An open Letter to Kris Jenner and Other Wives of Trans Women

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I wrote this letter to Kris Jenner one Sunday night after seeing her crying on a promo for her show. Mascara running, she was saying it was like she didn’t exist. My heart just stopped, because I had been in that same spot, felt those same things. I never thought I’d have any empathy for Kris Jenner. I sat down at my computer and typed this. I actually tried to get this to her through a contact, but that failed. So I ended up posting it here. I didn’t think she’d see it here, but I felt better publishing it anyway. And it ended up spawning an essay in the LA Times. So maybe she’ll get some of the advice anyway.

Dear Kris,

Every time I see a picture of Caitlyn Jenner in a magazine or online, or see a clip of her on television, I think of you, of the twinge of pain and grief you must be feeling. You might deny it to others – put on a smile and say how lovely she looks, how brave. Inside you might be thinking something more snide — that just about anyone looks great with a glam squad and professional photographer — because you are still raw and angry and sad. I know this because I, too, am the wife of a trans woman.

A few weeks ago, flipping through the channels one evening, I saw a clip of you saying something like, “I feel like I didn’t exist.” That phrase stopped me in my tracks. The words I said to my Wasband – that’s how I refer to the person who was my husband and is now a woman who isn’t my wife but will someday soon be my ex – were that I felt negated, erased. If he really was always a she, then were we ever really an us? She still doesn’t really understand how I can question the reality of the 13 years we were married before her big reveal, any more than I understand how she subjugated her feelings of gender dysphoria for the greater part of those 13 years.

When my Wasband announced in 2008 that all in all, he’d rather be a she, I would have killed to know there were others out there like me, who had gone through this experience and come out the other end whole. I went looking. I asked people I met through an ever-widening circle of contacts in the trans community if they know of spouses or exes of trans men and women who might talk to me. While I found a few kids of transgendered men and women who would talk to me, there were no spouses who wanted to chat.

Even as recently as 2008, trans issues were not often discussed, and when they were, it was with a salacious tone. People gawked like it was an accident on the side of the road. And the topic discussed wasn’t the wife or family of the trans person, but the trans person him or herself. The headline was of the pregnant man, or Chaz Bono, or the second time that man got pregnant. I found no peer reviewed academic literature on how healthcare professionals could help the spouses and children of trans people through their own transitions. I can still find none.

So here I am, Kris, ready to share with you some things I wish I had known.

First, I want to tell you it’s going to be okay. There is a way through the anger and sorrow and grief back to joy and happiness. Maybe you’d tell me you’re over it already, that the things I see on TV are months old, that the Vanity Fair shoot was a while back, that this is all old news for you. But there will be times even years from now when you will be beset with sadness. You will see something in your youngest daughter that reminds you of Bruce; you will wander into a room you seldom use and see that picture of some beach vacation you took together; or you’ll pick up a book and see an inscription from him to you. Something will trigger your sadness anew. The other day I looked at my son’s hands which are nothing like my hands. My son has my Wasband’s hands: long delicate fingers, thin hands. They are hands that have gestures just like the man I married. When he was a toddler, my boy would sit up in bed every morning and scratch his little chest just like his father, and I would laugh at the idea that my husband, when he was an old man, would share this gesture with his son in middle age, and maybe with his son. Only there is no old husband, and here I am typing this with a lump in my throat again, so many years after the loss of that particular happily ever after. Sometimes I still feel erased.

Find someone who you have known since creation, a childhood friend, a high school bestie. There may be more than one person, but don’t choose more than two or three. Whoever it is, it cannot be anyone who is beholden to you in any way: no one in your pay or whose relative you employ, no one who just hangs out with you at clubs or calls to see if you have tickets to some concert. It needs to be someone who knew you pre-fame, the kind of person who — if you suddenly found yourself without wealth, having to shop at Value Village and working at a fast food restaurant that leaves your “vintage” clothing smelling of French fries — would still hang out with you. A sibling will do. Under no circumstances can it be one of your children. It is to this person that you direct every snide comment you want to make about your marriage and Caitlyn that you cannot swallow into submission. It has to be someone you trust not to repeat what you say no matter how much cash is waved before her by a tabloid, who will nod and smile when you say something awful about your ex, and will agree when you are warm and loving toward her, as well.

