My name is Pen, and sixteen years ago, as a forty-something divorcee with two grown-up sons from my first marriage, both of whom had left home by that time, I went to a party where I met a man called Nick. He was a couple of years younger than me, never married, and we hit it off immediately - I found him sympathetic, kind, funny and easier to talk to than any man I'd ever met. I moved in with him shortly afterwards (it was a bit of a whirlwind courtship!), we married later the same year and settled down to live happily ever after.
And for ten years, that's exactly what we did. We had a very strong, loving and entirely normal relationship, Nick was (and still is) like a father to my sons who liked him very much indeed, and we were very happy together - or so I thought. And then, one day I found a suitcase under one of the beds. Not so unusual in itself, but there was a strap hanging out of this particular suitcase - a red satin strap which clearly belonged to a bra or slip. And I didn't own any red satin underwear.....
When challenged, my husband, whom I thought I knew inside-out, was clearly deeply distressed, embarrassed and at a total loss for words. Eventually, he admitted to me that he'd been a transvestite since childhood, that he'd tried to give it up when we married and had in fact managed to do so for eight years, that the need to dress as a woman had never gone away and that he now realised it never would. He told me that for the past two or three years he had been dressing every Saturday afternoon, while I was out doing the weekly shop. He further admitted to being bisexual, that he was sexually attracted to other TVs and that he had in fact met one or two others like himself to explore this side of his sexuality.
To say that I was shocked is putting it mildly. Although I have a degree in psychology and an abiding interest in gender issues, I had never heard the terms 'trangendered' or 'gender dysphoria', had never knowingly met anyone who was transgendered and like most people, knew very little about transvestism or transvestites. I knew about the existence of men who liked to dress as women, of course, but if I ever gave it a thought, I assumed that transvestism was just another sexual fetish indulged in by gay men who got a buzz out of shocking and provoking 'normal' people. So what my husband was telling me was totally outside the range of my experience.
However, because I know that Nick is a man of considerable personal integrity and there has always been a strong bond of trust between us, I was prepared to listen to whatever he had to say for himself. So we sat down together, and we talked.....
To do him justice, he didn't try to rationalise or excuse his failure to tell me about what he was or what had been going on, nor did he try to pretend that he hadn't committed adultery when he met his TV sexual partners. Instead, he talked to me about the nature of transvestism, about what it meant to him, how he had thought that marriage to me would take away the compulsion, and how distressed and desperate he had felt when he'd finally had to accept that it was never going to go away. We talked for hours that evening, and by the time we were too tired to talk any more I knew I wasn't going to leave him.
That being so, I knew that I was going to have to find out as much as I could about transvestism and the transgendered. I spent most of the next few weeks getting used to the idea that I was married to a TV, reading, searching the Internet, or talking with Nick (we did a hell of a lot of talking during that period - I had questions by the dozen, and he did the best he could to answer them). It was a very lonely time in some ways - my best friend, in whom I would unhesitatingly have confided, had died of cancer a few months previously, and although there were other friends I might have told, this was not something I felt I could talk about with anyone I wasn't 100% sure I could trust absolutely - for Nick's sake, if not for my own.
So I felt very much alone at times. But on the positive side, when Nick realised I wasn't going to end our marriage and that he no longer needed to keep his transvestism hidden from me, his relief was enormous. The strain of keeping it secret had begun to affect him more than either of us had realised, and with that stress gone, we became much closer and the love and trust between us grew stronger. And I began to realise that the things which I'd always found attractive about him - his caring nature, his ability to empathise and to talk freely about his feelings, his gentleness and lack of aggression - came directly from the feminine side of his personality, which he'd always felt he had to hide from the world or risk being considered 'unmanly'.
It took several weeks before I was ready to begin to take a more active part in supporting his transvestism, but once I had learned as much as I could about the subject and had recovered from the initial shock, Nick showed me the TG websites he belonged to and I began to get to know some of the online TV and TS friends he had made. It took a little longer before I was happy to meet 'Trisha' in the flesh, and it was some months before I started to go out with 'her' and to meet other TG people in person. But when I did, I discovered a whole world of interesting, unconventional, friendly and often very courageous people.
Nick and I also discussed his sexuality, which wasn't as big a problem for me as I know it is for many partners. While I have total respect for the preferences of those to whom monogamy is an important aspect of a marriage or relationship, for me personally it isn't an essential. And knowing my husband isn't a promiscuous person, I agreed that we should renegotiate the terms of our marriage to enable him to explore his sexuality with others like himself.
We have now both been actively involved with the TG community for several years, have a circle of close TV and TS friends we see regularly, go out together to TG events and are still very happily together and as close as we have ever been. Nick/Trisha has a close and affectionate relationship with another TV, whom I like very much, and our marriage is still very strong. There are still issues to be dealt with - although most of our non-TG friends now know that my husband is TV, and have been very accepting, our closest family, including my sons and their partners, do not - but overall, we have successfully incorporated Trisha's existence into our lives.
The discovery of my husband's transvestism has been, for me, a mostly very positive experience. It has given me an opportunity to learn about something completely new, has enabled me to meet some immensely interesting people, given me a lot of new friends, some of whom have become very close to both of us, and greatly strengthened my marriage. But most of all, it's been a lot of fun!
And with this website, along with Vikki, who has forgotten more about transsexuality than I shall ever know and has come through some pretty horrific experiences with her wisdom, compassion and sense of humour intact, I'm hoping that I shall have a chance in future to be able to help others who may be desperately trying to make sense of something completely outside most people's experience.
Your partner's TV? You're shocked, stunned, and don't know what to think? You CAN get through it - I did.....
© Penny for Transpartners 2008