Transgender/Transsexual/wives of trans people
QUESTION: Hello Cheryl,
My husband is a transgender person that says that he wants to have facial feminization surgery. He has already begun hormones, removed body hair, had hair implants, upper blepherplasty and facial filler injecttions for a more youthful appearance. I have been able to withstand my own gender orientation (which is attraction to men) in the face of this as it has slowly happened over the years. Recently, it has reached a level of femaleness that I am now overwhelmed by it and don't seem to be able to cope and can hardly imagine him doing more. Can you give your thoughts on people in our situation that have stayed and left? We have two kids who are 6 and 8. I cannot decide what is better for him or for me. How do I know if it is over? How do I know if I should give up my gender orientation to stay? If you do not, know can you refer me to someone who does? I am becoming ill beyond repair not knowing what to do.
Thank you for being open regarding your situation and reaching out for help. I had to think a great deal about what you said before I posted an answer. I'm not sure if I'm qualified to answer all your questions, but I may be able to shed some light on the way your husband is thinking and what he is going through as it relates to you and your family. What you are dealing with to maybe help you make a decision on the next step. Just so we don't get confused I'm going to refer to your husband with male pronouns as that is what you did.
First to let you know a bit about my background. I am a part male to female cross-dresser and I'm heterosexual, (Attracted to women). I live most of my life in male mode and the female aspect is a hobby. I've found myself in a fortunate position over the past decade to speak with a large number of "men" as they step out and come to terms with their personal gender orientation. And I've worked with their wives, partners, children, siblings, family members, etc. As a result I seem to have developed a bit of insight regarding the patterns of behavior and situations we as transgender people go through as we learn to live with this situation. This is why I volunteered my time regarding this issue to the site.
The transgender personality is a very difficult thing to understand. You mentioned your husband is on hormones, but you did say how long he has been on them. If you think of your body as a piece of computer hardware, then the hormones are the software. What he is doing is re-writing his bodies programming. As a result things are changing. He will if he has not already develop breast, his skin will soften and his facial features will as well. He may lose weight and his body fat will move to a more female norm (hips and butt). Hair growth will change to a more female pattern, and his genitals will atrophy (shrink), there is the possibility he may become sterile. These are the physical changes, but there are also mental changes you and he may not be aware of. If you think back to when you were a teenager and went through puberty and all the emotional changes you had to deal with. Well he is dealing with a female puberty and the emotions that go with it. Therefore there are things he may not be aware of and emotions that as a male he has not grown up learning to deal with. This is where a transgender person needs the emotional support of others.
Transitioning from one gender to the next is also a very selfish thing. I once asked a post-op individual how much it cost to transition, and "she" told me it cost her everything. So your husband may not be aware of what he is doing to you, or your family. You said this has been a slow process so he may assume that you are just as happy if not more so that he is doing this and you support him 1000%.
So let's simplify this and look as the simple concept of change. I'm not just talking about the change your husband is going through and putting you through but change in general. When there is a change and it is forced upon us due to something we cannot control our natural instinct is to resist that change. Change is uncomfortable and it is not something we embrace as we are not comfortable with it at first. After a time dealing with the change, we learn to accept it but we may not agree with it. Eventually that change becomes the norm, and we may find ourselves defending the change forgetting we did not agree with it in the first place.
For example..... I want you to imagine that I'm going to call you tomorrow and give you 3 days to pack up and move your family to northern Minnesota. I'm not even going to bother to tell you why. Something like this would be a huge shock to you. You wouldn't want to do it, you would resist, you would come up with the reasons it just would not be possible. Eventually you come to terms and realize you have to make the move. Your lifestyle, your job, your kids schools would be turned upside down, but you would accept the fact and do what is necessary. Once you get up there move in and settled you would eventually become accustom to the Minnesota lifestyle. However if I called you back and told you to come back to Florida in 3 days you would again resist this. You might be mad at me for making you move again and you would defend the reasons to stay there. Although you never wanted to go there in the first place. And that is exactly the type of thing you are going through with husband and you are resisting the change he is making and this is because in essence he is asking you to pack up everything and move from Sunny Florida to Snowy Minnesota and you don't even have a say in it.
