As some of you may know, I recently read My Husband Betty by Helen Boyd. This book is about crossdressing and is written from the perspective of the crossdresser’s spouse. In this book Ms Boyd raises the question of acceptance and what constitutes acceptance. I have been reading quite a lot on different internet forums about trans* people, in general wishing that their spouses were more accepting of them and/or the related activities. This has got me thinking and I would like to share my thoughts.
First off, I think that we need to understand that just as crossdressing/transgenderism etc resides on a spectrum, acceptance by your spouse is a matter of degrees. I think there are very few spouses who willing to totally reject the trans* spouse and his/her activities out of hand. Similarly there are few spouses who totally embrace, without reservation, their spouses trans* life. This is natural and to be expected. Our spouses are after all human beings too with real wants, needs, desires, fears, anxieties etc. We cannot reasonably expect them to fully participate in this part of our lives from the get go. Furthermore we need to realise that our spouses’ reactions will be shaped by a combination of who they are, who we are in relation to them, how honest we are/have been, how we treat each other generally, the overall strength or weakness of our relationships, the social context, where exactly the trans* person is on the transgender spectrum, how the spouse finds out and so forth. There are many variables and this means that it will be very hard to predict how a spouse reacts and that a spouse’s level of acceptance may vary from time to time. I also think that many of us have a notion of the ideal level of acceptance. Again this is unique to each person. Some may think that unless their spouse helps them to choose clothes, do makeup and attends trans* related functions with them then they are not accepting, whilst someone else may only want their spouse to know about their crossdressing (or whatever) and leave it at that.
This leads me to my next point, the dreaded ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ (DADT) relationship is a form of acceptance. If your spouse truly did not accept you then s/he would have said do. They would have said that they cannot countenance you dressing in clothes that do not match your sex and that they would not tolerate you dressing, ever. As far as I am aware, the majority of DADT relationships simply means that the non trans* person does not dress in the presence of the other spouse and that the trans* person is able to spend money on themselves. There is less fear of being found out as the spouse knows it may be happening but chooses not to know exactly when or where. Please note that I do not consider a relationship where the spouse has not in fact been told DADT. This is something else entirely.
In this context, the majority of spouses are in fact accepting of crossdressing and their trans* spouses. I fully acknowledge that I am one of the lucky few who has a spouse that is not only accepting but also participates in my crossdressing, but I would also like to suggest that often the trans* partner is so afraid of how their spouse will react to the knowledge of them being trans*, that they project a whole gamut of feelings on to the spouse before revealing the truth and that this then fundamentally frames the relationship in a negative space. If you believe that your spouse will resent you for being trans* you will in turn resent them for not accepting you even before you know exactly how they will respond. Over many years of subtle and sometime subconscious resentment the relationship will suffer and this will certainly affect the way the parties feel about each other and of course how the trans* person is perceived by the other spouse. I think that for a (thankfully) brief time I had fallen into this very trap. Fortunately my wife is very loving and forgiving and realised this behaviour for what it was after I revealed the truth to her. But had this behaviour persisted for much longer then it would have been harder to escape the spiral.
Of course, there are some people who are unable or indeed unwilling to come to terms with their spouse’s crossdressing, gender dysphoria etc. They may have religious or other ethical objections, an overriding fear of losing their spouse as a result of them being trans* or whatever and I am in no way trying to diminish the very real and profound concerns this raises for the couple. I am also not saying that the trans* person in the relationship is responsible for the way their spouse may react. Or is somehow to blame for the other person’s prejudices. This is a nonsense, you are not responsible for the feelings, actions or beliefs of others, you are only responsible for your own feelings, beliefs and acts and thus you can only be responsible for the way you respond to another persons beliefs and feelings, not that persons beliefs and feelings.
Having said that, I do believe that we can sometimes be a little selfish and hope that our spouses will drop all their preconceived ideas and respond with enthusiasm to us. This is unreasonable. We need to be empathetic and consider how our being trans* may affect those we love. What does it do to their own sense of identity? What does it mean for their sexuality? What does it mean for familial relationships? How do they respond to having to carry a secret around? We may have a sense of euphoria at finally liberating ourselves when we finally tell our spouse. Our spouses however suddenly are burdened with a secret that was not of their making. They may start to doubt their own identities and so on. If we understand this and deal with it appropriately we may mitigate some of the possible damage and improve relationships.
Importantly, if we can accept our spouse’s degree of acceptance and realise that in the vast majority of cases we are in fact being accepted and that we are not being rejected then we may have a happier more fulfilled life and our relationships will almost certainly be better for this. Our spouses may never come to participate in our trans* lifestyle (but they may, you never know) but we may be happier in our marriages and in ourselves if we realise that we are in fact loved and accepted for who and what we are, even if our spouse does not party like a rock star at the local trans* club.
Note: I use the term spouse here as shorthand for either party in a long term and committed relationship regardless of marital status, sexuality, gender etc.