Dear “trans widow”,
I’ve been seeing a lot about you on twitter lately. You’ve even made the Sunday Telegraph. It feels good, right, to feel seen? That’s probably what led you to seek out women in similar situations when your partner first announced they wanted to transition. You probably sat on Mumsnet or searched hashtags on twitter, looking for people who knew how you felt, who could make sense of your fear that your life was about to change and you didn’t have control over it. You found them and they told you that you were right to be afraid, and more – that a grave injustice was being done to you and you should have the right to stop it. That felt good, didn’t it? To have some semblance of control.
I get it. You see, I am an actual widow, in that my husband – the dear beloved bones of him – is now ash in an urn. He took his own life, after a period of several months when his behaviour became more erratic and worrying, when he did things that were strange or perhaps even cruel, and I felt helpless. He was very terribly ill with major depression; he died, and I couldn’t save him. There have been so many times this year I wished I could control what was happening, felt that if I could we could be happy again. I know a lot about fear and resentment and love tangled together into a knot that makes your stomach hurt all day.
But what your spouse wants, what your spouse is doing, is not yours to control. And they are not dead. They are not mentally ill because they want to live in a way that feels more authentic, more like the real “them”. Perhaps you feel they are no longer the person you once loved. It is very hard, to feel that the person you love is no longer the same, to fear that they are going somewhere you can’t follow. To that I could answer – that can happen in any marriage, not just when someone decides their gender identity no longer matches the one they were given at birth. If you marry someone, you are making a commitment to them not at one moment in time, but through all the ways they may change in the future. But there are plenty of reasons people can change in a marriage that mean they are no longer compatible, and it’s alright then to say goodbye. That kind of goodbye is not like the goodbye I had to give. You will grieve if your marriage ends, but it is not a death. Trust me: I sat in a room with my husband’s body for an hour. I kissed his face and his hands, felt the ways that they were the same and utterly not, felt the keen pain of knowing that the spark of him was gone. You might perhaps kiss your partner and know it’s for the last time: but it is not the same as knowing that after you kiss them no one will ever kiss them again, that everything in them has stopped.
You may worry about the pain your children might feel. They may well grieve, if your marriage breaks down and your spouse moves out. They may cry and act out at school and be worried about what their parent’s new identity means for them. These are understandable concerns to have. They are not mourning a death, not like my little girl, who screamed for her daddy at the funeral, who sobbed don’t let them take him away. No one is taking your partner away, even if it feels like it. The media and your online friends have encouraged you to think there’s some kind of malignant trans cabal who have stolen your partner, who have taken away your happy life. But there isn’t, and you are as responsible for the future (or not) of your marriage as your partner is. If it breaks down, that is a genuine reason for grief. There is no right or wrong in grief; you feel what you feel and it’s important you work through that without ascribing moral judgment to your feelings. But you are not mourning a death. Your children still have both parents.
Grief is normal after a major change in your life. Accept it. Learn what it means to work through it. Buy a book on grief recovery. Work out how you are going to rebuild your life, with your partner or without them. Don’t pretend you are mourning a death. There are already too many of us in the widowhood club. I hope that none of you reading this ever come to know what it’s really like.