You Need Help: You Should Divorce Your Transphobic Wife

Q:

Hello! I’m a trans lesbian woman. I’m very proud of my identity and I’m the happiest I have ever been since transitioning. I would never want to go back!!!

My wife and I have been married for 24 years. She fully supports my transition and we are more than content to stay together. I transitioned starting about 2 years ago. I truly love my wife and we are the best of friends and soulmates.

However she constantly questions my identity as a trans lesbian woman. She makes gross comments about me and men, especially my friends or any man really. My friends (we both have known since middle school) are like brothers and they support me 100%. She gets mad when I show any pride in being lesbian. If I make comments about being a lesbian or show off if any pride merch, she says I’m shoving it in her face. In effect she almost constantly questions two parts of my identity. She also says I’m forcing her to change her sexuality (she is a straight woman). I try to reassure her that her identity his her own and no one can change that. It doesn’t matter to me that she identifies as straight (nobody is perfect ) but my identity is always questioned.

My question is, how can I change to live with this behavior towards me? No amount of communication has helped and it just comes up over and over. This ends up with me in a state of depression and her angry and disconnected. I really need some advice. Thanks!!!

A:

The only people who know how it feels to be in your marriage are you and your wife. The only person who knows how it feels to be you in that marriage is you. But you’ve written in with this question and I can only respond to it truthfully. And my truthful response is I think you need to get a divorce.

At the very least, I have to push back on your assertion that your wife fully supports your transition. To fully support you would be to see you, to let go of the baggage around her own identity she’s projecting upon you. It’s generous of you to allow her to hold onto her chosen identity, but that generosity is not being reciprocated. This lack of reciprocation suggests to me that it’s not possible. It’s not possible for your wife to assert her straightness while fully embracing your womanhood. Or, rather, it is, but then the romantic and sexual aspects of your relationship should end.

The fact is your wife fell in love with you and built a life with you and you’re a woman. You didn’t become a woman. You didn’t trick her into being queer — her own feelings did that. In a long term relationship, everyone is always changing while still remaining themselves. This isn’t unique to relationships where someone transitions. Her desire to not change alongside her wife is futile — and it’s not fair to you.

24 years is a long time. I’m not suggesting you walk out right now. Rather, I think you need to open up that possibility so you can be honest with yourself – and your wife — about how you deserve to be treated. It might be hard, your marriage may not survive, but your wife won’t evolve, if you’re not pushing her to evolve. Sometimes patience and understanding is the move, but it’s been two years now. She either needs to accept the ways her life and marriage — and identity — have shifted or she needs to let you go.

You do not deserve less than anyone else simply because you are trans. You deserve a marriage with someone who loves you fully. You deserve a life filled with people who see and celebrate every part of you.

It might not seem possible. It might feel scary to let go of more aspects of your old life when transition itself is hard enough. But I promise you the world is so big and filled with so many different people and you will find the love you deserve. In fact, it appears you already have found that kind of love in your friends. You should be embraced by your romantic partner the way you have been embraced by your friends.

If, as you say, no amount of communication has helped then I do think it’s worth considering what ending your marriage would look like. I don’t say that lightly. I just believe separation is better than constant depression and anger.

I’m deeply sorry the person who is supposed to love you most is failing to do so. Sometimes wives, best of friends, and even soulmates aren’t meant to last a lifetime. But there will always be new people to meet, new connections to form. I met most of the people I care about — and who care about me — after transitioning. I cherish the relationships that have evolved alongside me, but I’m grateful my life opened up enough to invite in many new people. I promise this will be possible for you too.

It won’t be easy. And, of course, I can’t make this decision for you. But I can tell you one more time that you’re a trans woman, you’re a lesbian, and anyone who shares a life with you should be excited by — not bothered by — those facts.

I hope your wife comes around. But, if she doesn’t, I hope you trust there’s someone else out there — or many someones — who won’t even have to. They’ll see you and love you and want you to be you.

The world is hard enough for trans women. Your home, your marriage, should be an oasis from that hardship. It should not be the cause of your pain.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and I Heart Female Directors. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 474 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. This was a very compassionate and affirming letter. I’m so sorry for the disillusion the LW is going through, it’s not easy to deal with the depression (and feelings of betrayal, i daresay) coming from someone otherwise supportive for many years; and at the same time, disillusion is a door opening for new experiences and people that embrace her true self.

    LW, the space you will make for yourself will be much bigger than this fundamental incompatibility, and the disrespect it has resulted in afterwards. I wish you the best in your journey, I wish you a home life where you can rest knowing someone (especially yourself) will have your back without ifs or buts. ♥️

  2. LW, as a trans person myself with a partner who came out as trans after a decade, I wonder if she needs help ‘transitioning’ herself. Historically I had been very comfortable in queer-presenting relationships, and a surprising difficulty for me as adjusting to the perception of others that I was now in a hetero-presenting relationship. It seemed like slowly, and then all at once, the social ‘scripts’ I was used to had changed around me. I still love my partner and we are still together, and my challenge was less fraught because it wasn’t a challenge to my self perception about who I love.