Because, yes, you will want to be nice about her again. More often than you may believe right now, and not just for the press. People who swore they loved your husband to death will suddenly be willing to speak only evil about Caitlyn and you will find yourself defensive about this person who you know, but you don’t know. Give in and say nice things. And remind people that once upon a time, this was your handsome prince. You were writing a fairy tale ending together and you don’t need to hear them speak ill of your decision making skills then or now. Those things you loved about Bruce? Well they are still there in Caitlyn. The things you hated about him are in her, too. Same person. Different gender. You’ll find that surprising. You’ll expect Caitlyn to be very different somehow – if he was angry before, you may think that being the true woman she was meant to be would reduce that anger. But no. Angry Husband begets Angry Wasband. Chill Husband begets Chill Wasband.

You know that talking smack about your ex to your kids is bad. This is like that only magnified. Whether you want to be or not, you have become an ally and advocate for the trans community. You can brook no one trashing Caitlyn, not only in your presence when you are with your children, but even in your presence alone. Why? Because there are people who will say awful things to and are willing to do physical harm to Caitlyn because of her transition, and they are just as willing to let you and your children know exactly what they want to say and do to her. Your job is to shut it down. “You’re talking about my children’s other parent.” “Wouldn’t your parents be proud of your behavior!” “Did you grow up wanting to be so unkind?” I could come up with dozens of comebacks. “Stop being a bully!” usually works in a pinch, too.

You also can’t accept nasty words from your children about their other parent. Whether step- or blood relative, their anger and sadness and confusion is real, and they, too, should have a designated person to complain to. But you are NOT that person. If they speak ill of Caitlyn – and they may — you need to put a quick stop to it. How? Here are a couple ideas: “You are talking about the man I married, the man I loved, the man I wanted to spend my life with.” “That’s your parent, who loves you and to whom you owe a measure of respect. Do not speak of her in that manner in my presence.” I have more if you need them. They, too, are now allies and advocates. If you want to hear awful things said about Caitlyn, there are plenty of people willing to voice them. You don’t need to get it from each other.

My son was worried about what his peers would say, whether even at the small choice school he went to, he would be bullied. We brainstormed responses to “Is your dad a girl?” the most likely comment he thought they would toss at him. We came up with these responses: “What does it matter to you?” “Is that a question or a statement?” “Why are you interested?” “Yes, and….?” You’ll quickly figure out what the difficult people in your life will have to say. Come up with good responses and practice them. Even you and your family, who live in the spotlight, could benefit from having some ready answers on the tip of your tongue.

People will feel they have a right to all sorts of information they wouldn’t dare ask if you had a typical split: when did you know, what did he tell you, what kind of sex life did you have, what kind of genitalia is there now and what does it look like. You don’t have to tell anyone anything. Stop it like this: “Wow! I can’t believe you asked that!” “That’s really not your business.” “Why would you want to know that?” Just because you have a show on television doesn’t mean you have to share everything, or anything.

I always felt those questions were a way of looking to blame me – for marrying someone I shouldn’t have, for not seeing something I ought to have noticed, for pushing him to a point that he needed to leave his masculinity behind. It seems ridiculous to write that last phrase, but she has a relative who broke contact post transition who put the blame for it firmly on me. Apparently, I’m emasculating to the point that I cause men to have their penises turned inside out and made into vaginas.

In the end, what happened before doesn’t matter. What I knew, when I knew it, and how the gender dysphoria made its presence known has no impact on my life going forward, so why does it matter to anyone now? The before is only of interest to others in the way a plane crash is: it’s an oddity, it’s not me, let me see the wreckage up close.

You will have to learn to live with the happy happy joy joy that Caitlyn is experiencing while you are in the middle of your grief cycle. Our Wasbands are like teenagers when they start their hormones during transition. One of my trans friends says it takes about two years post-surgery for the new person to truly become settled in herself. It’s been two and a half years since my Wasband had her surgery and I’d say has proved true. But getting there was a journey. She would come over and joyfully announce every increase in bra cup size, every time the electrolysis lady reached another milestone – done with all the white hairs, done with the neck, done with the chin – and every time there was another step towards legal or physical womanhood – scheduled the surgery, got the birth certificate that says “Female”. And while that happy dance happened to the right of me, on the left side, my heart ached, and she was oblivious to the pain. The announcement of my husband’s death happened one Thursday night late in June, but the actual death occurred in little moments over the course of a few months.

