Reader Asks “Dear Prudence” About Standing By Her Man As He Transitions

Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Slate’s Dear Prudence, fielded a question on Tuesday from a woman whose husband revealed he feels like a woman trapped inside a man’s body.

Check out the query and Yoffe’s response, then jump down to the comments section and tell us if you think the columnist gave the right advice.

Q: Transgendered Husband. I believe transgendered people should be treated with the same respect and imbued with the same rights as cisgendered people. I have always felt this way, and I have several transgendered friends. Then my husband, whom I love very much, told me he wants to become a woman—or, she has always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, and if she doesn’t begin transitioning, she will be emotionally crippled.

Initially, I promised to remain married to her during her transition and for some time afterward, to give our marriage a chance to adjust to her transition and sex change. It has been three months, and as much as I love my husband, I am miserable. To a certain extent, my love for my husband is rooted in his manhood. The more my husband transitions into becoming a woman, the less romantic love I feel for her. I just don’t think I can remain her wife. I am heartbroken and feel as though I am a widow, which sounds so dramatic. My husband is emotionally fragile right now, because she’s lost some important people to her because of her transition. Everyone commends me for supporting her and sticking with our marriage, so I feel like a fraud now too. She loves me so much; I cannot imagine how to tell her I want a divorce, that she has lost me because she is transgendered. Or is it better to be a bad person and leave? And yes, I am seeing a counselor.

A: Of course people change and grow during the course of a marriage. Marriage would be stiflingly dull if that wasn’t the case. But if your husband confesses to you he plans to start growing breasts, he has so materially changed the contract of your marriage that I completely understand that you feel the husband you knew has died. In a way, he has and is being reborn as someone new, and you are not obligated to stay in the marriage under those circumstances. People would not expect you to stay (and you probably wouldn’t) if he said he realized he was gay, or he wanted to enter into a polygamous relationship. This feeling he is a woman trapped in a man’s body is not a new discovery for him, and he withheld absolutely crucial information from you prior to your marriage. It’s great that you still love him and want to be an emotional support for him. But you must be emotionally fragile too, and there is nothing wrong with your realizing your husband’s change of life requires you to make your own.

We’re inclined to think Yoffe’s point is a valid one, but was the reader at fault for immediately telling her husband she’d stand by him, rather than asking for some time to process her feelings? Should she take her spouse’s fragile state into account and stay in the marriage, at least until the transition is done? Was there some other angle missed here?

Now’s your chance to play Dear Abby—Give us your two cent’s worth in the comments below!

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  • Mischiefwolf

    There’s no right answer here. The writer made her choice to stay in the marriage based out of the love she felt for her husband as the man she already knew. There was no way for her to be able to predict how her feelings would change during the transition. Yoffe’s correct, they are both emotionally fragile but they both need to be honest with each other. The writer does need to be given the space to grieve her husband, because Yoffe’s point is valid, that man is dying and a new person is being born in his place. She may share traits with the man she used to be, but she will be a different person. And, the reality is if that the writer has any hope of being a support through all of this she has to look to her own emotional well-being first.

  • andy_d

    @Mischiefwolf: Well said.

  • William

    I admit this is my first comment post to Queerty as I normally don’t like to comment. However – I would like to point out that the writer was wise enough to start refering to her ‘husband’ as she, yet neither Yoeff nor Queerty were respectful enough to start referring to her as her proper gender. Yoeff’s point is well phrased, however the response lost something when she insisted on using the incorrect gender pronoun for someone who is transitioning.

  • Taliaferro

    There are many facets to this problem. Technically. the individual in question, from the information I got from reading it, is still a biolgical male – this transition takes some time. Ergo, I do not feel Yoeff or Queerty deserve condemnation for referring to him as, “he.” I agree that the wife’s vow to remain married would have been better left unspoken – in the shock following her husband’a announcement, I do not think she had had time to really think through matters. As a heterosexual woman, of course she loves the male aspect of her husband and that aspect will be gone when the transition is complete. There is also the question of legality in their marriage when the man becomes a woman. Will their state still recognize the marriage? Marriage, or long term relationships, between two people are subject to constant change and the couple either adapts of breaks up due to these changes in circumstances. It is easy to cast blame here. Why did a man who has always felt he was a woman in a man’s body marry in the first place? Yes, the woman should have said she would think things over, but consider her shock at the news. When we receive a great shock, we do not think clearly at that time. She is of course grieving for her husband and her marriage. Although I understand that man is fragile at the moment, he made this decision which is going to have a profound effect on him and those close to him. The wife should not be held captive to a contract which that husband has already broken.

  • Thedrdonna

    A note: I’m going to use “husband”, but also female pronouns, to keep the two parties straight, but also be respectful.

    @Taliaferro: A few things: Firstly, the husband is transitioning to female, and from all the available clues wishes to be female. Thus, it’s a simple matter of respect to use proper pronouns when referring to her. If you pay any attention to transgender issues, you will see that the idea of someone still being “biologically” male or female is a pervasive argument used by anti-trans people to deny trans folk their gender identity. This is usually accompanied by some bar that has been set at an arbitrary level so as to demonstrate that they are not really yet their identified gender, from passing, to surgery, to genetics in the worst cases.

    Yes, I think that it was ill-advised for the wife to promise something that she couldn’t be sure she would be able to provide. It’s a crappy situation all around, because in many ways there is just no reference frame for her to work in, no map that would be able to show her the path, or just where the path needs to be. As far as I have been able to determine, there are no states where transitioning invalidates a marriage. That may be less true for religious aspects of the union, but in most places where they would be against same-sex marriage, they would also tend to be of the view that the person who transitioned is of their original, assigned-at-birth gender, and so the marriage remains a cross-sex marriage. Bigotry can cause interesting loopholes sometimes.

    Many trans folk get married because they do not feel like they are ever going to come out. It’s similar, in a way, to joining a crazy hardcore religion to try to fight being gay, or getting quack therapy. I know a few trans folk who joined the military for that express purpose, to try to squash their gender identity into a socially acceptable mold. insofar as it works, it’s a painful and self-destructive process, that involves shutting off sections of your own soul. For many, it doesn’t work, and they either transition, or start doing truly self-destructive things, like drug abuse. The point I’m trying to make is that one of the few ways to make being closeted possible in one’s own mind is to shut out the possibility of ever coming out and transitioning.

    I would argue that the wife should not remain in a dying marriage. That cannot be good for her, and it cannot be good for her husband, regardless of the amount of support she is receiving. However, I don’t buy your argument that the husband already “broke” their marriage contract. If you’re going to hold that as some kind of legally binding agreement, as far as I understand it, the contract states that they shall remain together in sickness and in health, until death. As neither is dying, expect in a metaphorical way that I find to be of dubious applicability, the “contract” is still valid. Like I said, I don’t think they should remain together in a loveless marriage, but I don’t find that particular argument compelling either.

  • hyhybt

    “Why did a man who has always felt he was a woman in a man’s body marry in the first place?”—Besides #5’s answer, I can think of at least two good ones: Contrary to the insistence in the article that she knew and deliberately hid this from her wife, it’s entirely possible she didn’t realize what it was that felt off until after the wedding. Or, perhaps more simply, she’s a lesbian.

Comments are closed.