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6527212 August 07, 2009

Gender Bender: An Aberration Story

I just wish my ex-husband had the opportunity to be who she really is a whole lot sooner.

When I was a little girl growing up in the Deep South, I wasn't allowed to watch The Sonny & Cher Show; the clothes were just too darn skimpy. However, every now and then, my brother and I were able to sneak a peak. In those brief moments when Cher shook those tassels, feathers, and whatever else she managed to creatively attach to her slim bodacious ta-tas, I was smitten.

I didn't think about how much skin I was taking in; that meant nothing to a six year old with two huge ponytails. But there was something she exuded that meant the whole world to me. Her thin frame and long dark hair reminded me of my mother ... a happy versio
n, singing and smiling. She was absolutely magical. And to top my fantasy off, low and behold, her little blonde daughter bounced across the stage covered in lace and softness. She melted into Cher's thin, loving mother arms with Sonny smiling down upon them. I wanted to be that little girl. I wanted to be part of a celebration, regardless of how tacky or sinful anyone in my southern neighborhood may have thought it was at the time. All I saw was love.

So I watched Chastity grow up, wondering if the love I witnessed would somehow support her journey. When I heard that she was becoming a he, I wasn't surprised. I don't care; I'm still just hoping that the adorable little girl I envied can have her happy ending ... just like I want mine. But after I heard the news of Chastity's sex change, I began to think again about what it all means. I admit that I find it tough to grasp. I love being a woman, and that would stand regardless of who might float my boat from a relationship perspective.

So what happens when someone like me, or you, is greeted by news of gender issues in someone we love? My guest today, Stacey, found herself in just that situation after being married for several years. Of all the long, winding roads life can take, few are as confusing and convoluted as this. How does one emotionally survive the shock, betrayal, confusion, and grief that can often be associated with the gender change of a spouse? Stacey has remarkably agreed to share her story.

While each divorce is unique, yours revolved around an unusual situation. Can you explain?

When my ex-husband and I had been married for seven years and our only child was about three years old, he told me about his feelings of wanting to change genders. This was completely out of the blue. He had not mentioned this before we got married. I always knew he was sensitive and not quite the masculine type, but I didn't realize that he was a woman trapp
ed in a man's body. It was even more of a surprise because we had not had any problems in the bedroom. However, after he shared this revelation, our sex life fizzled to almost nothing. We decided to try to stay together and see if we could make the marriage work. It wasn't until his father, my uncle, and my father all died within a three-month span that I couldn't do it any longer. I needed that physical closeness only my partner could give. Unfortunately, he began pulling away from me even more. That's when I realized the marriage was not a marriage any more. I filed for divorce before our 17th anniversary and it was final four months later.

Most of us have difficultly understanding sex change, much less being married to someone who desires the procedure/operation. When you first learned of your husband's desire to become a woman, how did you react? How did you cope?

A number of things ran through my head. First I wondered if I was woman enough to make him stay a man. If I lost weight, would that make him want me more? It's like the steps in grieving; I was in the bargaining phase. Then I questioned my own sexuality. Am I attracted to women because I want to stay married to him even thought he doesn't want to be a man? Could I continue a relationship with him as a woman? Then, as he started down the road of gender reassignment, I just started feeling nauseous. How could I have loved someone like that? How could I have been intimate with someone who now wants to be a woman? I essentially had a nervous breakdown when he started the process. I couldn't handle it even though we were already divorced by that time.

You remained married for some time after learning of your husband's sexual identity issues. How would you describe the marriage? How did you try to embrace his uniqueness/aberration, from the perspective of being a loyal and loving spouse?

Since we had a young child, I spent more time with her and at work, and tried not to dwell on the fact that my sexual desires were not being met. We
decided to go to therapy to see if we could work out our issues. I became more and more angry about the situation and he became more timid. It was like he was so caught up in the fact that he wasn't in the right body that he didn't realize what was going on around him. I felt that the weight of running the household was on my shoulders, and I was enabling his lazy behavior. It was like we were roommates and not lovers. We became more and more distant, and I suppressed my needs for sexual expression. I eventually began wondering why I was continuing down the path of doing nothing when I was dissatisfied with the relationship. We fought over small things and I began resenting him. I don't think I really tried to embrace his uniqueness at all, but instead hoped that it was something that would go away. It wasn't until 10 years later that I decided I couldn't ignore the fact that our relationship was not the way it used to be.

Like many people, I find the sexual aspects of changing sexual identity confusing. If a man becomes a woman, does he then seek to be with a man? If so, is he homosexual or heterosexual? Did these kinds of questions and issues creep up and how did you deal with them?

Sexual orientation is a separate issue from wanting to change genders. A person can go from male to female and still like women. A person can go from male to female and still like men if he was gay befor
e. My ex had experimented with both men and women (I found this out after I married him as well), and she currently is not sure which way she wants to go or if she wants to have sex at all. She says she's asexual right now. The main issue is that transgendered people are not really accepted by straight people or homosexuals. They are often caught in a type of limbo situation.

Ultimately, you and your husband divorced. While divorce is more common than we'd like, each situation is unique. What ultimately happened and how did you cope?

I was very distraught over my father's death. He was my rock and I was daddy's little girl. My brother had died seven years before and my uncle had died the month before. I had no close male members of my family left. I was trying to lean on my husband to replace what I had with my father, but my husband was not up to that task. I began leanin
g on an ex-boyfriend of mine who was between marriages at the time. My ex-boyfriend had always been my confidante, but this time I was wondering if we could rekindle what we had in the past. He also gave me good advice about whether I should get divorced or not. I was calling him a lot trying to find my way because I felt adrift after my father died. Since my husband couldn't be the man I wanted him to be and I was over 40 by then, I decided I could not live this sham of a marriage any longer. I needed to be able to have a relationship where my partner could be the man I need him to be. I decided to file for divorce and my husband moved out.

