We’re doing things a little differently this time around: You’re getting two rockers for the price of one.
Yes, this week we have a special guest columnist — my friend Laura Jane Grace, a mighty solo artist and the front person for the punk band Against Me!. Laura has some tough love to dole out, but I really appreciated her candor, and I hope you will, too.
But before we get into it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Laura’s latest projects: an EP called At War With the Silverfish and her relatively new Patreon. And of course, she’s the author of the book Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, cited in the letter below.
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I have been married to my spouse for over 10 years. A few years ago, my spouse came out as trans. You might be thinking this letter has to do with sex or something like that, but is doesn’t. I was okay with our sex before, and I’m okay with our sex now.
But what has been wearing on me, and finally started to come to a head recently, are the other changes my spouse has been making. They have been getting body-affirming surgeries and are passing more and more every day, which is awesome and amazing to see. But what’s really difficult is that no matter how much I reassure my partner, or how much I say that I’m onboard with things, it doesn’t feel authentic to them.
I think about Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny book, in which Laura tells her story about drifting away from her spouse when she started transitioning. No matter how much couples or individual therapy they did, their romantic relationship came to an end.
I feel like one day I am going to find my partner drifting so far apart from me that the gap is just too wide. (Unlike Laura and her ex, we do not have any children.) My partner has mentioned that they are still exploring who they are and who they want to be.
I also feel like I don’t have the best support system in place outside the relationship. I don’t have many friends who I could “trauma dump” on. I am seeing a one-on-one therapist, but I feel a little isolated and a little alone with all of this.
I want things to work out. I made a commitment by marrying this person, and I feel a huge sense of pride and protection for them.
In her own one-on-one therapy, my partner has mentioned some things that I did years ago that could have been perceived as abuse. I prevented them from leaving our apartment by physically standing in the way.
I feel awful about what happened, and I don’t condone what I did or how I acted in those moments years ago. I also understand that I can’t control or change what happened in the past. I can only try to do better from that point going forward, and I think I have.
But they mentioned how they don’t want to trigger a response from me that might be similar to something that happened years ago. I am not sure that I will be able to ever repair that trust. We are working on securing a couples therapist. We did couples therapy before they transitioned, and while some things worked for us, some things didn’t.
I want things to work out. I made a commitment by marrying this person, and I feel a huge sense of pride and protection for them. Especially because they are trans and live in a time where that might not be the most safe thing in the world.
Every day I get stressed out about the news, and I worry about the safety of my partner. I understand the amazing privilege that I enjoy being a cis person — I tend to just be invisible no matter where I am.
My questions: Have you been in a situation where the nature of a relationship underwent a massive change like this? How do you navigate the ghosts of the past when it comes to being the person you want to be going forward? Have you ever successfully repaired broken trust and commitment in a relationship?
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I’m going to focus on the first question you asked, about being in a situation where the nature of the relationship underwent a massive change.
Yes, I have been in such a situation. Five years into my relationship with my ex, I decided to get sober. Even though she wasn’t an alcoholic, drinking was a huge part of our life together. You could say our lives both revolved around alcohol, albeit in different ways. She enjoyed drinking, sometimes to excess, and she enjoyed me drinking to a point.
We had a lot of fun together in the beginning. But as the years went on and my consumption progressed, the ratio of fun to problems began to change.
She told me I was an alcoholic. She told me I needed to stop drinking. She was right — I was, and I did. But I don’t think she was prepared for the completely different person I would become or how many aspects of my personality that she enjoyed weren’t actually traits of mine but the synthetic effects of alcohol in my bloodstream. Put simply, I stopped being “fun.”
Gone was the spontaneous, carefree rock guy my partner had chosen, and in his place was a pensive, anxiety-addled wreck.
She was still able to drink like a “normal” person. She liked staying out till closing, then going home. I never understood people who could go out and drink, have a good time, and then be like, “Okay, I’ve had enough. It’s time to call it.” That wasn’t the way I drank. Once I started, I did not want to stop, and when I finally admitted I had a problem — that I had no power over a substance once I ingested it — I knew I had to stop starting altogether.
This meant I no longer had the desire or the fortitude to hang out in drinking spaces for long periods of time, and in early sobriety, it was necessary for me to avoid them entirely. Some people stop drinking and their problems stop with it: They sleep well, they feel great, the light comes on behind their eyes. That wasn’t me. It took me a long time to get to even an approximation of comfortable.
