My not-wife is an extremely private person and really hates for me to write about her publicly. In some ways we have reached a “too-bad-you-married-a-writer” stalwart, but that’s not exactly fair so our compromise is that I actually truly do limit how much/what I say about her in writing–but I don’t edit her out entirely. Recently she read the first draft of the memoir I’m working on and her critique was that her “character” actually needed more description. A guy can’t win! Just kidding. My point is, r-e-s-p-e-c-t is the foundation of our partnership, so I’m treading lightly here. But I want to write a little about transitioning while in relationship, because I think she deserves some credit and I also think that relationships are important touchstones in our transitions, but they’re rarely discussed positively (or with complication).
I’m a Pisces but I’m also a double Libra which means I’m sensitive and I believe everything is relational. It’s how I roll. When I’m not doing dreamy, by-myself activities like reading in a hammock, wandering a new part of town, or seeing a movie of my choice on a hot summer afternoon, I like a one-to-one ratio the best. Through high school I literally spent every day with my best friend, a skinny, eccentric gay kid. We were platonically and deeply in love, and we would drive around after school and smoke cigarettes, or watch John Waters movies, or sneak out and meet in the park between our houses to plan our eventual escape from our tiny, tiny town.
My not-wife and I have known each other for eleven (!) years, and we’re celebrating our seventh anniversary in September. She anxiously sat in a waiting room while I had top surgery, she drained my drains, she helped me wrestle into my shirt. In the intervening years, we’ve experienced a lot of life that has nothing to do with my gender identity and is too long to effectively montage here, but a college try: degrees, career path choices, friends coming and going, vacations, family dramas, our wedding, local adventures, ailments, and collaborative projects. We’ve taken care of each other and we’ve driven each other crazy. We’ve learned to not talk to the other person while aboard in airplane (we’re both travel control freaks), and that being quiet and walking away often stops an escalating fight.
We’ve figured out how our strengths complement each other. We’ve also learned to cultivate individual worlds all our own that the other can visit but never live in because we’ve both come to believe a healthy relationship comes from putting yourself first, following your goals and taking care of what you need to do and allowing everything (and everyone) else to follow.
So it’s no surprise that when I first contemplated taking T several years ago, my not-wife was the person whose thoughts I most valued–and also that she encouraged me to do what was right for me.
I know that transitioning can be really tough on a partner, and I know a lot of relationships don’t survive the seismic shift of identity and dynamics involved. I am really lucky to be married to the woman I’m married to. And I’m not saying that we don’t hit speedbumps–she isn’t the one transitioning, so our life priorities have temporarily diverged in a pretty intense way. I feel like my old concerns (and her current ones) have temporarily taken a backseat to my new onslaught of legal/emotional/biological ones and, though sympathetic, there are some places she can’t follow me. That’s the funny thing–love doesn’t make you less alone as you navigate new waters, it just makes you more loved.
And I am loved. I can’t speak for other people, but I think naysayers who make pronouncements about what relationships can and can’t survive miss the point. Last year we were mugged at gunpoint by a man who went on to mug two other (straight, cisgendered) couples and kill the men in both cases. That took some serious processing to get through, but we came out swinging. The stress your relationship can take is really a matter of perspective, and once a near-death experience sits darkly on the table, metabolizing a transition doesn’t feel so daunting.
But really, I think what we both have learned in these montage years is that you can’t force things to stay the same. At our wedding, we vowed to accept impermanence–to basically be friends first, which means respecting the other person’s right to be themselves at any cost, even (but hopefully not) the relationship. Allowing yourself and your circumstances to change doesn’t guarantee a union that lasts–because nothing does. But doing so does allow for happier, healthier people which–when you think about it–is the only real basis for a partnership you’d want to spend your life in.
So, hats off to my not-wife and all the not-wives, not-husbands, spouses and partners, friends with benefits, plain old friends, and allies who know that respect is love, man. Peace.