Partners in Trans*ition – Sharon, Phoebe and Alice

This transcribed conversation between Sharon, Phoebe, and Alice is a record of our first time talking openly with anyone about the more intimate and difficult aspects we have experienced as partners of trans* men. We recorded the conversation with the idea that we might publish it anonymously since there was so little out there on this topic, and we all agreed that more conversations needed to be had. However, this posed a problem for us right from the start, as you will see. In the end, the decision to share this conversation was difficult, but after careful editing of the text to remove identifying details and parts of the conversation that were just too personal, we decided to go ahead. We also lightly edited for clarity. All three of us agreed to publish the version presented here.

Sharon (and Gavin), Phoebe (and Marcus) and Alice (and Daniel)

Phoebe: So I’m wondering is that what we’re doing here, we’re going to be talking about sex? I just want to know.

Sharon: It’s totally up to you guys what you want to talk about. I know I won’t, not about that.

Alice: And I have to be careful, I have to guard Daniel’s privacy right now. That’s what I feel most concerned about. I really only want to talk from my experience, but sex is a sensitive -, I mean I’m happy to talk about it, but I wouldn’t want it to appear in writing, per se. I’m happy to talk about it though, and have a very frank conversation. But I would be very concerned for his privacy.

Sharon: I told Gavin I wouldn’t talk about sex and that I would show him the transcript. And anything that he was uncomfortable with he could take out.

Phoebe: I feel similarly.

Sharon: Okay, why don’t we talk freely and then we can edit it however we want and how our partners want? It’ll just be completely confidential until we all sign off on it.

Alice: In fact, there’s things that I would say to maybe the two of you I wouldn’t even say to Daniel.

Phoebe: We all have the confidentiality issues which are profound and important and we don’t want to violate them; yet at the same time, what we are not talking about because of the confidentiality issues is precisely that which we need to talk about.

Sharon: The only thing that comes up for me in thinking about this is that there’d have to be an extraordinary amount of trust that at no point ever would any of us ever reveal [ourselves]. It’s not so much about me, it’s him. It would probably destroy our relationship.

Alice: I’m just not going to go there. Ethically I can’t do it with Daniel. Because the trust there is solid and I can’t do it. But at the same time, I’m really curious about the conversation that we can have. I’ve never had the conversation with partners before. And I’ve never talked about my experience before, except a little tiny bit with you [Sharon], maybe. A little tiny bit. So it seems like the discourse or the conversation is really important and there needs to be a lot of safety around it.

Sharon: I agree.

Phoebe: I totally agree with your concerns. [If our identities were exposed] it would be really hard for my partner, Marcus, who is extraordinarily private.

Sharon: Isn’t that interesting that of all of our partners are no Buck Angels among us?

Phoebe: And that’s been a big source of contention for me and Marcus. And maybe that’s one of the things that we can talk about – the conflicts between honouring the partners’ desires for privacy and our need as partners to talk about stuff, right? I had huge tension around that with Marcus.

Alice: I feel fine. I’m actually not worried about myself being known even but I’m more concerned about Daniel.


Sharon: So let me just ask the two of you if you could talk about when you came out? And why don’t you say what lesbian sex meant to you at the time when you first came out? Then we can talk about what it means to be with a partner who is transitioning. …

Phoebe, why don’t you go first and talk about when you came out.

Phoebe: Okay. So I came out as lesbian in the mid 1980s. And that was a time you remember where basically there were no possibilities of being bi, or queer, or whatever. You had to choose. Politically, you had to choose. My desires have always been toward a kind of masculinity. I’d had sex with men beforehand and didn’t conceptualize myself necessarily as being a lesbian but then when I got involved with a woman and was monogamous, then I became a lesbian. And because I’ve been a serial monogamist ever since then, the people that I’ve ended up being involved with sexually have been female people.

I thought about switching teams at a certain point in the mid 90s because I got sick of having sex with lesbians. I wasn’t getting the serious roger-ing that I totally needed. We can basically cut this part of it out, I’m sure. And then I met Marcus. He was very inventive sexually and so it was totally great. So I do remember feeling from ’86 that the label didn’t make sense for me in a way. And, I was very politically active in the ’80s but never around lesbian and gay issues, interestingly enough..

