When My Husband Came Out as a Woman

My husband came out to me as a woman this summer, three days after our five-year wedding anniversary. We were supposed to have our first date with a babysitter that night, but she bailed on us. Instead, we went out as a family for an afternoon drink at the local pub, fresh from the pool where I spent pretty much every day this summer with our four-year-old daughter.

It was a damn good wedding anniversary. I think we were both feeling that our marriage had arrived at its strongest ever. He gave me a delicate diamond ring; my own, my style, as opposed to the hand-me-down I got from his mom when we married. And he read me the vows that afternoon in the sun at the pub’s deck over beers; the vows he never got around to writing five years before. It was precious.

Sitting on the couch together those three nights after, he didn’t tell me “I’m transgender.” Honestly, it took me a while until I understood just what he was trying to tell me. But when he started talking about remembering as a young boy, maybe at four or five, going to bed choking his head into his pillow, desperately wanting to wake up as a girl — well, then I understood.

When you really love someone, you want them to feel good about themselves and to be happy in their skin. The overpowering feeling I had that night was simply this: “darling; this will be okay!”

That following month, all I cared about was empowering him to feel good about himself presenting and coming out as a woman. I suggested he start by telling our four-year-old; the following week we did and they played dress-up together. It was sweet.

At the end of that month, we had an amazing first couple’s only vacation in Denver, Colorado while our little girl was with her grandparents. We went out together like we never have before, staying out late, dancing and drinking, both in dresses and heels.

Tension was beginning to accumulate between us though because while he didn’t feel ready to come out, I was going crazy not being able to talk about it with anyone, or to write about it. I write about what I care and think about. Focused on supporting and encouraging my husband and also reflecting on what this meant about my own sexual orientation and gender identity, any other writing plainly lost its relevance to me. I’d sit down to do some planning for the launch of my After Pornified book, or write something for Good Vibrations Online Magazine, or for my Love, Sex, and Family site. And I’d mentally compose posts for my blogs at New porn by women and Quizzical mama, but instead I’d open a Word document, and I’d write about Coming Out.

In hindsight, I wish I’d been better about articulating my need to process and share the news with others. I grew up not having my needs met, so needs were something one better not have. Having needs was being needy. Not a good thing. So he wasn’t ready to come out, fair enough; but this was about me too, and I had a need to process it.

I never got around to articulating any of that until after things got sort of out of hand. After our vacation in Colorado, he began to tell his best friends from college. A cryptic post by me on Facebook, tagging one of the friends he’d told while expressing how proud and excited I felt for my husband, sort of tipped the glass over. Furious at what he saw as my betrayal, he left the room in a huff, and called both his parents to tell them.

As it turns out, he would feel good about this heat-of-the-moment coming out episode; suspecting that it otherwise might have dragged out before he’d come around to telling his parents. This way he was done with it and it was out there.

Things began to roll fast. He told me beginning of July. We got back from our vacation end of July. A month later, he had his letter in hand from his psychotherapist that he was ready for hormone treatments. A lot of research had gone into getting that far. Firstly, how to avoid the requirement that one before receiving hormone treatment presents as the gender one wants to present as for an entire year while also seeing a therapist to prove one’s commitment to transitioning; a brutal thing to require for someone who feels they don’t look or present right and who’s eager to adjust their looks and presentation to make them feel more at home with how they feel about themselves.

My husband was lucky and found a consent program in Minneapolis through a clinic that offers a consent program to transgender youth. He only had to see the psychotherapist four times before receiving the letter, which he was able to do within four weeks, receiving his letter the Friday before I left for my first big trip overseas to promote my book in Europe.

August was intense. I was getting anxious with my book coming out, but whereas he’d always been my trouper, cheering me on, helping me out — just as I’d been his trouper, cheering him on, helping him out earlier that summer — I now found myself lonely and unsupported, a growing abyss between us. One giving birth to finally presenting as the gender he’d longed to present as throughout his life, the other giving birth to being a published author; a dream that I have had since I was a child.

