Unwrapping the Onion: Part 6: Talk of Transition

This post is part of a series of nine posts. Please click here to start with the series Introduction.

Even though we had hoped that it would be enough for my spouse to simply be more authentic to his feminine self, it seemed that the idea of transition was coming up more and more. My spouse talked about how frustrating it was to have this battle raging in his head every single day, his brain telling him again and again that he was really a woman. He told me how the idea of becoming an old man terrified him. It was bad enough being trapped in the body of a young man, but to be old and helpless and cared for by people who would treat him as a guy was dreadful to him. Sometimes he cried, all of the bottled up fear from the years gone by pouring out along with fears of the future and living life day after day fighting this never ending battle.

When the talk of transition initially came up, my heart sank. Were we losing the battle? Was I wrong to have let the conversation continue this long? Should I have told him to be quiet and put his head down and fight it alone? I told my spouse again and again that he didn’t need to change anything, that he had me in his life, and I loved him exactly the way he was. Except that as time went on I realized that I was contradicting myself in that very statement. Transgender WAS exactly the way he was, and if I really loved him regardless, transition wasn’t going to change that.

Talk of transition was a natural progression of the ongoing discussion we’d been having. Right alongside the growing contentment and happiness, my spouse would have periods of days or weeks where he slipped back into despair. It was usually triggered by some conversation where we discussed the future and how we were going to continue to handle this question of gender.

The societal pressure was so intense, usually he would talk about what a horrible person he was to be “putting us through all this” and that surely he could figure out some way to make it through life as a man. And then he would get quiet and moody again, and go back to wearing the old polo shirts I now knew he hated. It scared me seeing him like that, I knew he was trying to spare us from the prospect of gender transition, but also I knew how happy and carefree he could be, and it was hard to see him so miserable. We seemed to be going in a slowly recurring cycle. He would push himself to be more “manly” and get more and more depressed to the point of saying that “would all be better off without him”, and then I would tell him that he needed to get help, and he would start talking about getting on an anti-depressant to help him cope. And then we would talk again about self-respect and self-acceptance, and just letting go and being ourselves and seeing where life took us. And things would get better again. It was almost magical, how putting aside the guilt and shame would free him up, suddenly becoming the open, peaceful, lighthearted person I knew he was. The more we relaxed and stopped stressing about who we were “supposed” to be, the less frequent the down times were. Slowly, the conversation started to change.

 Maybe he should get involved with a support group, with other people like him. Maybe we could go out shopping sometime with him dressed as a woman, just us together as a treat. Maybe someday when the kids were grown up, we could go on vacation together as two women in a place where no one who knew us would see us. Maybe after the kids were grown up and living their own lives he could transition to living as a woman full-time. Maybe someday he wouldn’t have to fight this battle every day.
Maybe, someday, he could just live.

One interesting development was realizing that the actual thought of him becoming a woman someday did not scare me. I had always known I was sexually attracted to women, but I kept asking myself “shouldn’t I be a little more freaked out about the idea of my spouse changing sexes?” The fact is, I wasn’t. The theoretical transition was still years away in my mind and my spouse was still my spouse. Throughout this whole process he had only gotten healthier and happier overall. We loved each other and we were a good team.

I started to talk about my own journey a bit, talking for the first time about the girl I had had a crush on in my early teens, saving a sticker she had given me in my jewelry box after she moved away. The times I had fought the sudden urge to kiss several different girls I knew, totally confused as to where the strong feelings had come from. How I had watched as friends talked about this or that cute actor and felt that they all looked alike to me, so I picked the hairiest and “manliest” actors I could to hide the real truth. How I had asked my mom what she had found attractive about dad, and when she said it was his broad shoulders, that became what I told people when they asked what “my type” was. How I had asked my parents about same-sex attraction and received answers that made me feel even more alone. How I had patted myself on the back with purity culture pride for being so completely in control of my interactions with and feelings for men. I knew that the only path that was acceptable was to get married to a conservative homeschooling Christian man and have his children, and I had felt so despairing of all the young men I met, none of them seemed right for me. But somehow my spouse and I had forged a relationship despite it all.

