Healing Conversation

My wife and I had a conversation the other night, a ground-breaking, amazing conversation.  I ended up staying up late, which I paid for the next day in mindless exhaustion, but I’m glad we did it.  It started with her asking me about my therapy, when my next appointment was and if my therapist had given me homework yet.  She was curious about the process.  That led to a couple of hours of conversation that touched on almost everything that’s been bothering both of us for the last few months.

I’ve only been to therapy once and it’s already working.

Beyond talking with her about my thrashing, emotional vomitfests and pendulum riding mood swings, there were a couple of topics I wanted to broach with her, topics she’d had strong reactions around.  Those strong reactions told me she was holding back feelings and concerns, and I’d been looking for the right time for us to talk about them and that night was perfect for it.  With a lot of love and open heartedness and giving of space, we pried open some pretty touchy issues.

For example, how she felt about me going into therapy.  We had a stupid spat a couple of weeks ago and a couple of things she said gave me the impression she had concerns about me going.   She actually kicked off that topic by asking if I’d gotten any homework from my therapist, so I explained what I was hoping to accomplish in therapy and the methodology we were using.  I shared my Spring Cleaning analogy of emptying stuff on to the floor in order to decide what to keep and what to chuck — she gently suggested that we don’t ever fully get rid of anything, this is what we’re made of after all, but that we can decide how much influence our past experiences will have on our future.  That was really good and I thanked her.  Then I referred back to our spat and asked her if she had concerns about me going into therapy.

I literally saw ‘fight or flight’ playing across her face.  She paused, gathered herself and admitted her fears.  She was afraid that I would get into therapy and decide that the life I’d been living with her wasn’t the life I wanted to live in the future, that I would choose to leave our relationship and break up our family in favor of a different future.  There are no words for how grateful I am to her for having the courage to voice that fear.  I had suspected it, but watching her step into the space we’d made to put it into words was amazing for both of us.  I listened, nodded and thanked her for voicing her fears.  I told her I understood that fear, that I’d had it as well over the years when she was exploring different aspects of her life.  I apologized for inadvertently causing that fear and then reassured her that nothing I’d seen so far, nothing I’d contemplated or explored, gave me the sense that I would be leaving her or our family.  Her relief was palpable, though there was also something in her body language that suggested she felt her fear was a bit extreme.  I didn’t say anything to judge her feelings, I want her to feel safe in expressing them, as I want to feel safe expressing mine.

The conversation meandered around as conversations do, with both of us getting ample time and attention.  I had a chance to talk about some of my anger and emotional responses to the relationship she was having with Nick.  She heard me, she didn’t block or try to downplay what I was feeling, she listened and I felt heard.  That was huge.  She shared with me some of the benefit our relationship was getting from the one she’s having with Nick.  Actually, we’re both getting so much support from Nick through all this, that I can feel our triangle poised to move forward on the positive continuum.

Nick was wonderful the other night when he and I met for beer to plan a trip to Portland (wedding related, Nick’s my best man, after all).  I talked about starting therapy and feeling like I had no control over my emotions any more, how I felt really messy and volatile and how frustrating it was to not be in control of when and what I emote.  He empathized and shared from his own experiences in therapy and going through some really rough stuff last year (and I remember how hard it was for him to hold together during that time).  I felt supported, respected and cared for, which is really what I needed.

My wife shared some of the support and help she’s been getting from Nick around processing my gender identity exploration, my trans-ness and her reactions to what I’ve been exploring and the ways I’m expressing gender now.  She explained that it was safer to talk to Nick about this stuff because Nick was a lot like me, enough to relate and help communicate what I’m exploring, but with enough distance that she doesn’t have the same defensive reactions she’d have with me.  When she and I talk, we’ve got 20 years of history and relationship gunk to work through, so I get that.  I have been seeing the benefit of their relationship and conversations in the way she talks to me about gender in a more respectful and informed way.  Their conversations are easing the way for she and I to have conversations and that is a very good thing.

This part of the conversation was the perfect time for me to ask another question, to gently delve into something that I’ve been putting off for a while:  what is it about my gender identity exploration that she is concerned about/threatened by (and don’t worry, I worded the question in a much less confrontational way).  Again, she paused and gathered her thoughts.  What she told me wasn’t a surprise, but it was important to give her enough space to express herself fully before I responded.  So I listened.

She fears that if I decide to pursue medical transition and that transition will lead to me leaving her and breaking up our family.  She fears losing an important part of her self-identity as queer if I were to pass as male.  She’s worried that if I change that much, she may no longer want to be in this relationship with me.  She is fierce about her queerness and one of the things that drew her to me is that we together are a queer couple.  It’s an important part of her identity and this is a struggle many, many couples with a transitioning partner go through.  She expressed her frustration about the way I’ve changed, that I’m not the same person she decided to make a life with 20 years ago.

Again, I gave her space, I listened and then I responded.  Wait, first I apologized.  Not for exploring gender, nor for what I’ve found in that exploration, nor for the changes I have undergone as a result.  I apologized for shutting her out and explained my fears around talking to her about being trans.  There is some history around the reaction I expected to get, and her reaction falls in line with that expectation.  But I acknowledged that she’s my partner and going forward I am committed to being as transparent and open as I can about my process and discoveries.

I explained my feelings and thoughts about medical transition.  That I’d given it consideration, that I certainly had access to all the necessary information and plenty of friends and acquaintances to talk to about the topic.  And that the various times I’d considering transitioning to male, I had realized that doing that would leave my female side stranded.  I explained that I didn’t want to trade one kind of pain for another and that instead of medical transition, my path was leading me through social transition.  Transition to ‘where’, I’m not entirely sure but it will include more public and inter-family recognition of my gender identity and my preferred pronouns.

There was other sharing from her about emotional stuff she’s dealing with.  It felt good to be able to support her as well.  The conversation was amazing, we opened up and were vulnerable and authentic with each other.  We managed to avoid getting defensive, and I believe we will be able to do it again.

At the end of all this, we held each other, grateful for our partnership, our love, our history and our future.  Grateful for a chance to communicate and confirm that we are in this together.  And, adding to the amazingness of it all, we kissed.  Not a safe, dry peck on the lips (our usual) but a full, lips and tongue kiss.  And that, my friends, hasn’t happened in a very long time.  It felt good, she tasted good, I got giddy over it.

A sign of better things to come for us, I certainly hope.


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