Thursday, 3 November 2016

The End of Days

This is a post which I have been dreading to write for a very long time: the one where I talk about the end of my marriage.

Despite my very best efforts, my marriage has ended. And the ultimate reason is my cross-dressing. I guess by posting this I can both help myself to go through the necessary grieving process, and also help other people out there who might be contemplating similar problems.

What it feels like when your marriage is ending
My wife and I met in continental Europe in the early nineties. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was living in another country, and spoke several languages. She was artistic and adventurous, where I was scholarly and conventional. We were both students at the time, and we were both seeing someone else. But there was definite chemistry. In the days before the Internet, we wrote long letters to one another. By a series of very unlikely steps, we saw each other again. I graduated, took a job, and in my first holiday, I went to visit her. By this time, she was living in the US, and we were both single.

I persuaded her to come to the UK, which she did, and we immediately moved in together. We married in the late nineties. My family adored her. My uncle (an academic) praised how clever she was. My grandfather said she was the most beautiful bride to walk down the aisle of our local church. Many people have, over many years, complimented me on how lucky I was to be married to someone like her.

I knew all along, of course, that my gender was not completely congruent with my apparent identity. I have known this ever since I can remember. I can remember wanting a pink blanket in kindergarten and being told I had to have a blue one. But I did not tell my wife any of these things.
Grotesque: Corporal Klinger

Partly I did not tell her because of shame: I was in my mid-twenties, and I knew next to nothing about my gender. Wherever I looked, crossdressers were figures of scorn, of ridicule. They seemed grotesque, repulsive. A great example would be Corporal Klinger, the MASH character who is trying to convince everyone he is crazy by dressing as a woman, so they will throw him out of the Army (har-har, what a wheeze). My internal identity was completely different to that. She already had a name in my mind. I pictured Vivienne as being like a wild animal, trapped and roaring in an unbreakable cage. Although I didn't quite know who Vivienne was, I knew that she and Klinger had nothing in common.

The other reason I didn't tell my wife was that I believed that being married to her would cure me. My trans feelings largely disappeared when I was with her, and I believed that I could choose to put crossdressing aside permanently. ("When I became a man, I put away childish things"). This was (I now realise) a very naïve belief, but nonetheless a fervent one. I was trying very hard not to be trans.

Of course it didn't last. About three years into the marriage, I broke down in tears, and told her my secret: that sometimes I like to dress in women's clothing. She was utterly shocked and horrified. That was the inflection point, the point which marked the start of the downward slope which has led to the end of the marriage.

At first things didn't really change. I purged. That didn't last. In all fairness, my wife tried to have a look at crossdressing, and see what it's about. One time we even went to a transvestite ball (I was in male mode) and she spoke to the other people to hear their stories. She was fascinated, sympathetic, charming. She made a very powerful impression on the people there. But as we came out, it was as if the door slammed. We got in the car to drive home. She didn't want to talk about it; didn't want to acknowledge it. Sitting in the darkness, I realised that she was probably shocked, digesting the implications of all of this. But she would come around. In a few days, we would be able to talk about it. But we never have; not one word from that day to this.
Never mentioned: crossdressing

And then there was the Dolly incident. My wife went to Manchester with her friend for a girly weekend. Unknown to them, their hotel was hosting an extravagant transvestite event in the ballroom. It was big, brash, loud and undeniable. My wife and her friend, both very attractive women, were cajoled to join the fun, and they did: laughing and dancing the night away with glamorous trannies. The following day, they got talking at breakfast to a few of them, and my wife said she was amazed by how normal they seemed: ordinary, pleasant guys. One of them, "Dolly", gave my wife his website details. She checked his website a day or so after coming home (without telling me) and was horrified to see pictures of him pouting in lingerie with his penis on display.

This one individual didn't intend to harm me, but did so very severely. What was he thinking? That she would be aroused? That she would think it was cool? Instead, she formed the very solid (and hard to dislodge) impression, that crossdressers, even the nice ones, even the "normal" ones, are not just after glamorous frocks, drinking and dancing, but are perverts behind closed doors. Thanks, Dolly.

