Some backstory on me. I was married to my first husband at the age of twenty and welcomed my first daughter into the world at the age of twenty-one. I was young, naive and prepared to do anything to get out of my mother’s house. I thought I knew everything. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was jumping from the pan right into the fire. At twenty-one, my ex-husband, already in the electrician’s union, was set in his career and ready to settle down. I thought we were normal twenty something’s just having some fun, but then I found myself pregnant. Not long after my daughter turned two I was pregnant with my second daughter. By then I knew that my ex had a real drinking problem. I lived through the severe highs and the lowest lows. I dealt with verbal, physical abuse and him destroying the house along with my things. Of course his apology the next day was always heartfelt with a side of promises that it would never happen again. He was a miserable person who didn’t want to do anything to help himself or keep his family together.

I begged and pleaded with him to go and get help. I told him that I would be there every step of the way. I told him that half of his problem was hereditary and the other half was depression. I told him that it wasn’t fair to the girls to have a father who was a drunk three quarters of the time. I told him that I couldn’t stay married to him if he continued to be abusive. I talked until I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice. The littlest thing could set him off and I would be the one to pay for it. I had more sleepless nights than I care to remember. I lived on the edge and in fear. He put my life and the lives of my children in danger on numerous occasions without a second thought. It took me years and the support of a domestic violence center to gain the self-confidence and safe plan to leave.

“I felt like I was dragging him through the life that I wanted him to live and it was awful.”

Then, there were the years I spent married to my wife while she was living as a man. Once we moved in together, everyday was not filled with joy and elation. We were happy as a family unit, but I could see that my spouse was suffering, but from what I didn’t know. There were severe bouts of depression. Sleepless nights spent in front of the television. Mood swings and self-medicating. Disappearing into the office for hours on end and missing out on time spent with the girls. Slapping a smile on his face so he could attend family events. I felt like I was dragging him through the life that I wanted him to live and it was awful.

Life With a Transgender Person Before Transitioning Is Like Living With an Alcoholic - Trans Partners - Transgender Universe

I began to think that his absence from our lives was somehow my fault. The thoughts circling around in my head were starting to make me crazy. Perhaps “he” was having second thoughts about marrying a woman with three small children. He was well on his way to an exciting career that would have taken him all over the world and now he is strapped down with a family. Could there be another woman pulling him away from me? Maybe he has fallen out of love with me and can’t find the right words to tell me? We have always had a very open relationship, able to talk about anything and everything. Why now would he not want to share his feelings with me? It made me feel like I was going down the path to self loathing again and bringing back a sense of feeling inadequate.

“In retrospect, living with my wife before she knew that she was transgender was a lot like living with my ex-husband who was an alcoholic, minus the abuse.”

We had plenty of late night conversations about how he felt different than everyone else. He couldn’t put it into words, but would refer to himself as an alien. I always reassured him that it was his creative side that made him different. We share a love of the arts and artists aren’t always normal people. I too had similar feelings of being looked at like the odd man out. Finally after being together for a little over twelve years “her” bell rang. It happened on a weekend when the girls and I were away visiting family out of town. In retrospect, living with my wife before she knew that she was transgender was a lot like living with my ex-husband who was an alcoholic, minus the abuse.

Watching someone slowly kill themselves with alcohol is torture. It is almost the same as watching a car wreck in slow motion. Without treatment, eventually they drink themselves to death or they saturate their internal organs until they no longer work. Some alcoholics make the fatal decision to get behind the wheel and kill themselves that way. They call alcoholism a disease and there are treatment facilities all over the country to help them get better. This is a condition where without help; they can’t come back from it. I see living with a partner who cannot transition as being the same as living with an alcoholic who won’t get help. Too many transgender people feel that it is not safe to come out and their families won’t accept them. Some of them turn to alcohol. They themselves are looking for ways to die. Some spouses refuse to let their partners transition because they are uncomfortable with it. To me this is just like sitting by and watching them drink themselves to death. It makes me incredibly sad to think about transgender people all over the world who are unable to transition because of intolerance from their families. You can choose to stay or let them go, but let them get the help they need.

