Doctor’s Note: Today’s column deals with trans issues and trans identities. Because of the nature of the topic I will be riding hard on the comments. Misunderstandings and sincere attempts to learn are understandable. Misgendering, perpetuating negative propaganda about trans people and general TERF bullshit will mean getting the banhammer.
My husband and I are not spring chickens. He’s 70 and I’m 65. We’ve been married for 26 yrs (second marriages). He’s been a cross-dresser essentially all his life. I knew when we married and it didn’t bother me as it was only during sex role play. I’ve always been pretty open to experimentation. I’m bisexual but not bi-romantic. He’s well, straight, I guess. Therein lies the issue. During the pandemic stay at home he came to me and said he was now “pretty certain” he was gender dysphoric and knew since he was 14. He wanted to be called a variation of his name that was feminine. He wanted to dress femme all the time around the house. He said he didn’t really have any interest in using his male parts for sex. He wants to use male pronouns because it’s too confusing otherwise. His only interest was in sex for him was being what I believe is politely called pegging. I’ve done that for him for years but that was a maybe 12 times a year thing and now this was all he wanted, that and to give me oral sex, which now turns me off. He expressed dismay at not being able to get rid of his male parts, or transition. Both are essentially impossible at this point in his life due to medical issues. His body size/shape does not lend towards being female anyway. He’s well aware of that. He is wanting to be femme all the time in the home and “pretend” to be his male self with family and at work, etc. I’ve joined an online support group and this is all pretty typical. It’s the usual next step that has me freaking out. I’ve thought for years that he is gay or bi and just can’t admit it to himself. His protestations are a bit too loud when I ask. This all hits me pretty hard because my first husband came out as gay 5 yrs in after 2 kids. So, once bitten as they say.
Here is where I get called a bitch I suppose. I did not marry a woman. In fact I married a very masculine, hard working, gets his hands dirty man. A protector.
I moved into the guest room. I let him know I was putting in for low income ADA Sr Housing and we’d need to divorce. I am permanently disabled after caring for his elderly father and on SSDI, so it’s all I can afford and still leave him with our condo I could never afford. He does not want me to leave. He wants us to be lesbian lovers. Dr N, I love women. I’ve made love to women before this marriage. He’s not a woman. I even helped him buy silicone parts but it’s just not working for me though I’m happy it made him happy. I said go ahead and cross-dress all you want. He took some time to think things over and now has suddenly become all guy. No cross-dressing, no asking for sex, but he just sits and reads sissy porn and the like 14 hrs a day. He’s obviously miserable. It’s sad. He agreed to therapy and just started. I am hoping he can figure out his true gender identity and sexuality. He feels he is gender fluid and only wants sex with women. We’ll see. But I can’t promise him/her/them I will stay with someone I have no romantic feelings for.
But if I leave, I will end up in low income housing, on food stamps instead of being at least financially secure together. We lost everything caring for his father. If my car dies I’ll never get another. Money will be that tight for both of us, but he can still work. So here’s my real decision to make after all that background. Do I stay, pretend to be ok with “her” and secretly hope for time with “him”, or do I go and live poor but live my truth? I can’t get into housing until late Summer 2023 or later.
Yes I’ve had therapy. I get mixed answers. Stay, lie and stay secure. Go, and live your truth in peace no matter the circumstances. I literally go back and forth during the course of one day. I feel I’m losing my mind. I feel trapped. I dread “her” walking into the room. I’ve gained 53 lbs and cry most nights in my room.
Thanks if you decide to get into this. I know it’s a loaded topic.
Unable To Handle Uncertainty
Alright UAHU, I want to preface all of this with the fact that I’m a cisgender, hetero man. I’m going to do my best to talk through things with you in a way that, I hope, helps all of this make sense from a cis perspective, like yours. But seeing as I’m not going to have the same perspective as a trans person or someone who’s gender-nonconforming, there’re going to be aspects to all of this that I may miss. So take everything I say with appropriate amounts of salt.
This is a complicated situation – both for you and for your spouse – and it’d be a good idea for you to seek out some resources for navigating your relationship and understanding what your spouse is going through. PFLAG has a suggested reading list with a number of suggested books for parents, friends and partners of trans people. Similarly, there’s a list of suggested books for partners and spouses of trans people that you may find helpful. I think these could help you understand more about what you’re spouse is going through, even if you ultimately decide this marriage can’t continue.
I also highly encourage my trans, genderfluid and non-binary readers to share their thoughts, experiences and suggestions for both you and your spouse – especially if there’re aspects I that I’ve missed, overlooked or left out.