It took me a while to realise how my wife has the ability to compartmentalise things in her life. It is as if she can take the idea of Vivienne, and all the trappings, all the accoutrements, and put them in a box, which is never acknowledged, never opened.

My wife came from a non-Western culture, where the behaviour of both men and women is rigidly proscribed. Even though she has lived in the West for decades, there are certain things which, to her, were not negotiable, and one of those things was that her husband mustn't wear a frock. It was even OK for other people to do that, as long as it wasn't her husband. She expected an alpha-male: indestructible, unshakeable, always in control. Never uncertain. Never vulnerable. Never tearful. Such a man would make her feel safe. That seems not wholly unreasonable, but there are two problems with it. The first is that I am not that man. I am not him today, and I have never been him. The second problem is that such a man doesn't actually exist.
Trapped: Vivienne

So she put Vivienne into that box, sealed the lid tightly, and pretended that Vivienne didn't exist. But it seemed that the harder my wife tried to suppress Vivienne, the harder Vivienne demanded to be expressed, to be heard, to be acknowledged. I searched for ways to explore Vivienne's identity without threatening my marriage. I joined the Beaumont Society, in the hope of opening a dialogue with like-minded people, but (as I say in my article) that didn't help much. I explored dressing, and had one or two makeovers. Eventually I started this blog.

What I wanted, most of all (and still do, I suppose) was simply acceptance. I wanted to be able to express this tender, vulnerable side of myself to the person who mattered most to me in the world. Vivienne wasn't just about the clothing; she was about the roles and expectations placed upon me because I happened to be born a boy. I wanted to have conversations with my wife about it, not strangers on the Internet. I wanted to dress at home, not in makeover shops in other cities. I wanted to be accepted for who I am, not for who she (and in fairness, everyone else during my upbringing) told me I ought to be. I wanted to enjoy being myself, being whole.

Instead, she insisted that this side of me was disgusting, unbearable. It must never be spoken of, never acknowledged, never accepted, never tolerated. But gradually that disgust, that poison, began to leak out of the box. It began to be aimed at aspects of me which were not associated with Vivienne. My wife began to gradually shut me out, to express John Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: the evocative name he gave to the behaviours which start to appear when the death-knell of a relationship is ringing loud and clear. We were four for four. And it was utter agony for me.

It didn't matter that I put rigid boundaries around my dressing. Four episodes a year, or less, and always, always in complete secrecy. We could not go shopping to a department store without her fearing that I was looking at the female mannequins and picturing myself in their clothing. She came to view Vivienne as the other woman, the one who came first in my affections.

It didn't matter that the other aspects of our lives were good: I had a good job and provided a good standard of living; we lived in a lovely house and had lovely kids and lovely friends. I didn't have any other obnoxious habits: gambling, drinking, drugs. That was all outweighed by the fact that I was not the alpha male that she thought she married.
Corrosive to relationships: fear

I see now that she was motivated by fear. Fear that I was going to start having sex with men. For the record, this was never my plan, and still isn't. Fear that I was going to start taking hormones and having surgery. Again, this was never the plan, and it still isn't. Fear that I was going to completely come out, and start showing up at the school parents' evening in a skirt and heels, where I would be a figure of contempt and ridicule (no matter how polite they might be to my face), and a cause for the kids to be mocked or bullied. Fear that other people would look down upon her: what on Earth possessed you to marry that freak?

The antidote to fear is communication, and this was another sticking point: she just would not communicate. The prospect, the existence of Vivienne, was so terrifying, so repugnant to her, that she could not have an ordinary conversation about it. I would talk, and she would not listen. I would listen, and she would not talk. It wasn't just that she didn't talk to me. She didn't talk to anyone: didn't confide in a close friend. Her fears were grinding around inside her, destroying her on the inside. On the outside, she began to shun me openly. The intimacy dried up years ago. To describe what happened, I can't do better than the words of Yoda:
"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering".
But we still pretended, to the outside world, that everything was fine. For myself, I did everything I possibly could to keep the show on the road. I moved us here to New Zealand. But coming here permanently, we brought Vivienne, and all the other problems, right along with us.