I guess I always identified with the gay and lesbian community, but that identity of being a lesbian was never a hard fought identity for me personally. I also have a very accepting family, and for them it wasn’t a big deal that I had come out as a lesbian, unlike lots of other people who really have to struggle with that with their families. So my situation is a bit unusual, I think. I could have cared less vis-a-vis my own so-called identity as a lesbian because I never felt particularly attached to it. And as for my relationship to him: I mean, I’m interested in queer masculinity and so I figured out a long time ago that was kind of where my desire was at so I thought “well maybe he’ll even be more hot”–and in fact that turned out to be the case.

Although for him, I think it took him a while to realize that I wasn’t just saying that to be supportive to him and his transition. I think he was deeply anxious that I was going to reject him because he was no longer a female person, and that I was needing to hold on to a certain notion of lesbian identity. What I do need to hold on to is a sense of queer community, but there are many ways in which you can do that these days. It doesn’t have to be around a particular type of lesbian.

I guess this is really important too: I came out in the mid-80s. I graduated from university in 1983. I remember the Barnard Conference in 1982, and my coming into being through feminism and lesbianism was during the height of the intense sex wars [of the mid-to late 1980s]. But, the orthodoxy around sex and around pleasure was so problematic to me because of my own kinkiness, frankly, that I ended up distancing myself from a lot of the lesbian feminism I encountered, which was white, college-educated, middle-class, and doctrinaire. I was a political person, but the group I was hanging with were reading Off Our Backs, not On Our Backs. There was a disjuncture between what was turning me on sexually, and what I was supposed to be desiring. My solution was to not get very involved in lesbian and feminist politics; I became politically active elsewhere, though still as a feminist.

I haven’t identified as a lesbian in, frankly, in about ten years. Partially because Marcus is so not a lesbian. He had always been more of a gay man in a woman’s body. Now he’s like, who knows what he is…it’s still in process. The whole “lesbian” thing, though, was never really a fit for both for us. But maybe that’s just a story I am telling myself now, to make sense of my present.

Alice: You and I are so parallel in so many ways. It’s really fascinating.

I loved sex with men when I was younger, and I had lots of it. And I had lots of men. Then I had a long relationship, a ten-year relationship with a single man. That’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had, period. He was a political anarchist and I was an artist. This was the ’70s. I became a feminist activist and I was living with a political anarchist who was screwing a lot of women on the side.

I’m internally a serial monogamist, so that was really upsetting to me. I was very young. But in any case I spent seven years as a feminist activist. I was part of the group that organized the first Women against Violence night march in – and did a lot of activism around Women against Violence and Women Pornography and Women–, and all of that. In ‘79 we moved to – and I was five months pregnant and [unidentified] was still sleeping with my girlfriends. It was terrible, but that was the day, right? Somewhere in there, I became very bi-curious. I was involved with feminist groups where lesbian activists were present at the table with me. I was introduced to butch fem culture, old school style.

I also had a taste of that in – because I had a butch cousin who she took me to some bars as well. I hadn’t come out yet, but I was–, my first bonding with lesbian culture was an old school butch fem culture and it made me seriously hot. Not only was I fascinated, curious, and interested, I was super turned on by butches. Like incredibly turned on. So it was at the end of the days with [unidentified] and I had my first lesbian affair in –. Two weeks later I was pregnant. I decided–, just at the minute, I decided to move over the other camp, I got pregnant.

I was very, very vulnerable because I didn’t have any money, I was an activist, I was dependent on this guy who was the father of this child, who was sleeping with my girlfriends. I stayed with [unidentified] until – was about 15 months old because I was economically dependent on him. I was also sick during my pregnancy. I had toxaemia because I had been a drug addict. I had to gather my strength and when she was 15 months I left [unidentified] with my daughter and I struck out on my own.

I had some very tough years. I had my first lesbian relationship which was with a drifter. And she was a bit of a criminal. But she took care of me for a while. And then [unidentified] and I didn’t work out very soon. And there I was then, I had a young child and I came out into the era of lesbians when they were calling mothers breeders. And there was this complete contempt for women that had children.

…But, I like you, am a serial monogamist. I had many relationships. I was a very uncertain lesbian.