The concept of male and female is taught to us at a young age as a simple universal concept with set boundaries and rules regarding the activities and behavior of each gender. In prehistoric times the male was the hunter and gather, while the female was the nurturer and caregiver. In many ways these natural instincts are engaged into us so deeply that we resist the changes that occur with every fiber in our being and become uncomfortable just being near when someone wants to cross gender bounds. For example when a woman enters a male dominated industry, and put on the uniform of that industry she is seen as being assertive. Sometimes this is referred to as being power-dressed. How many women have you heard of in highly influential positions who have been accused of being in a lesbian relationship? Just recently Oprah Winfrey and Dolly Parton were both accused of having a lesbian lover of which both deny. Hillary Clinton has been accused of being in the closet for many years and so has many influential first ladies going all the way back to Eleanor Roosevelt. (There might be some truth to that one.) However if a man does the same thing and enters a profession normally associated with a female role. (i.e. cosmetologist, nurse, homemaker) he is seen as demeaning himself, and is automatically accused of being gay. Even more so if he adopts a female uniform. (i.e. crossdress)
Your husband is putting quite a bit of stress on you and your family. It's possible he does not understand what he is doing or even understand why you would have a problem with it. And that is because the male and female minds operate differently. As a woman you are naturally disposed to be the nurturer. Back in pre-historic days when humans were still living in caves and were mostly nomadic, it was the females who would look after and protect the children while the male would go off and hunt, bring back food, and protect the home. Therefore the male would often see the female as a sexual mate and the mother of his offspring. The female would see the male as her provider and protector. The male being the stronger of the 2 genders, could easily impose his will over the female and in many cases she would submit to him in order to be protected and to protect her children. As your husband may appear female, his mind is still very much male and carries these instinctive attributes. He may be trying to impose his desire to be feminine on you and assumes as he is the "dominate" personality that you should accept him regardless of his appearance. You on the other hand see this change he is going through as a threat and you are in a position where you are considering the best opportunity to protect yourself and your children and trying to decide if he is still the best person for you to spend your life with. I hope I'm right in this assessment.
So here is what I'm going to recommend you do.
1. Understand your own emotions and comfort levels.
2. Seek first to understand before being understood.
3. Understand what it means to be transgender and the different types
4. Make him aware of your feelings
5. Seek a support group and professional counsel.
1. Understand you own emotions and comfort levels.
The example I gave you above about making the move to Minnesota is all about accepting change and learning new comfort zones. You need to be aware of what you are, and what you are not comfortable with. For example would you be comfortable if an old high school friend of yours that you haven't seen or spoke to in years was to run into you and your husband at the mall? Would you feel comfortable if they were to perceive you as being in a gay or alternative lifestyle? Would you care? Would you be comfortable staying with him if he completes sexual reassignment surgery?
How do you perceive how others perceive you?
Thank about that statement for a second. We often are afraid of what other people are thinking about us. The truth is outside your immediate family very few people really care about you or what you do or who you do it with. Think about your co-workers and how you perceive their lives and do you spend much time thinking about them? I doubt it, therefore they don't spend much time thinking about you or your personal life. So if your co-workers have such a no care attitude, what do you think about the opinions of total strangers?
What opened my eyes many years ago when I first begin going out in public cross-dressed was what people were going to think when they saw me. The reality is most people are so wrapped up in their personal life to even notice what is going on around them. So when we perceive what other people are thinking about us is nothing more than our own perceptions reflecting back off of them. So if you ran in to that old friend, yes you may feel uncomfortable introducing your feminized husband as your "partner". But you would have no idea how they really feel about you or him. Truth may be they don't care if you are with a man, woman, or trans person. Or they might care. But it's all a matter of your comfort zone and is it something you can personally deal with and want to work through?
If you feel you are not attracted to females and your husband now looks more like a woman than he does a man, for your taste you need to be aware of that. I think you already know where you stand on this. I've never known anyone to flip their sexual orientation over night. However I have known women to submit to doing the dumbest things in order to "protect" their kids. And I've known men to do stupid things to impress a woman.
