I am a heterosexual woman, married for 24 years and mother of two grown sons. Their father, who is transgender, fully transitioned two years ago, and we have stayed married throughout the process.
We have a deep and abiding bond of love and commitment, so that is not the issue. The issue is that I am simply not a lesbian, am not attracted to women in a sexual manner, and am very uncomfortable that people think I am a lesbian. I am attracted to my spouse because I love her and she is who she is.
But because I am not a lesbian, if and when I discuss my spouse with anyone, I want to blurt out, “but she was a man when we got married!” I know this is not a good solution since it only protects me and “outs” her. I find myself avoiding situations, socially and at work, where this topic might come up. She does not mind people knowing her history [of formerly living as a man] and has been very successful in her transition at work and with life in general. I’m the one with the problem. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can resolve this issue?
Staying with your spouse does not require you jumping into a closet of your own. But that is what is happening, since it is affecting your ability to socialize and be open about your own identity. How refreshing to see someone with a “problem” actually own up to it rather than placing blame on someone else!
You are fortunate to have a spouse who can be open about her history without risking her job security or physical safety. Few families feel safe enough to be open about it so they have no choice but to lie. You have some choices in how “out” you want to be about your family.
Speaking very generally: There are two basic scenarios in which you would disclose that you married your spouse when she was a man. One is motivated mostly by homophobia, the other is motivated mostly by the need to avoid lying.
The first disclosure scenario is when a new acquaintance hears you refer to your spouse as “she” or meets your spouse and sees that she is obviously a woman. Explaining that your spouse is transgender in this situation “protects” your heterosexual identity, but only eases your discomfort with being perceived as lesbian.
The second disclosure scenario is in the context of your history with someone who lived as a man. Let’s say a co-worker learns you are married to a woman and in an attempt to be supportive and interested in your family, asks how you and your partner “got” your sons. The assumption would be they were adopted or created with the help of a donor, so you are left with a choice: lie about their biological father, or “out” your family for the sake of an authentic history.
Practice limiting the times you out your family to situations that fall under the second scenario. And if inquisitive people from the first scenario continue to ask follow up questions (like, “How old were you when you knew you were gay?”) they have, by default, cued you to “come out” about your spouse, since any answers to their questions would have to be fabricated.
You and your spouse have maintained your relationship through a gender transition. This is a huge accomplishment and I imagine that your choice to stay with your spouse has left you open to other people’s judgments and unsolicited advice. You have triumphed over those judgments, I hope you can also learn to draw on the same strength when you have to deal with other people’s assumptions about your identity as well.