I loved women. You know, I was such a committed feminist and I was so committed to queer politics. I was such an advocate for liberation, queer liberation and so on. But personally, hey I didn’t like the sex. I have to say, I did not like the sex.

Sharon: Really?

Alice:  Well, I think it was a choice of partners too. Honestly, I went for the dark and troubled butches who are the strong silent type. And sometimes the sex was fantastic and it usually was in the beginning, but then it would not be fun anymore after a while because it got really emotionally tangled. You know what I noticed about sex with men and this sounds terrible, but was that you could just have sex. You know? And then you didn’t have to process it afterwards.

Sharon: Well, it can happen very spontaneously.

Alice: Right?

Sharon: Like with no forethought. It’s like “okay, let’s go right now.”

Alice:  I can tell you I miss those days of being thrown on a bathroom floor, you know. It never happened when I was a lesbian. But I had very gratifying sexual experiences and I got very curious about, you know, S&M and all of that thinking. I really was not into S&M. I was a total voyeur in the S&M community. I needed to understand for myself what S&M was about because it was really active in those years and there was a lot of signifiers, a lot of signs and a lot of energy. I was attracted to it even though I wasn’t a participant, other than a voyeur.

…I was really just exploring everything. You know everything–, I was interested in everything. I was also interested when transgender came on stream.

The first transgender people I met were transgendered women …. And then I started seeing transgender men and I was still dating or involved seriously with butch lesbians. I was very, very attracted to the transgender men that I was seeing, without knowing them. I was attracted by their energy, who I thought they might be. I was really really attracted. I never went out to try to date a transgender man. And like you, Phoebe, after my last relationship in the ’90s, I said I’m going to turn. I’m done with women. Because honestly it was just–, I was hitting a wall with my lesbian relationships. Just hitting a frickin’ wall.

I had eight months of being on my own. I thought well this would be a good time to explore men again. Now you have to realize I hadn’t even looked at men for 25 years. And we’ve all gotten older.

I lifted my head up to look around at men. I’m like, oh my God. I can’t do this. This is not going to work, you know? It was like oh my God. So I was pretty well settled into being single, and then Daniel waltzed into my life. He was very, very butch lesbian and very irresistible to me.

Phoebe: My partner identifies as a gay man.

Sharon: Oh he does?

Phoebe: Yes. Welcome to my crazy world.

Sharon: How does that make you feel? That must be weird.

Phoebe: Shitty. We almost broke up. The reason why his transition was so hard for us is because it was two transitions. It was the gender transition but it was also the sexual orientation transition where Marcus was figuring out that he was now a gay man. Now the interesting thing is that, you know, when we first got together back in the day, I knew that he was partly a fag. I mean it was part of our sexual play, in fact. So that part of it was never a surprise, but he was female bodied, right? We began an open relationship and it’s been really, really hairy. I’ve been monogamous my whole life, and this was new and hard for me.

Sharon: Oh, really?

Phoebe: I knew that his sexuality, the relationship between the sexuality and the gender stuff with him is very complicated. And I knew that saying, “I’m a gay man” was too simple for him. That’s my perspective of course, not his. I felt if he wanted to create a narrative for himself that he’s just a gay man, then fine. There’s nothing I can do to prevent him from doing that. …I think he needed the uber-butch masculinity of gay masculinity to anchor his gender transition. Do you know what I mean? Because straight culture would never be a part of how he could conceptualize himself in any way. He’s not a lesbian. To say that he was “queer,” I think at the time would almost like saying he’s failed in his transition in a weird way. At least that’s my take—his would probably by different.

The whole thing about being afraid that somebody is going to be gay: it’s extraordinary common and often it’s a well-grounded fear among partners, in my view. In my experience, though, most relationships don’t break up over this. Sometimes the trans person comes out as gay and they break up which is actually a minority of cases. More often there is, it seems, a kind of recognition that these new desires have appeared but because there is an agreement about monogamy, it’s not pursued or they already have a poly[amorous] situation going on and so it’s a different kind of type of attachment. You know, that’s definitely for people in their twenties and thirties. They’re like: “well I’m great, I’m fabulous.” Meanwhile I’m like, “WHAT?” Some of this is, I think, a difference in how people in their forties and fifties think about identity versus people in their twenties.