The more we talked, the more we realized how our secrets had affected our marriage as well. The evangelical marriage books I had read about how to serve my husband best and discover “what he truly wanted” had completely backfired since he was nothing like these books insisted men were. All of the behaviors and mannerisms he had tried to keep up because he had been told they were manly were now gratefully dropped. We started communicating about what we liked and who we were and longtime sexual hang-ups in the bedroom began to collapse. We laughed about the times I had pointed out an attractive girl to my spouse in the past, and times I thought he had been being silly when he put on an article of my clothing and asked how he looked. How had we not realized these things about each other sooner?

Despite all the new questions
our relationship was closer than ever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17871256362646081536 Amber

    One thing I find fascinating about this journey is the similarity of your struggles. I know that you and your spouse recognize this and feel tremendously grateful for the support and unique understanding your can provide to each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06233321050691782148 Michael Mock

    You know, it's really not fair to make me get all sniffly like this when I'm at work…

    I don't have anything particularly compelling or insightful to add, but I wanted to say that I'm reading these posts avidly, and cheering for you both.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16979912092987681396 Sandra

    I just want to know how you two ever found each other to begin with–behind all that fundamentalist play-acting you both believed so strongly then. I thought your parents set you up, no? If not, it is so amazing (in a totally good way, in this story, others not so much) how our deepest secrets, the ones we don't even acknowledge about ourselves, direct our lives.

  • http://womenforallseasons.blogspot.com/ November

    This series is amazing. I feel like I am getting such an honest glimpse of something I've never really understood before. Thank you for allowing us to get a little taste of this journey.

  • Colette

    You and your husband — quite simply, you're both amazing. If I was coming from your background and put in this situation, I really doubt I'd been as brave as you were in this situation. Even without a patriarchal upbringing, I'm not sure many people would approach this with so much grace and understanding.

    So it's quite easy for us to cheer you on — when you're being this honest, how in the world could you ever go wrong? I'm not saying it's not difficult. But you're on the right path.

  • Aubergine

    I must say I saw this coming. I did much the same as your husband – relying on little tricks of femininity to keep my dysphoria at bay as long as I could. But dysphoria never goes away, and it just gets worse over time. I do wish I'd been able to foresee this back when I was younger, so that I at least could have planned for it rather than falling apart.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    As your other readers I'm also so glad you two found each other coming from such a restrictive enviroment. It's a difficult journey but I'm so glad it seems to be going for a happy ending ^^

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. It sounds wrong to say that I am enjoying this story, as I know it was a challenging one for your family, but I do eagerly await each new entry.

  • Anonymous

    This is amazing, and so are you. I hope you two are happy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09057315024570711003 Unknown

    I just wanted to comment and say how amazed I am that you have the courage to write this, and display your inner thoughts and feelings to the world like this. I have no similar experience,but am fascinated by your journey. Bravo.

  • Anonymous

    "What my totally unscientific and unqualified take on this is: two sexually damaged people, warped by some extreme Protestantism (some of which is quite harmful–you've read some of those "Quiver-full Submission" blogs), married despite some things which I think any halfway decent marriage prep. program would have raised as serious problems. Then when all of this unfolded, the only thing "real" left in this woman's life was her husband and her love for him.

    I think that if by some bizarre coincidence these two became Catholic a marriage tribunal would have serious doubts about the validity of their marriage. Why? The Protestant "courtship" thing. Her parents picked an approved pool of men she could date, she said yes or no to each, and picked her husband (perhaps picking up on those feminine vibes and being scared away from the more masculine guys)? It wasn't a completely free, normal sort of choice, and there was clearly some coercion in the expectation that she *would* be a wife and mother…

    Here's the thing: one of the hardest times I have with fellow Christians who aren't Catholic is that many of them really do believe that sex boils down to: none before marriage (though we'll close our eyes if you engage in certain non-reproductive "courtship" activities, ahem). After marriage–anything that "works" for you. There isn't the nuance (in most cases) of the Church's understanding of the inherent duality of sex (unitive/procreative) and the primacy of respect, non-objectification of the partner, and the intrinsic dignity of the marriage bed. I've read Christian sites essentially telling married couples they can view p**n together if that's what "works" for them–they're married, so everything's okay.