    But one of the ways forward for your wife, if she truly does love you and is stuck in big feelings like this – ‘who and what am I now?’ and ‘people are treating me differently and I don’t have the tools to handle that gracefully’ – is she needs to talk with you about how the transition has affected her experience of your mutual relationship, and she also needs to speak with people who have been there. I hope your journey has brought you into contact with the local queer or trans neighbors of your area, and if any of them have a partner who is willing to help your wife navigate these complex feelings, it’ll be a lot easier for her love to shine out.

    <3 You've got this! 24 years is a long time and maybe this isn't even the most challenging thing the two of you work through

  3. This is solid advice. I watched an ex-partner deal with their long time wife saying some very very hurtful things and wish I had been able to voice ‘divorce her’ with as much compassion as Drew (to be fair, I was 24 at the time and full of rage).

    Divorce is gonna be rough but it is the first step towards getting the life that LW deserves.

  4. Twenty-five years ago, after nearly twenty years of marriage, my ex divorced me because she “was not a lesbian.”

    I had compromised to try to keep my family together, only allowing myself “out” once a week, while still trying to maintain the facade.

    Despite all the collateral damage, loss of family, loss of friends, loss of home and loss of job, when the last shoe dropped, I was free to be me 24-7 and I did and have never looked back.

    Oddly, my ex and I both independently signaled this new state if affairs with “butterflies” about our freedom- she got a tattoo, and I bought some pins to wear.

    It also freed me to adopt the trans community and contribute toward gaining recognition of our human rights.

  5. I agree with your letter, but feel the title is needless inflammatory. It’s true that the relationship may be over because of both their identities (both gender and orientation) but to label the wife as a transphobic person I think is jumping the wagon. When a love one transitions esp in they were good at hiding the signs and/or from a community that is not as familiar there will be a period of grief. Grief for the life that the original wife lived for 24 years. She may have a lot feelings around how her life was supposed to look, maybe she feels disbelief or guilt that she missed the signs. One thing a lot people feel is hurt that their loved ones may have been hiding for all that time or silently suffering. OP says that she feels some support, that their wife wants to stay together. I think they need to communicate with a mediator. It sounds like me to there is hurt and misunderstanding on both sides. I think labeling this woman as transphobic right off the bat is ignoring what could possibly be going on in their marriage. Think about how hard it is to come out for some people. The amount of buzz feed quizzes alone. Now imagine you NEVER felt that way towards women, but you feel that way about your partner. It’s scary and new and it might need professionals. They may be able to come out of this stronger. i wouldn’t write it off.

    • 100%. It sounds like her ex-wife loves her but that ultimately they are likely to be incompatible due to differing sexual orientations. It’s sad, as it is whenever that happens, but calling her transphobic, and labelling her sexual orientation as ‘baggage’ is very unhelpful.

    • I also agree with your comment. As someone that went through this with my spouse, mutual love, respect, communication, empathy and honesty are key to success. It’s a journey for both of them and having a history of 24 years is worth the effort. Feelings just can’t be shut off because a person is changing their gender. Gender is not the sole reason why 2 people marry. Good luck, I hope it works out for you both.

  6. I agree that this couple should get a divorce. However her heterosexuality is not ‘baggage’ and it is not ‘generous’ of you to respect her identity.

    This marriage is over because the two of you have incompatible sexual orientations and that will not change. Break up with as much grace as you can both manage, and I sincerely hope you can form a friendship in the future.

  7. thank you – the idea that it’s “generous” to respect her identity put me off this reply so much. heterosexuality isn’t a personality flaw to make “nobody’s perfect” jokes about, and “I don’t care how she identifies” is not support.

    the wife is just as entitled to support for her identity as OP is, and it also seems like something she’s really struggling with. wife’s behavior is obviously really not ok, and I agree this couple probably needs to split up, but I also have to wonder how much of her behavior is related to feeling insecure and unsupported in her own identity. (even if that’s the case, her actions are still just as unacceptable, to be clear! but context matters)

    “The fact is your wife fell in love with you and built a life with you and you’re a woman.”
    the lack of nuance in this comment is staggering. of course OP was always a woman, but social perception and social/gender roles play a huge part in relationships, and it’s extremely disingenuous to pretend they don’t. it’s extremely normal for a heterosexual woman to be struggling with her identity in this situation, and it’s very common for relationships where a partner transitions to run into these problems.

  8. I agree that the wife is being transphobic. However, I wonder if it would be helpful to think of transphobia not as an inherent personality trait, but as a system of oppression that we all interact with.

    To me, it is similar to racism. When something racist happens, we often over-focus on the thoughts, intentions, and quality of character of the person who did the racist thing.

    But we all think, say, and do racist things. (Even we POC have plenty of internalized racism that we direct towards ourselves and other POC!) What matters is owning our mistakes and having an ongoing commitment to dismantling the oppressive systems that operate in, around, and through us.

    So, the same is true of transphobia. The wife is working through a lot of complicated changes and emotions of her own AND she is being transphobic. I hope that she is able to dismantle the transphobia in her and in her marriage.

    Letter writer, I hope that you prioritize finding love, care, and support both from yourself and the loved ones you chose to gather around you, whether that means divorcing or not.

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