Alice: Daniel has never been slightly inclined towards the gay, at all. He’s a total straight man in there. And in fact he’s like a farm boy. I love it. He’s really not, even for a minute, could he go there.

Phoebe: Wow, that’s interesting.

Alice: Not that we haven’t had issues though. We’ve had issues.

Phoebe: Tell me what the issues have been.

Alice: He’s still upstairs, right? I just–,

Sharon: He went upstairs.

Alice: Can we go and see if the door is closed? I’m just–,

Phoebe: Yes, we’re all like, “shhhh.”

Alice: I know, right? Just a sec here. I’m going to just see if he’s upstairs. Hold on…

Alice: Daniel would say that we have never ever lost our attraction for each other, through all of it. Like we are super attracted to each other. Having said that, it’s very hard for us to be sexual together. And I think that there’s a number of things–, and we both acknowledge that and we’re, you know, I was very impatient for a while because it wasn’t what I was thinking or hoping would happen after he transitioned. Prior to when he transitioned we had a terribly rocky road, before he actually came to the place where he owned it and said I’ve got to do this.

Before I knew that was our path together, we were fighting constantly. Our house, our relationship was a total battleground because he was angry all the time. And his anger was extreme. And I’ve had, you know, been with other angry people, it seems to be a thing for me, one of my themes, but this one was–, it was wearing away my resilience for the relationship. It was getting to the point where I was just about ready to leave. And in fact, two or three times I said I’m leaving, I’m leaving and I didn’t. And then he came out and said, “Look, I need to transition” and so on. That whole piece. And it’s almost as soon as he made the decision it started to shift the energy. We were getting couples counselling as well. We weathered that and he went from being a very angry despairing individual to–, he’s getting more whole all the time.

For me my metaphor is Daniel’s coming into focus. Like, who he is on the inside is starting to match who he is on the outside. And it’s been so beautiful to watch that. To see him emerging as to who he really is in every sense of the word–, we have a very solid committed relationship and we’re very in love with each other. And, we’re having hardly any sex. I try to understand it. I’m certainly available and I’m certainly not ill anymore and I have the energy and everything, but because he’s so private, I only can know the outside of what I’m observing with him.

What has happened is he’s started shooting up T… I don’t know how it was with your partners but going through that teenage boy phase, he was upstairs in his room sulking for months. I know for a fact he was looking at porn and I know for a fact he was jacking off all the time, and not connecting with me sexually. He had all that sexual energy and it was in the house and it was around and he wasn’t acting it out with anybody else because he is very committed to our relationship, but I wasn’t able to partake in that energy. And I found it really attractive so that was hard, right? I’m in my sixties, also, so there’s that whole natural woman’s arc to that’s going on with me. I am certainly interested in sex and want to have lots of it, but we just have been off with each other because of all these circumstances.

And now I think because we were so off through the whole transition it’s really hard for us to figure out how to reconnect around it somehow. You know? And the other factor is he’s pre-op, right? And he’s on an incredibly long waiting list for top surgery. And it just gets put off and put off and put off. And I honestly think he needs that to happen before he feels–, I think he just needs that to happen. You know?

I don’t think he feels like the man he is when he has these breasts, you know what I mean? I think they have to go for him to feel in his body in a way that he wants to be really physically intimate. Because right now it’s so jarring I suspect for him because he’s so masculine. He’s such a guy. But he’s got this body that he has to keep under wraps. It’s not there where it needs to be yet. I’m imputing right now because we haven’t had this conversation. This is where I respect his privacy around all of this. And this is all off transcript, by the way. All of it. You know because he would not like this. But I really am grateful to be talking to the two of you because I’ve never been able to say this to anybody really. That this is what’s really happening. I used to be one of these people who used to go to support groups and we’d just tell everything, everything and everything. You know? But this part, the transition as a feminist, as a queer woman in a transitional relationship, I’ve been made to be very private suddenly. And that’s been a bit of a struggle for me.

Phoebe: Well pretty much the only sex I have with Marcus these days is me going down on him.

Sharon: Really? And he’s okay with that.

