Thursday, 14 August 2014

Back from the Grave 1

You may recall a collection of nine posts that I took down early in 2013, all written in December 2012 or January 2013. I did this because several of these posts were the kind that might attract unwelcome attention from radfems. Others dealt with unusual subjects, or were in some way a step too far. Anyway, I thought it prudent at the time to take them down.

I saw it as a form of self-censorship. And I never stopped thinking so, especially when later posts in 2013 touched on freedom-of-speech issues. I kept on thinking that I'd done something that did not support the freedom-of-speech cause one bit. Nor did the deletion of these posts enhance my credit and conviction as a writer. I'd tried not to appear hasty, but I'd been pushed off balance and had over-reacted. Were these posts badly-written? No. Or devoid of merit? No. They were just odd, outside my normal territory, or slightly controversial. In fact, hadn't I taken them down merely to avoid potential trouble? Well, frankly, yes.

Gradually over the last year and a half I've been considering their reinstatement. If the blog has become an autobiographical record, isn't it important to be frank about whatever has caught my attention? And not edit the record, to remove material that is offbeat? What is honest about deleting posts you wish you hadn't written?

Putting matters like this, reinstatement became inevitable. And now the time has come. I kept offline copies of all nine posts. I am now going to republish them, one by one.

But with a couple of changes. First, all these posts will have a common title: Back from the Grave. There will just be sequential numbering. In that way, the original post titles shouldn't show up in future web searches so readily. Second, I may add comments to explain why I wrote them, or what I think of them now.


Let's begin with a post originally published on 13 December 2012, with the title Husbands behaving badly: Christine Benvenuto's experience.

This morning I was asked to comment on a quote from a book which recounted the story of a wife's experiences when her husband aggressively pursued his need to transition. It was Christine Benvenuto's Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender And Moving On, published recently in the US by St Martin's Press (ISBN 978-0-312-64950-0). You can read a longish extract here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/02/my-husbands-sex-change, which includes the passage that was brought to my attention. It is the latest of a type of book that reveals the wife's or partner's viewpoint.

Christine Benvenuto's marriage had lasted for a very long time, over twenty years, then took a mere two years to disintegrate while her husband made more and more space for his feminine life. He stayed at home. He insisted on his rights to do so. He kept most of his feminisation from their young children until it was nearly time for him to leave. But Christine felt that in their private, away-from-the-children moments he was smugly flaunting his new persona at her, and she couldn't ignore the stress and the hurt this kind of assault heaped on her. She has been criticised for not supporting her husband, for portraying 'him' as an uncaring, calculating and unsmiling deceiver. A good Dr Jekyll who became a heartless Mrs Hyde. I won't know whether such criticism is justified until I get hold of her book.

I've been thinking how I might feel if someone very close to me announced that they must push ahead with a relationship-busting project. And they did it in a way that seemed selfish and insensitive. It's not so hard to imagine, even if the raw pain is missing because it's only a thought experiment. I certainly can see how Christine could arrive at a negative point of view - although my impression is that she does not condemn her
former husband simply for being trans, only for the ruthless way he embraced his destiny, how he became hard and angry, pushed her feelings aside, and coldly walked away.

I think that her husband was far from typical. Most trans people I've met are just as definite about their real gender, and feel driven to do something about it, but none of them have proceeded without considering the
other people in their lives. And such thinking very easily leads to fear, fear of adverse reactions, and of losing the love of parents and partners. And ongoing guilt for making people cry, and forcing them to change their lives almost as much as one's own. 

The fear and the guilt are emotions that somehow have to be managed. That can be a full-time job. There is not much left for displays of righteous self-justification. I am in fact continually struck how gentle most trans people are. How far they will actually go to accommodate family wishes. This can easily become a life of constant appeasement, of getting nowhere. The first six months of my own transition were like that. But I couldn't keep it up, and eventually I pressed on. However, the last thing I ever wanted to do was bully my way to the desired end state. So I think Christine Benvenuto was especially unfortunate. 