    And if you think that, say, sodomy is fine for a married husband and wife, then suddenly it becomes a lot harder to see it as a sin for two men. (Etc. for the other "alternative" acts.) So when something like this comes up–there's no mooring at all, no moral anchor to lead them back to the truth, and no authoritative voices to consult.

    I've read some heartbreaking stuff out there–men who were into weirder and weirder stuff, and wives who went along because "all sex activities are fine for the married–Pastor X says so!," and then suddenly the man announces that he's gay or he's into threesomes or he's into S&M; or whatever, and the marriage shatters, and the woman who was raised to believe in submission, skirts, and no college has to pick up the pieces and raise children alone.

    I'll definitely pray for her, but you know what I really think? This is a woman who is terrified. She can "stand by her man" and keep her life, or she can say goodbye and be stuck dealing with all the consequences, including the people in her life who will say it's her fault. So she's writing these breezy, airy posts about pink socks and transitioning as if she's talking about changing the color in her dining room, and behind it is a scared little girl who doesn't want to get hurt or be blamed. Which it totally understandable."

    From a private email discussion discussing your series on this subject. I think the person who wrote all of the above has perfectly nailed it.

    Whatever you all decide to do, PROMISE that you will get your kids into counseling before or while it's happening. They need an outside support system to deal with all this. It's only fair to them.

  • Contrarian

    I'm a little confused. Does "p**n" stand for pornography, that is, literature, images, or film of explicit sexual activity (for example, vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal intercourse, or sex with multiple partners) intended to arouse the viewer?

    In any case, it seems to me like the only conceivable reason her children might need counseling is because of people like you, who are convinced that having two loving parents with a mutually open, upbuilding, respectful, and self-giving relationship can damage children.

  • asdf

    I assume this is the same Anonymous who on the previous thread was psychoanalyzing two people she'd never met. Doesn't make it anymore convincing to cite a friend's email.

    And your friend's claim that Catholicism offers healthy teachings about sex and sexuality that would prevent any sort of issues in a marriage is nonsense.

  • solarsister

    The implication of what you're saying here, anonymous, is that it is inconceivable that any woman could have a desire for non-vanilla sex herself, but would only be going along with her husband's kinky ideas to save the marriage. You, or your friend whose email you're quoting, have become convinced that you can see Melissa's TRUE feelings hiding behind all of her nice words of acceptance, support, and love for her husband, all because you have unrealistic and rigid ideas of what the sexual and gender relationships in a marriage should look like. As I read your post, it comes across much more like YOU are in need of counseling, rather than Melissa, her spouse, or their children, who seem like they have a wonderful, understanding, and accepting family relationship.

  • Anonymous

    Thank God someone has come out with some semblance of the truth! Thank you to anonymous for saying what some of us lurking out here have been thinking. This is messed up.

    And porn as a good thing? Please! Porn is harmful and abusive to women in every way possible. When people here start defending porn, I think this has all become a very lost cause.

    Peace out.

  • Contrarian

    This is a beautiful love story, not messed up. And porn is lovely and wonderful. (And I'm not "people here.")

  • Anonymous

    I'm a woman and I disagree with your argument that porn is "harmful and abusive to women in every way possible." Some porn is bad, yes, but it doesn't have to be. But why discuss porn? Melissa hasn't mentioned it and it has nothing to do with her story.

    Also, you say this is "messed up" but do not elaborate. Perhaps you should explain?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I'm really happy to hear that you feel that your attraction to your spouse can remain intact after ze transitions. After all, accepting and loving somebody as a trans person is different from remaining compatible with and attracted to them. You had talked before about the fact that you've been attracted to women and I had hoped that this is where your story was going–that you would be able to love and be attracted to your spouse as a trans woman and that this would help you accept the side of yourself that is attracted to women.

