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Karen's Story - Part 2: What Helped Me

My husband of 20 years dropped his trans bombshell abruptly, without warning or preparation, and with complete assurance. He had spent several years secretly researching transition and making supportive contacts, so that by the time he told me, he was poised to pursue full transition. He had virtually no appreciation of my distress and shock, and had not anticipated that either I or our teenage children, would find this horrifying or, in my case, a marital deal-breaker.

I’m several years on now, and it’s been the most stressful, distressing and overwhelming experience of my life. It has cost me – hopefully temporarily – my health, and some friends, and I now look back wondering how I came through it.

My children lost their father. I lost my husband, my domestic stability, my confidence in my own judgement, my identity as a spouse, and my hopes for the future.

But I’m moving on, putting this firmly into my past. Each week I spend less time thinking about him and less time feeling angry, sad, bewildered and broken. I am starting to accept that this was part of my life story, not my fault, not something I could have predicted, and thinking about restarting my life again as a middle-aged woman.

I wanted to write about what helped me get here, in the hope it helps other women in this monstrous position.

I tried to identify what I wanted and needed

You may not know, you may need some time, you may very quickly decide. I knew within a few weeks that I didn’t want to stay with my husband, and that drove my rapid divorce. You may just need to ask for time from your partner, while you decide what you want to do. But, taking them out of the equation, what do you want? How do you want the future to look? Assuming your partner is committed to their new lifestyle, and you can’t stop him, what do you want to happen?

I set some boundaries

Many women experience cross-dressing and transitioning partners refusing to negotiate, compromise or agree boundaries regarding behaviours within the home and relationship. You may be happy to allow all behaviours to continue, or you may want to ask for limits so that the situation can be tolerable for you, perhaps while you consider your options. Being very clear about what you need (examples are no demand to have sex with a dressed-up partner, no spending on further clothing, a pause in the process to respect your needs), and whether there are any behaviours you cannot tolerate. When I communicated these to my husband, I was not only asserting my needs, but quickly found out whether I was dealing with someone who could consider my feelings, and meet me half-way (I couldn’t, and he didn’t).

I told supportive people

I struggled to tell close friends and family what was going on. I felt irrationally ashamed, and unsure of their reaction, embarrassed and tainted by my husband’s behaviour. But I knew very quickly that I needed to tell people close to me. I felt so much less alone when I shared what was happening, and did a lot of reading online, which is where I found the wonderful women who had been, or were also going through, this nightmare.

I prioritised key things I could do

I decided to focus primarily on stability for my children, keeping my home and job, and making sure life continued smoothly, as well as us having fun. I very much neglected my own health for several years in order to keep my job and home, and put my children absolutely first. I phoned friends from walks so that I could cry without the children seeing, and drank a lot in the evenings to deal with how stressed I felt. I slept terribly for several years. You can’t do everything, and something has to give; mine was my health and my social life. Try to cut yourself slack about what can wait/not be done, and what your main priorities are.

I tried to hold onto the truth that this was not my fault, or my failure

I wondered whether I was partly responsible for this. I raked my memory for clues I should have noticed. I felt a fool. I felt stupid. But my husband admitted to knowing for years that he intended to do this, and only told me at the very end of his process of secret research, experimentation and networking. I meanwhile had been working and bringing up children, and had no idea. It still blows my mind, but it is his responsibility and problem, not mine.

I got legal advice

I pretty quickly went to see a solicitor to find out my rights and options. Even if you feel you will probably stay with your partner, you may benefit from a one-off meeting with a lawyer, to ascertain your financial and legal position. You may never need that advice, but it gives you some protection if the situation deteriorates and you need or want to leave. I found it comforting to know where I stood, while I made up my mind what to do.

I found counselling

I was so lucky. I found a wonderful counsellor who was genuinely non-judgemental. If you can afford to go private, it’s worth every penny; if not your doctor may be able to direct you to services, and many employers offer workplace schemes. It was a great relief to me to have somewhere I could go to offload my fears and shame and pain. It saved my sanity, and I have revisited it at difficult times even years later, as recovery from this experience isn’t linear and distress, anger and grief can pop up later on quite unexpectedly. Unless you’ve decided to stay, I’d avoid organisations supporting trans people as they have a very clear bias and ideology, and a drive to educate partners to accept and stay.

I informed myself

My husband gave me a book on transitioning, which was written by a trans lobby group. Try to find information which is unbiased and includes lived experiences of women in your position who have both stayed and left. There is a lot of information which is inaccurate and unbalanced and may tell you that anything other than celebratory ‘staying’ is wrong and bad, and you are a deficient, or ignorant, or intolerant person to do otherwise. Hopefully this website and the stories within will show you that is nonsense.

I let it out

I started writing down how I was feeling, and sharing online with others. You may find this empowering and helpful. I certainly have, writing this piece. Thank you for reading.

If you have also been affected by any of the issues in this story, please view our Resources page.


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