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Linda's Story: Look Back In Anger

13th Rule of Misogyny: Angry women are crazy. Angry men have trouble expressing themselves

Ours was a long marriage. My husband was an affable, good-natured person, perceived by most people, me included, to be “easy going”. Young and naive (though I thought I was experienced and mature), I would adjust myself as required to ensure that our life together was positive, fulfilling and shared. I did not take on board how one-sided this process was. The more this pattern repeated itself, the more emotionally depleted I became, and the harder it was for me to bounce back. For many years, I was grateful for my ex’s patience with me, his reassurances that he was fine, I just needed to pull myself together and all would be well. What I took to be his generosity was actually this message: I needed to be and act within a certain range within his presence. Anything outside of his window of tolerance he would simply reject, and wait for me to re-present myself in a state that he could handle. It took a long time to realise that this was the perspective of a man with autism who lacked insight into other people’s needs.

A phase of distress unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Children were added to this dynamic, I entered a phase of distress unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I withdrew from him physically, completely. Something in me knew that sex had been all about him, and my own need for connection and intimacy had vanished from the equation. I felt a bit like a sinking ship, throwing ballast over the side to try to stay afloat as a person, a partner and a mother.

I tried counselling many times, but because of his autism and my seemingly ever-present anger, the sessions were generally disastrous. Eventually, as the children grew older, he finally started to address the loneliness that we were both feeling – by arranging to see a sex counsellor. More anger -- this was top of his agenda? But I felt obliged (why?) to support his priority. In the third session, he announced he’d been seeing another sex therapist with whom he’d decided he was transgender. I was stunned. In the months after this announcement, I realised that some recent events had re-opened his experience of puberty, a traumatic transition for many people on the spectrum. What had been locked away had now become entangled in his present attempt to assert his sexual needs. I pieced together that it was through autogynephilic porn that he tapped into the transgender solution. He was going to supply his own sexual needs -- even the effort required to interact with me in sex therapy was too much for him. He told me our relationship would stay exactly as it had been, the same relationship I had desperately been trying, and failing, to make fulfilling for me and enriching for us as a family for a very long time.

He was oblivious to my distress, or perhaps he would not “reward” my “bad behaviour” with attention. He invited me to go shopping with him to help him choose women’s clothes. He filled the bathroom cupboard with hair-related treatments and products. Female-themed dress-up paraphernalia came home in a bag addressed to a private postal locker; prescriptions piled up in drawers. He only refrained from coming out through his work website because 2 colleagues advised him not to – not because I had asked him not to, given that our children did not at that point know. One day, he denied that he had had his eyelashes tinted, angrily telling me I was imagining things and I should stop being so stupid. I realised he’d have me doubt my own eyes to get what he wanted. I tried to leave then, and he talked me out of it.

Female-themed dress-up paraphernalia came home.

We finally separated. Besides the usual stresses of divorce, I still carried his secrets -- when would he let his children know? I hadn’t confided in some of my closest friends to protect his and the kids’ privacy. His new household became a carefree place of great fun and few rules, like he was also a teenager, escaping an overbearing mother. He coached our teens according to his own way of interacting with me; retreat when your mother is “upset.” And, to varying degrees, they did. Their father eventually came out to them without letting me know. My years of carrying his priorities and privacy were simply irrelevant. Apparently they are “fine”. Whatever that may mean.

For some people, my family’s narrative has come to be about a difficult woman who has inflicted unhappiness on the lives of those she cares for; a man who has escaped her clutches and reinvented himself to the intoxicating praise of many well-wishers; and our teens, who are old enough to know their own minds. However, my children have no idea of what it is for a woman to be thrashing in a web of the needs of those she loves, trying to find her way to safety. That thrashing was so often visible as anger: it kept me from feeling silenced, helpless, giving in, giving up; from being effaced. And predictably, my ex-husband presents me as unstable. Looking back, this persistent anger seems the opposite of instability. Some inner core of self-respect was protecting me from the insanity of what I was being subjected to on a daily basis. I’m older, wiser, but still not free; I’m still fighting not to be effaced. I’ve written this because I feel a story has been written about me. It has no single author. In that story, I’m a bit player in someone else’s journey of self-discovery. But from my perspective, that journey was self-absorbed and destructive.


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