Take some private time to reflect and get all your thoughts and feelings sorted out. You may need to write them down. But you will need to know exactly where you stand as you are going to need to check your emotions at the door for this next step.
2. Seek to understand before being understood.
One of the greatest challenges I hear from trans people is that they just want to be accepted by the people they care about and others don't understand them. Many have been disowned by their family. The divorce rate is amazingly high as is the suicide rate. Of the various sub-cultures, the transgendered population has the highest suicide rate. Much of this just has to do with rejection. What will need to happen before you can really deal with the way you are feeling is that he must feel you understand him. Being trans is a very, very selfish thing. And I mean that in a nice way. As a trans person myself, I can attest that there have been times with I've neglected my responsibilities in favor of my personal self interest. I'm sure he has done the same. You will need to have a long conversation with him and keep your emotions in check. As a female you are naturally more prone to show your emotions, this is normal, and as he is on hormones, his emotions can go crazy at any time. Remember he's going through the puberty of a teenage girl. Therefore you must be as emotionally neutral as possible until he feels you understand what he is going through. Talk to him and get everything on the table. Don't pass judgment on him or make him feel uncomfortable in any way. Don't yell or make any type of accusations. Just deal with the facts and, then repeat everything back to him. Let him correct you if there is anything he feels you don't understand and repeat the process as much as necessary. In this situation you will have to keep your emotions in check, in essence you will have to assume the male role for a little bit. Then when he feels you understand him, he will be in a position to better understand you and your feelings.
The transgender mind is very tricky. There are attributes of both the male and the female in there however the male mind is going to be dominate and that is the concept of the hunter-gather. But there will be some aspect of the nurture/ caregiver in there as well. When you talk to him, don't speak to him as if he is a woman and sees things from your point of view, he doesn't. But rather speak to him regarding his goals and desires, and what will be the end result of what he is going through. A hunter will make a plan to find and bring food home. If he is successful the clan gets to eat, if not the clan starves, there are consequences regardless of the outcome. He needs to think through his plan, and his final goals. When he realizes what the final results will be and the consequences of those results regarding you and his family when those goals are reached, he may be in a better position to understand you.
3. Understand what it means to be trans-gendered.
Many people who are not involved in the trans-gender lifestyle assume being trans is a sexual thing and it involves fetishism and various type of kink. However that is actually normal human sexuality and is not a transgender issue. A true transgender person realizes they are "different" at a very early age. For me, I knew something was different around the age of 5. At this age, I had no clue regarding the "birds and the bees". I didn't know where babies came from only that they grew in mommy's belly. I doubt anyone at this age really understands anything about sex so in my opinion being transgender is as much a sexual issue as brushing your teeth is a sexual issue.
The perception of the trans community being sexually perverted is mostly due to popular culture depicting drag queens and other types of fetishes. This results in us being depicted not by the best, but by the worst of our population. The majority of trans people are very kind and very gentle people who would go out of their way to help another. This is because the trans-person has been rejected by everyone. Even the gay community has not fully accepted the transgender culture. There are individuals on both sides who want the "T" removed from "LGBT". This is because being trans does not automatically make you gay. Less than 10% of the male to female trans population will complete sexual reassignment surgery and only 6% of those that do have a relationship with a man.
There are many types of trans-gendered people and you will need to understand where your husband falls on the TG spectrum before you proceed further. This is why I recommend speaking with him and understanding him before you ask him to understand you. Being trans is not an evolution from one level to another, but rather a discovery and acceptance of what you are and everyone is different. For example for a trans-sexual person the goal may be to live their life full time as the opposite gender and have sexual reassignment surgery, get married raise a family, etc. As a result the act of "crossdressing" is a means to an end as being female requires wearing female clothing. However for the crossdresser, the act of dressing is an end unto its self as crossdressers are not trans-sexual. It is possible to be a transgender person and still be comfortable living as a male.
Here are a few simple definitions of TG people and these are all in regards to male to female transgender.
Transgender: Any person who considers themselves to have personality traits of both male and female and may express that though the activities described below. Transgender is not the same as transsexual.