Posted by Lucy Melford at 14:06

There were fifteen comments:

1. Paige 13 December 2012 14:53

Lucy, In all fairness, the former husband, Joy Ladin, wrote a book as well, and this reminds me that there are two sides to every story, and the truth falls somewhere in the middle. Here is a link to the Kindle version of Joy's book: http://www.amazon.com/Through-Door-Life-Autobiog-ebook/dp/B007KWW1IU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355410258&sr=8-2&keywords=joy+ladin.

2. Lucy Melford 13 December 2012 16:52

Thank you, Paige! It's only fair to hear both sides of the story. I do have a lot of sympathy with any non-trans partner who finds it all too much of a struggle. The most one can reasonably ask for is time and space and goodwill. It's demanding too much to insist that they go on loving you just the same. If they can, then fine. If they can't, it's sad but an ending must be faced. The husband in this case may have found himself misunderstood and misgendered, and his dogged defiance misinterpreted. As you say, I need to know both sides.

Lucy

3. Joy Ladin 13 December 2012 18:07

Thanks for your openness to both sides, Lucy, and thanks Paige for pointing out my book. Much of my book is devoted to highlighting the pain my children and ex experienced during my transition. The short version of how I understood the dynamic with Chris can be found here, for free:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/transgender-woman_n_1311562.html. (The title isn't mine, by the way.) As you can see, I was trying to listen to, understand and be considerate of Ms. Benvenuto's feelings during that awful, heartbreaking time. Best, Joy Ladin

4. Anonymous 14 December 2012 04:44

[This was a commercial advertisement, masquerading as a comment]

5. Shirley Anne 14 December 2012 14:34

Although I agree with you on this subject my story is told with a different twist. I spent a lifetime in denial, fell in love, got married, had children and dearly loved my spouse. However, half-way through the marriage she constantly rejected me. It was after some considerable time I decided that I couldn't continue and made up my mind to go through with transition and subsequently got divorced which broke my already damaged heart. In the end we did stay together and by and large get on well, when we are speaking that is! I still love her but often get mistreated. It isn't because I transitioned that she acts the way she does toward me as she was the same before she knew anything about my gender issues but obviously it hasn't helped her attitude since. A more comprehensive story in on my blog. I agree with you regarding how gentle and accommodating most trans folk are when it comes to not hurting our loved ones even under pressure. Eventually decisions must be made though.

Shirley Anne x

6. Anonymous 15 December 2012 03:14

From Crhistine's book: "I took it for granted that if Tom was really going to live as a woman, he would move away, or the children and I would move away. It went without saying that I wasn't going to attempt a fresh start in the small town in which we had lived together as a happy family, passing Tom on the street in a dress. When I put this to Tom, he erupted. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving this house. I'm going to do what I want to do and I'm going to do it right here." "But you want to make a fresh start," I spluttered. "We need one, too." "You're not making a fresh start!" He was furious. "You have no legal right to the house or the kids. They belong to me. If you want to leave, go right ahead. But you're not taking the kids with you." I was stunned. This was the emergence of the new Tom, one I'd come to know very well over the next several years. The one who intimidated and threatened, who laid down the law and expected me to abide by it. If Tom was becoming a woman, he had never seemed so male – a tyrannical bully he had never been in our marriage."

I hope you will try to understand the POV of a woman who's husband, the father of her three children, cop an attitude like this.

7. Lucy Melford 15 December 2012 14:49

Thank you, Anonymous. I've now seen references to Christine's book in several places on the Internet, and I'm getting wary of making any further judgement. Don't get me wrong: I've no reason to think that she has misquoted real conversations, nor to doubt that this is her sincere point of view. On the other hand, there is another point of view here too, and it's difficult to see exactly what the truth is.

It is almost axiomatic that the female in any partnership is less likely to be in full control than the male, and here was a case of a wife who had married into a male-dominated faith she wasn't born to. It looks as if she
embraced her new faith and liked all that was good about it. But she'd have to observe its rules, and couldn't cherry-pick. And the rules favoured her husband. I'm not sure whether it would be fair to say that the rules were completely behind the husband, but surely he was in a stronger position to invoke any that he could. This aspect might have made her feel isolated and bereft of allies in her adopted world, and that lack of power might show in the language of her book. Anyone who has to fall into line with established custom and observance might feel browbeaten.

