Having completed the final edit of my book, Julie said, “I’ve been thinking about writing a foreword.”
“Oh. Wow. Okay. Yeah, I like the sound of that. Do you have in mind what you’d write?”
Giggling, she replied, “No.”
“Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, I love the idea. Just start writing, it will come to you.”
She retrieved a pen and pad. She started writing:
Soon, she was typing. A few hours later, she showed it to me. Immediately, I was dazzled.
I am but a few days from offering the book for sale. I present Julie’s foreword now because she sets the tone for what I’ve written, the spirit in which I’ve described the challenges I’ve endured.
Julie’s spirit shines through her words—the lovely person with whom I fell in love by her words, before I ever saw her face.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“I would have left in a heartbeat.”
The declaration is volunteered by many, men and women alike, upon hearing the story about a transgender husband transitioning to live as a woman. The question I, the wife, expected—“Did you ever think about leaving?”—is bypassed, and the listeners fast forward to their own bold assertion about hitting the road. As though even asking the question about staying means there is a sliver of possibility they themselves would have to live through something so unfathomable, so unpleasant. Better to nip that in the bud, slam that door shut. Outta here, in a heartbeat.
How a couple handles a big situation has more to do with how they handled all the little things in all the previous years. Since our wedding on December 30, 2001, I’d learned a lot from Greg Eilers about respect, unconditional love, and kindness. We’d built a pretty deep store of those Golden Rule treasures, so it was only natural that we drew upon it when Greg’s gender dysphoria upended our lives.
I couldn’t declare “I didn’t sign up for this”, because this—facing hurdles with my life partner—was exactly what I did sign up to do. I couldn’t turn my back on the person I loved, because I knew he, without hesitation, would face any deluge of difficulties I threw his way. I couldn’t run the other direction because, I asked, what would I want my spouse to do if I were in his shoes? I couldn’t shout “This is not fair!”, because life isn’t about fairness. It’s about being our best for others.
We tend to view relationships as a give and take proposition. That what we give and what we receive is measurable and should somehow balance out the scales. As if every checkmark in the debit column deserves a credit entry on the next line.
What if we saw it this way instead: that both sides of the scale belong equally to both partners, that all the debits and all the credits belong collectively to the team.
Living through a spouse’s gender dysphoria and transition from one gender to another seems a very debit-heavy transaction. It is excruciating to watch the person you love experience the torment of being one gender on the inside and another in public. It is painful to see your spouse feel trapped in an unchangeable life and view death as the only escape. It is sorrowful to mourn the loss of the only identity (husband and wife) you’ve known with this person. It is daunting to fathom an existence where you expect to be condemned and ostracized. It is nerve-racking to think about how your family, your friends, the world will see you.
Life has an abundance of challenges, but the majority of them are understood and accepted. Most everyone will commiserate with you when your spouse has a terminal illness, a disability-causing accident, an affair, a job loss. People can imagine themselves in common situations. They have a frame of reference. You might still feel isolated, but at least you know you’re not the only one.
The crossing of gender boundaries, though, is just too weird, too outlandish, too forbidden for most people to wrap their heads around. You don’t have the luxury of calling up friends and family, of drawing on a readily-available support network, to help get you through this. This—the “my spouse is transgender”—starts out a closely-held yet extremely-loaded secret—a frightening one to share. And when you do begin to share, it’s very often not support you get, but highly-opinionated directives and ultimatums.
It’s no wonder most marriages don’t survive a gender transition.
Jesus teaches us in Romans 5 that we should “rejoice in our suffering”. Quoting scripture doesn’t take the hard stuff away. But understanding the point—looking though our earthly suffering to the ultimate spiritual reward God gives us, eternal life with our Savior—helps us take a bigger picture approach to the struggles we have in life.
Despite the trying times, despite the unconquerable mountains and precarious ravines that riddled the landscape of my spouse’s gender dysphoria, I always had one thing to cling to: hope. Hope for the four things I desired for my spouse—that he stay alive, that he keep his sanity, that he be as healthy and whole as possible, and maybe even that he achieve happiness. Hope that Greg and I would emerge as a couple—however that looked—stronger, better, and deeper in our love. Hope is a powerful little thing. Hope let me redefine the debits as credits.
It is my hope that Greg’s story, and the story of all transgender people, will prompt others to see the bigger picture. To set aside their preconceived notions about what it means to be transgender. To turn their ears and listen to a group of people struggling to be heard. To brave their awkward feelings and step into a space they’ve never been.
Comfort zones are tough to give up. When faced with an unfamiliar situation, particularly one vastly different than we are accustomed to, our tendency is to recoil, get back to the easy. Something new might pique our curiosity, but we’re careful about getting too close, cautious about letting ourselves be vulnerable. Yet, there are some really valuable benefits outside our bubbles: Enrichment. Love. Growth. Understanding. Compassion. Selflessness. Humanity.
Would I leave my comfort zone to stay with Greg? In a heartbeat.