It’s tough to write here about the situation with Mrs K in anything like an appropriate manner. Sometimes I think I should just write a private diary and leave it off the blog. At least then I can be completely honest and just do a big brain dump of thoughts and feelings. It’s not so much that there are terrible dark secrets, but when I’m writing about someone else, even someone as close as my spouse, I think I have a responsibility to exercise at least a modicum of discretion. However, the flip side of that is that her mental state has a very profound effect on mine, and vice versa. It colours everything. And while I don’t want to blame Mrs K per se, I still can’t help but feeling that things have taken a few steps backwards for me in the last couple of weeks. But here we need to have a bit of background.
Mrs K is something of a Germanophile. She loves the country, the culture, the language and she has a bit of a thing for German men. Well some of them anyway. Goodness knows what she saw in me. Well, I suppose I’m tall, blonde and blue-eyed, so pretty Aryan until I open my mouth and Belfast-accented English comes out. For the last year or so, this love of all things teutonic has manifested itself in her joining a German conversation group. It’s something she discovered through meetup.com, the same place where I found my book group. It’s a group of people, mostly from Northern Ireland, but a few German and Austrian expats, who meet up in a coffee shop every other Sunday afternoon and speak to each other in German. As an aside, I also mentioned this to one of my fellow Belfast Butterfly Club members, who I knew to be another Germanophile. (S)he then went along in male form, so now knows Mrs K as well as knowing me. And as if that wasn’t enough, another guy from the German group then turned up at one of the Butterfly Club’s open meetings and revealed himself to be a TV, without having realised that he already knew this other person. As Mrs K said, “I’m surrounded by you lot!”
So she has been attending this German group for quite some time, but things have ramped up a little in the last two or three months, and she has been becoming more and more involved in Belfast’s international community. I was delighted for her to have found this outlet. After all, the flowering of my true self in the last few years has lead to me being out a fair amount. It’s only fair that she should find a similar social outlet. In fact, I was chatting to my friend Alice a few weeks ago and I said in passing that Mrs K and I both have very good social lives, just not with each other. Make of that what you will. So Mrs K’s newly expanded social calendar seems to have reached its zenith this week with various groups that she is getting involved with:
Sunday afternoon: German conversation group (fortnightly)
Monday evening: Writers’ group (monthly)
Tuesday evening: International community social evening (weekly)
Thursday evening: Book group (monthly)
Friday evening: Other German group, this one mainly targeted at actual Germans (monthly)
Saturday evening: French conversation group in a restaurant. (monthly)
And yes, that just leaves Wednesday for me to go out. Or alternatively, for me to remain at home so that the kids can have at least one night in seven with both parents at home. In actual fact, she didn’t go to the Monday writers’ group after all (and I went out instead) but what I have written above was the plan. And despite the inconvenience to me, I genuinely thought “Good on her”. At least that was until last Tuesday.
For the last six weeks approximately, Mrs K has been going to an international community social evening in a Belfast coffee shop every Tuesday evening. She goes there straight from work, and because she can’t drive and it finishes late in the evening after Little Kirsty the Younger (age 7) goes to bed, I can’t go to collect her so she needs to get 2 buses home followed by a good 15 minute walk from the bus stop in increasingly inclement conditions as winter approaches. It is, to put it mildly, a bit of a hassle for her. But she seems to enjoy it. Or at least, so I thought. So last Tuesday evening both kids were in bed, I had the dishwasher loaded and the ironing done, just as I was about to raid me some tombs (I love a bit of Lara Croft) Mrs K returned home at around 10.50pm. As I have done every week so far, I asked her how her evening was. “Not good” came the reply “I had to do far too much mingling and I didn’t get to talk to any of the people I like”. It seems she became trapped in a clabby conversation with a Russian called Vlad on the subject of bus timetables. Great.
She walked into the living room and sat at her end of the settee. She said nothing for quite some time, then put her head in her hand and commenced sobbing.
“I thought it would be ok if I could make some friends, that it would make it easier to deal with you, but it’s not happening and the time when everything is going to be destroyed is just getting closer and closer…”
At this point I’m going to cut off the attempt at verbatim recollections of a conversation, and just recount those details I feel comfortable with. Some was new, some was repeated, some was a new spin on old themes, but it lasted a good (or not-so-good) 45 minutes. This throwing of herself into new social outlets has been an attempt at coping with my imminent transition. It turns out not a particularly successful attempt, but an attempt. She feels she doesn’t have many friends. It’s true, she doesn’t. Nor did I. She has said in the past that if only she had friends she could talk to about our situation that it might help her cope, but she can’t talk to any of her existing friends because she doesn’t want them to know, they’ll either feel sorry for her or laugh at her behind her back that she couldn’t even get a proper man to marry her. I don’t really understand why she thinks having more friends that she can hide this from, or have to face up to it with when the time comes, is going to help the situation, but who am I to judge? The problem is, as she sees it she hasn’t actually managed to make any friends, and particularly not any female friends. The people that she likes, that she missed being part of a conversation with on that particular night, are actually men. And for her I don’t feel it’s friendship with them, although I wouldn’t even say it’s flirtation either. More like basking in their glory. And I feel like underneath it all there’s a problem of low self-esteem. So she questions all this, what on earth is she doing making a fool of herself running round these events for the international community, not making an impression and not making any friends. I am genuinely concerned for her psychological wellbeing, much more than I am for my own.
