I write about radical issues for mainstream publishers, so, in addition to dancing around putting LGBT issues into cis-straight-friendly terms, I face a mile-high stack of hate mail on a daily basis. My wife is transgender, and, according to the angry mobs of keyboard warriors, this means that I am a pervert, that we are both going to Hell, and that we are guilty of abuse for raising a child together. But through all the negative comments, hateful emails, and long-distance threats, I get an occasional positive message, and it’s almost always, uncomfortably, “Thank you.”
Many, many people thank me for being with my wife, for accepting her the way she is, and for being “brave” enough to accompany her through the not-so-pleasant aspects of being trans in America. I get two or three emails a week from trans people thanking me for loving my wife, telling me that they hope they can someday find partners as “wonderful” and “accepting” as I am. I’ve gotten several near-identical emails from my readers who playfully ask, “Can I clone you?” or “Do you happen to have a sister who’s just like you?”
This doesn’t just happen online, but in the real world, too. We were once leaving a local transgender support group when a shy, nervous-looking woman who was there quietly asked for my phone number. The next day, she called me in tears telling me about her own wife, who left her and received full custody of their three children after she came out of the closet. She told me she “couldn’t thank me enough” for being with my wife, because seeing our relationship assured her that love and happiness can happen even to “people like us.” She turned out to be the first of now five people from the support group who have stopped to personally thank me for my relationship. It’s a sign that something is seriously wrong when there are people who feel so hopeless, and so unloved, that they feel that they owe me gratitude just for loving someone “like them.”
I can understand why it is that many transwomen feel a need to personally thank me. When society constantly tells you that you’re not worthy of having the kind of healthy, loving relationships that cisgender people take for granted– when the media tells you that your body and identity are the subject of fetishism at best and disgust at worst– I understand how it could be easy to forget that you, too, are a human being, and that you, too, deserve to be loved exactly as you are. Transphobia is so rampant in every aspect of our culture that it seems that many trans people have internalized self-hatred to the point that they have given up on all hope of love.
I’m obviously failing, somehow, to make it clear that my marriage is no charity project. My wife is not a mangy stray puppy I decided to feed, or a soap-opera character who needed a manic pixie dream girl to save her from her own tragedy. She is the love of my life. So maybe it’s time for me to make a few things clear. If anyone is owed gratitude for being in this relationship, it’s my wife.
I happened to be blessed with a body that matches my identity, but I am not without my share of struggles, and those struggles taint everything about my life—including my marriage. I am a survivor of child abuse, rape, and spousal abuse. I have an extremely severe panic disorder, along with an icky case of PTSD. I’m a wreck. The cost of my therapy and medications have eaten into the savings that we should be setting aside for my wife’s transition, but even with all the treatment in the world, I’m still not an easy person to be with. I have trust issues. I periodically develop bizarre, unreasonable delusions that my wife is cheating on me, or that she is going to hit me, or that she’s going to rape me. I’m prone to inconsolable, unpredictable panic attacks in which I can’t speak and can barely breathe.
I have a conservative family that despises me for being queer and voting for a “Muslim” president. My wife’s family hates me just as much as my own family does. I came into this relationship with a daughter who, while wonderful and bright and funny, is a financial and emotional burden that most people would not have been willing to accept. I’m too thin. I have unattractive breasts. I’m bad with money.
I’m an ally, but I’m also an asshole. I say unintentionally transphobic things sometimes. I’m uncomfortable around men, and I can’t always shut off the part of the skittish, bigoted part of my brain that thinks my wife is a man. I’m selfishly concerned with the effects that HRT might have on our sex life. I’ve been embarrassed when someone has stared at us in public. I sometimes get annoyed by how long it takes my wife to get rid of her body hair and to put on all her makeup, ignoring that it’s only because I have cis privilege that I can walk out of the house looking exactly as I did when I rolled out of bed, and not be called a freak for it. I try to be the best trans ally I can be, but I’m not perfect—not perfect at all.
If she wanted to, my wife could have found someone better than me. Someone who was more understanding, less insecure, and mentally healthier. Someone who wasn’t triggered by things she can’t help having attached to her body, like a penis and chest hair. Someone who didn’t come into the relationship wielding a toddler to whom she would have to pledge the next fifteen years of her life. Someone with a better family, where words like “faggot” and “n*gger” aren’t passed over the Thanksgiving dinner table like gravy and salt-shakers. If anything, my wife is the one who has had to make very serious sacrifices to be with me.
That’s the funny thing about real love, though. I’m not the first to make this observation, but it is never a fairy tale. It’s never a story in which two wealthy, healthy, perfect people fall madly in love and go on to have their flawless Happily Ever After. It’s also never a story about one perfect person choosing to love a broken individual out of altruism. Love—real love— is invariably the story of two troubled people who understand and accept each other’s troubles, but choose to face them together.
When I said “I do” to my wife, her beautiful brown eyes beaming and her delicate hand clasped in mine under a rainbow of ribbons, I was making the same promise that every other married person has made: the promise to love her, to be faithful to her, to share my life with her, and to be there when she needs me. It’s the exact same promise that she made to me.
My devotion to my wife was not an act of charity or heroism. She is not the one-eyed cat at the shelter that no one else wanted, or the bird with the broken wing that needed to be nurtured back to health. She is my wife, and she is there for me just as much as I am there for her. We are both people with a lot serious challenges to face, and we chose to confront those challenges as a team. That’s not heroism. It’s love.
Genevra Reid is a freelance writer, LGBT activist, angry feminist, and dedicated mommy to a bad-ass five-year-old girl. When she’s not busy writing, parenting, and inhabiting the nightmares of conservatives, she can usually be found snuggling with her wife, dog, kid, and/or cat.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” column exists for individual queer ladies to tell their own personal stories and share compelling experiences. These personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.