    I don't really believe in divine providence but if I did, I would DEFINITELY think that that is what had brought you two together. Maybe the story of your love is not one you'll find in a Bronte or Austen novel, but it's about as romantic as it gets to this reader. :-)

  • http://jesusisntenough.blogspot.com Cherí

    Sorry it's starting to get ugly Melissa…though you've probably dealt with some of the above responses in your offline life already. Stay strong and trust yourself and your spouse. Keep pursuing truth and healing to the best of your ability. I think you seem like a wonderful person and I (and lots of others) support your journey.

    Dissenting voices are necessary, I think, to keep us properly self-reflective, but they still hurt and many, admittedly, can be more harmful than helpful. Stay strong, and stay open, and keep on loving.

    I hope I'm being comforting…not sure if you need it, but I felt compelled to say something.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Wow, this is so patronizing I'm just flabbergasted.

    If what you've gotten out of this series so far is that Melissa is meekly "standing by her man" as he leads the family into destruction, you're either reading something completely different from what I've been reading, or you've simply decided that Melissa can't be trusted to honestly report her own feelings. (Instead, you should should tell her what they are for her.) Because everything I've read says to me that her choice to stay with her spouse comes from deep love, which has only become better as they have traveled down this road to better. Not surprising. People who accept and love themselves love each other better, in my opinion.

    And let's just say she DID some how pick up on "feminine vibes" from her spouse before they were married and that that contributed to her attraction to hir. (And only she can accurately reflect on whatever contributed to their intitial chemistry.) So what? Do you really think that the only reason a woman would not be attracted to "masculine guys" is because she's afraid of them? Maybe that's just not what she's attracted to! I've always been attracted to more masculine guys myself, and I went through a period where I was afraid of, or at least very wary of men, as a result of trauma from abuse. I was STILL attracted to masculine men, though, because that's just what I like and my feelings about men are separate from my taste in men. Likewise, some women are attracted to the feminine because that's just what they're attracted to. It's not a pathology. If these two were able to subconsciously perceive compatibility in one another despite all those rigid trappings, I don't call that a bad thing, I call that fantastic luck! I think the idea of two souls recognizing one another in a situation where every measure has been taken to make sure they don't is wonderful.

    These two people love each other and have a beautiful, mutually supportive relationship that I think a lot of people could learn from. That makes a marriage "valid" as far as I'm concerned, no matter how it began and no matter what any church has to say about it. Melissa hardly sounds "terrified" to me and I think you ought to give her a little more credit for the level of introspection she has engaged in and has chosen to share with us, clearly after much thought. You can pay her the respect of actually listening to her actual words and thoughts and considering them, even if they challenge your pre-conceived notions. Or you can just deny her agency, throw everything she's actually said out the window, and make up new thoughts and feelings for her that better fit your worldview.

    Up to you. But the last thing women need is more people not listening to them and not thinking them competent to make decisions about their own lives and relationships.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Also, everything solarsister said! Why is it impossible for a woman to be interested in non-vanilla sex? If a woman is going along with her husband's non-vanilla sexual desires despite being uncomfortable with them, the problem isn't the husband's desires, it's the fact that the woman is doing things that make her uncomfortable and not asserting her own boundaries and needs. There are plenty of well-functioning couples who like S&M;, or other kinky things.

    If a man is into kinky sex and his wife is into it also, and they have built enough trust between them to explore those things together without anybody's boundaries being violated, there is nothing wrong with that. Likewise, if a man is into nothing but somber, Church-approved vanilla intercourse in the missionary position and he's "pushing" his wife to do that when she's not comfortable, and she's going along with it to please him, there is EVERYTHING wrong with that.

    The issue here is trust and respect, not specific sexual acts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06410682651072046347 TwisterB

    I think it is important to illustrate for your readers that being trans and being gay/lesbian are NOT the same thing, and that you and your husband do not have THE SAME issues. I understand what ou are saying but a lot of your readers (obviously) do not. That being said, I am totally blown away by the fact that you two found each other and managed to get married from within the insanely strict patriarchal society you used to live in. I don't really believe in "health and wealth" blessings but this reads to me like a miracle of sorts.

