Her spouse was once a man, but now they look like a lesbian couple.

Q:

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?

A:

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.

20 thoughts on “Her spouse was once a man, but now they look like a lesbian couple.”

  1. I think you can refuse to accept the label “lesbian.” You are in love with a PERSON, not a label.

    If you must respond, tell them that you still love the person you married but that you do not have a lesbian relationship.

    If they press questions about your intimate relations — that’s none of their business!!!

    Dave Parker, President
    PFLAG Transgender Network

  2. I truely admire the strength this couple must have to hold it together through all of this. I understand it must be very difficult being thrusted into a situation where she must define her own sexuality to all. Part of respecting your partner is looking people in the eye and telling them that you are committed and in love, regardless of what they think. While I understand that it will take a considerable amount of time and work, I think these people need to find a way to be comfortable being open or it will manifest into much resentment and shame. Your love for a transgendered person is not the problem……people in our society who are closed minded bigots are the problem. Be proud of your family.

  3. Here is the problem I see. It is clear if this woman`s partner were to speak to others we might find that she very much is lesbian. Transexual women usually fall under one of many labels. Straight, meaning loving men, bisexual, lesbian, or even non sexual.

    Since this transexual woman is still living with her partner of 24 years, my guess if she were asked she would very well identify as lesbian.

    I guess since we don`t have personal information as to their intimency, it`s hard not to understand this fully.

    It sounds as if the non transexual woman has come to face what many non transexual and men come to face when their partner comes out as transexual and transistions to allow their body to match their gender. Where does that leave me? Or what does that make me if I still love them?

    Many of us have left and lost relationships because we came out and our ex s had to come to the realization that sexually they wanted to sleep with the opposite sex and not the same sex. It makes complete sense since they aren`t gay themselves so how esle would they feel?
    I know of a few realationships that have survived this and many times they really end up living as if they are sisters or brothers. They love each other but can`t complete each other, not fully.

    Make no mistake, this woman married a woman, not a man.She just didn’t know it at the time and I’m sure the transexual woman felt because she was so attracked to her and women in general, that it would “fix” everything and make the feelings go away.

    I wouldn`t suggest outing your partner because that`s information that only your partner has the right to disclose, no matter how hard that feels. I understand that she has said she doesn`t mind people knowing, but given the choice I bet she would rather that be her information and not others to do with as they wish.

    This is certainly something I would suggest both of you discuss together with a queer therapist, and not a straight therapist, just from experiance I find there is a bit less baggage from queer therapits.

    I must disagree with the idea that a person must either lie to others when asked personal questions, or out the family.

    I find it odd that we all run to justify or explain ourselves, when what we should be doing is just pointing out that it doesn’t matter. Does it matter how they had children? No what matters is that they are happy, the kids are happy and doing well. Do we ask a straight couple that question? No and so nor should we any other couple.

    I find the thought of justifing reminding me of the big questions I was hearing here as same sex marriage was becoming legal. Why do you want to marry her or him? Don`t we normally just say congradulations when told that someone is getting married? But it seems when talking about SSM that old why do you want to marry, comes out.

    I`m no sure how long these two women have been together since her partner fully transistioned, but I suggest that it’s only been a year or two and sadly they may find they can not continue living the way they do because one is most likely quite happy being seen as a lesbian and to the other the one being lesbian isn`t who they are.

    It may be time to take time away to see what is really important. Are you staying together for what was, or because you want a full relationship with that person and the hell with what others think.

    I wish them luck
    Rosalyn L Forrester

  4. From reading your question it appears to me that you are not uncomfortable with with being married to the person who fathered your children, eventhough he is a woman now. It is obvious that you love this person deeply. There is no way you could have stayed together, throughout this difficult period for both of you, if you did not. Having said all that I suppose that you must ask yourself what is it that keeps you together. If it is a deep bond of love, then that is a truly wonderful thing. I don’t believe that many couples are still in love after 24 years.

    With regard to question as to whether you see yourself as gay or straight well only you can answer that. Are you still attracted to your husband, sexually, now that he is a woman? Do you engage in intercourse? These questions may not be of anybodies business but I guess it is the thought that people are asking these questions that makes you feel uncomfortable. That is perfectly understandable. The fact that you have a problem with this suggests to me that you are not completely happy with the situation that you find yourself in. Until you feel contentment about this you are always going to feel ill at ease.

    I think what you have done is a wonderful thing, but is it what you want? Are you happy with how things are? Are your needs being met? If you are completely at ease then do follow Abigail’s suggestions. If not then maybe you are staying with your husband for the wrong reasons.

    Only you can find these answers, from the bottom of your heart. First of all though I suggest that you ask yourself some deep, personal and honest questions. The doubts will not go away and the sooner that you face them the quicker you will find peace and contentment.

  5. i felt he was incredibly selfish he knew in advance and took my prime years away the only consolation is i have three beautiful children. we are divorced but i love the man i knew before.

  6. Jackie’s comments really hit home. I, too, was married for many years to a mtf and had 3 beautiful children. I divorced and have been remarried for 22 years. My 3 children are grown and, while they didn’t have problems with their father earlier, 2 of the 3 are now in serious therapy over it. They have anger issues directed at their father. Both of the ones in therapy have told me they wish I had divorced their father much sooner than I did. I have maintained a friendly relationship with her, but now that these anger issues have surfaced I’m wondering what role I should play. BTW, my ex is in a lesbian relationship now. I felt like I had been used for all the years of my marriage to her, and I surely had my “prime years” taken from me, too. Everything today makes it seem like there’s something wrong with anyone who is angry with the transgendered spouse/parent.