You have lost your husband in a way can only compare to death. You will see Caitlyn in the future and catch a glimpse of the man you fell in love with in the woman she has become and there will be a catch in your throat when you realize that man is gone forever. And you will wonder again if he was ever there at all, and if he wasn’t, if he was always she, did you ever have the marriage you thought you had? Your children, regardless of their age or maturity, will be confused and wonder if the things they thought they knew about their dad were true and if they weren’t, then were the things he said before he was she true? And you will shepherd them through it, and you will pray that you do it with a modicum of grace and serenity. And you will all come out the other side and be happy and whole again. It will be different. You will forever be associated with this thing Bruce Jenner the Olympian did late in his life. You will forever have to admit that it was a brave thing he did in becoming Caitlyn, that it was a hard life he had to live before her transition because that is truth. You will forever be an ally and advocate because that is the right thing to do for your children. And in a way, that sucks, because it ignores your truth – the loss you experienced, the anger and grief you are entitled to feel but have to hide from most people because of that bravery and because of the children. But you, too, have a chance to remake your life. And it’s going to be okay.

Promise.

All the best to you and yours,

Lisa

11 thoughts on “An open Letter to Kris Jenner and Other Wives of Trans Women

  1. I appreciate your letter of “when he becomes she, what about me? that I read today in the LA Times. I want to pass on my thanks for putting into words the thoughts that get choked up in my throat. As my three children and I step on a path that wasn’t the one we ever thought we would be on, it helps to see that someone else is navigating the uncharted path that is ahead of us. So, thank you.

    As I drift along without a clue on how to move forward somedays, I am strengthened knowing that there are women out there like you and me and Kris Jenner that are trying to figure out how to define the previous decades of our lives.

    So thanks. You have helped me get through one more day.

    Nancy

  2. This comment ended up in the “link” section. I’m pasting it here where it more rightly belongs:

    Robert Braley on July 14, 2015 at 10:28 am said: [Edit]

    Dear Lisa, I read your op/ed in the LA Times today and it was excellent. You so eloquently bring out how the family is totally ignored while the trans person is now swarmed with congratulatory anointing of how “brave”, “courageous”, and so many other things that it becomes almost obscene.

    While my family did not go through a trans situation we did learn that my father was gay when I was 28 years old. This occurred in 1978, long before any of this was considered acceptable. Even today, in my very conservative community I am very careful who I tell this to.

    But my Mom went through tons of problems and it caused me many years of issues. But, even then the majority of the discussion was about my Dad though many did ask about my Mom and me. One of my father’s brothers was also gay and a sister was long thought to be but she never acknowledged it. Regardless, I did very much love both of them and eventually moved to Los Angeles and lived the uncle for a number of years. This worked, for the most part, well but was a little uncomfortable at times. But it actually helped in ways for me. I will explain below.

    With three members of my Dad’s family gay it caused me to question what my own sexuality might turn out to be though I had very questioned it before and had never had any interest in gay activity. But it bothered me quite a bit. It took several years for me to reconcile myself to the fact that I liked women and that was that. Once I moved in with my gay uncle and surrounded by his gay friends it only served to reinforce my own sexuality which was a very good thing.

    The girlfriend I had “back home”, whom I often thought of, had gotten married and had kids. I never tried to contact her since she was married. recently, I got a burr up my butt and searched her on the internet and found she had filed for divorce so I contacted her by email. She informed me her husband had announced he was gay and she knew I would understand the situation. The first thing I thought of was her 16 year old son who she said was a jock in high school. I knew exactly what this poor young man was going through and offered to talk to him. She did not respond to that or much of anything I wrote, but then again she never was a letter writer of inclined to write anything so it did not surprise me. But I feel so badly for this young man and I know I could help just by listening.

    Anyway, Lisa, I think by your op/ed and such I do hope that some organization pop up to help families of people who announce later in life that they are trans or gay. It is devastating on families that are ignored like you are and they need help just like soldiers with PTSD others with issues that need to know others are going through the same issues they are.

    Thanks for being such a great “pointer outer”.

    Bob

  3. I empathize with marrying a spouse who is transgender or gay. As Bob points out it is devastating for the families, and our plight is often glossed over. We are in a time where it is becoming more acceptable to “be who you were meant to be”…hopefully this trend continues and will lead to fewer gay men marrying straight women.

  4. More than twenty-three years ago, I found out by accident that my husband of twenty-seven years is a transvestite. At that time, I found one book in the local library that contained a brief paragraph of the definition of what a transvestite is. Then, I discovered a book entitled “The Other Side of the Closet” that told the story of a woman who found out after many years of marriage that her husband is gay. Other than that one book, there was nowhere for me to turn, no one to talk to, no one who could possibly understand the depths of my despair. I was alone with my pain, confusion, anger, and deep feelings of betrayal. Although there were support groups on Long Island for transvestites, there was no such thing for the bewildered and abandoned spouses. The advice given to straight spouses at that time was that we should accept the fact, get over our selfishness, and move on with our lives. If we couldn’t or wouldn’t do that, something as wrong with us.