Come September a new feeling arrived: that of grief. It took me by such surprise! I had been so excited for him, for us! I’d been writing enthusiastically about teaching young kids about sexual fluidity and I had no doubt about my own sexual fluidity as a woman and how cool that someone so easily dismissed as a privileged, cisgender, heterosexually married mom could finally come out and prove her real queerness. I mean, all my life my writing has been about freeing ourselves from stereotypes and conventions — cultural, existential, sexual. Whether I was writing about Friedrich Nietzsche or transformed porn by women. True, I had never been with a woman before; but wasn’t that perhaps because being with a woman gave me cold feet because I couldn’t perform “the script”? For years since my sexual debut, I’d thrown myself into sex with men not always only for the pure intention of pleasure, but also and sometimes more to be “rescued, saved and held.” The way I never was a child. With a guy you can fake the script, perhaps I was thinking; but with a woman? I wasn’t so sure.

But perhaps this wasn’t what was going on at all those few times where either I approached a woman (granted: always while intoxicated and I always retreated), or when I was approached by another woman (an each of those times always intimidated me, I mean; those women were all way too sexually confident for me — I would have had no idea how to proceed with them.)

Nevertheless. I had researched and written numerously about women’s sexual fluidity compared to men’s and in my everyday life I have certainly come across women who just exudes this something that makes me feel a little weak around them in some way or another. And I have no doubt about women’s openness in terms of what they desire and what gives them pleasure.

So, if I had some interest in exploring being with a woman, what better safe route could there possibly be than in doing it with your husband presenting as a woman?!

Well, the exuberant excitement of that kind of thinking was gone in an instant as soon as the feeling of grief arrived.

It’s been two months now since the grief arrived, and I’m still sick with it. In other words, while celebrating the launch of my After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters book this fall — a book about women who have seized the means of representation to create something that’s positive and empowering to them — I have also been sick with the feeling of loss, grief, sadness and pain. So in my book I write about how this transformed porn by women really matters, and not just in speaking up for actual female desire, but also in how it is all about freeing us from gender stereotypes and erotic clichés, opening up more play-field for both women and men to explore, define, and enjoy their bodies and sexuality. I completely disagree with the growing tendency of seeing only queer porn as cool, progressive and feminist; the porn that interests me shows how sex between women and men doesn’t need to be heteronormative and conventional. The porn that interests me takes the “hetero” out of heterosexuality, breaking down gender roles as it too embraces a sexually fluid and democratic plurality. Where women and men don’t perform sexual scripts but come together as individuals.

And well, so here I am this fall on tour in the US and Europe, at launch party after launch party, and people are talking about how cool to finally have someone speaking up for a progressive heterosexuality. Which is what I thought I had in my own life with my husband too. But then at the end of the night, I go back to my room and I Skype call home to my husband, and what I see is a woman. A woman who’s wearing even frillier shirts than even I would ever do!

2006

So despite all my progressiveness and fluidity and screw-gender-and-let’s-think-about-ourselves-as-people kind of mindset, I find myself mourning my husband’s male body. I love beautiful male bodies; my book is also an ode to beautiful male bodies — we need to free our minds and bodies not just from the stereotypes about women, but also from those about men. Men are not just stupid studs with a hard dick that’ll fuck anything. My book is also about freeing men from discriminating ideas about what it means to be a man; dangerous myths about “boys who can’t help themselves” that continue to saturate college campuses.

This is where I’m at right now. Obviously, a person is more than a body and I love my husband, my spouse, my soon-to-be my wife, and not a he but a she, and not Leighton, but Elle. But a person is also a body, and I met Leighton just as I had finally come into my body and was beginning to fully claim, savor and enjoy it, exploring and experiencing what it truly desired and what gave it pleasure.