Phoebe: He loves it. I mean I actually really love it to, I must say. But one thing that’s really weird is that he will not strap it on him anymore.

Alice: That’s so weird.

Sharon: That is weird.

Phoebe: It fucking sucks. He’s become much more self-involved around his own sexual pleasure. And his sexual interests are much less about my body. Maybe that’s because he thinks of himself as gay and I’m clearly not a male person. So it is actually miraculous given what I just told you before that we continue to have sex.

Sharon: Yes.

Phoebe: It’s been really difficult. I’ve just been a lot in coping lock down basically. And so it’s only now that I’m starting to say, “You know, it’d be really nice if  “blah blah blah”. But also at the same time, it’s just like you were saying: I’m just hitting menopause, and I am so fucking pissed about this I can’t even tell you.

Alice: I hear you. Me too. Same thing. Bummer.

Phoebe: Nobody told me some of this crap. People said “Oh, your sex drive goes down.” But nobody told me that the difference between rubbing your hand and rubbing your clit would be indistinguishable. Because basically, the arousal stuff shifts as well, right? And so I go to my doctor who’s in the local queer and trans health clinic. I’m laughing with him because, of course, the number of cisgender female people who are in menopause that he sees is probably one. Me!

I’m like “come on, give me some drugs!” Trans men get the testosterone, the gay guys get the Viagra. What am I, chopped liver? Like give me some drugs. So anyway, I did go on HRT and I am feeling a bit better I must say. But it was a struggle to get anyone to prescribe me testosterone, which is what I needed because my energy level had also plummeted. But so yes, that’s been happening around the same time of trying to figure out the sexual thing. And I do feel like what you’re saying about how I feel like we’re kind of not quite in sync sexually. We haven’t quite figured it out. But I do think it’s getting better. It’s been about three years. He was fortunate to be able to have both top surgery and start T pretty early on.

But his nipples–, he doesn’t have sensation, they–, it kind of bugs him if they are touched. It’s like twangy he says.

Phoebe: I can go to town on that. On the other hand, it’s really nice that can see his chest because for 12 years, I never saw his chest because he always had a little singlet on or something. So our sex is definitely changed. And I’m not getting the penetration that I like from him, anyway, but that’s a whole other story. We do have this open relationship which is not really very active, but the person that I did hook up with was male, even though I totally understand what you’re saying Alice about “Oh my God” when you look around. Like really? But I sort of lucked out with this person.

So that was the first time I’d had sex with a cis guy for 25 years. And it was kind of like riding a bicycle.

Alice: I just want to add something about my sex. I got a little sad listening to you Phoebe and I’m happy for you, but I’m sad for me a little bit because what’s happening with our sex and we do have sex occasionally, but it’s always the same. He makes love to me and I can’t touch him. I can’t touch him anywhere at all. And it works great for him and of course I like it, but it’s still just half, you know? It’s just half of what I would really–, and I feel like I’m missing that. I can’t bring anybody to orgasm. I can’t pleasure anybody. I just get pleasured. And that’s not good, you know?

Sharon: Have you asked him if he thinks that might ever change?

Alice: No.

Sharon: Or you haven’t even told him?

Alice: Oh no, we talk about it. He knows it upsets me. But it’s just a pattern. I actually don’t know how it’s going to break at this point. And he does the same thing. He imagines himself as with a cock and he can’t do sex otherwise now. You know what I mean? And I go there with him. I can do it. I’m happy doing it. You know? But it just never goes the other way.

Phoebe: So will he strap it on?

Alice: No. Not with me. Maybe upstairs in his room, but not with me. In fact I’m pretty sure upstairs in his room, but not with me.

Sharon: I wonder why though.

Phoebe: I know for Marcus strapping it on, because we have talked about it, since he’s transitioned, because he used to do it all the time, no problem, but since he’s transitioned it’s like he should have a real cock and he doesn’t. So it’s just too emotionally hard for him, I think.

Alice: I think so.

Phoebe: Which is kind of unfortunate. What we’re all talking about in different ways is the kind of body dysmorphia that our partners have. I started to develop such a tremendous sense of shame about my own body as part of all this.