Then I had to do all the jobs my ex used to do. I was very angry about this. I also lost his companionship. Questions would come up that I would normally ask him, but then he wouldn't be there to help me with the answer. It took awhile to mourn the relationship. I coped by trying to find guys in bars and in Internet dating services. Neither worked. I lost money on the deal with two of the men I met that way. I was getting discouraged about ever meeting another man that would be good enough for me and would want me at the same time. I was really angry because I married my husband for life and it seemed as if he had stolen the opportunity I could have had with another man and now I couldn't have another man because they didn't want me because I was over 40, overweight, too smart, and too independent. It wasn't until I decided to stop looking for men and joined Facebook that I met my fiance, Kevin. Since meeting him, I have been able to cope with a lot of my problems because I have him in my life. I feel like I can start a new life with him.

What advice can you share with men or women who meet the news that their spouse want to change their sex?

I would say that the man or woman will have to decide whether they want to stay with that spouse and help them through the transition or leave and find another partner. If the transgendered person really feels that they are in the wrong body, that feeling is not going to go away. It's not going to be easy for that person to stay the sex they don't want to be.

I couldn't stay in the relationship because I want a man. However, some spouses are able to stay and appreciate the person regardless of the gender they are. I would encourage the spouse to read up on what transgendered is all about and even see a therapist that specializes in treating people with those feelings. It is a decision that each person has to make on their own. I didn't like having to make the choice I did, but I didn't see any other way to make the marriage work. Now I'm glad I made that choice because I'm struggling to deal with the person who is no longer the man I fell in love with. It's almost like another woman took my husband away and yet she is him. It's something I still struggle with and it's not an easy decision. I would not rush into a decision, but I would not stay in a marriage that's not what both partners want.

What do you think are the top misconceptions about sex change?

I think the biggest misconception is that the person wants to change genders on purpose--that they can make the decision to stay the way they are. This is something the person is born with. Another misconception is that transgendered people are just transvestites. Transvestites can be straight, but just want to wear the other gender's clothes. Sexual orientation is also something that is confusing about transgendered people. They truly are sepa
rate issues. Transgendered people may not change their sexual orientation when they change from one gender to the other. Even though transgendered people are lumped in with the lesbian, gay, bisexual group, they often aren't accepted by gays either. It's almost like they're a group unto themselves.

What do you think are the top misconceptions about divorce? Do we still have them in today's culture?

Divorce is not as much of a stigma as it once was, but I think people fail to understand that a divorce is like a death. I'm still grieving the loss of my marriage and of the relationship I once had with my ex-husband. It's like he died and essentially he did because he does not exist any more. She does now. Also I don't want people to think that I got divorced because I was tired of my husband. I used to think that when couples got divorced, they either should not have gotten married in the first place or that they are not trying hard enough to stay together.

I don't think divorce should be used as an easy way out just like abortion should not be used as birth control. However, sometimes divorce like abortion is necessary and I feel that in my case there was no way to keep the marriage going. The marriage was entered under false pretenses and it took a long time to see that. My ex-husband misrepresented himself and I would probably have grounds to get the marriage annulled if I was into doing that. I don't think a lot of people realize that sometimes divorce is the answer no matter how much the couple has tried to stay together. I think I waited too long to get divorced and should have done it sooner, but I don't think I was ready to be a single parent 10 years ago. I'm much better at being one now with an older child.

One thing I would like to say to the LBGT community is that it would be nice if you could be yourself and not try to pretend that you are straight. At least if you're going to marry a straight person, be open about your sexuality. Let that straight person decide if he or she wants to enter the marriage knowing that it may not be a traditional marriage. I don't think I would have married my ex-husband if I had known he had these feelings. I wish I could have been given that option. I don't regret the child we had together, but I regret that I was unable to have the marriage I wanted. I hope to try again soon, but I do feel that being divorced carries a certain stigma of failure that is hard to live down.

What have you learned through this highly unique situation? What has it ultimately taught you about yourself, life, identity, and relationships?

Well, I have learned to appreciate all kinds of people. When I was growing up, I was around children of all colors because I was a military brat. Some were mixed race even. I did not judge people by the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes. I was not exposed to LGBT people directly. That was not talked about. It wasn't until I was an adult that I even knew anyone who had a different sexual orientation than mine. I wish I had been exposed more because now I have a certain gaydar that I didn't have in the past. I can sense when someone is gay or not. I wasn't able to pick that up in the past. If I had, perhaps I may have recognized it with my ex-husband. I have also learned that people should not be ashamed to say if they are LGBT. I know some people may say that they can't come out because of the prejudice of others. I realize that is the case.

I would like to ask those who have prejudice against LGBT to really ask themselves why they have that prejudice. Are they afraid that the LGBT people are going to convert them to the dark side? Are they afraid that their children will be converted? It's not like that. Having friends in the LGBT community, I've grown to love them for themselves when they can be open about their sexuality. When they have to hide it, it's not comfortable for them or for me. I'm hoping that there will be a day when LGBT people will not have to hide their sexuality any more. What someone does in the privacy of their own home is none of my business. I will not like anyone less because they are LGBT.

I just wish my ex-husband had the opportunity to be who she really is a whole lot sooner. Maybe things would be different between us now. We might have been friends instead of having this antagonism between us. So what I have learned most of all? It is that everyone should be allowed to be themselves without having to worry about whether they will be accepted.

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