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Gianna Israel Gender Library

Remaining Friends

People say that breaking up is hard to do, but truth is doing so is often hell on marriages, adult and particularly minor children, and even friends. While there is a significant proportion of couples that remain married where one partner has a transgender identity, just as many break up. The question I ask couples is if their remaining friends is possible.

Probably one of the hardest tasks a counselor or therapists has would be to inform a client that the possibility of divorce is not only real but likely. Some careproviders come right out and state these facts, others prefer the comfort of stepping back as far as possible and simply watch their client's lives fall apart. I prefer to introduce a series of carefully-chosen questions, which allow people to better understand their situations.

Are you concerned about the future of your relationship? Here are some sample questions that you may carefully ponder: --As a transgender person have your needs changed to the point your spouse can no longer fill them? --After transition or surgery, are you going to be able to fulfil the original stereotyped relationship that attracted your present spouse? --As you began coming to terms with your gender identity has your sexual orientation changed?

Many transsexuals have deep feelings of guilt and remorse at the damage that transitioning will cause their relationships. Often it can be incredibly difficult to place one's needs before those of one's spouse. However, what transsexuals and their spouses must eventually come to terms with is the reality that people's needs change, mature and evolve. And, in a long-term sense, there is little that can be done to stop this progression.

If you apply this concept of changing individual needs within the framework of transition, it becomes logical to conclude that most relationships will go through significant changes and many will end. This process also touches the lives of non-transgender couples, which is why divorce rates are so high. Understanding these things, again, invites the question, how is it possible to remain friends.

Like a strong marriage, good friendships have several common elements. This includes honesty tempered with compassion; communication highlighted with careful listening; and mutual interests balanced with interdependency. To be interdependent means allowing each other space to be oneself and to pursue individual thoughts and activities. Friendships can be fun and flexible, or dead weight, depending on what people decide is right for them!

The most perplexing problem which sets couples at odds, and undermines the possibility of friendship, is that the transgender person wants acceptance yet the spouse may have very little interest in accommodating these type of needs. And, it is the responsibility of the transgender partner to take an active interest in the spouse's non-transgender needs, particularly since those are generally integral dynamics to the relationship.

People who care look after each other's security and safety. While it is not always possible to save a marriage, particularly if full-time transition and surgeries seem imminent, it is very appropriate to ask how the non-transgender person's needs will get met. Will your 'friend' be financially secure? Does she or he have the employment skills to advance in life? With there be a healthy male (or female) person for that individual and children to rely upon?

Commonly the most selfish attitudes I observe transgender folks acting out at the end of marriages (and beginning of a renewed friendship) involve sex. Typically about the time a transgender individual is living in role part-time, sexual exploration can become part of the process. Many feel they have the right to explore, yet become hurt or throw jealous temper tantrums when they discover that the departing spouse's interests have turned elsewhere.

The preceding should not be happening! A departing spouse has the right to seek someone who can fulfill his or her needs. And, once it becomes apparent that a marriage is ending, if a renewed friendship is to evolve this cannot be a half-time effort. Early in the process transgender individuals must honestly accept when they can no longer fulfill their partners intimacy needs, and gently encourage their partners to at least be open to the idea of looking elsewhere. Interestingly, in some marriages which remain intact, sometimes an 'open' interdependent relationship is agreed upon so that both parties can get their needs filled.

Prior to the end of a marriage, a good friend is also wise to look at what commitments were initially made as the relationship evolved. Sometimes people just end up together. Other times, however, people mutually agree what constitutes their relationship. For example, people who are often working on their second or third marriage, may be quite determined to stay together 'no matter what.' Others, merely agree to stay together as long as both parties are generally happy.

Whichever type of commitments your relationship has, spoken or unspoken, there generally are agreed upon roles each person fulfills for the other. Threatening someone's security, changing gender, interrupting the relationship, and killing off someone's spouse are probably not what your spouse had in mind when 'I do, for better or worse,' was uttered. It is imperative you ask how a good friend would take care of another going through such a multiple-series of losses.

Losses such of these certainly would require a receptive ear, and an ability to hear that person's anger. You may not be however the right person for this all the time, since you will be the source of pain. Thus, the right thing to do is to make certain your friend has someone to talk with about these issues. And, if the evolution of events is so traumatizing the individual can only respond with continual denials, don't be surprised as this is very commonplace. People come to terms with things at their own pace, not yours, and if the person can't be your friend right now even that is okay.

Interestingly, over the years I have observed many transitioned persons renew a friendship with a former spouse. This is especially true for persons who have been divorced and are currently remarried in new relationships. I am often asked why it is that a first former spouse can be accepting while a present spouse is less likely so. Essentially this is because the former spouse is more likely to have a foundation of his or her own. Your priority in your current relationship is to make sure your spouse or friend builds the same.


GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet's most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine <http://www.tgforum.com/>. Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL <Keyword TCF>. Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author's contact information remains unaltered.

GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry's "Ask Gianna" column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.


Copyright © 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.