I felt so undesired and Marcus was so profoundly shut down and I didn’t know why. We weren’t talking and it was really awful. I knew that he wasn’t attracted to me anymore, he’d said it, and oh, it was really awful. I remember not undressing in front of him anymore and going into the bathroom to change my clothes. I think this is not all that of an uncommon a set of feelings to go through. But it is hard because the sex and sexuality and intimacy are so obviously about two people and how they relate. One person going through a set of such major changes, of course it’s going to have an impact on both partners, you know, in terms of people’s sense of self.

Sharon: I completely forgot. But when you say that, I’m totally remembering that because Gavin hated his body so much, it upset me because I felt ‘is my body hateful?’ because we have similar bodies. He hated his genitalia. He didn’t hate my genitalia, but fuck I took–, it was confusing.

Alice: Yes, totally.

Sharon: It was really confusing and it really hurt. It hurt me so much and it took me a long time–, like I honestly feel like there’s brain splits you have to do. It took me a long time to get used to his body. There were times where I really loved his body. Initially in our relationship, because he has this man head, but he had a female body naked, so initially in our relationship it would be like, oh that’s weird. And then I went through a period of hating his breasts because they just didn’t belong there. So in my own evolution … it’s been five years and there’s no more mental conflict [for me]. But there was so much mental conflict–, it was kind of an agonizing process of making sense of it.

Alice: Yes, totally.

Sharon: It’s weird, you know? It’s really weird, and of course it’s frustrating because there is the whole political correctness. You’re supposed to be accepting but it’s just not that simple. Of course we’re accepting, but it’s still hard to make that mental– so I’m very understanding of people when they do the gender slip when people say she instead of he, or whatever. Because there is something in your brain that’s kind of elastic and keeps pulling back and you keep having to pull it apart.

You really have to disassemble in some way. And that was really hard because if you’re disassembling them, I guess maybe what was happening was I was disassembling myself. And that was causing me to be upset. But of course I didn’t need to be disassembled.

Alice: That’s weird. And I don’t know if this is going off on a different tangent, I don’t know, I picked it up on what you were saying a little bit and there’s probably a whole other conversation about this but it’s the emotional support and the energy that I’ve had to put into his transition. The transition, it takes over, you know? And my priorities, needs, and desires were always secondary because it’s like a crisis almost. A crisis of transition, in a sense, for them.

Sharon: It’s huge.

Alice: And it’s a crisis for us. It took me a long time to be able to confront Daniel and say, “Look, I’m having feelings too and I have stuff going on too.” And sometimes in the conversation we would talk about it but mostly not. You know those early years? We’re getting more balanced now.

Sharon: But even when you had the cancer, that didn’t kind of flip it a little bit and then you would have had to become a priority through that?

Alice: When I had cancer he disappeared because he couldn’t handle it. It was too much.

Sharon: Really? Wow.

Alice: I had girlfriend support. I got support other places. But Daniel couldn’t see me through that. It was too frightening for him. You know, the idea that anything would happen to me, I think, was just more than he could bear at the time. It was such a vulnerable place we were both in. … When I look over the whole arc of our relationship, I realize how much energy I have put into supporting this on every single level, including the fact that he couldn’t work very much. The level of support as a partner that I put into this relationship was really a lot.

Phoebe: Stand by your man.

Alice: Phoebe, you’re bad!

Phoebe: I’m totally the same thing. And it also kind of fucks with my feminist politics in a way, right? Because I’m a total caretaker. I mean, I always have been, but at the same time, it’s like, “wait a minute!” It’s so asymmetrical. Right?

Alice: Right.

Phoebe: And also, the other thing and I don’t know whether you’ve experienced this, but in my case, I’ve done this huge amount of work, I mean huge amount which Marcus knows on some level, but he cannot acknowledge it and cannot talk about it and cannot say thank-you so much for being there, I could never have done this without you, blah, blah, blah, because to do so would undermine his own fragile ego which is still really kind of just emerging as this new person. He’s getting slightly better about doing this, but I think for me what’s been so hard is doing all of this labour, having been taken for granted frankly and not being recognized as a gift, the gift that it is. And not being acknowledged. Do you know what I mean?

Alice: Totally know what you mean. I know exactly what you mean.