2005

At the peak of my pleasure quest, I found Leighton. Eight years younger than me he was the sexiest most handsome most just ah, gotta-have-that-man kind of man to me. An adonis! I loved everything about his strong slender sinewy body; the feel of his flesh and the hair on his skin; the way his breath smelled in the morning, the salty taste of his armpits and chest, the curve around his hip bones, the tickling sound of his voice.

It’s all gone now.

And I don’t know if we’ll be okay or if we won’t, and there’s a huge sense of panic and groundlessness and what the fuck is home feeling in that. So I try to just breathe. And I know that I have to give it time. To see which feelings are going to outlast the others, knowing that many new ones might still arrive too.

If I’d been free to write about this in July, this would have been a quite different post; an exuberant one! And not one about groundlessness and grief. But if my politics at first got ahead of me, I’m hoping that my personal might eventually catch up with it. Because I don’t want to lose this big love, my best friend, my child’s other parent, my spouse, my lover.

Quizzical Mama

Quizzical mama, aka Anne G. Sabo, PhD, is a former academic turned public educator, author, speaker, freelance writer, and mama- and sex blogger. Her book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters (Zer0 Books, October 2012) has been called “a goldmine for all sex-positive women and men,” and a “candid, well-informed personal story of how a good girl became involved in porn." She writes mores about progressive porn and sex-positivity in her New porn by women blog and at her resource site Love, Sex, and Family, and she muses about life and parenting in her Quizzical mama blog. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota, a small college town just south of the Twin Cities, with her spouse and their preschooler daughter. You can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @quizzicalmama.

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15 Responses

  1. Andy says:

    I’ve never been in a static relationship. Why do humans wish for things to stay the same? I suppose everyone fears change. In my wife’s wedding vows, she described what she felt was a healthy marriage. She described it as a dance in which each partner moves on his/her own, and not always touching. During the dance, they drift both closer and apart, touching at critical times. I’ve thought of that analogy recently in regard to “big” changes like one partner revealing their need to transition to some degree to the opposite gender. Is that like twirling off to dance a momentary solo, or is it like tripping your dance partner? I think it is like tripping over your own feet and falling very awkwardly. Being the perfect partner for me, my wife gracefully made her way to me, picked me up, and our beautiful dance continues. She could have run but she didn’t. Just this past Sunday when having dinner with a friend, she said,”Just because Andy wears a skirt doesn’t change that he’s the same person I fell in love with.”

  2. vincent says:

    As someone who’s trans-identified (though more on the female-to-male end), I feel super conflicted about this article. I was excited to read about someone’s experience around their partner’s coming-out and/or transition, but as I read on I found myself becoming pretty upset on a few levels.
    First, I want to acknowledge I understand this is complex because this is you and your partner’s relationship, so only the two of you know what’s appropriate in talking to, or about, each other. And you two define your relationship, nobody else.
    However, constantly using “he” for your partner who has come out as a woman/transwoman (however they would self-identify?) felt pretty disrespectful, as did posting multiple pictures of them pre-coming-out. It feels like (and this is just as a reader, and one obviously influenced by my own experience with people around coming out) a refusal to acknowledge your partner’s present identity.
    Simultaneously, it makes total sense that navigating these changes in presentation/language/etc would come up. I found myself wondering where your partner stands on you using language like this, because you do not address that and I think that would be beneficial for the reader (also conducive to encouraging people NOT to rudely/non-consensually call transpeople by their pronouns-assigned-at-birth).
    I also felt a lot of sadness around reading about you “mourning [your] husband’s male body.” Again-it makes sense that there would be a sadness or tension around so many things shifting, even physically, in your partner. I appreciate that you shared so openly. And, at the same time, I become scared that it reads like your partner’s body will become something less beautiful to you (which is possible), but by logic also less beautiful to everyone-which is a really transphobic and widely accepted notion that I feel comfortable in saying is TOTALLY false.
    I think a lot of what I’m saying sounds defensive and I don’t mean it to be that way. My hope is more about creating awareness.
    I also don’t know how to verbalize this too well, but I want to call to attention the fact that it’s always gonna be SUPER PROBLEMATIC for someone to be speaking about people of a social classification that experiences more oppression. And at the same time that voice more representative of the dominant majority (yours) is more likely to be heard by mainstream society, so I really appreciate this article and what I perceive to be its intentions.
    It sounds like you and your partner have some pretty admirable communication and I wish you both the best. If this piqued your interest and you’d like to talk more I’m open, and if not-good luck!x

    • Dear Vincent,

      Thank you for your comment and personal sharing! I will respond, after the holiday weekend; okay?!