    I also followed your links through to a blog post titled "Boys and Girls aren't different, they're just individuals" and it is so so spot on. I love your writing and I can't wait for the next installment.

  • Anonymous

    melissa's marriage definitely was a miracle and God was behind it all along. He knew they were and still are perfect for one another but God's plan for them is much bigger that all of this.

  • Sapphire

    As someone going through the same situation, but from the point of view of a college educated, not even remotely religious person, with parents and inlaws that can barely stand each other, I'd have to say that Anonymous doesn't have the faintest clue what he/she is talking about.

    This isn't about sex. This is about identity. They are two completely separate concepts, and the most incredible thing about this situation is that you have two individuals that are willing to give up what is comfortable for what makes their partner be the best person that they can be.

  • Aubergine

    Anon, it's ok not to like porn or gay sex or sex before marriage. It's ok even to be uncomfortable with those things, as you clearly are. But your personal feelings about those things is not the basis of "morality."

    As Contrarian noted above, I made sure my kids had some therapy when I was transitioning. It was almost entirely to help them deal with what adults were telling them about me (Bad! Evil! Sick! etc etc). They fortunately can see for themselves that their Dad is still a good person who loves them, and that overcame all the hurtful stuff.

  • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com/ dream-wind

    Melissa:

    I have started reading this story via Libby Anne's blog, and I would like to add my voice to those applauding your courage and saying how moving this story is.

    I don't know how your story ends, but I wanted to share the following link with you: http://www.justlikeyou.com.au/. This is the website of an Australian couple who went through what you and your husband went through/are still going through(?). Their love survived and they now try to educate the rest of the community about transgender issues.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    Even though I disagree with virtually all of Melissa's conclusions about sexuality, I don't think you're being completely fair to her viewpoint and journey, Anonymous. I think she IS in fact much more at peace with this whole thing than you are giving her credit for. If you want to disagree with somebody, I think you need to properly portray their experience and perspective, not caricature it. Only from that kind of jumping off point can any meaningful dialogue take place. Understand, I'm not saying Melissa is right about everything. I'm saying, those of us who disagree need to show her more respect as we discuss any disagreement. There is a loving and respectful and honest way to express disagreement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    I have to agree that porn is harmful and abusive to women. But Melissa is not advocating porn. Some of the commentators are.

    For those who commentators, I would refer them to the fact that a large number of those who make pornography are victims of sexual abuse. When we watch porn, we objectify other human beings, we treat them not as important people but as objects for our own pleasure. And we re-victimize victims. Porn is not a "victimless crime." But again, Melissa was not advocating porn.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Sandra- We were a part of how we got together, and I could have ended up with a variety of christian conservative guys. Soy yes, it is amazing how our deepest secrets direct our lives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Thanks, I don't believe porn was even mentioned in my post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    TwisterB- Yes, you are correct, I wish people would educate themselves on these issues, but yes, Gender Identity is about what sex you feel you are, Gender expression is how feminine or masculine you are regardless of Gender Identity. Sexual orientation is who you are sexually attracted to, and sexual attraction has nothing to do with gender identity. A trans person can be straight of gay, just as a cis-gendered person (someone who feels their gender matches the gender assigned at birth) can be straight or gay.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    dream-wind- Thank you for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    This entire blog series looks like something Satan would write: "How to destroy the Christian faith of two people and the faith and lives of their children while making them congratulate themselves for moving beyond the narrow, superstitious ways of that itinerant Jewish preacher whose followers are just too sexually repressed to applaud the mutilation of the body for sexual purposes."

    When the author tells you she's now an atheist who hates God, don't be surprised. It is coming.

  • Anonymous

    Someone commented above that porn was good because it helped people to kindle sexual feelings. It wasn't Melissa.

  • Anonymous

    I don't get it? What's so terrifying about becoming an old man? Wouldn't it be just as terrifying to become an old woman?

