I was recently asked by someone newly on the “I was just informed by my partner they are transgender” journey a question I had completely forgot about asking myself at the beginning of mine: Why did you stay? This question is so complicated and, after a lot of thought and consideration, unanswerable in any sort of universal way. At the root of it is a question I believe we ask ourselves more frequently than we would like to admit: why do any of us stay in our relationships? I think it’s easy to say in the context of our intimate relationship with a partner that the reason we stay is because we love each other, but that logic is flawed. Why do we love someone? What do we do when our perceived love and affection for someone is causing ourselves harm? How do we know when to move on?
When Katie first came out, part of what inspired me to start writing was the fact that I wanted someone to talk about this very question. I needed to see an explanation of why a cisgender, non-queer person stayed in their relationship after their partner came out. I wanted to evaluate their reasons and compare them to my relationship. Are there criteria for staying? What steps did you take? Is there a formula to work through this? In the beginning I was grasping for a map of how to walk this pathway, frantically Googling the “how-to guide” for being married or in a relationship with someone who is transgender and going through transition. In frustration at not finding it, I started writing, carefully documenting an emotional journey rarely told publicly, but more widely experienced than I originally thought.
For me, “Do I stay” became a series of questions dispersed by my new-found need to focus on the present, shifting away from worrying about the scary future I couldn’t control anymore. I think the hardest part of any transition in our lives, whether it’s loss of a loved one, breakups, moving, new jobs, or many other situations that cause identity evaluation, is grappling with the fundamental idea that you never had control of the future to begin with. I’ve had to ask a series of questions that, on different days at different times, had varied responses: Do I love this person? Is the love I have preventing me from being happy? Is it preventing them from being happy? Will the person they become be the person I still love? Can this person love me even when it’s hard for me to deal with stages of the transition? Will this person love me as they discover this new exciting part of themselves? Can we work through this?
In truth, I believe we answer “Do I stay?”, whether knowingly or not, every single day. I wake up every morning next to Katie, and choose Katie, choose us even if my mind doesn’t actively verbalize it. I’ve never known what our future holds. We’ve worked really hard to get to where we are now. We’ve had to redefine how we communicate and relate to each other. We’ve had success, but I’m not foolish to think the hard part is over, or that challenges are not ahead. Ultimately, I believe in any relationship we have, it would be naive to believe foreveris going to be easy, married or not. As humans, we evolve over time. We change our minds. We experience events that alter how we define who we are and who we want to be. Evolving as a human and sharing ourselves in a relationship with anyone (friends, family, our partners) requires work, trust, and love. I didn’t marry Katie thinking our life would be simple. I didn’t know that we would face this particular challenge, but I knew I loved and trusted the person I would face our obstacles with. The decision to stay in any relationship has similar threads, we just have the luxury of not acknowledging that choice when times are easy. To me, Doubt is the presence of an opportunity to grow, to turn left or right, to stay or go. Doubt is evidence the presence of change is upon us, an opportunity to reframe our identity in a new way.
So, why did I stay? I don’t know that I can ever answer that as the criteria needed to evaluate the evidence “for” or “against” staying are vague at best. I stayed, ultimately, because I love my relationship with Katie, and see value in struggling through this process to see what comes out of it. So far, the benefits have been worth it, but the work to get to where we are has been daunting at best, anything but easy or straightforward. Trying to map it upon reflection seems impossible. My best advice, not that all of you asked for this, is to stay in the present. When faced with difficult challenges, I have to remind myself to slow the car crash my brain manifests for its anxious self and identify my options for safe-haven. Sometimes we have to move one day, one hour, or one minute at a time. This is okay. All we can do is be who we are to the best of our ability. Even when you don’t feel there are any options available, you can always choose yourself.