Fabulous but unworn: shoes
In among all the agony were glimpses of hope. Just occasionally, she would buy me girly gifts, such as this pair of fabulous wedge heels. As soon as I opened the box, I was excited and I wanted to try them on. But the look of disgust on her face, as I did so, made me instantly take them off, and I have never worn them since. I think she was really trying to make it work. But in one sense, these glimpses of hope (she bought me the shoes; she must hope I liked them) were actually worse than nothing at all, because the false hope, and the let-down afterward, were especially difficult to bear.

I started to take antidepressants. They were not a solution, but they helped me cope with the daily grinding agony of my life. I am still on them. And I took us to counselling. Good counselling, with a highly-recommended professional psychologist, who saw us for two years, together and separately. But even with his help, we were unable to negotiate, to compromise. My intake of alcohol and comfort food jumped sharply upwards.

In order to illustrate my despair and agony at my situation, I often used the phrase burning to death to describe how I was feeling. I was trying to show how desperately miserable I was in my life: I was desperate to change, to move, to get out of where I was. But, in a very real way, I was also being consumed. Each time we had an argument; each time she stonewalled my feelings, I lost a bit more energy, a bit more commitment. I knew I could not hold on much longer. I knew that one day, the last bit of energy would be gone, and the marriage would be dead.

It didn't matter. My wife was unable to change. And I don't mean this harshly. I realise now that, whether she chose to or not, she could not change her feelings. As for me, I had played my last card. I had nothing left to offer.

I remember the exact moment I realised that the marriage was over. For years, there had been two paths in front of me: the path to stay and try to fix things (which was painful, and exhausting) and the path to leave and start again (which was painful, and exhausting). But always, when I looked at those two paths, the path to leave always seemed the more painful. But one day, the see-saw just tipped the other way, and it has never tipped back. I realised, with sudden clarity: I was never going to be happy if I stayed in this marriage. The realisation was terrible but inescapable.
I can't heeeeeear you!

When I told my wife it was over, she was astonished. Where did this come from? she wanted to know. Didn't you hear me when I said I was burning to death? I replied. But it turns out she didn't get it: she couldn't grasp it. She had denied it, pushed it away, in the same way she did with Vivienne: it's too painful to contemplate, so I will pretend it doesn't exist.

Since then, her anger has gone from being red hot to being blue hot, like a blowtorch. The thing she feared most, that her husband would leave, has come to pass. She cannot--yet--accept that she helped to bring this about. She cannot accept one iota of responsibility for what happened. It's all my fault; that's her truth. And it's OK.

I have called this post The End of Days, because it really feels like that from my point of view. I am losing my lovely home, and I now live in a small rental house. I will get shared custody of my children. That cosy image I once had, of having a nice job, a nice wife, a nice house, and nice kids, and being happy, has turned out to be an empty dream. And unfortunately that dream ends here.

This blog has been profoundly healing for me in so many ways. It has helped me to crystallise my feelings about myself, and my gender, and my identity. Although it's long, this article is only a drop in the bucket compared to thirty-odd volumes of hand-written journals. That banner at the top of the screen? That's one of my journals, and one of my collection of fountain pens. I write every day, when I get the chance, and I have used those journals to explore every possible avenue, every possible way, to keep the marriage on the road, to keep myself sane until the kids got a bit older, to conceptualise my wife's behaviour in different, more manageable ways. I know I am leaving this marriage having tried my absolute best to save it, using every resource I possess.

I also offer these experiences to you, my readers, in case some of you are in a similar position, and these insights help to crystallise your position.

I know that all is not lost; that there will be a new chapter in my life soon. But I don't know what it will look like, and that uncertainty is a fresh kind of agony for me. Where will I live? What will I look like? What will I wear? What will happen to the kids? What will happen to my wife? What role will Vivienne play in my life? I have no answers to any of this, and discussion will need to wait for another day, and another blog post. Meanwhile, let's close the book.

===
Addendum

Katie Robbins wrote a powerful and thought-provoking article, with a similar theme, which you can read here. And hers is a lot shorter!

24 comments:

  1. So sad to read this. When you fill up one journal, it's time to open another and start writing again. Keep your balance, keep your focus, fall back on your friends ... never give up.