  • Melissa Savage

    With all due respect, I have to be honest and say I really did not appreciate this article as a trans person. You could literally choose any chronic condition that causes severe emotional pain and you choose to compare us to alcoholics. Alcoholism is a serious problem that is often maligned because it is self-imposed and an addiction. There are implications with addiction that would be incorrect if related to being transgender. Alcoholism is toxic to one’s mind and body, whereas being transgender is just simply scary because of external social structures. Being trans before transition is certainly painful, and I know living with someone going through that and being unable to help may feel some of the same ways.

    But I honestly don’t think you’re going to persuade anyone to look at us with more empathy by comparing us to alcoholics. Finally, you say, “… without the abuse” yet you know as well as I do that loss of self-control and abusive behavior is very central to alcoholism. Since trans women as a group are often demonized as people “making a choice” (like alcoholism,) living lives of decadence without regard for others (like addicts,) and many people try to paint us all in general as abusers, it’s very easy for the point you were trying to make to get lost in more directly comparing us to alcoholics. I’d suggest that it’s more like living with someone who has PTSD (I can compare the two well since I do have PTSD.) Or living with someone with a terminal illness, even.

    All that being said, I certainly appreciate that you care enough to advocate for your wife’s safety and acceptance in our ridiculous society.

    • D’Artagnan Brown

      I disagree. Yes, the comparison has it’s incongruities BUT the meat of the matter still remains perfectly symmetrical. Being unable to transition and suffering from it can be compared to alcoholism as there is a lack of control in both scenarios. Alcoholics cannot control their addiction and individuals who are unable to transition for whatever reason cannot control the fact that being unable to be who they truly are is eating away at them.

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    • SarahJ

      As a transgender person I totally agree with her. It is hard to face painful truths.
      I was slowly killing myself. I’m fact I wasn’t much different from her first husband. I was a terrible spouse. I knew why but I couldn’t admit it to myself much less her.
      It is wonderful that you were better than that.
      But the fact is that gender dysphoria can consume people like alcoholism.

    • Erica Kensho

      I had a bit of trouble with this article myself. I agree that conflating the two conditions is a stretch.

    • Dolly Roquette

      I am struggling also with the comparison. Whilst I did turn to *self medicating* during my short period of denial, I was never violent or hostile… (I was an eighties art student so what with the new romantics and the goths, lol, I always managed to express my non binary side!!) It was when I attempted to set up home and family with my ex wife that I confused self denial with parental responsibility… My wife knew from the start that I was non-practicing transsexual. I was getting by in pre-family singledom using the *help* of Superskunk, ecstacy and booze.
      Needless to say this rock n roll existance had to go when kids came along, but I just became unhappy. It was my depression that forced a wedge between my wife and I! The transition came shortly after trial seperation and, whilst my wife was reasonably open to the *kink* of having a t-girl for a *husband*… She didn’t want to be a lesbian or have her husband become her *wife*! We are divorced now. I am six months post op and slowly piecing my life back together!!
      I agree entirely that while alcohol etc. often figure in denial, as a kind of *comfort blanket*, it is a seperate issue that runs parallel to the main issue of gender dysphoria. Also, I agree that it is dangerous to feed the *haters* with such ideas as they will put 2and2 together and, wrongly, come to all manner of conclusions!! I applaud this woman for standing by her wife however, this in itself is commendable!

  • Debbie Lawrence

    In my book “Living in Stealth: Iron Mask”, I explore this in a great deal more detail. The first book “Living in Stealth: Undercover” shows the abuse, terrorism, and intimidation transgender girls experience growing up, even as they try desperately to appear to be normal boys.

    In Iron Mask, we see the dynamics of the double life. The girl wants to be loving and kind and affectionate, but when forced to live as a man, they revert back to the solitude and isolation that protected them in their childhood.

    To the outsider, she appears to be like any other man. Often, her true feelings and needs are kept hidden, for fear of losing the spouse and children they love so much, even though they seem to know nothing of her true self.

    When people praise the man, the woman inside experiences it as a slight. It is a message “keep acting like a man, because as a woman, you don’t exist. The more the man works and succeeds, the harder it becomes for the woman to emerge.