As you’d expect, coming out as transgender at the age of 39, with a wife and three kids, has had it’s challenges. My wife in particular, while wanting very badly to be supportive, has really struggled dealing with the emotional side, the loss of her husband. You can argue all you want that I’m ultimately the same person (believe me I have made that argument), but the fact remains there is a definite loss here and her feelings are valid.
Just like so many stories I’ve heard of how other wives have reacted, my wife has had her moments where her emotions take over and she can say some pretty painful things. One of the things in particular that I’ve really struggled with is when she said that she feels like our whole marriage has been a sham. How could we have been that happy married couple that we projected to the world if secretly I was in so much pain. I’ve had a really hard time coming up with a good explanation for this.
A couple’s counselor that we saw for a while tried. She brought up the idea that a person could be very heavy or have features about their body that they hated and wanted to change but still be happy over all. I thought this was a nice try, but body image issues really fail to capture the experience of feeling dysphoric both physically and socially. I mean if you feel your weight is too high, you can diet. Don’t like your large forehead, change your hair style, etc. But being in the wrong body and the wrong role in life is so much more. So how could I help her understand how I could be happy in our marriage while still dealing with this discomfort.
The answer finally came to me today out of the mouth of a friend. She was sharing her own experience of transition and something she said resonated with me. She said she wasn’t unhappy with her life or her marriage or anything, but she was unhappy with herself. Later on in private, I thought more on this. It is a subtle but important distinction that I think captures the experience quite well. I was able to function, able to have good times, able to enjoy time with my wife and kids. But at the same time, when I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw. When I saw women engaging in activities that I wished I could be a part of, I hated being who I was. Finally, I feel like I have the answer that allows me to reconcile the seeming conflicting ideas of a happy marriage yet an unhappy husband.
I’ve also come to realize that for 39 years I was running scared. While I could be comfortable doing things and having fun, I was still hiding out. I had to put on my act, be the man people expected and above all else, never let on how I was really feeling inside. It’s this fear and the exhaustion of hiding myself that finally caught up with me. It’s the pain of being ashamed of who I am and frustration from not feeling like I could be true to myself that led to thoughts of suicide. While I enjoyed the many blessings I had in life, there was truly always this background noise of something that wasn’t right.
I think for many wives of transgender women, this is a common issue. They feel like their marriage hasn’t been real. They start to feel like they have less value because they couldn’t “keep their man”. Not only do they grieve the loss of their husband, they have to deal with the loss of some of their own self esteem. It’s difficult to explain to a mourning wife that there was nothing inadequate about them. Profess your love over and over, affirm every wonderful thing about them, shower them with signs of affection, yet they still fail to see their own worth. I’ve had to battle this with my wife. But now I feel like I have some answers that maybe equip me a little better to fully explain my experience and prove that it is in no way a reflection on her.