Then we get on to the two of us. This is where the old conversations kicked in again, going along the lines of this (which is NOT verbatim, but you’ll get the idea)
– You’re asking me to become a lesbian, and I can’t do that. I can’t just stop being straight.
– You don’t have to fancy me, just be my friend
– I can be your friend, but this isn’t friendship, this is marriage. And there’s a death sentence on my husband. It feels like you are going to die and be replaced with some strange woman that I don’t know. You won’t be my husband any more.
– I’ll still be the same person I have always been, with the same memories and the same personality.
– You won’t. Maleness is an essential part of who you are. And your personality will change beyond recognition when you start taking hormones and you’ll be replaced by someone I don’t know.
And on we go. For the first time I voiced something that has been in my mind ever since I told Mrs K that I wanted to transition. That her main concern is losing face. Being a laughing stock. So I asked her how she would feel if I told her that I had been diagnosed with cancer and had six months left to live. How would she react. It would be awful apparently, she would take time off work, we would all do things as a family, go on a holiday, make the most of the time. And when I was gone, how would she feel? Devastated. Not, I asked, thankful that at least I wasn’t running round in a dress and heels embarrassing her? No, she replied, it would be much much worse if I was dead.
In which case, I replied triumphantly, please stop saying that my transition is the same as my death. I may have been a bit too smart-arsey with that particular line of logic (even if I do still think I was right).
As for me being some woman she doesn’t know, I did point out that she could remedy that by getting to know me as a woman better in advance of me going full time. She has still not been in my presence while I am presenting female since July 2014. She refuses to. So I suggested that by spending some time with me-Kirsty in advance of my full time date, she could perhaps become a bit more comfortable with being in my presence and seeing me as a woman. I didn’t think that was an unreasonable suggestion, but it was swiftly batted away. There is so little time left for me-Bob that she wants to grab every last second with “him” before he disappears forever. So any time with me-Kirsty when it could be with me-Bob is wasted time in her view. Of course the upshot of this is that if and when I do go full time it will be a huge shock to the system for her. It feels like I can’t win.
Once the floodgates had been opened we were able to talk about my transition for the first time in many months. It wasn’t good. She talked about her fears about telling the kids, my siblings, her parents, neighbours, schools and so on. Except she talked about them all as insurmountable problems, both individually and overwhelming when combined. I told her that I had been thinking about them all, and how I should tell them and in what order, and all the other things that need to be done. The administration of transition and managing the narrative is a complicated exercise than needs a lot of thought and planning, and in all sincerity I think it would be better for everyone if Mrs K can be part of the planning. I want her to be able to own part of the process, not just to feel that she is a hostage to whatever I decide. I want us to plan my transition together. I asked her to have those conversations with me. Her reply?
“Not yet. You promised you wouldn’t do anything this year.”
Well no, I’m not doing anything this year. But I intend to start doing things very early in 2017. And in order to do that, I need to plan what to do so I’m certain of my course. And I want her to be part of those plans. So I told her that while I’m not doing anything this year, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do all the time. And I told her, possibly for the first time, that the plan in my head is working towards Easter as a full time date. She was aware that I had a Q2 2017 date in mind, but since she had asked me to promise one last year of what she terms as “normality”, I have avoided bringing the subject up. I think about these things all the time. She wants to keep her head firmly buried in the sand. The difference this evening was that it was she who had brought up the subject. I think having a specific date was like an arrow to her heart. She actually had a sharp intake of breath when I said the words. I think she had been expecting what might loosely be termed “exploratory discussions” in January with a leisurely roll-out of the action plans over… well as long a period as she could eke out really.
There was one final thing that she said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this. I know you have to do it. But I’m not sure I can deal with it.”
So the upshot of all this? We’re both pretty down. I’m genuinely afraid that I am going to send her into some sort of mental breakdown. She is in a very fragile state. She needs help in coping with my impending transition but won’t help herself and won’t allow me to help – unless that help involves postponing or cancelling transition. She won’t go to our GP because “he’ll just put me on antidepressants”. She won’t go to see a counsellor from an organisation like SAIL because “they’ll be all pro-trans and they’ll just tell me that I need to let you be yourself”. She won’t talk to friends because she is ashamed of who I am, or who I am becoming, afraid that she will either be an object of pity or a laughing stock. She just bottles it all up and it’s going to explode at some point. I am afraid. Afraid for her and for us. Afraid that she may be worse equipped to deal with my transition than I would be to deal with not transitioning. Afraid that I am heading for a choice between pushing ahead with transition and the mental health of my wife. Afraid not that we will simply split up, although that is a concern, but afraid that she will have some kind of episode and our kids will be left with one transitioning parent and the other barely able to function. I am terribly afraid. Right now I don’t know what’s going to happen. I feel much less certain of where I’m going than I did a month ago. Everything is up in the air again.