When I was asked to write something by Steph, I wondered what I could write about.
I am particularly impassioned about my dream of ending the “transwar” which always sounds to me like a plot from Dr Who, but that could take a whole lifetime not a blog, so I thought I would start simple.
I wanted to write about my experience as a trans widow, or rather a trans divorcee. Before you begin to read, please forgive the interchange of pronouns and names. On our marriage certificate, my husband was named as Rob, a 32-year-old bachelor. To her friends when she died, she was Cathy, aged 58 a victim of negligent health care and her inability to keep moving after major surgery.
I am and have always been Lynn who has trans envy (a bit like penis envy) about the delicious, lovely names which so many trans women can choose…Lynn, natal female, not cis, it is then. I also refer to T-girls because that is how Cathy and her friends referred to themselves. I hope the term isn’t now seen as offensive…. I wrote this piece in 2013. It is slightly edited to reflect my better understanding without completely redrafting to reflect everything I have learned:
Not many people know I have been married twice, why would they ?
My husband and I have accomplished what few seem to these days. We have been married now for 29 years and have three lovely grown children, two of which were born after we married. The third though, was born before and was conceived at least, while I was still married to someone else. Not a great sin these days, but I challenge anyone who regards divorce as easy or even a victimless event to dismiss the pain involved. I never saw myself as the victim in my divorce in 1991, but the perpetrator, that was, until the beginning of 2013. Cathy/Rob died in her sleep from a blood clot.
My ex-husband was an only child of only children and with a reasonable degree of certainty, given the longevity of members of his family, probably thought he would live to an age where his friends would have all gone long before. This must have been the reason why he didn’t leave a will and when his estate was declared “Bone Vacante” in late January 2013. The BV list is released periodically and consists of names where there are no known inheritors of an estate either by will or thought grant of probate. Like vultures, heir hunters descend on this list and try to track down heirs. Rob had a house and two pensions. Because my dad still lived in our family home as registered on my marriage certificate, he was easy to track down and the first of what must have been a flood 50 heir hunters called. The latest one called just a few weeks ago.
The experience wasn’t like the sanitised version on TV, where lovely, suited and shiny people , come to your house and pour over your family tree and sign you up. The programme glosses over the discussion of fees with sepia photographs, a montage of the blitz, or neighbours of the deceased talking in respectful tones. No such luck.
They rang while I was at work and were only interested in the overlap between my daughter’s birth 21 years before and my divorce for adultery. When they found out that she wasn’t his child, although she could have been: intellectually gifted, pale-skinned and tall with blonde hair; they left us alone. In their wake, they dropped a bombshell that Rob had died aged 58, in August 2012 and what is more his mum, who would have been approaching her hundredth, was also dead and had been for years.
Any passion I had felt in the nine years’ we were together, died long before the marriage did, so there was no anger or hatred in our parting and, while we had not been friends, we were still on good terms. I had loved his mum too and although she never understood my leaving, so we were estranged, I had looked forward to her hundredth birthday in August 2013 with a secret delight. Both lives suddenly ended for me on that day with no opportunity to say goodbye or a funeral. I was devastated, particularly at the loss of Molly. I like to look at the sky and imagine people that I care about looking up at the same clouds, being rained on, or basking in the sun just like me. In my naive little world view, Rob and Molly had been walking around under that same sky as me, but the problem was, they hadn’t been, and for some time.
I didn’t feel like I had any rights at all in their lives, but the point I guess, was that I cared.
They had only lived over the other side of the county, so I managed to find someone to tell me what had happened and this is where the shockwave came.
The lovely neighbour who had mothered him after his mum’s death aged 96, told me in the blunt terms that Yorkshire people use without malice, that Rob had been transgendered went under the name of Cathy or Cat.
She (Cat) had amassed a beautiful collection of dresses, hats, shoes and jewellery and when not at work, Rob would become Cat and live a double life which in our culture was still moderately risky and would definitely have earned disapprobation in the traditional Yorkshire village where she had lived. She told me that Cat had died of a DVT the previous August following an accident where she ruptured her Achilles’ tendon and had surgery in late July. She gave me loads of detail and was kind about it.
With hindsight and looking at pictures of her softened face and body fat distribution, I suspect she had been on female hormones off-label and this had made the blood clot happen because something any woman, but not necessarily every transwoman would know, is the dangers of “the pill” after surgery.
If this was the case, not declaring her gender ID may have cost Cathy her life.
My immediate reaction was a mixture of curiosity and relief. Having taught psychology and a topic on gender for years, I probably didn’t have the prejudice that might have been expected of an ex-wife, who had lived with near-celibacy in a marriage, whilst at the same time blaming herself for being unattractive. I had suffered years of self-doubt and sat all the while under a dark cloud of expectation that sooner or later Mike, my second husband would find someone to leave with who was better or sexier. My low self-esteem generated by my first marriage had harmed my second.