    Alice

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts Alice.

      Delete
  2. For what it's worth, I'm sorry to hear about the breakdown of your marriage. It cannot have been easy for either of you and it must have been an awful decision to make. Perhaps, with time, your wife may come to accept that it was the right thing for both of you.

    I think it highlights why many trans* folk don't come out to their partners. Yes, we lie and hide, and that's through fear. Fear of losing the person we love. Not that it makes it right. It's how some people manage to cope. Me? I feel slight guilt in saying I'm one of the lucky ones, so there is hope, but it could just have easily gone terribly wrong too. You just don't know....

    Good luck for the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lynn. There is no need to feel guilt for being one of the lucky ones!

      Delete
  3. You have my heartfelt sympathy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Vivienne, I'm truly sorry for the pain you and your wife both are going through. So very very painful. You know my views. You know that I think there was another route. But regardless of our different views, I feel your pain. I am sorry that your wife refused to listen. I'm sorry that she was not willing to work with you to save the marriage. I'm sorry that you have to go through such a difficult time. You didn't choose to have these feelings. You don't deserve what your wife has put you through. Whatever her views on crossdressing, she could at least have kept talking and communicating. I'm here not to criticize you, but to offer my condolences, and to pray for you both. If by some chance, you want to still try again to give up crossdressing while still having peace and through that, to save the marriage somehow (sounds like it is too late for that though), then I'm here to help. But otherwise, know that even though we have different views, I care for you and what you are going through. You will always find a listening ear in me whenever you want to talk, albeit in this clunky online way. I hope that you will take this message as caring. I truly am sorry for what you are experiencing.

    But regardless of what you do next, let me pray for you.

    "Father, be with my friend. Comfort him in these terrible trials he is going through. Heal up the pain in his heart. Give him and his wife both hearts of forgiveness towards one another. Be with their children, comfort them, let them feel loved and valued. Give them hope, give them confidence for the future. Let them feel and know your love for them. Guide my friend, and guide his wife, as they figure out what to do next, and how to resolve this horribly difficult situation. Make level paths for their feet. Provide for their needs, provide homes, provide for their financial needs. I'm not sure if they believe in you or not Lord, but regardless, fill them with your peace and draw them closer to you through this trial. In Jesus' Name, Amen."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for your kind wishes and prayers, Thorin. I really appreciate them.

      Delete
  5. Vivienne I also married in the late 1990's and my marriage ended 8 years ago. I am here to tell you that there is life after and perhaps even a better one after this. You cannot live constrained in a box and thought of by your spouse (or even yourself) as some sort of aberration because you are not. You like many of us have gender dysphoria and it is never going to go away but must be managed. It can done gracefully and with respect and need not involve rude behavior. Vivienne is part of who you are and you have clearly accepted that which is good.

    As happy as your marriage might have been at one time it cannot be fully if one of the partners is suffocating under the pressure that one must be cured of being transgender. For this reason I will never be with anyone again who does not respect or accept this part of my being.

    There is light at the end of the tunnel because I have travelled there and my life is better than it has ever been. Just give yourself the time to grieve and then ultimately heal...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm so sorry to hear the news. I think Lynn makes a good point in that there are many who don't come out to their partners...and this is why. Mine knows and tolerates. We have a healthy relationship but, unfortunately, transitioning will not be a part of it, keeping me status quo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Calie. I think in any functional relationship, there needs to be compromise. That means you don't get everything you want, and neither does your wife, but each of you gets enough to cope and get by. When you use the word "tolerate", it implies that your wife is uncomfortable, but is prepared to accept things up to a point, rather than sacrifice the relationship. The position of that point needs to be re-negotiated all the time, and talked about, so that both parties feel secure.

      Thanks for posting your comments.

      Vivienne.

      Delete
  7. You have my smypathy and support. It is sad that two people who clearly love each other cannot reach an understanding that where there is love all else is possible and that the vows we take at the time of marriage, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer and more than idle words.
    I wish you the best. As this unfolds keep your wife and children in your heart and mind.
    Pax
    Pat

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Pat. I realised more than a decade ago that this was a colossal problem in our marriage, but I wanted to be true to my vows, and I believed that, with determination and perseverance, we would find a way through. I was wrong, it seems, but at least I gave it my absolute best shot.