So with that in mind, here’s how I see it: there’re two issues here. Let’s start with your spouse.
Your spouse, based on what you’ve shared, is trans or at least genderfluid. They’ve clearly played with gender presentation most of their life. It sounds like they were dipping their toes into their gender identity in ways that still had plausible deniability, never going so far that they couldn’t pull back and say “um, just kidding.” By the time the lockdown happened… well, like a lot of us, once they were stuck at home and in a position where they had nothing to distract them and were functionally alone with nothing to do but think their thoughts and feel their feels, they began to actively live their truth. And since they’re someone who grew up in an area where being trans was even more fraught than it was now and with fewer options, they’re feeling more than a little lost or even dsyphoric.
It sounds to me as though that during the lockdown, they decided to finally socially transition; that is, starting to live as a woman in dress and behavior, adopting a new name and experimenting with the idea of physical changes, such as with the use of silicone genitals. This was likely important to them if their health issues precluded them from any forms of medical transitioning. But then… well, suddenly after you moved into the guest room and started making plans to get into low-income housing, they declared that they’re a man and/or genderfluid.
But are they? Are they really? Now it’s possible that after some experimentation, they landed on gender fluidity. Gender can be incredibly complicated and for people who are trying to sort theirs out, where they start off may not be where they end up for good. But if I’m going with my gut here? I really suspect that this is a dodge on their part. They saw your response to their coming out and, well… I think that made them re-think about whether they could transition and keep you as their partner. If you read go into the archives and read my column “How Do I Support My Partner as They Transition”, you’ll see what a lot of trans folks said helped them as they transitioned mid-relationship. It sounds like you didn’t have the reaction they hoped for and weren’t ready or able to give them the support were asking for.
I suspect that what actually happened is that your reaction was so negative that they basically de-transitioned and picked the option that they hoped was the least objectionable to you but closest to their truth as they could manage. And I think that’s going to be a bigger issue for them going on, especially in terms of their mental and emotional health. Part of the reason why suicide and self-harm is so prevalent in the trans community is the lack of support and antagonism towards trans people. Your spouse, in trying to repair the rift between you, is making a bigger sacrifice than I think you realize and I think that is ultimately going to hurt them.
Now, again: I could very well be wrong here. It could well be that after socially transitioning, they came to the realization that their gender is far more fluid than the first realized. Gender falls on a spectrum, after all, and there’re people who fall all across it. We’re only getting your side of things, and ultimately the person who knows their gender best is your spouse. They’re going to be the ultimate arbiter of their identity.
However, whether they’re genderfluid or they are a trans woman and their declaring themselves to be genderfluid is an attempt to repair their relationship with you, then ultimately it’s going to be better for them to live their truth. And much of that is going to involve being able to socially transition. Medical transitioning isn’t a necessity, even if it their health problems didn’t preclude it as an option. Being able to live as their actual gender will go a long way to improving their quality of life and mental health. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t gonna be a rocky road for them to travel, especially as someone who’s older. And considering how fraught life for trans and gender-nonconforming people can be, that’s a hard road to walk by themselves.
Take, their feelings about their body, for example. The remarks about their figure not being stereotypically female – their being “clockable”, as it were – are clearly things that bother them. That’s something a lot of people wrestle with, especially if they come out later in life. Hopefully your spouse is finding some good, strong support networks – even if only online – that can help them resolve some of those worries. There’s quite a bit of discourse with in the trans community about gender presentation and stereotypes; if they can find a support network that could talk them through their concerns, then that would be a massive help to them. Simply having people to talk to who can help them be more comfortable with their identity and presentation could be really important, especially if they’re folks who are closer to their age.
By that same token, if they do decide that they want to pursue some form of medical transitioning, then it may be worth their time to talk to a doctor about any options they may have. Even if things like gender confirmation surgery or facial confirmation surgery are off the table due to health reasons, it may a good idea for them to at least look into things like hormone therapy and see if that’s something that would want and if their health issues would allow it. But, again, it’s not a requirement, and many don’t choose that route. Simply being able to live their life as a woman or nonbinary/genderfluid person would likely be a major boon to their mental and emotional well-being.
And that’s where we get to the second issue: you and your relationship with your spouse.
This, needless to say, has clearly come as a huge shock to you. I imagine it’s rather like having the earth suddenly drop away beneath your feet as everything you once thought you knew about your spouse has changed. In the process, your feelings have changed, your relationship has developed complexities you never could have anticipated, and now you’re in the unenviable place of having to decide what your next steps are.
