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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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6527212 May 29, 2009

Two Dad Deal: An Aberration Story

Moral hypocrisy also plays a heavy part in this particular dilemma.

One of the key goals of Aberration Nation is to evoke plain ole' thinking. It turns out that thinking is a much harder and scarier activity than I ever imagined. It must be because a disturbing amount of people form opinions based on what someone else told them to think once upon a time. Perhaps it was their parents, teachers, friends, or the broader culture squeezing in around them. Busting out of preconceived notions and small ideas can be overwhelming. For some, living like a programmed robot turns out to be a much more convenient option.

This inability to think for oneself has become a major thorn in my creative and intellectual side. I grew up being told exactly how to think and what opinions were the right ones to have. The consequences of questioning those directives created a dense barbed wire fence caked in misconception, guilt, and grief that I eventually had to fight my way through step by step. Now that I'm safe on the other side, I feel compelled to think through issues on an individual level, and I hope you will as well.

Going against the grain isn't easy, particularly in cultures where thinking in and of itself seems to be a crime. I still struggle to muster the courage after all these years. In fact, a sign in my laundry room has the word Courage written across it. Each day I take a moment to read it and remember why I hung it on the wall. There are many issues that I'll be contemplating for a long time; my decisions don't come quickly or easily.

What better topic to evoke down and dirty, gut-wrenching (and downright sinful by some standards) thinking than gay civil rights? My guess is that reader opinions are mixed on the issue. Today's post is about a gay rights topic that pulls at my heartstrings: adoption. You see, once upon a time, I got myself into a jam. Miss foot-loose-fancy-free-deep-thinking-Louisiana-college-senior found herself with a huge pregnant belly and the heart-wrenching option of giving up a child for adoption. Smart, determined, and full of spunk, I knew I could make it work. So I decided to parent the kid myself rather than risk handing it over to parents who might somehow love it less, mistreat it, or abuse it. I gladly sacrificed what I had left of my own youthful independence and late-sleeping M.O. to prevent that scenario.

Even then I knew that all parents are not equal. I came to the conclusion that one good parent is better than two bad ones, and that no matter what anyone (in my 1980's southern Bible-belt Junior League culture) thought or said about me and my situation, we would survive. I married my husband a few years later, and over the years, have come to realize that absolutely nothing but love truly makes a family.

If heterosexual parents are not equally capable of great parenting, why can't there be some good gay and lesbian ones out there? If I'd been forced to give up my child for some reason, I would have preferred that someone like my guest today, author David H. Burton, and his partner raise her rather than some of the heterosexual parents I've come across through the years. The bottom line is that every child deserves to be truly and honestly loved, protected, and cared for.

Perhaps reading about David and his partner's love for their three adopted sons will perpetuate additional thought on this critical cultural topic. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read his touching responses to my interview questions. Does this thoughtful, creative man and the one person he loves most in the world deserve to be fathers? The Children's Aid Society and the Canadian government think so.

Forget what anyone has ever told you. Make your own decision and let us know your thoughts (leave a comment).

You are one of two fathers for three adopted sons. Why did you and your partner decide to adopt? Do you believe the motivation differed from traditional adoptive parents?

My partner and I have been together for 12 years. In the very early stages of our relationship we both knew that we wanted children and talked about it openly. After we had bought a house and settled into a quiet, suburban neighborhood (where there seemed to be a rather abnormally large percentage of gay/lesbian couples) we decided to begin the journey, as it were. We attended a course called Daddies and Poppas that explored the various options for gay men that want to adopt. Of the options that were available (i.e., surrogacy, co-parenting, international adoption, private adoption, adoption through the Children's Aid Society, etc) we decided to go the adoption route through The Children's Aid Society (CAS). As for the motivation, I think it differs for a lot of people. We both grew up with siblings and knew that we wanted children and I don't think it was any more complex than that, really. I know that factors like sterility/infertility are often a factor for heterosexual couples that adopt, but that obviously wasn't the case for us. :)

What was the process like? Did you and your partner encounter any barriers? If so, how did you handle them?

