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Tinsel's Story: These Chains

It was a song called “These Chains” that saved my life. It was the soundtrack to the months before and after I left my husband. The song asks whether you will die in your safe cage, without ever knowing what it is like to live free on the outside?


Before I left, I would sit in the bath, crying, with the door locked and the music turned up. It was the only place I could be sure my daughter wouldn’t see and hear my grief.


After I left, I would listen to it on repeat on the car stereo on the school run, and it gave me the strength to get through another day. Dropping her off at school wondering who knew about why we had left her Dad and moved to the next village, wondering if we were being gossiped about and if today was the day that her peers would find out and she would be bullied?


I left a month before our tenth wedding anniversary and a mere few weeks before he began “living as a woman”. I should have left five years earlier when he dropped his trousers in our living room to show me an insect bite, and had forgotten he was wearing pink lacy women’s knickers under his work clothes. This was one of the many times that I accidentally found out he had broken his word to stop cross dressing.


I was determined to do everything I could to save the marriage.


A cycle had developed of lies being discovered, promises being made, promises being broken, compromises being formed, boundaries being put in place, boundaries being pushed, and further lies being discovered. I lived in a state of constant fight or flight.


I loved my husband and wanted our marriage to last forever. I thought I would not be able to manage on my own. I was terrified to leave. I struggled on for another 5 years trying to find a third way- a way to make it work- something between him stopping altogether and him living full time “as a woman” but once he was referred to the Gender Identity Clinic I should have realised that the writing was on the wall.


I went to see a counsellor in the months leading up to my decision to leave. As part of the induction I had to do a tick list of how depressed I was and how anxious. My anxiety score was so high that the counsellor said, I was too anxious to treat at that time and that she had a duty of care to inform my Doctor in case I harmed myself. I ended up on a dose of anti-depressants high enough that the next Doctor I saw wanted to reduce it. I think I would have staged a sit in in his surgery at that point if he had insisted.


I had kept this secret for the 13 years that we were together.

I had kept this secret for the 13 years that we were together. Unable to get advice or lighten the load. There was no support available and I had been too ashamed to tell my friends and family.


I begged and pleaded for him to stay as the man that I loved and married, but as he came closer to transitioning a cold, detached stranger seemed to have taken my husband’s place. I recall him saying he was no longer sorry for what he was doing to us.


I thought leaving would be the end of me, but it was actually leaving that saved me. Imagine if I had stayed and had to cheerlead the slow death of the person that I married and the emergence of a stranger?


Not long after I left he had facial feminisation surgery. I had to prepare my daughter for her Dad coming to collect for the weekend, looking different than the last time she saw him. “He’s still the same inside” I told her, to try and reassure her. It wasn’t true though. He wasn’t the same inside. The person I knew was gone. When he came to the door that evening my daughter hid behind an armchair and had to be coaxed out.


When he had “gender reassignment” (“bottom”) surgery even though we had been divorced for a while, I felt a strong sense of loss that the part of him that had enabled him to father our daughter and that had given me a great deal of pleasure during the good times, had gone. Imagine if I’d stayed and had to nurse him through it?


There were times in the months after I left, doing the school run, listening to “These Chains” that I thought the grief would overwhelm me, but I had a daughter and friends and parents and a job, so I had to carry on.


Yes, it was leaving that saved me. Once I was out of the cage that my marriage had become I was free to live my own life. I had spent years being dragged along in the wake of somebody else’s whims. Lurching from crisis to crisis, none of which was of my own making.

In separation I found peace.


I will teach my daughter to have boundaries and to be confident in maintaining them and not allowing them to be drip, drip dripped away.


Women: decide early on what your boundaries are. You are in control of your own life. Don’t let that control be taken from you. It turned out the one boundary that I was not prepared to compromise on, was being married to somebody who identified as a woman.


There were so many lies and the one that still bothers me years later is - was it a struggle for him as it seemed to be at the time, or was I just being used as his beard, concealing his gender issues from the world? I was his second wife and at the time of our marriage he said to me “It’s good to get married this time without being worried I’m making a mistake”. After we split he said on twitter, referring to our marriage “Have you ever stood in a chapel knowing you’re making mistake?”


Which of these is true? They cannot both be.


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

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