Sharon: Do you feel that way too

Alice: I feel like crying right now just because…[comforting gestures made] no it’s okay. It’s just hearing that others have…, it’s just the confirmation that this is not atypical. But I feel like that too, Phoebe. I don’t feel that there has been any acknowledgement of that gift. And I’m sure it’s there. I’m sure there’s appreciation. I’m sure he understands that–, I don’t know, he just won’t say it, let’s put it that way. He won’t say it. He won’t acknowledge it. I don’t know why, whether, he loses something by doing that? You know?

Sharon: Maybe it’s like very traditional ideas about masculinity. You can’t rely on someone else. You can’t be dependent.

Alice: Maybe so.

Phoebe: I think it’s changed with Marcus’s case.

Alice: What’s that?

Phoebe: I think he’s dealing with a profound shame, too. Shame that he’s done this thing of making this transition that has thrown his family into crisis. He’s had terrible trouble with his family of origin who have been horrible, but he had to do it anyway. And he invented me as an obstacle to this transition. I don’t know why he did, but he did. And he realized pretty soon that that was not really what was going on. But he had such a sense of shame that he actually-, he’s also somebody who has the difficulty of saying he’s sorry, too, just in everyday life before he transitioned. He just isn’t able to do that very easily.

I know that about him and I usually am able to really let go of stuff, but I guess about this stuff I’m having trouble-, I know I’ll get there eventually but I am having trouble letting go of my need for him to acknowledge how much I did to help him, and how much I went through. You know all that stuff is traumatic to me, the partner. But because it’s not as traumatic as transitioning… It’s like some kind of trauma competition and I don’t have any standing to say, “You know that was really, really hard.” This has definitely been a difficult process for me to stay present for him and to help him putting myself constantly on hold and to go through this process for like basically three years without ever the “we” from his perspective.

I’ve read other stories where people like they go through the transition together. But in Marcus’s case, he just decided to do it, he informed me of it and there was never any ‘we’ at all.

Alice: Same here.

Phoebe: But none the less he wanted me to take care of him and change his dressings and cook him food and go to the video store because he couldn’t leave the house. You know all that stuff that one does. So even though we’re doing so much better and it’s so many years later now, I still have this – you can hear it in my voice, obviously – I still have this little nugget of resentment and … I think it will dissipate eventually, but it does piss me off that I’m going to have to deal with this yet again on my own. I can’t process it with him because it’s way too triggering for him and he’ll just get incredibly enraged and we’d have like a fight for a month if I even brought it up, which is a drag.

Alice: I know. I know how that sounds. But I really was fine with it. It was preferable in my case to have my strong women friends helping me out [during my illness].

Phoebe: Some people have that same understanding about the transition, right? Like he’s a wreck, I did all of the housework, he’ll never see it in a million years, but that’s just how it is and how we ride along. And they’ve made their peace with it. I’m really jealous of those people.

Alice: I’m really jealous of them too because I have, like you, a nugget, I have some real sadness around it, I have to admit. I think it’s sadness if I truly address it. I want the acknowledgement. It would make me feel that there was way more balance if I had some acknowledgement.

Phoebe: Yes.

Alice: I still love him, but I want that. I’m like you there.

Phoebe: And it makes me feel lonely. That’s what it is.

Alice: Oh loneliness! I have never been so lonely in a relationship at times that I have been in this one. I have had extreme loneliness inside this relationship because I was left out of that process. It’s such a personal thing, the transition. I don’t even know what normal is in this context or what is common even. You know?

Phoebe: I was losing my fucking mind. I mean you go out the door and people are like “Yay, good for you, you’re transitioning. Isn’t it wonderful, fabulous?” Meanwhile inside, he’s wanting to kill himself and life is really bad. But there’s a way in which you’re not allowed to talk about how hard it can be… We’re all supportive, obviously, of the transition, but it can be hard.

Alice: There’s a story that needs to be told.

I know. I hear you. I looked around too and could find nothing. Maybe we need a Transition for Dummies book.

Phoebe: Oh my God. That’s hysterical. That’s a good idea.

Sharon: Even if we could get a cartoonist to do advice for the transitioning guy, you know, “ acknowledge your partner’s support.”

Alice: Right.


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