    I tried over many years to help my then husband by loving him and supporting him. However, no matter how much I gave, no matter how much I sacrificed my own wants, needs and wishes, there was always more he demanded. We tried counseling together and separately, but he bailed on that, too, when he couldn’t face the fact that everything wasn’t my fault and that he needed to work on solving his own problems. I gave up hope a long time ago that he would get well enough to understand the damage he did to me and our family. I find peace in the fact that I have forgiven him and now only feel sorrow for the pain he has pushed deep down into his soul, and the good people he has pushed away. Although through his support group he was praised and applauded for wearing women’s clothing, he was unwilling to walk a mile in my shoes, and divorce became my best option.

    Although things progressed over the years regrading the rights of spouses of transvestites and transgenders, now it seems that the straight spouse is expected to react the why the media are dictating, and if we don’t, we are small-minded haters in need of re-education and and deserving of scorn and ostracism.

  5. Another comment that showed up in “links”: Dear Lisa, I read your op/ed online today and was flooded with old memories and feelings. I even spoke with my ex after reading your article as he had called me regarding the distance between our youngest child, adopted at birth and now 28, who just became a father. My ex isn’t transgender, but gay. We were high school sweethearts and married at 21. We have 5 great kids; 4 the homemade way and one adopted. So many of the points you made, I also went through. Our children were 19, 17, 14, 12, and 10 when we separated. The separation alone was difficult enough for each of them, let alone the ‘news’ about Dad. It’s been 17 years now and I still pick and chose whom I tell, as do our children. My mother still believes he just married me to ‘use’ me and remains angry. I spent 3 years married to him after he finally was able to share his evolution; this ‘evil feeling’ that was raising it’s ugly head in his soul, no matter how badly he wished to suppress! The most meaningful thing he ever said to help me understand was…. “Who would CHOSE to be gay?” We’ve had our ups and downs and mistrusts over the last 17 years, but I do not regret the 23 years I spent with him. I’ve had to find forgiveness to find peace. Without outside support, I have to come to accept that this was not his plan, his choice.

  6. More comments that appeared on the links page:

    Kathy on July 17, 2015 at 2:39 pm said: [Edit]

    Dear Lisa, I read your op/ed online today and was flooded with old memories and feelings. I even spoke with my ex after reading your article as he had called me regarding the distance between our youngest child, adopted at birth and now 28, who just became a father. My ex isn’t transgender, but gay. We were high school sweethearts and married at 21. We have 5 great kids; 4 the homemade way and one adopted. So many of the points you made, I also went through. Our children were 19, 17, 14, 12, and 10 when we separated. The separation alone was difficult enough for each of them, let alone the ‘news’ about Dad. It’s been 17 years now and I still pick and chose whom I tell, as do our children. My mother still believes he just married me to ‘use’ me and remains angry. I spent 3 years married to him after he finally was able to share his evolution; this ‘evil feeling’ that was raising it’s ugly head in his soul, no matter how badly he wished to suppress! The most meaningful thing he ever said to help me understand was…. “Who would CHOSE to be gay?” We’ve had our ups and downs and mistrusts over the last 17 years, but I do not regret the 23 years I spent with him. I’ve had to find forgiveness to find peace. Without outside support, I have to come to accept that this was not his plan, his choice.
    Reply ↓
    Mischa on July 18, 2015 at 12:52 pm said: [Edit]

    Your article in the Seattle Times was extraordinary! I too was desperately trying to find someone as myself – a casualty of transition – to talk to. You are the first that is speaking my language – words for my voice! Bless you for your story. How can I confidentially share my trans wasband story with you? I would be so grateful if you could email me.
    Reply ↓
    Sandy Hirsch on July 20, 2015 at 11:28 am said: [Edit]

    Dear Lisa:

    I am a voice clinician in Seattle specializing in transgender voice and communication. I have Been working in this specialty for over twenty years. Your op Ed is so timely and so relevant. I have a number of clients who are incredibly sensitive to the transition and struggles of their spouse, but it not everyone sees thSt piece of the picture clearly, I agree. There are a number of resources in Seattle for spouses of trans people. I would be happy to point you towards them if you would like. Please let me know if that would help, and I will put together a list for you. You can contact me through my website, givevoice.com or find me if you google me.