I had used alcohol and drugs to treat some pretty severe mental disorders, which now leapt upon me like starved wolves, and I no longer had recourse to blot them from my consciousness. I had to sit with and learn to negotiate a mind that was often attacking me. Gone was the spontaneous, carefree rock guy my partner had chosen, and in his place was a pensive, anxiety-addled wreck. A walking open nerve. The opposite of fun.
This will turn into a movie no one wants to watch if I don’t speed the tape up here. Our relationship didn’t work out. We began to grow further apart until that uncanny thing happened where we became complete strangers who knew each other intimately.
Not for a second did I fault her for this. Okay, that’s not totally true. I did, briefly, until my sponsor at the time took away that luxury by pointing out what I’d put my partner through with my drinking and what I was expecting of her in my sobriety and how little the two squared.
She and I have a great relationship now as friends. I’ll always love her, and she’ll always love me, but we just aren’t meant to be in a romantic relationship together. This may well be your future, as well.
Despite all this, I don’t feel fully qualified to address the particulars of your marriage. Which is why last week I called up Laura Jane Grace, who came out as trans a decade ago, to offer her take on your situation. The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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Laura Jane Grace: To me, there were two parts of the letter that stuck out. First, where they said their partner has mentioned that they’re “still exploring who they are and who they want to be.” And then the next thing they wrote about not feeling like they have the best support system in place in the relationship, and that they don’t have many friends that they could trauma dump on.
It sounds like they’re stuck in a cycle of trauma dumping on each other right now. And if their partner doesn’t know who they are anymore, by their own admission… I can project a lot of my experience onto what they wrote. And I read that, and I’m like: Just get a divorce.
What would be more impressive to me is if you were kind to each other through a divorce and did not destroy each other’s souls. That would be way more impressive to me than even “Our relationship worked; we’re still together.” I read that letter, and it breaks my heart, and it sucks. But it just sounds like it’s fucking over.
Max Collins: I love that: “Get a kind divorce.” I didn’t want to be too fatalistic, but my first thought after reading the letter was, This relationship is cooked.
I thought about one of my therapists that I had for OCD, who had formerly been a marriage and family counselor. He said that he had to stop doing that, because it was just too depressing — by the time people sought counseling for their relationship it was almost always too late.
Grace: I went and saw two different counselors when first starting out. The first person we walked into, I could definitely tell that they were like, “Wait, back up a couple minutes. Maybe the thing that we should be focusing on right now is your gender transition, because that’s the huge fucking thing that’s happening, and that needs to be addressed.”
“Just save the whole f***ing song and dance and get a really kind divorce where you don’t destroy each other.”
The other person we went and saw almost wanted to ignore that in a way and wanted to talk about whatever issues you’re talking about in the marriage: “You didn’t get the fucking right kind of almond milk when you went to the grocery store” or — like in the letter — “You stood in my way one time when I was trying to leave the apartment.”
It’s not a given that you’re going to walk in and find a marriage counselor who can say, “No problem, I can handle a relationship where one person is transitioning gender.” That’s not an easy therapist to find.
Collins: The letter writer said they’ve read your book. I’ve been meaning to. So I don’t know: Were you able to get the kind divorce? How long did it take you to get through it?
Grace: I can only speak in vague generalities, just legally even. But all I’ll say is — and maybe it’s a little bit of a generational difference — sometimes when people talk about ghosting, I’m like, “Yeah, it’s shitty to ghost someone.” But also, if someone's really upset about being ghosted, all I can think is, You’ve never been through a five-year-long divorce, have you? You don’t know what that’s like.
Ghosting is a gift, comparatively. Someone’s just walking away, and there are no more complications. You don’t owe me anything, and I don’t owe you anything. I've been divorced twice, and divorces in general are pretty fucking soul-sucking and soul-crushing.
When I read that letter, I thought, You don’t have any kids. What are you doing this for? Why be miserable? Just save the whole fucking song and dance and get a really kind divorce where you don’t destroy each other. And that would be the happiest ending.
And once you get the divorce, you may realize that you still love each other, and then you want to get married again. And there’s no reason why you can’t do that.
I wrestled with being so blunt. But I look back where I was a decade ago, when all these things were dawning on me and I was going through these hard realizations. There’s part of me that wishes someone would have sat me down and been like, “Look, just get a divorce now. Just do it immediately.”
Even if I would have been like, “Fuck you, it could still work out” at first, I ultimately would have appreciated someone giving me that advice.