Transvestite: Individual who wears female clothing but may not present completely as female. Thus wear a skirt with traditional male clothing and makes no other attempt to hide actual gender.
UnderDresser: individuals who wear female undergarments under their day to day male clothing.
ClosetDresser: Person who may only crossdress at home in private and never ventures out of the house while dressed. May or may not "underdress" at other times.
CrossDresser: Person who ventures in public cross dressed as the opposite gender.
Full time crossdresser: These individuals live their life as the opposite gender but rarely take hormones or have any body modifications.
Pre-Op transsexual: Person who has modified their body through the use of hormones or surgery, but has not yet completed sexual reassignment surgery. Some will never complete SRS preferring to keep their male genitals.
Post-Op transsexual: Person who has completed hormone replacement and sexual reassignment. Now lives as the opposite gender of their birth.
Individuals that fall into a particular category may engage in activates described in the lesser categories but will not progress to the later. For example a crossdresser who presents in public, may at time dress at home and may underdress, but has no desire to live full time. An underdresser, will never dress fully in female attire, or try to pass as a female, but only enjoys the felling of panties and hosiery under their male clothing. I mention this so you may understand that if your husband is being truthful to you and feels he can trust you, he will tell you how far he is willing to go and I doubt he would ever go beyond that. If he says he wants SRS than there is little you will be able to do to stop him from going that far. If he says he just wants to look more feminine but keep his male parts than that will be the truth.
There are other sub categories and variations, in the above categories but I just wanted to hit the basics. BTW, 90% of all crossdressers are hetro, meaning they are attracted to genetic women. Those who transition but stay as pre-op are about 50/50 hetro to homosexual. And about 60% of post-op's prefer to be with men after their surgery. But only about 10% of the total trans population ever decides to fully transition.
4. Make him aware of how you feel.
Once you have listened to him and he feels you understand him, take some time to let him know how you feel. This should be a few days after the two of you have the previous discussion and you have some time to reflect. Don't assume he will corporate with you in this, he may become defensive. As I said being trans is a very selfish thing and he may put his needs above all else. If this happens back off and go to the next step.
5. Seek a support group.
As I'm a hetro crossdresser, I'm very active with Tri-Ess. This is a support group for hetro crossdressers and their wives. As your husband is a bit more than a crossdresser this may not be the place for you, but it's a start. As I'm not sure what part of Florida you are in, you may want to go to the Tri-Ess web site. www.triess.org and do a search for a chapter in your area. I know there are several in Florida. They may be able to recommend someone for you to talk to or a group for you to get involved in that can help you work through many of your feelings and emotions. Also they could put you in touch with other wives who are dealing with similar situations.
You may also need to find a professional counselor who has experience with transgender people. I would assume your husband may already be doing so as he is using hormones. If he is not meeting with someone and just using over the counter or black market hormones, this may become a problem as he is not being monitored. Female hormones can cause all types of problems in the male body. The most common is blood clots which can lead to poor circulation, swollen limbs, amputations, heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms. A less common problem is breast, testicular, and prostate cancer, although rare it's not unheard of.
If he is not seeing a psychiatrist at this point you need to get him to see one fast!!!! Also get him in for a full physical and blood test to see what the hormones are doing to him. If he is getting hormones from the black market or off the internet, have them checked to verify what they are. A good friend of mine did something like that and ended up getting hormones meant for cattle. "Her" development was very fast but she came very close to having a heart attack and could have easily died as a result.
Finally if you go through all this and you decide that you cannot live with a feminized male, then you need to allow him to understand exactly why. This is not a time to begin pointing fingers at each other or accuse him of perversions or anything like that. Remember trans people are very venerable to the feelings of others and the suicide rate is very high. Chances are he is still strongly in love with you and I doubt that love has wavered. Trans people usually have only one mate for life. If he thinks you have rejected him just for the trans issue it could cause him to do something drastic. On the other hand if he realizes where you stand and what your feelings are, and the possibility you may leave him, he could slow things down a bit and the two of you may be able to find a happy medium where you both can still be together and he can express himself as a trans person. Where that happy medium is I don't know. This is why you have to take the time to get in touch with your own feelings, comfort zones, and get your emotions in check. Learn to understand him as much as you can. Understand what it means to be transgender, you may even want to do a bit more reading on it if you haven't already. Express those feelings to him and get into a legitimate support structure.