    All the best, Sandy Hirsch
    Reply ↓

    landguppy on July 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm said: [Edit]

    Follow @landguppy

    This all started for me eight years ago, and there was nothing, even in Seattle, specifically for the spouses of. The resources were for GLBT together, and the issues are quite different. I didn’t fit with the spouses of people who had come out as gay or bi. There is more available now, thankfully. But we are still invisible, and our story is not told, nor considered. If you go to my facebook author page, Lisa R. Jaffe, there is a post where you can put resources in the comments section. I’ll be doing a blog post soon solely on that topic. So feel free to list what you know of. It will be helpful.

  7. I was mailed, yes in an envelope with a stamp, a copy of your letter to Kris.

    Thank you so very much for this open letter.

    I am currently going through this and with all the Caitlyn/Bruce media attention, my divorce and separation has been in the spotlight locally.

    I feel like mt ex has turned his/her back on the past, including our son who is the spitting image of his dad (our daughter lives with him/her).

    People ask me what my ex’s plans are regarding ‘transition’, but never ask how I am doing.

    I too have been faced with public interviews given by my ex, that are absolutely gutting for me. The latest interview brought on even more people questioning me about him, but no one acknowledging me or my pain.

    I live in a small community and even in the neighbouring larger cities, I have not been able to find any support groups for me or my son. I have called so many LGBTQ support groups, but they do not care about the shattered families either, just the person doing the shattering.

    The one divorce support group I attended, I avoided saying anything, until one evening when it was pertinent to the discussion. It was like I was a freak after that, but of course everyone had a prurient interest in what he/she is planning to do.

    I do not blame my ex for being the way he/she is, but some support for me would be nice.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your open letter.
    My husband of 20 years made the big reveal two years ago. First cross dressing and then finally admitting that it was more than that. We have three teenage kids.
    I love him dearly – we have grown up together from our twenties to our forties. But I am not the “me” that I used to be and probably never will be. I am miserable.
    I have decided to separate/divorce.
    I connect with everything you wrote about – the grief, the sudden moments of remembering the past, the loss.
    Everyone says it will get better.
    I hope so.
    I’m dreading the day we have to sit down and tell the kids we are divorcing. They will be devastated.
    I never knew I had so many tears inside of me.

  9. I am so encouraged to find your articles Lisa, and to read of some of the similar experiences in response. I feel sooooo isolated and alone and judged because my ex is transitioning to female. It drives me insane that our community, our family therapists (we have 2 small children, 5 and 9) and the available support services all privilege his experience (still male at this stage). What about me and what about my kids!!
    And I haven’t even begun to process my feelings with regards to our marriage, our decision to have kids etc. But I have certainly been asked ‘Did you have any suspicions or awareness whilst married?’
    What isn’t helping is that he is shifting his plans around, so whilst he HAD planned to transition to being trans female in march he has put that on hold due to his physical health, his boss and his mum’s physical health (things he cited as reasons to transition sooner rather than later).
    I have found that others seem to project their assumptions of what transgender means onto him, that it is absolute need, whereas a ‘typical’ transition (is there is such a thing) or process of becoming transgender, doesn’t seem to fit my ex’s experience.
    Although I have expressed support of him and we have attended family therapy sessions to collaborate in disclosing to the kids, he has been frustrated whenever I have wanted to talk about risks for the kids, and reacted as though I am saying that disclosure can’t be done. This collaboration deteriorated recently due to communication break down and his impatience and he has now shut me out of the process completely.
    Does anyone else have experience in disclosing to their kids their dad’s trans identity? Where they similar ages to mine, 5 and 9? How did you prepare? were you both, as parents, present?
    How did the kids respond? Any tips or words of wisdom for me?
    Cheers

    1. I suggest you get in touch with COLAGE.org. They are based in Berkeley and are all about the kids of GLBT folks. They can help you figure out how to approach your kids. Seth is mildly autistic, which helped us because if it didn’t directly impact him, he didn’t really care. And his life wasn’t changing. He was more upset that we wouldn’t be living together any more and there would be another house he’d have to spend time at. In a way, it was really good for his development. He had to do something different. But I sure worried about how he’d take it. And I looked everywhere for help. There wasn’t any. There is more now. Start with COLAGE. I don’t know where you are geographically, but local LGBT groups might also help. Email me through the contact on my website if those don’t help you out. I can direct you a little better when I know more. And godspeed. It’s a hard walk, but really, it’s okay in the end. Life is better for everyone!

    2. Not sure if this will get to you, but I wanted to reply to PJ. I’m going through the same thing as you. My kids are a little older – early teens – would love to connect with you. My husband – soon to ex – is also revealing his identity to the kids. I am over whelmed with the divorce and all this trans stuff. How can we connect???

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