      Despite my wife's constant anger, I am still trying to be kind to her, and I have the needs of the kids uppermost in my mind.

      Vivienne.

      Delete
  8. You alluded that this was coming but since reading your last blog I have been upset knowing your breakup has actually arrived. I agree with Pat above and I think what shocks a lot of your readers is they understand and empathise with your situation. I realise I or many of us could find ourselves as you are.
    I can offer you no advice, but hope you can gain some solace from knowing we care for how you fare. I hope you remain close to your children.
    Geraldine O'Brien

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Geraldine. I think there are a lot of people out there, similarly torn. I need to express this part of myself, but I know that will exact a terrible cost on my marriage and my family. I put down my experience for people on both sides: the wife who secretly hopes her husband's feelings will eventually go away (they won't) and the husband who secretly hopes his wife will eventually accept his dressing (she won't). I suspect for many, many couples, the marriage continues only because there are secrets and lies, but to my mind at least, this isn't a healthy thing in the long term.

      Secrets and lies, of course, are not confined to marriages where one is trans!

      I really appreciate your support though.

      Vivienne.

      Delete
  9. So sorry to hear your news, Vivienne. I'm confident that you'll come through this crisis and emerge an ever stronger person at the end. D.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am so sorry to hear this, and I feel for you.

    But it is hard to see that you had much of a choice. If the alternative is to block of this essential part of you, you would basically condemn yourself to another kind of loneliness, the kind where you are hiding your true self among those who are supposed to be your friends.

    Hang in there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jack. I wonder how many others are living that exact scenario, the one where their identity or feelings are stifled, in order to keep the peace, or because the alternatives are all worse?

      Vivienne.

      Delete
  11. Dear Vivienne,

    You know how sorry I am for you. And I was glad to hear that you're doing okay. But I always feel so much when I hear about relationships dissolving over ones revelation (and quite possibly, newfound realization) that they are transgender. Yes, it's a shock that has to be overcome. And transphobia too. Regardless, it was with you all along and aware or not it is an important part of you that she fell in love with.

    Unfortunately I may be on the same path with my wife, or should I say diverging paths. We may yet overcome this challenge and I am trying hard but the genie can't be returned to the bottle nor would I want it to. I am so much happier and content in my own skin. At times like these we really need to take care of ourselves and each other.

    Your friend,

    Emma

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Emma. I really hope you manage to find a sustainable way through.

      Vivienne.

      Delete
  12. Vivienne,The consensus is that at most levels 2016 was a bummer. A complete waste of time.
    May Christmas actually be a joy to you and to your kids and family, even at this late stage and may 2017 put the present one to shame.
    Understanding by our families may be a little optimistic but let's hope for some generosity and acceptance.
    This would soothe a lot of trans folk but also a large proportion of the world who have received some severe shocks this year.
    So whether you are somewhere on the trans curve, or our families, or just anxious, let's have each other's backs.Nothing else would seem to work.
    Thanks for your posts this year.
    Geraldine

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your lovely thoughts Geraldine. Let's all hope that 2017 is an improvement!

      Hope you have a wonderful Christmas celebration.

      Vivienne.

      Delete
  13. I'm so sorry I did not read your post earlier, Vivienne. There's no accounting for an intransigent wife. I've heard your story too many times before although perhaps not as painful a one as yours. Time will heal the hurts, just not the memory. You will recover. I just hope there is no damage in your relationship with your children.

    There are accepting wives and Kim's story on our Yahoo group is an excellent example. Do what we all do, take one day at a time and plan for a better tomorrow. Although some may disagree, there can not be true love without understanding and compromise. I've always believed that things happen for a reason so I hope that means positive change for you. You've achieved some degree of freedom now so I hope that you will explore your Vivienne side more fully. It will always be with you. But whatever direction you go, know that we I and all your friends on our Yahoo group are there for you. Hugs....Tasi

    ReplyDelete