Never say never — as in never say that if your husband tells you he wants to become a woman you will automatically walk out the door. Indeed, a 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey discovered that while 57 percent of respondents “experienced significant family rejection, 43 percent maintained most of their family bonds.”
1. “I loved the person, not the penis.”
During the first two decades of their married life Kim and Bill had sex perhaps five times a year. Kim, 55 and a New Yorker, says, “Otherwise we were so compatible that the lack of boudoir time didn’t feel like a deal breaker.”
When Bill confessed his secret — he was a woman trapped inside a man’s body and planned to transition, Kim was shocked. But it never occurred to her to leave. “I couldn’t imagine life without this wonderful person in it.”
In this situation both people have to feel that their needs matter. The wife of a transitioning partner is already dealing with eventualities she’d never bargained for; some things must remain under her control.
In the case of Kim and Billie, the compromise is there is no sex in or out of the marriage. Four years after the transition, Kim says, “I know Billie wonders what it would be like to be intimate with a woman but I’m not going to try that and she’s OK with it. Sex was never hugely important to us but our deep emotional intimacy is something neither of us wants to be without.”
2. “I stayed for the kids.”
Sienna (all names changed) was thrown into total shock when her husband of 15 years said he wanted to have the surgery. Sienna, 42 and from Los Angeles, said, “Dan and I had not been close for a long time. We kept a united front for the children and while this was going on I felt it was even more important to operate as a family.”
It’s a selfless and caring move to make sacrifices for the children and to be supportive to your mate but in such an extreme situation it’s essential to do self-care, otherwise you will totally fall apart and that won’t benefit anyone.
In Sienna’s case it was clear there would be an end game — she planned to leave when the children became more comfortable with the idea. She also set boundaries with her spouse — they did not sleep in the same room (the kids knew this); she had a sexual relationship with another man (her spouse knew; the kids did not). Sienna said, “The family would have dinner together at least three times a week to have an open ‘transition’ discussion. This was important to help the kids deal with their emotions and confusion.”
Nine months in, after Dan (now Dania) recovered from the final operation, Sienna left. The former spouses have shared custody of their children.
3. “I was a latent lesbian.”
For Ellen, after 15 years of marriage, the news that her husband Sam wanted to transition to a woman was initially “a punch in the gut.” Ellen, a 42-year-old San Franciscan, says, “It wasn’t news that he felt ‘wrong’ in a man’s body but that didn’t mean such a radical shift in our marriage would be right for me.” She adds, “I had been sexually intimate with a woman during college so that aspect didn’t feel totally foreign.”
Indeed her openness to explore led to a discovery some other wives of transgender people have experienced: She preferred sex with Samantha to sex with Sam. When you love and trust in someone implicitly and they become more comfortable in their skin — the physical experience can deepen as well.
Ellen says, “While I wouldn’t have chosen for this to happen I don’t regret that my husband has become my wife.”