our mouths we decided to go public AKA make a Facebook announcement. It was new years eve 2015 right before midnight. Emily made a post that said, “my new years resolution is to become a girl” tagging me and my post was a full explanation tagging her. The outcry of love and support we received was overwhelming, the only negative comment we got was sent to me in a Facebook message I am sure they didn’t want to be seen as the only negative one, and was easy to look past.
Coming out is hard, you face judgment and you face losing people. It is cliché but those who leave your life because of it were never there for you in the first place. Its easier to say that about friends than it is family and I hope that like my father in law if you have family that potentially pulls away or you are forced to distance yourself from that time will heal those wounds and one day you will come back together.
Sexuality: My favorite topic. And one if you follow me through social media or my blog you know this is generally the one area I keep private. There are three components to deal with here the three S’s: sexuality, sex and surgery. Not really in that order. So lets start with surgery. Surgery is private, its personal, it isn’t our body either that we would be disclosing medical information about, its our partners. We know not all trans people opt to have surgery. Bottom surgery is obviously the big one that comes into play when we are talking about sex, although top surgery can be just as important when it comes to attraction. We, in my marriage have chosen to keep surgery generally to the people who live in our house. A few people outside of our immediate family know the choice Emily has made regarding surgery with the majority of those people being other trans people and their partners. When surgery is involved sex changes since genitals change. How a couple has sex again is private and they have to figure out what works for them. It is kind of a new sexual exploration, you can look at it as reinventing your sex life after however many years you have been together. There are also trans couples that no longer have sex and if that works for them that works for them. And of course there are open marriages or relationships that some couples opt for.
Sexuality as in lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual etc is personal and I don’t connect it to a persons partner at all. For the majority of people having a trans spouse does not change your sexuality, in fact some will argue that sexuality cannot be changed while others say it is fluid, I’ll leave that debate for another day though. The bottom line is you can identify however you want regardless of whom you are married to. That day at the bar when I was called I was a lesbian, the person who stood up for me said I wasn’t a lesbian because if Emily and I split up I wouldn’t be out looking for a female partner. While that isn’t necessarily true that was the information I was presenting at the time. I personally prefer the term queer when putting a label on my sexuality. I do have friends that love their trans partners that have sex with their trans partners either pre or no op as well as post op and still identify as straight. Sometimes love and the relationship you have built matter more than genitals. I do say sometimes because I also have friends that said I’m straight I’m straight I’m straight and could not stay, which again a personal decision that only that person can make.
The bottom line in the confusing world that is sexuality is, you do you. You can identify how you want, have sex how you want and be who you are without it impeding your partners’ gender id or sexuality.
Trans family logistics: you will learn quickly that we live in a straight cis world and if you are a gay trans family you lost your privilege as soon as your family ventured out with your spouse now appearing in the gender they were meant to be. If you are a straight trans family you will gain a new level of privilege that is not always wanted especially from those who had pride in their gay status. My family is a gay trans family so I can only speak to my experience with that. First order of business, and the one that makes me as mad as a wet cat… “the bill”, “will this be separate check tonight ladies?” Now for some reason not everyone gets this, but the Croses, get it every single time we eat out which is weekly. The next big one is “who do your children belong to?” Um both of us “oh well how did you make them” um pretty sure it was missionary because I was afraid of the sperm running out instead of running up stream. The questions you get are so inappropriate and the people asking them see nothing wrong with them. If the same questions were turned around on them though all hell would break loose. It is frustrating, and it is something we have to deal with, I dream of a day when we don’t but for now it’s the reality.
