Thursday, July 5, 2007

Review: She's Not the Man I Married

Title: She's Not the Man I Married: My Life with a Transgender Husband
Author: Helen Boyd
Publisher: Seal Press, 2007

When I was on the road to accepting myself one of the the biggest stumbling blocks was how I would deal with telling my wife and how she would react. Certainly she wouldn't embrace or accept his, but Would she leave me? The only resource I could find was Peggy Rudd's My Husband Wears My Clothes, which is excellent, but for some reason I couldn't connect to it. Some of the people I was talking to online recommended My Husband Betty by Helen Boyd. I read this and was blown away by the scholarship and the depth of information in that book. I could connect to Helen and her cross dressing husband, Betty, and the cross dressers, transsexuals, and in-betweeners that she documented. And it was very readable.

So when I came out to my wife it was with My Husband Betty in my hands for her to read. Oh, she read it all right, and asked a lot of questions that she wouldn't have otherwise asked, and somehow we have achieved a place of love and understanding, thanks in large part to the honesty and open communication that we achieved with that book.

It was curious, then, that I approached She's Not the Man I Married with some trepedation. How would this book differ from My Husband Betty? Was there any more to say on the subject?

Well, it differed a lot. And, yes, there are new things for Helen to say.

She's Not the Man I Married chronicles the changes in Helen and Betty's relationship. It's a much more personal view. Betty has changed since the last book, namely, further down the transgender spectrum so that she no longer considers herself a cross dresser, but neither does she consider herself a transsexual. She has slid down the slippery slope, but has she found a landing in the middle? Or has she found her bottom? Helen ponders this in the context of her own life, personal and physical issues (Helen was a tomboy as a youth, and talks openly about dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, which causes her body to generate an elevated testosterone level).

She also touches on her needs in a relationship - sexual and emotional - and how Betty's increasing female presentation has caused her to think deeply about how both of them are perceived by the greater world at large. Helen bares a lot about their personal life, to the extent that you can almost feel like a voyeur looking in the windows of their apartment.

And there is a lot of ponder of gender roles and the gender binary here. The thesis here is that perhaps we're too quick to view the world in a masculine/feminine way, that, perhaps, we should instead look at people on a spectrum, that there is a mix of masculinity and femininity in all of us. And this binary extends to how they are perceived again - are they a lesbian couple, just because Betty presents as female? Or are they hetro, because of their physical sex? Even nature doesn't always acknowledge this binary - otherwise, how could you explain intersex individuals?

Reading this book I was trying to understand the underlying theme of this book. Towards the end, it hit me that I was overlooking the obvious. There is an intense love between these two that goes beyond that of most couples, yet this love is setting Helen's assumptions about what she looks for on its ear. She is definitely walking the fine line between her love for Betty and her need for a male partner.

Let me address one complaint I've read in other reviews of this book, namely, that the book is overly repetitive. I disagree. I found that the repetitiveness felt more like a personal Rashomon, where Helen was reviewing the same event through several different lenses and trying to get to the core truth for her.

Most of us cannot get to the level of honesty to ourselves that Helen presents in this book. Look beyond the subject of a transgender husband. Despite her protestations that it could all fall apart, you see two souls, deeply in love with each other, dealing with that big question - "Is love enough to bridge the gap?"

I sure hope so for them.