We live in Canada, so the actual process for adoption with CAS is the same as any married or common-law couple. I should mention, though, that as a result of being a same-sex couple we were barred from international adoption since only Canada and the U.S. allow same-sex couples to adopt. That limited our options obviously, but I'm glad that we went through CAS. There are a lot of children that need love and a good home, especially older children. I wrote about this particular topic on my blog. There's a special place in my heart for older child adoption. :) Back to the point. The process is lengthy, as once you submit your application to CAS you wait until they slot you into their orientation course. The wait can be upwards of 1.5 years. The course is about 9-10 weeks of classes and a simultaneous home study with an adoption worker. You basically have to divulge your entire life (relationships with family members, your spouse, financial status, etc.) as part of the home study. You have to be honest about everything, because it's not just about being upfront about your lifestyle, but also about what you are willing to accept in an adopted child. You have to be brutally honest since CAS's focus is to find the right home for each child. As for barriers other than international adoption, there are none in this country that I can think of when it comes to adoption for same-sex couples. I suppose that same-sex couples might be concerned around adoption where a birth mother gives up her child and wants to choose the adoptive couple. In this case, I'm sure there are worries that they might not be chosen, but quite honestly we know a same-sex couple that the birth mother chose over other couples. She wanted her child growing up in a progressive home!

Can you describe your family for us? What make it the same and what makes it different from traditional families?

Our family is as follows: we have 3 boys and they are birth siblings. They were between the ages of 6-9 when we adopted them. My partner and I are both in our 30's and we have a Basset Hound that the boys adore. Really, the only significant things that differentiates us from other families is that there are two dads. In the beginning, the boys called us by our first names, but after a couple of months they were quite ready to call us something more appropriate. Considering their ages, we let them decide and they came up with Dad and Daddy. The boys do tend to get a few questions around having two dads, but they are quite proud of the fact now. The other day, our middle son had a friend over at the house and he turned to his friend and said, "See, I have two dads!", as if the friend hadn’t believed him. The other parents and the school have been nothing but supportive, offering books and other resources to help if we needed it. We do have to correct some people when they mention having a mother, but we take it all in stride. People make a lot of heterosexist assumptions in general and you learn to correct people politely. I make a specific point of doing it in front of the boys since I want them to be proud of their dads and not to feel ashamed of it. I refuse to be ashamed of who I am. And they think it's great! I think the best statement they came up with was "I have two dads because they chose me." Enough said, I guess!

Can you describe a typical day?

Chaos! LOL! Just kidding. Although I do have to say that the change from just the two of us to house full of boys was significant. The biggest thing is routine. It starts with making lunches, breakfast, feeding the dog, getting ready for school, etc. We both work and I get home early to pick up the boys. From there, it’s homework, dinner, etc. We try to have dinner as a family and sit together and talk about the day. We also like to spend time with each of them at bedtime, reading to them, etc. We're big on having family time and individual time and the boys thrive on it. I think it helps to develop a stronger and faster bond with them. And laughter is huge in our house. A lot of it! We also try to set up routines on the weekend with special treats that the boys look forward to. We love our weekends!

Do your sons understand the nature of the love between their two fathers? How do you explain to this to them in a way that they can understand at an early age?

I think in the beginning it was a little foreign to them, but they adjusted very quickly. They completely understand that we are a couple and we emphasized that from the get-go. What's interesting is that it has re-shaped their own conceptions about having a partner. Our middle guy wants to marry Mario at the moment! (from the Mario & Luigi video games)

Have your children experienced any social issues due to having two fathers? If so, how have you helped them cope?

Not at this point other than questions around having two dads. We've prepped them ahead of time by having very straight-forward dialogue about the potential for issues to arise (i.e., name-calling, etc). We used a number of books that show diversity in families to show that there are all kinds of families and that having two dads is simply one variation. From what we have seen so far, they seem quite well grounded on this matter.

We all have concerns for our children as they grow up. What are your main concerns? What are the top three messages you hope to instill in them on their way to manhood?

