I’m sure everyone is sick of me talking about Caitlyn Jenner, so I’m not going to do that today. Instead, I’m going to talk about my book, Celia.
For those who haven’t read it, Celia is the story of a woman whose husband tells her he is going to transition from being a man into a woman. That bit is a slight plot twist, but there are spoiler reviews out there so I might as well give it away at this point. It’s told from the wife’s point of view and it follows her journey through the transition process.
(For the purpose of this post, I’m going to refer to the husband as Brian because he is Brian nearly through the entire book. It’s going to get confusing if I do it any other way.)
Brian is the bad guy in the book. Here’s the thing, though. Brian isn’t the bad guy because he’s transgendered. He’s the bad guy because he lies to his wife. He’s secretive and hides things from her. He excludes her, and he doesn’t care how she’s acclimating to all of these changes with him, with their marriage, or even with herself as she figures out how to navigate this new relationship dynamic. This is something that’s very important. Trans* people can be good people and they can be bad people because they are people. You don’t lose your humanity because you are transgendered, so as many variations as there are in humanity, so can there be in any portion of humanity. In short: Brian is an asshole and he’s transgendered. He isn’t an asshole because he’s transgendered.
So, why did I write a book about a transgendered person from a spouse’s point of view? Well, for starters, my former spouse began transitioning during our marriage, so it was the point of view I had experience with. From there, it might be easy to think that I am bashing transgendered people because of the actions of one person. Except, the book never undermines Brian’s decision to transition. There is never that unseen entity pointing a finger and saying, “See what you’ve done? You should never have done this. This is all your fault. You should have just stayed the way you are.” The book does criticize the way Brian handles it, however. We’re all dealt a hand of cards and what we get is what we get. We don’t get to control that. We do get to control what we do with them, though, and Brian doesn’t make the best choices.
So, why write the book at all? I think most people think I wrote it for cisgendered people. The fact is, I wrote it for transgendered people and for people who might be the parents of transgendered people. Clearly, this is not representative of every transition experience, even those that occur within a marriage. Not all marriages end in divorce because of a transition (though a fair amount do, including my own, for various reasons). At first, Brian’s wife does the best she can in order to be supportive of his transition and to help whenever she could. Many wives and husbands are supportive. So, while this is not representative of transition experiences, it is a type of transition experience. This is what can happen when someone is told they can’t be who they truly are. This is what can happen when someone is beaten for questioning their gender identity. That child or adolescent grows into an adult who might think that if they could just find the right partner, that partner could “fix” them and they would be normal. Except, there’s nothing to fix because they’re not broken. This sets up the transgendered person to be depressed, miserable, and possibly even desperate. They might marry someone and even have children while they’re living their own personal lie. This makes for an unhappy home life for everyone involved.
I wrote this book to say, “This is what you are setting yourself/your children (for parents of trans* youth) up for if you can’t be who you are/if you can’t let them be who they are.” In my own case, there was a lot of pain, not just for me but for my children who I lost custody of. I live in Indiana. ‘Nuff said. While writing this book, I kept thinking back on my former spouse as a child and thought about all the pain that could have been avoided if my in-laws had just allowed my former spouse to be authentic. If I’m being honest, I blamed my former spouse to some extent, too, for not being strong enough or brave enough to be authentic in spite of it all. That’s not fair, but we don’t always react fairly when we’re in pain. I don’t have a high opinion of my former spouse and I probably never will, but it isn’t because of the transition. I have always supported the decision to be authentic. I don’t think highly of my former spouse because my former spouse is a selfish asshole who didn’t care about anyone else’s needs. I don’t hate the cards. I hate how they were played.
This is why I feel so strongly about Caitlyn Jenner being so high profile. If it allows one parent to look at their trans* child and say, “You know what, maybe this isn’t such a horrible thing after all,” then she’s done something tremendous. We are not islands. We ripple, touching lives beyond our own. I imagine my former spouse transitioning as a teen, being comfortable enough to say, “This is who I am” and finding someone who is comfortable enough to say, “I want to be with who you are.” So many people wouldn’t have been wounded later on. This is why I wrote the book. It’s a warning, a preview of what can happen when you try to live as someone you’re not for the sake of other people.