We need a new word: spouses of trans people are more than just allies
I was a trans ally before my husband came out as transgender. We were allies together, and have been for years, after escaping decades of evangelical, patriarchal, complementarian formation. Our joint exploration of same-sex love, and God, and what it means to be human led to my writing several books and him developing a thriving online community of people who also hungered to escape and thrive in a world which seems armed to the teeth with biblical accusations and legal threats.
We were allies together, traversing websites and discussion threads in a desire to educate ourselves and those around us. Allies in discovering what transgender experience was like: what it meant, how it felt, what it faced.
I felt empathy for the people who struggled to survive against the tide of discrimination we witnessed, and ashamed of my own ignorance-based bias. My spouse had a deeper experience. He increasingly saw himself reflected back by the things we learned, increasingly resonating with the stories he heard and the people he encountered.
Increasingly realizing that he, too, was trans. He always had been, but hadn't have the language for it.
Given that we'd been on the path of learning and discovery together, his revelation was not a shock. He often processed his questions aloud, sharing childhood memories of gender-based discomfort and awkward adult attempts to act the role society had assigned him. For many couples, friends, or families, this isn't the case. When a loved one comes out, people are often shocked, confused, and scared. We were lucky.
I've been an ally for about a decade, but being the spouse of a trans person takes allyhood to a new level. The pain of dismissal and exclusion by family members is intense. The dangers of being himself in public are real. The unfolding legal threats to rights are frightening. The path to living more authentically is paved with challenges. The emotions accompanying all these things are ongoing and shifting.
It can be a lot.
It's easy to be an ally at a distance. Academic affirmation of concepts and strangers doesn't stretch us. But a loved one coming out is a test. For me, it's an easy test, because my beloved is such a thoughtful, empathetic, intelligent, and caring human. He's genuinely more concerned about me than he is about himself. But seeing him grow comfortable in this emerging way of being is a profoundly wonderful thing to watch. When I look back at pictures from just a few years ago, the tense falseness he bore is glaring. I never saw it then, but it's clear now. The thought of him having to return to that state makes my hackles rise. I'll fight for that to not happen, with all the defensive rage of a mama bear, and all the strategic cunning of a politician in an election year.
I think there should be a different word than "ally" for supportive spouses of trans people. Something stronger and less passive. Something prouder and more protective. Something fierce and public and certain. I'm going to think hard about what that phrase should be. And I hope you will too.
Suzanne DeWitt Hall is the author of the Where True Love Is devotional series, the Living in Hope series of books supporting the loved ones of transgender people, The Language of Bodies (Woodhall Press, 2022), and the Rumplepimple adventures.