We're really big on respect for women and ensuring that they see women as equals. We hope that our boys will grow up treating all people with respect, and not just tolerating difference, but celebrating it. We've also tried to teach them about non-violence and finding mutually acceptable means to settle differences rather than resorting to violence. We don't want them growing up glorifying guns. I think with some of these qualities instilled in them, they will grow to become wonderful partners and well-respected men in society.

There are always folks ready and willing to tell us how to live our lives—how did you find the courage to move beyond those barriers and create a rewarding life for yourself?

I grew up as the son of a Jehovah Witness, and then, when my father was ex-communicated, a born-again Christian. The church I attended was non-denominational, but filled with hypocrisy and judgment. I never felt right there and the messages of intolerance I received as a child and a teenager were anathema to me. At around the age of 16 I stopped going to church and never returned. My father continues to be a born-again Christian and has had to, himself, deal with the fact that I'm gay. He's actually been extremely supportive of me and my partner over the years, but I think it has been difficult for him. As for my own growth, I came out at the age of 20 while away at university. I've never looked back.

What do you feel are the most damaging misconceptions about same-sex adoption? Has this improved over the last five or ten years?

The biggest misconception about same-sex adoption is around the "influence" that we, as same-sex parents, might have over our children. I've never bought into it. My parents are straight, yet I turned out gay. That said, I've heard that children of same-sex parents grow up to be more accepting of differences in people, which is always good. As for improving over the last decade, I think that society's views, in general, have become more tolerant towards LGBT people, in addition to same-sex adoption, but I think there is still some ways to go.

Love is love is love. I get so frustrated by some of the push-back same sex couples get about adoption when I know how many crappy parents there are out there, and how many children just need someone to love them. Why is it that people fail to support providing that love to these children?

Fear - plain and simple. We fear the unknown. And what we fear we try to control. Moral hypocrisy also plays a heavy part in this particular dilemma. People pick and choose from their religion to try to force others to live their lives a certain way. And that goes for a number of issues throughout history - slavery, the subjugation of women, etc. There is a really good article posted by Libba Bray over at livejournal. Her father was gay. And as she says, "They are scared. And fear breeds mistrust and intolerance. Often, when people feel that the times are uncertain and they are uncertain of their place in that shaky world, when they feel powerless over the economy or random violence or gender roles or their children, their spouses, etc.—what I call the Talking Heads moment: “And you may say to yourself, Where is that beautiful house? And you may say to yourself, My God, what have I done?”—they feel genuinely threatened in the way that a child who feels threatened will dig in his/her heels and refuse to cede ground because it feels, in that moment, like ceding the self. It is their fear of themselves, really, of their tenuous grasp on an unpredictable world, that is writ large in such legislation. “Well,” they might argue. “At least I can control this.” They need an enemy to fight. A dragon to slay so that the world will be put right again. A sacrifice to offer the gods that they might be spared."

For those of us who may have same sex couples or families living in our communities, what’s the best way to explain what can be quite confusing to our kids? I have my own methods but would love to hear your thought on this?

Explain that there are different kinds of families. Right from the start. There are children that are raised by: one mom and one dad, a single parent, a grandmother or grandfather, two grandparents, two moms, two dads, an uncle or an aunt, etc. Get books from the library on different families and on ones that show gay and lesbian parents. One of my favorites is AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. It's the true story about two male penguins that raised a chick in New York's Central Park Zoo. For a lot of kids, if an animal can have two dads, then it's okay. And if you hear your children using terms like gay or fag, correct them. It's no different than using a racial slur.

If you could say anything to the world about your family and the love you have for your children, what would that be?

Wow. Well, nothing can take the place of the love I have for my children or for my partner. As each day goes by I love them more. Their antics make me smile, their jokes make me laugh, when they say "I love you, Dad" it brings joy to my heart, when they come home from school and see me at the door and yell out, "DAD!" my heart leaps, when they ask me to keep reading to them at bedtime I love to indulge them, and when they give me a hug and kiss goodnight my day is complete. I live for my family. They are my life. What else is there, really?

What do you think?

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