      Be well, take good care.

      Warmly,

      Anne

  3. suzanne renee says:

    this is really tender and touching and hard. lots of things struck a chord with me about coming out, understanding yourself, speaking your own truth, grieving and a sense of loss when still actively in a relationship with someone you really love but feel unsure about the future with. so much. thanks for your honesty. and all the best as you enter this new place in your lives together.

  4. Marilyn Wise says:

    Please give yourself permission to be very angry with this person. He lied to you, period. He should not have married you or fathered your child without telling you this first. You do not have to be the angel.

    • Leighton says:

      Seriously, M. Wise? Period?! Should not have married you or fathered your child without telling you first?! –Is there not something you less than fully disclosed to a loved one? Perhaps you are the angel? –Is there not the possibility that something so big and which takes one so long to come to terms with, might be held back by forces at work that are very difficult to overcome? After 30 years?! Is that not telling someone, or is that not knowing what to say or–even if words dislodged from that deep dark space and found the way to the threshold of utterance–how to say it?Imagine! Then take your comment and see where you might be off base. –Permission to be angry, yes. Permission to feel whatever. –But no, M. Wise, you know not what *I* should or shouldn’t have done. What couldn’t be said then has been said now. Now we put together the pieces to make a semblance of a whole, however forever cracked that may turn out to be. I for my part am sorry beyond words.

  5. Gala Vanting says:

    Bravely and gorgeously written, Anne. Thanks for this. So many crucial points in here. I think it’s really important for folks of radical / progressive political persuasions to share narratives about the ways in which our personal lives challenge our politics. We are not the rhetoric-machines people may perceive us to be. It’s also important to show what partners of transitioning people experience – they go through just as much change as the person actually changing gender, but it’s not nearly as visible. Much love and compassion to your and your family and I hope you find a safe way to document your process, publicly or privately.

    • Thank you, Gala! Yes, indeed; the ways in which our personal lives challenge our politics… I do appreciate your kind words of love and encouragement! Hugs, Anne

  6. Andy says:

    Hi Dr. Sabo,

    I stumbled on your website and this post. Gosh, you write well. I’m a MtF transwoman who is probably not going to transition physically. My wife, who is the absolute light of my life, has been extremely supportive and encouraging of my female presentation. I came out to her and most of our friends only two years ago, which was two years into our marriage. At that time, I finally accepted my trangendered-ness and was able to pursue my authentic life. I risked losing her by coming out, but to my relief, she was fine with it. She asked many questions and I gave her lots of time to process things without forcing anything on her. She wanted me to be happy. Now, two years later, our marriage and relationship are better than ever. Please keep writing. Feel free to contact me if you would like to know what I think, or to converse with my amazing wife.

    Best to you and Elle!

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Andy! I’d be curious to hear more about your decision not to transition physically; if that was your own personal decision or a joint decision between you and your wife. And it would be interesting to hear more about her journey in this too! Thanks for writing. Warmly, Anne.

      • Andy says:

        Hi Anne, thanks for asking me these questions. The decision to pursue surgery, or not, has occupied quite a lot of my thinking for the past couple of years. As I have come to dress as a female regularly in public, along with makeup and a wig, I’ve wondered where I’ll ultimately end up on this journey. Cross dressing quiets much of the gender discord I’ve felt every day of my life. It’s like a bandaid or pain reliever in that I know that regardless of how I dress or how skilled I become with makeup, hair, and voice feminization, I’m only treating the symptoms and not the cause (my male male body). However, it does help me manage my stress, and I’m grateful for that. Speaking of gratitude, I told my wife this morning that I’m happier than ever right now, because I have the best partner and she supports me, regardless of me being transgendered.