From what I know of my own position, the feelings of both parties, when one of them needs to transition, can be very complex. Neither necessarily has instant and complete comprehension of what it's all about, what the real driving motives are; and that love need not be a casualty, although it frequently is. There is no official guide to the best way forward, and how to avoid polarisation and exclusion and emotional devastation.

I'm thinking that both parties here have written their books not only to put across their experience of an awful situation, but to externalise a mass of damaged feelings and raw hurt. A catharsis that both require. Perhaps there is in one the anguished cry of a victim, and in the other the anguished cry of someone misunderstood. Perhaps both have wanted to persuade outsiders to their own view. I can indeed understand all of that, if it applies here.

Finally, could I ask who you are? It lends greater weight to a comment if the author is willing to identify themselves.
Lucy

8. Anonymous 15 December 2012 18:16

The problem however is that Joy Ladin is engaged in a campaign to discredit and censor Ms. Benvenuto (although Ladin is now showing up a bit more apologetically and meekly on blogs like this). He can't move on. He can't let his ex-wife speak. He can't not be in the spotlight and be a hero. And that means he can't not lie consistently and constantly about who he is and what happened.

9. Lucy Melford 15 December 2012 19:08

Unless anyone else can chip in with something illuminating here, I'll let you have the last word on this, Anonymous.

I feel that unless one actually knew this couple well, a point comes when you can't get further on written extracts alone.

Lucy

10. Anonymous 16 December 2012 01:54

Lucy. "both parties here have written their books not only to put across their experience of an awful situation, but to externalise a mass of damaged feelings and raw hurt. A catharsis that both require." The problem/issue is one of censorship and the continued exercise of male privilege by one claiming to be female. This whole affair reflects poorly on the transgender community as did the scandalous Colleen Francis kerfuffle in Washington State wherein an admitted 'kinkster' claimed transgender status to justify his indecent exposure to young girls in a sauna area clearly reserved for women only. Would you like your young 13 y/o daughter exposed to men like Francis? This is the transgender agenda in the US of A

11. Lucy Melford 16 December 2012 08:04

You seem to be refering to the situation in the US, and to a somewhat wider trans community than in the UK, where 'transgender' is a more general term than specifically 'transsexual'. I assure you, it would be a major provocation here - and certainly counter-productive - if a non-passing trans person attempted some of the stunts you can cite. There is no culture here of pushing boundaries to their limits. Most trans people in the UK are relying on gradual public education, a drip-drip approach, and the uncertain effect of things like the Leveson Inquiry into press standards. It's getting better for trans people here, but we're not mainstream yet. I for one would rather concentrate on winning hearts and minds through meritorious achievement and behaviour, and not by getting up people's noses.

Lucy

12. Paige 16 December 2012 13:02

And, Anonymous, please stop referring to Joy Ladin as "he". Thank you!

13. Lucy Melford 16 December 2012 22:54

Do any of us commenting know Ms Ladin personally? If not, what are our assertions worth?

Anonymous, you seem to have no insight into the inner life of transsexual people. I invite you to delve into my blog and discover what I'm like. You might find you modify your views. If you want to see pictures of what, as a transsexual person, I find interesting, then follow either of the Flickr links at the top right of this web page.

Lucy

14. Dianne 17 December 2012 03:29

It’s sad that two people who are so angry get so much traction ONLY BECAUSE there is a transgender story at the root. If the person who was a man was still living as a man no one would care at all! They would just be one of thousands of couples that grew apart. If the woman had come out as lesbian there would be no discussion in public forums and probably no book.

The ending of any marriage is very sad. The end of this marriage is especially sad because it gives the media plenty of vivid paint to spread with it’s broad sensational brush.

15. Lucy Melford 17 December 2012 08:45

Well said, Dianne. And all this stuff will be there on the Internet for their children to see in years to come.

Lucy


Post-mortem in 2014
This was my first post on a published book in the news, and when I was still rather naive where radfem points of view were concerned. And I ended up sitting on the fence somewhat! I think the post got worthwhile comments, none of them extreme, and I now think I was wrong to take it down. 

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This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

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Lucy Melford