Vee is the spouse of a non-transitioning trans person and a long time reader and commenter of this blog. She writes, “Dealing with feelings of love and commitment to each other yet trying to cope with the envy and enticement of transition. But not wanting to give up our life which we have invested in. How do you cope with envy? Thoughts?”
That is such a good question, Vee, that I felt it deserved its own post. I definitely feel that kind of envy when I see pretty young transitioners all dressed up, dating and having fun, while I get older with bigger shoulders, thicker facial hair and a bigger belly.
As you acknowledge, the first principle of trans stuff is that Nobody Knows What’s Going On. I can’t tell you what will work for your husband. But with that in mind, here are some things that have helped with me.
When I feel this envy, it’s not just garden-variety envy. If I see someone with a fancy new phone, I’ll feel motivated to save up to buy that phone. If I see someone casually picking up heavy things the way I used to do before I hurt my back, I’ll feel wistful. Neither of those are really anything like what I feel when I see a fully-lasered trans woman with long flowing hair giggling with celebrities on television. What I feel at that point is the glamour longing, as described by Virginia Postrel:
By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It makes us feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. We recognize glamour by its emotional effect—a sense of projection and longing—and by the elements from which that effect arises: mystery, grace, and the promise of escape and transformation.
The glamour longing is at its heart a symptom of the desire to escape – to escape from something in our lives which is almost unbearable. It is triggered by these other trans people, who seem to have escaped. But just as a red car is rarely an escape from a dead-end job, a mistress with blond hair is rarely an escape from a loveless marriage, and a bigger house is rarely an escape from feelings of inadequacy instilled by prejudice, transition is very rarely an actual escape from whatever it is that traps us.
One thing that has helped me a bit is to actually live that fantasy for brief periods. I’ve walked through the streets of Manhattan and had people (men and women) say admiring things as I went past. It got me high for a while, but even at the time I was aware of how uncomfortable it was wearing falsies, Spanx, high heels and a ton of makeup. Most women don’t get dressed up like that every day.
After I came down (and boy was it important to come down after that, and it took almost two weeks. Remember to spread out your significant gender events!) I realized that presenting as a woman in public hadn’t really changed anything in my life. I was still married to the same woman, with the same kid, the same apartment and the same job. I’m generally happy in my marriage, but even if I had been looking for someone else, none of the people who showed interest in me were very promising as long-term partners. In a lot of ways, the whole exercise felt like a waste of time.
Another thing that helps is to get to know the people you’re feeling envious of, or to read what they write about their day-to-day lives. These cute, younger trans women are people too. Some of them are doing okay, some are frustrated, some are downright miserable. None of them seem to be having all that much better a time than I am. Transition didn’t magically solve any of their problems.
But you don’t have to go out in public, or even meet anyone else, to deal with this envy. Here’s a key piece that I’ve observed in my own glamour longing: it gets stronger when things are going badly in my life, and it’s weaker when things are going well. This has been particularly true with my romantic life: my interest in being a woman disappeared for several months after the first time I kissed a girl, and the same thing happened after I moved in with my wife.
I’ve heard similar stories from many other trans people, and it makes sense if the envy is really a longing to escape. So here’s my top recommendation for your husband, Vee, and anyone else who’s feeling this way:
Try to change things that make you feel trapped or hopeless.
It could be your job, your parents, your marriage, or anything. It may mean you need a new job or a new spouse, but it doesn’t have to. My wife and I spent years working through issues that had nothing to do with my gender expression. It didn’t make my transgender feelings go away, but it did reduce their intensity.
And to reassure you, Vee, it also doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is coming from the spouse or the employer or the landlord. It could be the way that the trans person approaches those relationships, and most likely everyone shares some of the blame. The important thing is to figure out what feels hopeless and change it to get the hope back.
This is a part of my recommendation to invest in your masculine identity. If your husband has chosen to live the rest of his life as a man, Vee, he needs to make that a life worth living. It sounds like he has a good partner for that in you.
I wish you the best of luck, and to all the other non-transitioners and partners out there struggling with this. Other non-transitioners and partners reading this: what’s worked for you? What hasn’t?