I know I went long on this but I really do care about you and him. If there is anything I can do please let me know. BTW... I'm in Georgia just north of you. If you would like to continue this via E-mail my address is email@example.com
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Cheryl,
Thanks so much for such a thorough and educational response. My husband is under a doctor's care for the hormones for 1 year and 3 months and seeing a psychologist. We are working on getting a counselor for us as a couple but are running into snags at this point with scheduling. The ones we have found are retiring,etc. Your assessment of our situation is spot on - regarding the paragraph beginning with "Your husband is putting a lot of stress on you and your family."
I don't want to be "dominated" and pulled through the mud with no consideration of compromise to make BOTH of us happy. So far, I am having physical symptoms that are hurting me. I fainted and vomited 5 times in the MIDDLE of a dinner party. I have constant cramping with my period coming 5 days early as a result of the stress my doctor says. I am not sleeping. I can't concentrate to even read something I used to love reading. I am functional enough to keep my kids fed, etc. I need him to consider me. Last night he said "he was not sure he should consider me." When do I know to just let it go and say "good luck" with love and support as a friend? (So far I have been the one to take him shopping, and encourage him to go our in public with me to restaurants together where is looks VERY feminine. It is hard to know if people can fully tell. I do not have a problem with a human friend who is whatever gender expression they want to be.) My issue is my sexual orientation that is being thrown in the trash. I feel as though I am being forced to give up my essence of myself as far as my orientation goes or to lose the person I love. How fair/silly/unreasonable/pointless is it to pursue him compromising on what he wants? Should I give up now and let go? When am I being abused and uncared for or when should I give of myself so deeply?
As In not a professional psychiatrists, I'm not in a position to diagnose you. I am a trans-gender person and I've had the honor and privilege of knowing many and their families and I've seen the struggles they are going through.
What I do know about people in general is no one can do something against their nature for a very long period of time without suffering physical and emotional symptoms. For example a cousin of mine used to sale insurance. His company came out with a new life insurance policy and his boss was pushing him to close as many sales as possible with this new plan. However he told me the plan was a bad fit for most people, but he was still under pressure to sale it. He found he was not sleeping, did not enjoy the work he was doing, became very depressed and hated going to work everyday. When he finally stopped selling this plan to those that didn't need it, his health improved and he came out of his depression. However his boss was still pressuring him even after he explained it was a bad plan for 90% of his customers. The result was he left and got a better job.
So you cant go against your nature. From what you have told me you are not and have no desire to be a lesbian. Doing so goes against every fiber of your being. So your symptoms are the same as my cousins. You need to tell this to your husband if you haven't already.
Now you said you still love your husband and I don't doubt that. We don't fall in love with a person because of their body, but because of their personality and who they are, for sake of a better term "their soul". Therefore the traits he has that are male and female have always been there and are the essence of the person you fell in love with. Despite the changes to the body, the soul is still the same. So you can continue to love him and he can continue to love you. However you may feel you can not have a physical relationship with him. I said in my previous post that it cost everything for a person to transition. It sounds like this transition may cost him his physical relationship with you. You two can still have an emotional relationship the way two platonic "girlfriends" would. And I would encourage you to peruse that. That may open his eyes to what he is doing to you. If necessary you may need to move to different rooms in the house just to see what happens.
I would recommend to him as he is still your husband he needs to step back into that role at least from an emotional perspective and "MAN UP". He needs to protect you and you need the protection he can and should be providing. If he is unable to see what he has done you need to give him a reality check and show him what could happen. I would not recommend you file any type of paper work yet. Sometimes a little time away can be a good thing.
Than again this could back fire and suddenly he feels like a dog that just got off the chain and can run free. Either way, you may find what you need to do.
Finally make the time to speak with a marriage counselor, regardless of the time issue, make it happen soon.
If you would like to communicate directly my personal e-mail is