If you have children you have to come out to them and you have to create a parents name or not. We did not have to come out to our children our son was 15 months old when Emily came out to me and our daughter was not existent. I think that with anything else with kids though it is important to be open and honest with them and let them ask any questions they have. I have a friend who wanted to teach her children about being trans before they heard about it from her bigotries in-laws and formed negative opinions about my children family. She came up with this activity on her own and I love it so I share it with anyone who is looking to teach children about being trans. They bough a plant, the plants name was Marvin and he was assigned male, but then Marvin started not doing well. The researcher what could be wrong not enough water, too much water, not enough such, too much sun, high blood pressure? Meanwhile while they were trying to figure out what was wrong with Marvin she was reading them children’s books about being trans and after finishing books she’d say I sure wonder hats wrong with Marvin until they put together that maybe Marvin was trans, well I am happy to report that Marvin is now Marsha and thriving in her new identity.
Choosing a parent name is something most, but not all people chose because they don’t want to be outted by their child when in public and most families don’t want to use the same name such as mom for both parents. Maddy (mommy plus daddy) is a common name for a trans male to female parents. I have a friend who uses papa, another friend who uses daddy in another language, mama/mommy, dad/daddy, we use mommily mom plus Emily so if your name is Emily there ya I gave you an awesome suggestion. Our son was old enough when we started transitioning that he was using daddy but switching was easy, every time he said daddy we said mommily until he eventually stopped saying it.
Our lives are better than others: Don’t take your life as the partner of a trans person so seriously. We experience things that other people don’t that you can laugh about. If you’re a mom you’re probably familiar with FTM being used in social media parenting groups to mean first time mom, well I got a good laugh the first time I was reading a moms post but thought I was reading a post on a trans group and read “female to male” instead…sure gave that thread a whole new meaning. There was also an occasion when a mom in a moms group I’m in found a pair of women’s underwear in her laundry and assumed her husband was cheating I of course typed with a laugh to myself “or your husband is transgender, my husband use to wear women’s underwear and now he’s a woman. Or when a mom asked a question and stated it with I was having a debate with my husband about vaginas and he doesn’t have one”, my response “I’m glad you cleared that up because I have several friends whose husbands have vaginas. Sorry that was a lot of mom stories but being a mom is basically my whole life.
You also have the unique opportunity to reevaluate every and I mean every little thing you once thought about gender, sex, sexuality, love…hands down I am a better person than I was before we transitioned, I am better person because I am married to a trans woman, and I am a more thoughtful person. I am a better mom because I don’t pigeon hold my kids to gender norms.
- Books for Cis partners
- My Husband Betty by: Helen Boyd
- She’s not the man I married by: Helen Boyd
- Head Over Heels: Wives who stay with cross dressers and transsexuals by: Virginia Erhardt
- Book on sexuality
- Whatever…Love I Love: Questioning the labels we Give Ourselves by: Maria Bollo
- Books about being trans
- She’s Not There: A life in Two Gender by: Jennifer Finney Boyland
- Stuck in the Middle with you by: Jennifer Finney Boyland
- If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
- Children’s book
- I Am Jazz by: Jazz Jennings
- Introducing Teddy by: Jess Walton
- The Royal Heart by: Greg McGoon
There are groups for cis partner of trans people on reddit and Facebook. I will warn you that there groups can be a lot and if you are not prepared for it, it can be too much. A group on Facebook for trans couples is trans*marriage it is for both partners.
There may be local groups in your are, if you or your partner sees a counselor they may have names for you.
My blog is youmeandemily.net
my twitter handle is Amanda Crose
my wifes twitter handle is emilymaxima
Do I ever miss my husband? No. I don’t have anything about “him” to miss. The parts about him that were difficult to live with are gone and the things I loved about him my wife held onto. Sometimes I miss the idea of who he was and who we were but I like who she is now, more.
Let me leave you with this, being the partner of a trans person is hard, for your relationship to survive you have to find what works in your family not anyone else’s family, not other trans families and not other straight people’s families and most likely and most importantly not the family you thought you would have when you met and fell in love with your partner. But being the partner of a trans person is also rewarding. You have an amazing opportunity to help the person you love the most in this world become the person they were meant to be, you yourself will change and you will become a better person for it. Good luck, and thank you.