  7. (Wow these posts are old.) HEAR HEAR!! Unbeleivably hard to find support for the wife of a transgender! I too feel that my ship has sailed only to find that 20+ years later I’m on the wrong ship! And yes I’m angry! Where does what I want fall in all of this? Fat Frumpy Forty with Four kids is where I feel I’m at and life doesn’t seem to be very bright at this moment.

  8. I, too was married to an FTM. You are so right Anonymous2, it is nearly impossible to find support for this situation. On the other hand, there’s a lot of support for the TG, and even support from the TG’s side that masquerades as support for the spouse, but really isn’t. For a while I felt like it was my DUTY to stay and take care of her even though NONE of my needs or wants were ever taken into consideration… and I’m not exaggerating here. It would be wonderful to have a couple of people with whom I can share these feelings with as I am trying to get rid of the dusty, old baggage, so to speak. I am finding that 6 years later, now that I am finally in a loving relationship, I have major issues about deception and betrayal that are leaving me scratching my head on numerous occasions. Can anyone out there relate? Am I just crazy? Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts or hear other stories. Maybe we should form a group, write a book, etc.

  9. Amen to all of you!

    My spouse just came out to me a few days ago, so this is all pretty new to me. Been married for 29+ years, and this comes up NOW? I’m 58. What am I supposed to do now? Start over? Well, I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you what’s been running through my head.

    Having been online for as long as I have, I thought it would be a simple matter to get some helpful info, find a support group, locate a message board. I mean there’s a website for just about everything under the sun isn’t there?

    But boy was I wrong! There’s literally nothing for “us.”

    I’m all up for filling this void, but unsure of how to start. For the record, I used to design web sites, and know my way around a site control panel. But how do we contact each other without posting email addresses online? That’s usually a real bad move. Any ideas?

  10. I’m going to go out on a limb here. Don’t worry, this isn’t my real name. Winonastpierre@hotmail.com

    I would love to hear from any and all of you who are dealing with or have dealt with a transgendered spouse.

  11. I’m with you guys. My husband just told me (on Thanksgiving Day, of all times) that he wants to be a woman. He still wants to be with me and our kids (if I’m able to stick it out), but would pick being a woman over being with me. I’m sure if I tried to leave and take the kids (11, 8 and 2) I’d have a huge fight and that wouldn’t be fair to them.

    I feel like no matter what decision I make, I’M going to be painted as “the bad guy” in this situation…after all, I would be the one “choosing” to leave the marriage.

    I do love him, and can’t imagine our lives without him, but I’m just not sure if a woman/woman marriage is something I can live with.

  12. This is a painful thing for me. My spouse even wears a fake engagemenet ring. I hurt and ache for a male spouse. the more self actualized he has become, the more alone I have become. This issue isn’t just about how he presents to others but how he presents to me. I have lost my husband. I feel he is dead.

    By the way, there is almost no support for the spouse left behind. I am sad and depressed.

  13. I sure do identify with you. I too lost my husband, on the day, actually that you wrote to this site. It is now September and I haven’t quit crying. He/she went on without so much as a hiccup, and here it is, my life is destroyed, and like you pointed out…I’ve no where to go…materials, readings, and support groups are all for the transgendered or their families. Being the spouse is completely different. It hits us sexually, gender wise, and personality as well. When David was himself he was a tobacco chewing, shit stomping, cowboy, that talked like he’d never been to school. Imagine how stunned I was to awake one day to he as Jessica, a regal woman with what sounded like a PhD????

    I too, am sad and depressed.

    dorothyntoto2@hughes.net

  14. i also struggle with many of these issues as a partner of a m2f trans person. There are some online groups such as dependpartners (partners only) or the my husband betty community forum (for both trans people and partners) and helen boyd (author of mhb) has a partners only yahoo group. Hope this helps.

  15. I have read your comments and understand the pain you are going through because of your husband’s revelations of their true selves. And I can feel how you are left in the dark to suffer with their pain and having to piece your lives together.

    Being transgendered myself, still married and in the closet I also understand what your SO have gone through.
    We do not say “I have decided that I shall live as a woman so I can hurt you”‘. Most generally, one fights those feelings for years and decades before coming to the realization that fighting those feelings is pointless. Over time, it takes more and more mental energy to keep those feelings at bay that our psyche gets worn down completely. I needed to get to that point to see a therapist. I had never thought that I would lose control on my feelings but it happened; I wrongly assumed that because I was able to repress them in the past I would be successful in doing it forever. Well, it did not happen.

  16. I am married to a fabulous FTM man but I too found there was not enough support. I keep a blog diary and support people through messages and posts there. Feel free to read and post. I love to hear from and help other trans spouses.

  17. As a wife who is staying with her MtF spouse I can’t help but point out that the usual sexuality labels aren’t useful to people like us. I identified as hetero, but now that doesn’t fit. Neither does lesbian. I, myself, felt like I was in limbo until I took my attraction to her out of the realm of traditional labels. They didn’t fit our unusual relationship or my continued attraction to her. That provided the space for me to give it a name that more closely reflected all of those factors. She understands and accepts it because she knows and relishes that whatever label is stuck on it, my desire for her is still there.

  18. I am a wife who is staying with her MtF spouse also. There really is not a lot of support groups out there for us. I always seen myself as straight but now I’m confused. Am I ready to have the label “lesbian”? No matter how much we do not like labels we have to deal with them. I love my spouse and she is my world! Luckily for me my spouse was honest from day one and I was fully aware when we got married that he was transgender.

  19. If I could afford to be out on my own I would be. He/she killed my marriage there has not been anything between us for 12 years. We were married 20 years by the time he/she told me. I am not willing to make concessions he she has killed the marriage and there is nothing that can bring it back.

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