One of the great overlooked problems about transition involves coming out. Yes, yes, we have talked about coming out already many times, but I’m talking specifically about our spouses for those of us who were married when the truth came to light. I was talking to my sister Dianne recently specifically about this, as she was helping me come up with something to call my kinda-sorta-really-but-not-really-spouse that was a lot shorter than that string of babble I just coughed up at you. I had been using ‘ex’, but it’s not accurate and comes across quite dreary.
A side note on that little endeavor. Just as I went through a hell of a time figuring out what to have my son call me (Maddy, thanks to Jenny Boylan), I’ve been having trouble with this one. We have acknowledged the marriage is over in the traditional sense, but we remain legally married, cohabitate, and are raising our son together and plan to do so for the foreseeable future. The love is still there, it’s just that things are different. I know it’s my own hang up, but calling her ‘wife’ makes me feel too mannish, even though I know lesbian couples do this. I certainly don’t want to be called husband. Dianne suggested ‘paraspouse’, so I might try that on for size until she reads this and vetoes.
Back to spousal coming out. Where there is ample material to help LGBTQ personnel come out to friends, family, co-workers, and the shitload of friends on Facebook you have but don’t even know, there is hardly anything for spouses. This is a real gap because their lives are every bit as affected by this change as our own. True, in many cases the spouse makes like a shepherd and gets the flock out of there and move down to Florida with the kids and reverts back to her maiden name, just as many stick around, at least for a while. Either way, it’s rare that they can get away with not telling anyone anything about it, unless the marriage was such a deep secret that everyone would be flabbergasted to find out that it existed to begin with.
Where we have the terror and excitement of sharing with people that we have truly discovered ourselves, they have to figure out how to communicate this unwelcome news without feeling like a ridiculously obtuse moron for getting into the situation to begin with. In the telling, no matter how well they spin it or chose just the exact right wording, nearly everyone is going to hit them with the old, “Surely you must have seen some signs of this? No? Really? I mean really?” Suddenly they are on the defensive for something terrible that happened to them simply because everyone at heart believes they have Sherlock Holmes detection ability and there was no way the same thing could happen to them.
In truth no one is really that good. My own paraspouse is a certified master of detection and although she flat out asked me on several occasions in the course of discussion about other issues, I was able to allay her anxiety simply because I believed 100% what I was telling her was true. It just isn’t where people’s minds go, because chances are, they never even met someone like us and have a seriously skewed perception about it all. There is also the very powerful reality that when people are heavily invested in something like a marriage, no one really wants to believe such an out of left field deal breaker is lurking in the near vicinity. As I’ve often said, if I couldn’t know, neither could you; such is our fantastic chameleon ability to hide in plain sight, even from ourselves.
As much as it really, really sucks and isn’t even right, they have to do it and suffer the inquisition. Aside from that, it’s also incredibly juicy gossip and bound to travel far faster then they or we can get ahead of. It’s rare, scandalous, and fascinating, so conversations and speculations will happen, and probably for a long time. Because of this, they now have to also contend with a period of time where their primary identity, no matter how successful and well respected, is supplanted with ‘being the spouse of a trans person’. Not exactly what anyone aspires to in life, and probably doesn’t feel much better than being the unsuspecting spouse of a serial killer or superhero. You think Lois Lane is real anxious to have Clark go public?
The moral of this story is to keep in mind that coming out is by no means a one woman show. The same thing goes for close family as well. I’m dead certain that every parent of a trans person is asked a thousand times over, “Weren’t there any signs when they were growing up?” Nope, because we go through insane lengths to keep it that way. Our loved ones need just as much support and compassion as we do in this process, if not more, especially in the beginning. While it may be too late in my case, I’m wondering if arming our loved ones with letters that absolve them of all culpability would be a good idea; that there was no way at all they could have known and there is no reason whatsoever than any of this should reflect on them.