Last weekend when trying to figure out the paperwork required to file for my legal name change, E and I had a brief disagreement. During this she expressed to me that it was hard for her to help me with my name change because it felt like she was erasing part of our lives together. That reaction kind of stunned me, and left me not knowing how to respond.
E picked up on my hurt vibe the next morning and sent me the following (and encouraged me to post it here):
By the way, I hope you aren’t upset over my stress [regarding your legal name change] that I expressed yesterday. I am very happy and excited for you. It is still a big change for me as well. As we come to these milestones, I am in a situation where I don’t really have anyone to talk to. I worry that when I express my stress to you, that you receive that as some sort of admonishment. That isn’t the case. Changing your name helps you become who you were meant to be. Yet,in some ways it erases part of your past. I sometimes feel that in doing so it also erases part of our past, our relationship, and in part it erases me. I know that it doesn’t negate what was but it is still somehow painful. The name change is the first truly permanent step.
I can express positive thoughts and experiences to some of my friends but if I indicated even the slightest note of apprehension/tension, there are a few who will glob on to it. As you have said many times before, being transgendered is not a “choice” but taking the steps to live an authentic life is a choice. This is something people do not understand. Truly and completely falling in love with someone is not a choice, but whether a person is willing to work through the hard stuff is a choice. I love you. That has not changed. I choose to stay with you because of that love, not because of some twisted sense of martyrdom or some concern on how I will be viewed if I don’t support you. I am not staying with you “because of the children” or because I lack self esteem. It is not financial or societal. I choose to stay with and support you in spite of how I may be viewed. It is a choice made out of love and nothing else. Others can bugger off.
[Our son J] made a very insightful comment the other day (after several segues). He has picked up on some of the stresses and parts of our conversations. He started talking about animals (of course) and made some really abstract comments concerning dog,cats and mice. In the end, he summarized that he doesn’t understand why people are willing to support a couple that fight, yell, and are abusive to each other just because they look like a “normal”, 2 gender couple. Yet they criticize a couple that love each other and get along just because they are the same gender. People (especially teens) are too concerned about appearances and sometimes they never grow out of that. It is all about being part of the “in” group. He gets upset when he hears the word “gay” being used negatively. He doesn’t like when other people judge rather than asking questions. I asked him how he felt about us. He said that if he thinks about it it can seem sort of weird . He also feels lucky to have parents that love each other and love him. He is finding that a lot of children don’t have that.
One of the things I’ve learned through E staying with me is how intense the stress is on partners in this kind of situation. Her stress is not coming from exactly the same places as my own so sometimes it can catch me off guard. The emotion around the name change is one example. But so is the stuff she talks about in her second paragraph.
Society is barely just coming around to understanding trans people. Someone like E choosing to stay with a partner who transitions – and out of love, rather than necessity – seems to strain such understanding to the breaking point.
Fairly often she’s hit with challenges varying from direct questions to snide insinuations regarding why she’s staying with me. It leaves her feeling like she can’t express the basic frustrations inherent to any marriage – let alone concern or doubt about transition specific topics – without having it construed as evidence that our relationship is collapsing and she’s looking for a way out.
That’s a strain on the relationship you’re unlikely to find in any “Transition 101” book because it falls primarily on the shoulders of the supporting partner rather than the one transitioning. Luckily for me I have a partner as strong as E to bear it.