Clearly you don’t feel like you can stay in a romantic or sexual relationship with them. I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong or an awful person because your feelings have changed over this; this has been a massive, massive change to literally everything about your relationship and not every relationship can survive such a shift. It’s incredibly common for feelings to change and for relationships end due to seismic shifts in the couple’s status quo – financial hardship, infidelity, the loss of a loved one or the death of a child have all caused people to realize that their feelings have changed or that their relationship can’t continue. Some couples make it through to the other side of it together, others can’t. That’s not inherently good or bad; it just is. It’s good that your spouse is going to therapy, but hopefully you are going to therapy too, the better to process your understandably complicated and unpleasant feelings about all of this.
But what do you do now and going forward? That part’s a lot harder.
Lying and saying you’re ok with things is not going to be good for either of you. Trust me: you’re not that good of a liar, and you’ll both know that this is a lie. That sort of dishonesty at the core is going to eat at both of you and become a cancer that’ll consume you both. And quite frankly I think think that not acknowledging and owning that that this has fundamentally changed your relationship, or not owning the fact that that you may never get to the place where you can love your spouse the exact same way you did before is going to be good for either of you. I think that this way lies more unnecessary pain and misery for the both of you.
However, I don’t think that you necessarily need to leave, either.
One of the things that is making the whole situation so fraught is the binary approach that either you lie to yourself and to your spouse or you leave and risk penury. I think there could well be a compromise here, where you both acknowledge that you relationship as you knew it before has changed permanently, but without legally ending the marriage. If you can both accept that you’re no longer the romantic partners you were before, but you can find and hold onto the core of affection and mutual respect for one another, then you might be able to make a companionate marriage work. If you aren’t at a point where being married to him and sharing the same home doesn’t leave you crying in the shower, or if not having the expectation of a sexual relationship might ease the stress you live under, then this provides a middle ground between lying (and making yourselves miserable) and a divorce that leaves you both in dire straights.
Legally, the two of you would still be married, and you would both be in better financial positions than you would be if you divorced. Functionally, however, you would be living separate lives. Your spouse would be free to live their truth. You wouldn’t be forcing yourself to try to love someone when that love has clearly gone. You would still need to find a new equilibrium together and – in your case, acceptance of them and their gender, in theirs, accepting that your feelings have changed – but you would be free to find love and sex elsewhere.
It may not be the ideal way that either of you would prefer, but it may be the best option for you that doesn’t end in either misery or intense financial hardship.
If you can get there – and this is, admittedly, a huge if – then I think this may be the best option in an admittedly very difficult and complex situation. But it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of conscious effort at healing – for both of you. It may be worth looking into finding a sex-positive marriage counselor, one who’s familiar with trans issues and complexities surrounding transitioning, to help you bridge that gap and make that shift into a new status-quo. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory on their site that can help you find a counselor to guide you through this change.
I realize all of this has been just a constant series of shocks, tidal waves that blast away more and more of the foundation of what you once knew. Hopefully you and your spouse still have that core of affection and respect for one another and you can both make this work – them for being able to fully live their life as their true gender, wherever it may fall on the spectrum, and you for accepting them for who they are.
Hey there, Doc. I used to read your columns years and years ago and they really helped get me out of my shell. Would not have any semblance of dating know-how without it. In fact, it seems I’m gonna have to re-read a bunch of your stuff because it feels as if everything I believed in about dating and relationships got thrown out the window and I feel absolutely miserable.
For several years I was part of a friend group that did everything together online. We had a Discord server, ran online games, spoke almost every day. In that group were people who eventually became two of my best friends: let’s call ’em J and B.
B was the one who introduced me into that friend group. We shared a ton of interests and I spoke with her almost every day. Even met her in person along with her family multiple times. She was always unfailingly kind, supportive and helped me get through some really rough times in my life. I’d always had issues opening up relying on other people and she would encourage me to lean on her…so naturally, I ended up falling for her hard. I confessed about three years ago and while she turned me down and I did have to take some time off to sort myself out, I eventually decided that I valued her presence in my life and didn’t want to lose her friendship. Through the entire time I knew her she’d actively avoided relationships and I never tried to push it, talking to and seeing other girls. Up until the end of last year, it felt like we were slowly getting closer and that maybe she was starting to feel the same way… This is where J comes in.
J had been a member of that friend group before I came around. He was someone else who I grew really close to both because of our shared passion for music, and because he helped me through that period of time where I was mourning my feelings for B. He’d cheered me on whenever B and I would do something together and eventually admitted that he had confessed to her as well, only for her to admit that she merely saw him as a brother. I supported him through that as well, and we both told each other that if either of us ended up with her there would be no hard feelings (which honestly sounds kind of gross looking back on it). The dude always told me that he was rooting for me and her. I vividly remember telling him that he was one of my best friends, which I let him know was extremely hard for me to do.