        I have acquaintances who have gone through the process of surgery to change their appearance, and it isn’t the easy transformation I would like to imagine it to be. It can be a horrific process. I’m very healthy, physically, and I’m grateful for that. Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) almost seems like an act of ungratefulness in my situation. Please understand, I’m not happy about the male-oriented aspects of my body, but I feel that SRS would likely take me from a manageable situation to one in which simple, physical functions such as urination are chronic challenges. My body, even though it has the “wrong parts” works as it was designed, so to speak. I just wish I was truly female-bodied. I have dreams of having an automobile accident and the only way to save my life is for the emergency surgeon to remove my male parts and inject me with Estrogen. I actually wake up exhilarated thinking it really happened. I really detest my male parts and have always perceived them as someone else’s. Sex has never been enjoyable because it is the ultimate act of pretending to be something I’m just not. To this day, I go to sleep fantasizing that I’ll wake up as a woman. I know it’s silly and maybe unhealthy to dream of this impossibility, but I feel like it doesn’t hurt to wish and perhaps a miracle will occur.

        My wonderful wife has said that she wouldn’t want to be with me if I didn’t have my original equipment, and I definitely got that message clearly. On the other hand, she’s far more than tolerant of my cross dressing, she’s encouraging! At least weekly, we go out as girlfriends to dinner, shopping, or a movie and have a great time. She often buys me a gift of clothing or jewelry, which makes my heart melt. I love her so much and want to return the understanding and love she’s given me. I believe that cross dressing is on “this” side of her line of acceptability, whereas SRS is beyond that line. I don’t want to be selfish.

        • Your story really is beautiful and heartaching at the same time. I understand your love for your wife and gratitude for her support and how far she is open to let you go. Yet it is sad too, that you feel your space confided. At first, it was easy for me to be excited for Leighton. To help him shop for women’s clothes. To go out together in heels and dresses. But looking back it was kind of like playing dress-up.

          With every physical and personality change after that it’s become more difficult for me. I miss his male body and personality. And he’s changing a lot. It’s not just a wig and women’s clothes and make-up. There’s his dieting and exercising to lose his male muscle mass so that he does now in fact look much more female (or at least much thinner, with thinner arms and thighs, chest more androgyne, fitting into women’s skinny jeans, more of a distinct thin waistline, etc.), shaving his entire body, taking laser treatment to remove facial hair, coloring and growing out his hair, taking anti-androgens and estrogen, which are both changing his body, softening and breast development too at some point.

          The transitioning is definitely exciting for Leighton and I am happy for him to gradually present more as a her, which he has wanted for as long as he can remember. But I grieve the loss of my husband; of Leighton. I grieve the end of what we’ve had together.

          He is not at this point at least considering genital reassignment surgery. His male genitals have given him pleasure. And though he hates the way they look through women’s clothes, he is also reluctant to pursue surgery. He has a very low blood platelet count (it’s a blood disorder), and I think he’s afraid what might happen at the surgery and how healing would look (or not).

          I wish you all well on your journey, wherever it may take you!

          • Andy says:

            Dr. Sabo, I feel for both you and Leighton. I agree that there is a loss occurring and I’ve thought much over the past few days for some helpful words to write. I keep coming back to the notion that Leighton and Elle have always been the same person, and will always be inseparable. Is it possible there are aspects of Elle which you fell in love with long ago? Of course, that person was known only as “Leighton.” Leighton didn’t choose any of this, of course, and neither did you. Perhaps naively, I believe love between two people can turn any circumstance to advantage and become deeper in the process.

  1. 11/10/2012

    [...] the beginning of and a link to my wife’s story When My Husband Came Out as a Woman which she posted at Good Vibrations Magazine Online. June 2006 My husband came out to me as a woman [...]