Leaving your husband to find your true self: FTM edition
I didn’t have a secret life. But I had a secret dream life—which might have been worse. I loved my husband; it’s not that I didn’t. But I felt that he was standing between me and the world, between me and myself.
So wrote Honor Jones in her viral Atlantic story about the home renovation that turned into a divorce. But curiously, it’s a line that could just as easily appear in many FTM transition stories from older, heterosexually-partnered women, like this one:
It's been a very hard road, not the least coming to terms with needing to transition in the first place… In 2018 my chronic pain flared up so badly that I was stuck in a wheelchair for a few months, barely suppressing the fear that I would never walk again and I would die in middle age destitute and addicted to pain meds. My husband took perfect care of me, and I learned what real love is. When I finally got a diagnosis and proper treatment, it worked so well that I could be nearly pain-free, and I was so grateful to be given a second chance at life. I had new conviction that life was worth living, and so something needed to change. When I realized my gender was the core of so many of my issues at 27, I was afraid of what I would lose by transitioning. But more than that, I was afraid of what I would lose by not transitioning. A therapist helped me understand the meaning of self-love, and from that point I was set on transition. I got divorced, gave up my job to move back to my home country, and moved in with my grandmother. I won't lie, I struggled. Almost a year after leaving, I miss my ex-husband every day.
From the outside, it looks like I've lost everything I had, but it's really the opposite. It was all the price I had to pay to live, and it's worth it. Every little hair on my cheek is worth it, every time I look at porn and jack off is worth it, and every cringey voice crack is worth it.
41, WI, parent, trashfire. February, like someone flipped a switch, I crashed into the deepest trainwreckiest depression imaginable. Totally dysfunctional. I won't even attempt to get into all the feelings, all the components. But the core of this being some kind of gender panic though started to emerge and I didn't really want to accept it because how would I have made it to 41, made it through marriage, made it through having given birth to a child, and not known I was trans. Simultaneously, in reviewing everything that has been or felt wrong with my life, it started to fit pretty well.
So over the following months and in therapy and in talking to people I've basically come to accept I am almost certainly a trans dude, and have been experimenting with social transition, which is tough, tbh, but ultimately feels pretty good although I feel like an imposter in a *different* way than I did before. That's its own separate rant, honestly.
My therapist thinks I should try at least microdosing T, and while I am a person who is crippled doubting my own decisions when they're intractable, I eventually agreed I probably should and got, honestly, pretty damn excited about it.
Fast forward to now: I'm completely done with the life I've lived up until now, desperate to like ... start? honestly? before I'm dead? … I feel so impatient, like I've already wasted my whole life and I'm just desperate, honestly, not to waste any more. I dunno what advice there is to give really but I also have like no community so I could do with some support, I guess.
Read one or two of these stories and you might not make much of it. Read 20 and they all start to sound alike.
Heterosexually-partnered woman between the ages 35-40ish
Almost always white
Self-identified progressive but basically a normie until Trump got elected in 2016 or until May 2020 if a little slow on the uptake
Reports a generally decent marriage with a supportive husband
Announces sudden Internet-rabbithole-inspired 'epiphany' (usually during COVID lockdown)
Adopts very public (often downright exhibitionist) "queer" identity that grows like a hothouse plant, overtaking everything, until the woman finally comes out as trans
Dismantles relationship and life to chase testosterone, grow a patchy beard, and “jack off” to porn (a.k.a. become your 'true self')
What am I missing?
There’s also a ‘lite’ version where you can keep your husband/mortgage/dining-room set/breasts. You can just change your pronouns to she/they or they/them.
In the nonbinary case, the social opportunism tends to be striking, following so closely on the heels of a loud/proud self-effacing allyship that starts to chafe a bit on someone who is at heart fairly self-centered and attention-seeking. Forget “Karen.” Come out as nonbinary and you get your voice back. If you’ve drunk enough of the gender Kool-Aid, you may even believe that the label “nonbinary” really fits and that ‘woman’/‘mother’/‘wife’ really doesn’t.
But I’m being glib. Let’s go back to the women who take it all the way. Their plotlines may be all too predictable but they’re also serious. I don’t think anyone goes down this road who doesn’t have a problem that they don’t know how to live with or even what name to give this problem. The names and the templates for action keep changing. Where would these women have found meaning and direction 20, 40, 100 years ago? Would divorce and a new career have cut it? Or would they have drifted through diagnostic fads that paint fresh new words over old wounds and vague discontents? In 1990, would they have been multiples, spending their Saturdays excavating a forgotten past?
Their stories boil over with alternative explanations: There are women who endured difficult pregnancies or who don’t feel particularly ‘maternal.’ There are deaths in the family—parents usually—and mortality edges closer. There are serious, often unexplained illnesses. Family histories of breast and ovarian cancer crop up a lot. There’s shapeless discontent. Maybe they’re having trouble letting go of an identity—something to do with youth, precocity, unrealized potential (ask me how I know!)—as life consumes itself.
While you can observe themes in these women’s backgrounds (progressive credentials, midlife status, a lot of fanfic-reading and -writing), their stories show great individual variation right up until the point when they acquire a radical set of new beliefs about gender at a time when they’re looking for answers to very human problems. It’s only once they come out as trans that they all start to sound the same. In this sense, they’re little different than their much younger sisters, who seize on trans identity when they hit puberty. But at 13, you’re meant to question everything. It’s the responsibility of the grownups in your life to protect you from inexorability. At 40, it’s much harder to tear life down to its foundations. And you’re the grownup. Nothing and no one can stop you.
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The answer to existential unhappiness is surely not to mutilate one's body or to annihilate one's marriage; these cases don't even seem to have particularly bad spousal relationships.
Are they simply unhappy with their lot? Why do they feel the need to 'rip it all up and start again', instead of finding less destructive ways to change their situation?
Before 'Trans' ('BT'), the usual solution would have been to find some fulfilment within the marriage by changing career, taking an educational course, or perhaps even simply by changing lifestyle - which seem to be reasonable actions.
After 'Trans', the solution becomes something that does not lie outside one's self and within the marriage - the answer is now seen as originating internally - with only a hazy understanding of what this implies - and as something that cannot exist within the marriage.
Are they rejecting their sexuality? Their marriage? Their sex? It's such an extreme phenomenon. Thanks for covering it!
Thought-provoking stuff. Thanks Eliza.
"...what name to give this problem." -- Maybe it's "the problem without a name", the feminine mystique. I started reading Friedan's book because I thought it would be a good history lesson but a lot of it rings true today. Middle class white women suffering from some vague malaise, needing more of an identity than wife and mother. Instead of pushing back against sexist gender roles, they do what any "good woman" does -- blame themselves. They search for what's "wrong" with them and SURPRISE! Find a solution in a bottle. But it's not barbiturates like the old days or antidepressants, it's testosterone and surgery. But like any "solution" offered by patriarchy, it invariably feeds you right back into the same system (and apparently, jerking off at grandma's house).