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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Transition Thoughts & Reflections - Helen Boyd Guest Post

Some time ago, I had asked Helen Boyd if she could do one of the guest posts, from the perspective of a spouse, for our Transition Thoughts and Reflections series on T-Central.  She graciously replied in the affirmative but the actual post has been delayed due to their relocation.

But, true to her word, she delivered and we have it for you today!

Helen, as many of you know, is the author of My Husband Betty, and She's Not The Man I Married.  

I have both books.  I thoroughly enjoyed both books.  I strongly recommend both books.  But more importantly, I got a lot out of both books.   They helped me to better understand myself.

Helen's blog is en|Gender and her books are available via her own website or from Amazon.

 - Calie

Post Trans Post: Life After Transition August 2010

Betty transitioned. Apparently we’ve forgotten to announce that officially. I can’t imagine anyone is surprised; looking back, I see chapter 5 of My Husband Betty as tea leaves neither of us wanted to read. But I wrote My Husband Betty seven years ago (and it’s still in print!), and that old joke says it only takes 2 years, right? Maybe that’s from crossdresser to transsexual, because surely it takes more years than that to become a woman or a man. It certainly took me a few more than 2 to become a woman, and that was without any trans interference. (Sometimes, when someone asks me if I’m trans myself, I wonder if I ever did make it to “woman,” but for me, that’s a compliment, that all of my gender is showing.)

What we are, post transition, is more relaxed. That has something to do with our move from New York to Wisconsin, and something to do as well with us both having jobs we like. It may also have something to do with our being together for 12 years now. But hearing that other shoe drop, at long last, has brought us both relief as well.

We find it easier being perceived as a lesbian couple than as a trans couple. Granted, we “do” lesbian with our bizarre heterosexual privilege – by which I mean we are still federally recognized as legally married. I certainly don’t mean to imply it’s easier to be a lesbian couple; it’s not. It’s way harder then when we were seen as a somewhat eccentric het couple. But you do a lot less explaining at parties, and that’s a nice break. People know what lesbians are, even if, as in our case, the label isn’t wholly accurate. Mostly we don’t prefer to tell people Betty is trans; if they know, & have questions, we answer them when we’re in the appropriate time & place to do so, like in a private conversation and not at a party. But otherwise, I have no interest in outing her on a regular basis.

Often the question of whether or not to be out as trans rests upon the assumption that you’re either out or stealth. Yay, another binary! The reality is that there is a significant gray area. What has surprised us most is that the old advice – to move clear across the country – has its reasons. We did, but not as part of her transition plan. We did, and so we’ve reaped the benefits of being in a place where no one knew her as male, where no one knew us as het, where no one knew us before at all. That is, when we meet people now, they need only know as as a same sex couple. Unlike many if not most trans people, Betty is undeniably out. Once someone asks me what I do, for instance, it is only a few short stops to “She used to be a man?” To preserve some of our privacy – and yes, even memoirists like some privacy – I usually tell people I write gender theory which invariably leads to one of two responses: (1) “Oh.” Or (2) they actually want to know what I think of Lady Gaga’s/Caster Semenya’s gender, at which point the conversation turns away from me and onto cranky female athletes or Gaga’s little monsters. That is, the titles of my books don’t ever have to come up, which keeps me from outing Betty. One of the best parts of working in academia is having people assume they haven’t read your work.

Sometimes I like to joke that I threw Betty over for a “real woman” but that’s only if that someone will get the joke. (The short version: I don’t believe in “real” genders.)

What we’ve found is that the guy at the local equivalent of the 7-11 doesn’t need to know. We are often assumed to be friends, and not a couple, because of general LGBTQ invisibility, and I’m learning to leave with that & all the heterocentric bullshit the world is steeped in. When someone’s head is still getting used to the idea of homosexuality, you don’t really want to hit them with Teh Trans, anyway. They’re not ready.
A friend of mine, both lesbian and trans, was once asked to talk to a student about being out. My friend promptly explained her experiences being out as trans, to which the slack-jawed undergrad responded, “I thought you were just a lesbian.”

So now we’re “just lesbians.”

But is anyone “just a lesbian”? Every lesbian woman I know is a host of other things: parent, daughter, lawyer, trans, Asian, etc. We are not “just lesbians” either. We are something like post trans queers. Or I am, at least. I’m not really sure anymore.

The only sad thing for me is that I have lost my partner in crime. Betty is (quite frustratingly, some days) gender normative, trendy, and magazine feminine. I have to remind her not to flip her hair so much. I love her, but I still nurse a general dislike of normative femininity. I’m naturally suspicious of people who fit in. I assume I’ll get over it. You don’t really make it through transition as someone’s partner without having an awful lot of flexibility.

What I will say to the partners: my resolve to be her friend first, and her lover/wife second, was tantamount. We still worry that our friendship has replaced or supplanted our marriage, but I suspect that’s the kind of thing a lot of long-term relationships wrestle. When it comes down to it, our journey, and my midwifery, has been an honor and a pleasure. It is a remarkable thing to watch someone go through gender transition and to help them do so. She has assisted me through a few life transitions, and we will, no doubt, see a few more in our lifetimes, and any and all of those changes can be a threat to a couple’s permanence and happiness. Her gender transition’s challenge to who we are as a couple was maybe more challenging than others, or maybe just more obvious in the ways it accessed axes of identity. But surely unhappiness, self-repression, and stagnation would destroy any relationship as easily and with far more bitterness and regret, and you know? Phooey to that.


  1. Worth waiting for! I couldn't get my partner to write her own view on "our" transition, but thankfully Helen has done a great job of it here, and most of it rings true for our own situation.

  2. I can't wait for the third book telling us all about it! Your second book was a tremendous help to my spouse and I as we navigated a lot of the same territory (trans wise and emotionally).

    In the meantime, congrats to you both! I know you had some concerns about whether the relationship would survive this very event, and you've made it!

  3. As your book passed through my hands yesterday I was wondering how the story unfolded and wether you had a happy ending together and I am so happy to find that you did, well apart from the hair flip.

    Friendship supplanting marriage could well be how many marriages mature with time, a depth of friendship you would be unlikely to have with anyone else. Certainly the way mine has gone too and we are more than content.

    Could have read another couple of hundred pages like this!

    Caroline xxx

  4. I wish M--- would read this. I still want to be friends at the end of it all...



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