The relief was because I had carried huge amount of guilt about what I had done. Rob was seven years’ older than me and when we had met he had set about his task of transforming me from what he charmingly called a “working class oik” with a gusto not seen since Professor Henry Higgins launched himself on Eliza Doolittle. Because I was from a strict-ish Christian background I was relatively innocent and didn’t realise that our almost platonic marriage wasn’t the norm. It took years and a flirty, older colleague, to make me realise that my life was lacking in affection. This lack of knowledge or experience may sound implausible today, but my relationship with Rob began over 40 years ago. I have also recently found out I have Asperger syndrome so I was somewhat dysphoric about my body, and my sexuality was a little delayed so I didn’t know any better, I guess.
When, having found someone who did love me, I left Rob with everything apart from my own clothes and a few books. I gave up our savings and I even paid a month’s salary into his bank account so that he would have time to adjust. For years I couldn’t go to a church without feeling the word “adulteress” was burned into my forehead, and when my husband and I were married and we had our union blessed in church, I nearly keeled over when the vicar wrapped his stole around our hands and said the immortal words “What God has joined together…” I thought to myself, this is only supposed to happen once in your life.
So what’s the beef I hear you thinking ?
Well, my guilt is, of course, my problem and indeed when I found out that I had only been supplanted by a feather boa (Cathy went the Full Monty in femme dressing) I felt I could live with it. But the problem I quickly found out was that I hadn’t, I supplanted them. The 1950’s pink cocktail dress she had had since she was 16; the diamante; the underwear and God-knows what else. Apparently, they made a pyre of them just before we were married and cried.
Rob hadn’t discovered himself after me, after us.
She had known all along.
When we met Rob/Cathy knew who she was and had known since she was about nine years old. The full story, I found out is written out and appended to hundreds of images she shared publicly on the internet via Flicker. There Cathy stands in all her six feet of blonde, blue-eyed beauty. Brave to a point and gloried in column inches from her “Tgirl” community. Apparently, that’s what Tgirls do, it’s a community thing, a therapeutic release if you like, of lives they cannot live because we live in a narrow and bigoted world that values the shallow rather than seeks to understand the complex and won’t just let people “be”.
A world where gender and natal sex was, until recently viewed as the same thing. At the time I was livid and furious but not now. I have tried to learn and educate myself and I have more understanding and less prejudice than I did. If however, she had told me her gender identity I would not have married her. I am heterosexual and sexually attracted to male-bodied people. Any attempt to convince me that “we love people not sex” I think would have been bordering on coercion and definitely not part of a loving and respectful relationship. Each person is of course unique, and many trans widows may have a different view to me.
I told a mutual friend from university about my discovery, and he said that Rob/Cathy had been very selfish to marry me and to mess up years of my life without ever acknowledging to anyone or even just to me that any of the failure of our marriage was their fault. Cathy was happy for me to be judged the “scarlet woman”, as one correspondent wrote to me. She couldn’t help having a woman’s identity in a male body but could have taken some responsibility for the failure of our marriage and that she never did, not even in the many published column inches. She chose to deceive me. She had a choice, I did not.
I think marriage to me was her chance to be Svengali to my life as a frustration at not being able to live the life she craved. She did dress me, chose my wardrobe, insist on heels, makeup and figure-hugging, glitzy clothes when my nature is more intersex clothing and style and I almost never wear heels. Society of 40 years ago hurt us both and I am glad that things have changed, being trans can’t be easy even now.
Trans people still have a long way to go in achieving equality and fairness.
T-girls as Cathy called herself, have a difficult road to walk and by contrast, as a moderately heterosexual woman I have it easy at least on the face of things. But back then in 2013 when I was crying and wanting to share my trans widow pain with someone who would understand, I searched the internet for a support forum just to find a listening ear to understand what I had been through. I was looking for the Trans-gender equivalent of Al-anon but there wasn’t one. Of the ills the world has inflicted on transgendered women there is a plethora of sites. The academic papers and analysis were wide-ranging, even in 2013 and helpful.
The memorials and support groups were ten a penny, especially if you happened to live in the US. Or Canada. They even have their own equivalent of what I was called in the 1980’s when I was campaigning for gay rights “fag hags”, trans rights activists – often young, heterosexual, 20 something with an interest in gaming and a cutesy avatar on Twitter. (Interestingly enough, Rob/Cathy was quite homophobic and had tried to stop me campaigning for gay rights during our marriage. I sadly see some echoes of that still more widely in sections of the trans rights movement).
But in my search then, there was nothing for me, no research on the impact on families, wives who have been deceived, made to feel like a failure, coerced into a lifestyle she didn’t chose or like me have been made to bear the burden of a failed marriage alone. No support.
We are a minority too and just as hidden. Like a dowdy pea hen hidden behind a huge, colourful peacock.
RIP Cathy, I wish the world had allowed us both to live our best life.
Authored by Lynn (LMD) @Sationhund