In December of last year, J messaged me asking for a call, with me thinking nothing of it since we had those fairly often. We started shooting the shit, talking about a game we were both playing…and then he mentioned that in August, B approached him and she admitted that she had lied about seeing him as a brother because she was afraid of damaging their friendship. They talked and eventually made it official in August…meaning that call between me and him in DECEMBER was the first I’d heard of it. According to the both of them, they kept it a secret from me because I had been going through a difficult time with my job when it happened and they “didn’t think I could take the news.”
There was a bunch of back and forth between J and I after that. I (very angrily) stressed to him that I understood the intention but it was still a fucking unacceptable thing to do to a friend, and he would respond with things like “well we only did what we thought was best” and “you weren’t entitled to a status update on our relationship anyway.” He said that if the roles were reversed then he would have been fine with being in my situation. Of course I reminded him that in this specific case I ABSOLUTELY deserved to know about it when it happened, and that I was furious precisely because they kept it behind my back for FOUR MONTHS while continuing to talk to me DAILY like normal. Every single conversation we’d had over random bullshit that didn’t matter felt like a goddamn lie because they were together the whole time and both of them KNEW how I felt and did my best not to feel. I cut him off after that.
A week later B and I had a few talks where she really hammered home how much I meant to her, and how sorry she was for hurting me, and begged me to find it in my heart to forgive J. She is very religious and *apparently* he is too, which she explained is a big part of why she fell for him. Tried going to church again after this and lad-dee-fucking-dah, the week’s message was on forgiveness so I swallowed my pride and reached out to J again. I said that it was going to take a long time for me to get over what they did and that I needed to be away from both of them for the time being.
He responded by talking about how he’s been abused as a kid and how HE needed time away from ME, because he can’t deal with “explosive people.”
Called him out on playing the victim and told him never to speak to me again. Erased both of them from every facet of my life. Had to remove myself from that friend group, and by extension my main support system. It felt like I’d lost everything out of nowhere and I’d done nothing to earn it. That month of my life was complete and utter hell.
I have honestly felt completely broken since then and have only just begun to open up about this to people now that I’m slowly getting out there and making friends again. Just talking about it hurts. I don’t know what’s worse: my best friend betraying me like that or the girl I’d loved for years believing that I wasn’t strong enough to handle the news of the two of them being together, so deceiving me was the better option.
I’m sorry, Doc. This probably all reads like an unfocused mess because that’s what it still feels like. What the hell do I do after this? How do I find my own closure here? How do I begin to trust people again? How do I let myself believe that the next relationship I get into won’t go up in flames? I’m so goddamn terrified. It’s been over half a year and the wound still feels fresh. I’m so, so tired of it all.
Hoo boy. OK, MP, you asked, but I don’t think you’re going to like the answers.
There’s a lot to unpack in all of this. But let’s start with a simple truth: your friends were right about your not being able to handle this. They worried that you would react badly to discovering that they were dating and… well, look, that’s precisely what happened. You proved that they made the right decision. Frankly, I don’t think that their telling you upfront would’ve made things better, for a number of reasons… not the least of which being the fact that you’re seeing this as a betrayal.
If you’re going to want to give yourself closure on all of this and be able to trust again, then you’re going to need to understand where shit went wrong and why. And frankly… it’s not going to be easy for you because there’re going to be some deeply unpleasant truths you’re going to have to take onboard.
First and foremost is the way that you’re framing this which… well, honestly, isn’t covering you in glory. We can start with the fact that you imply that J somehow “stole” B from you or that you and B were on the path to love and J somehow took that away. Let’s be clear here: I don’t think B was interested in you romantically, nor do I think that you were getting to a place where a romantic relationship was going to be possible. Based on a lot of what you say here, it seems that this was likely a great deal wishful thinking brought on by a case of Oneitis; you were taking behavior that was positive and friendly, but rounding it up to romantic interest when it likely wasn’t anything of the sort.
Nor do I think J was necessarily lying or trying to deceive you when he was cheering you on. I think he had honest intentions at the time, and I don’t think he was going behind your back (more on this in a second) to snatch B away. People do grow closer over time and people do catch feels when they spend time together. It’s not intentional or anything that people can plan for… just the combination of compatibility and propinquity. B clearly was interested in J when she turned him down, but tried to push that down for a multitude of reasons, until she accepted her attraction to him.