    Women are just as equal, you know. And I think it would be just as scary to become an old woman. I don't understand your husband's logic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10219032831132156995 Sheila, Canary Islands

    Excuse me, are you recommending the Catholic church as a source of moral teaching on sex? The "Let's protect the paedophiles and blame the raped children and then lie about doing that and keep doing it for at least 50 years" Catholic church? I don't have a problem with run of the mill Catholics, but I wouldn't go looking to the Vatican for moral guidance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10219032831132156995 Sheila, Canary Islands

    By definition, atheists don't believe in God. How can you hate something/someone who doesn't exist?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11529295458176274990 Jake

    It's a very…primal thing, I suppose. I did the same thing as I was struggling with my own transition.

    Trying to imagine having kids, carrying them in my body, having them call me mom…nothing about that felt right. It felt so wrong it was repulsive. The idea of aging as a woman, becoming an old lady, becoming grandma, ending up in a nursing home where the lady CNAs would tend to my wrinkly old lady butt…no. I can't be someone's mom or someone's grandpa. I can't be an old lady.

    Being a father, though? Being daddy? That sounds great. Becoming a little wrinkled old man? That still sounds pretty okay. Not that I'm looking forward to being bald and senile, but the vision of myself as an old man fits me so much better.

    It's hard to live with these kinds of feelings in the present. That feeling of "I'm not who I should be" is crippling. Imagining your future and seeing that you have always been that person you know you shouldn't be is even worse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00612950889549668702 shaed

    The mainstream porn industry is pretty unethical, but it is not the whole of the thing. There is plenty of porn out there that is made by and for feminist women. And porn includes media forms where the only real person involved is a writer or artist. Pretty hard to argue that that is victimizing anyone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00612950889549668702 shaed

    By "that itinerant Jewish preacher" you must mean Paul, because JC was never narrow in the way you suggest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00612950889549668702 shaed

    Except he wasn't Jewish, so you must be talking about some person you made up in your head, not taken from a book.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Melissa,

    Your honesty is so refreshing.

    I feel there is so much we do not understand about gender identity issues. A few things concern me. First, we do not know the long term affects of hormonal treatments on persons who undergo treatment for transition. Secondly, I wonder if a man who transitions to a woman can really integrate that knowing deep down that he will never REALLY be a woman since he does not have ovaries and can never bear children. Will it always be a struggle inwardly if he looks like a woman but knows deep inside that he can never really be a woman and how does he come to terms with this reality? I have never heard anyone address this issue. I have heard that there are many people who make the transition and then decide they want to reverse it and I wonder what is the cause of their change of perspective. Perhaps more investigation needs to be done regarding unconscious issues so that transgendered persons can understand themselves better and thus be able to make more informed choices. One tool I recommend for self-analysis is The Work by Byron Katie. The materials are free on her website.

    I also tend to believe sexual orientation is not as fixed as we tend to believe it is. Since we have both masculine and feminine aspects to our personas, I suspect all humans have more tendencies toward bisexuality than most would like to admit due to fear and cultural conditioning.

  • Kaderie

    “Secondly, I wonder if a man who transitions to a woman can really integrate that knowing deep down that he will never REALLY be a woman since he does not have ovaries and can never bear children. ”

    Would you say that a woman, born as a woman, who had ovarian cancer and had her ovaries removed is no longer a woman? Is a woman past menopause no longer a woman? Has a woman who can’t have – or doesn’t want – children for whatever reason never been a woman?

    “I have heard that there are many people who make the transition and then decide they want to reverse it and I wonder what is the cause of their change of perspective. ”

    [Citation Needed]
    Transpeople are rare, Transpeople who successfully transition even moreso, and they are almost universally more happy once transitioned. I call hearsay on those “many people” you have heard about. It is very disingenous to pretend that changing one’s mind after transition is a common occurence, and that Trans people do what they do not because it is a choice that they decide is right for them, often after years, if not decades, of thinking but out of ignorance.

    ——-

    Melissa, I have just discovered your story and it is breathtaking in the love you and your spouse share. A truly beautiful partnership, and I am glad you are moving toward happiness.


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