To paraphrase Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch (played in the early-’90s BBC miniseries by the delectable Rufus Sewell), there are some things a person can only go through once in her life.
Finding out that the love of my life was not the person I believed him to be - that ought to be one of those things. It started off with small steps. A few hormone tablets, some hair removal, subtle changes in body shape and skin texture - nothing that felt like a significant departure for a man who had, since I met him, always seemed refreshingly able to express femininity.
Then there was the name change, then came the talk of sex reassignment, then came the full-time presentation (in public, at least) as the new identity. And the sudden realisation that this new person didn’t smell like my lover. Blame poor communication, blame the fundamentally confused nature of genderist discourse, blame my fear of confronting the hard truth of my loss - for these and probably other reasons as well, it wasn’t until very late in the day that I began to understand the truth of what my partner’s transition would mean - for him, for me, for us. This was the bill of goods I had been sold - and it was nothing like what I wanted. Disconcerting seems too mild a word for the realisation that your partner, your lover, is doing everything in their power to make themselves unattractive to you. I went through all of the self-recrimination one could imagine: why was I being so shallow? Couldn’t I get past that and allow my sexuality to adapt? Why should it matter to me anyway if my sexual attraction to my partner was no longer a feature of our relationship? Weren’t there so many other facets to our partnership? Surely it was never just about sex. It’s funny how you sometimes don’t miss something until even its very possibility is taken away. There is far more to sexuality than mere physical attraction - and I have learned the hard way that no, I don't "like dick", as I once flippantly said - I like men. Women just don't feature in my spectrum of romantic and sexual attraction. Conversion therapy is rightly decried as an inhumane, even barbaric practice. I would never have imagined there might come a time in my life when I would find myself wishing it was a legitimate thing and that I could access it for myself. It wasn’t until a couple of years into the transition that someone finally asked me how I was coping. When I responded with a modest account of my misgivings, my friend’s response was, “Oh - but I thought you were bisexual?” And in truth, it is by no means just the physical alteration that has driven the wedge between us. People who transition may say that they are still the same person underneath that they are becoming more fully themselves. While that may feel true to them, from the outside, the person who once existed is gone and a relative stranger stands in their place. People’s personalities can and do change, sometimes dramatically, in the process of transition, not least because of the cognitive dissonance required to maintain the belief that their new identity is really who they were all along. So here I was. I had lost my lover’s body to synthetic hormones; and I had lost his mind to the cult-like tenets of queer theory and transgender identity politics. But of course, none of this was ever about me and what I might think or feel. Until, that is, I stopped trying to be nice about it. Then, virtually overnight, everything became my fault - all the hurt, all the miscommunication, all the disagreement. It was all on me now.
And why? Because I had learned how to use my words, while my partner never had. And suddenly there were so many people who wanted to communicate with me about my transgender partner - people who had never uttered a syllable of concern for my thoughts or feelings before, now were piling in to tell me that I was wrong, that I was a terrible person for not uncritically affirming my trans partner's identity, that because I was not on-board with the trendy new gender agenda, I was no better than a Nazi.
Where were these people when I was struggling in silence to accept the fact that I was losing the man I loved? Maybe it’s just more fun to get involved when you can indulge in some self-congratulatory virtue-signalling while you’re at it.
I thought my questions were reasonable - what does it mean to “feel like a woman”? How does a person who has only ever existed with male anatomy have any notion of what it actually feels like to be female? My partner never had answers for these questions - indeed, seemed to feel it as an affront that I would even dare to question the assertion of transgender identity. Cue the accusations of “erasure” and “denying my existence!” I should not be surprised by this, of course. So much of the rhetoric surrounding transgender identity now is designed to obfuscate, to confuse, to shut down any communication short of bald assertions - usually expressed in the form of Twitter-style soundbites like, “Trans women are women!” or, “Penis can be female!” or, “TERFs think women are just vaginas!” Critical thinking not required - in fact, actively discouraged. It’s rather like reciting a religious creed. The aim certainly appears to be very similar - one must profess in order to be accepted into the embrace of the faithful. Doesn’t matter if you really believe it or not, as long as you just say it. Finally there is always, lurking beneath the surface, that old question: how did I not see this coming? Shouldn’t I have known, somehow, that my partner was really a woman, deep down? But this is, at its core, a breathtakingly sexist question. What signs, beyond straightforward anatomical features, could possibly indicate that a person was male or female? The challenge would be to answer this question in a way that did not rely upon gender stereotypes. No-one has met that challenge yet. I know there are women who have been disgusted by their husbands’ cross-dressing proclivities, who have been deeply shocked by the discovery that their husbands have a desire to express femininity. But a man is still a man, even in a dress and eyeliner. I see no incongruity between my enthusiastic embrace of my (male) partner’s feminine expression; and my subsequent sense of gut-deep disappointment at his apparent surrender to the idea that expressing femininity required him to actually be a woman. All this makes me wonder - does he even exist, the man who is happy to embrace femininity but still accept his maleness? If he’s out there, he’s becoming harder and harder to find - and I’ll probably never meet him again.
Sadie has allowed Trans Widows’ Voices to re-publish this piece which she previously published on her own website.