Now, J told you he was interested in B as well. This didn’t seem to bother you as much at the time, and I suspect that was because you didn’t truly see J as being some sort of “rival” or that there was a chance that B liked him too. And it seems like you still felt like you had some sort or prior claim on B’s affections which ain’t how it works. That “no hard feelings whichever of us ends up with B” is the sort of thing that probably sounds good in shonen manga but kinda neglects to take B’s feelings into consideration – as though you or he had anything to say about who she did or didn’t end up in a relationship with.
And let’s be honest, I don’t think you would’ve said it if you weren’t sure that you were going to “win” this particular contest that wasn’t. It’s easy to be magnanimous when you’re pretty sure you’re going to come out on top. But making that promise meant that you also had to be willing to say – to yourself, at least – “well, B simply didn’t feel the way for me that I felt for her, and I’ll make my peace with that.”And you didn’t.
Not only did you not reckon with the likelihood that you and B wouldn’t be a couple, but you pretty clearly see them getting together as being something done to you. But here’s the part that’s going to be hard for you to hear: I can all but guarantee you that you weren’t a factor in the two of them getting together. Not, that is, outside of your reaction to it. You’re making yourself out to be the victim here, but I don’t think you’re willing to face up to the question of “the victim of what, exactly?” The fact that you had feelings for B doesn’t preclude other people – including your friends – from dating her. Nor does it preclude B from choosing to date whomever she pleases. She didn’t need to consult you, get your blessing or your permission. Neither did J, for that matter. But your behavior makes it clear that there’s some part of you that felt like you had authority over her affections and relationships.
Now, would it have been considerate for them to give you a heads up, if only so you could brace yourself emotionally for the impact of seeing them together? Possibly, yes. But considering your reaction to the news and the way you’ve treated them in the aftermath? Yeah, I think they were right to keep things on the down low. It seems pretty clear to me that they were hoping that over time you might cool off and not blow your lid. Maybe this wasn’t the most mature decision they could’ve made, but as far as slights go, theirs is decidedly the lesser.
And, I might point out that yeah, J wasn’t wrong for keeping his distance from you. Your behavior was precisely the sort of “explosive” response he was trying to avoid. So, yeah, I’m gonna call bullshit on the claim that he was “playing the victim” here.
So if you want closure on this? You’re gonna have to take stock and recognize that the primary architect of your misery is, well, you. The fact that you had feelings for someone doesn’t give you the right of first refusal or a say in their relationship. B was in fact correct in assuming that you weren’t going to be able to handle this when you found out. The reason why these friendships ended was because of the choices you made and the way you behaved. And as much as it hurts to hear that, the way you grow past this is to accept your role in it.
Now I want to be absolutely clear: while I may be raking you across the coals for this, I want you to understand that this isn’t definitional. I am hard on you about this because I understand. I have been there, I have done that and I’ve had the same shitty reactions. So I’m actually sympathetic to a degree. But it’s that sympathy that makes me want you to do better. I’m being harsh about this precisely because I have been there and I want you to understand what you did wrong, so that you don’t take as long as I did to grow past it. You can do better. You are better than this.
You made a series of bad calls and behaved badly. Those are actions, not things that define you as a person. Making a bad decision and behaving poorly in the aftermath doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you may have been immature and selfish… but that doesn’t mean that’s who you are from now until the end of time. You are in a place where you made a decision based on who you were, how you felt and the information you had at that time. If you can understand why you behaved like this, why it was wrong and why things fell out the way they did, then you’re going to be in the position to learn from it.
Because here’s the thing: this isn’t going to be the last time you’re going to get your heart broken. This isn’t gonna be the last time that someone you have feelings for doesn’t feel the same way, nor the last time that someone you’re into dates somebody else – possibly even someone close to you. Recognizing that this isn’t about you, that they’re not dating at you or laughing behind your back at you is going to be vital. You need to learn that sometimes folks just don’t love you the way you wish they did… but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you the best that they can. And as much as you may wish for something to happen with all your heart and soul… well, sometimes it’s just not going to happen the way you’d hoped. That’s not good or bad, it just is. Being able to accept that is going to be one of the most important lessons you can learn from this. It will be vital to your healing – now and in the future – and your ability to nurture and maintain relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Going scorched earth on this isn’t the way. Blaming others for not loving you the way that you wanted is not the way.
You can hurt for what never happened. That’s understandable, that’s natural. You can mourn what you never had. That’s normal too. You may even need to take time away to heal, so that the pain isn’t so sharp or so fresh when you see them. That’s also completely acceptable.
But lashing out at others, blaming them for things that aren’t their fault and demanding that they take responsibility that was never theirs in the first place? That’s ultimately only going to harm you.
I’m going to leave you with the words of the sage:
You’re better than that.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com.
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