Deborah Weekley is a mother of 5 children and grandmother of 6. Deborah is a licensed massage therapist, providing safe space for LGTBQ persons, especially transgender persons, who wish personal healing through bodywork. Her hobbies include bead art, paper art and spiritual drumming. Deborah is also the spouse of Rev. David Weekley, one of two openly transgender clergy serving the United Methodist Church. She has recently contributed to a forthcoming book: Hung Jury: Testimonies of Genital Surgery by Transsexual Men, edited by Trystan Cotten, which explores the relationships between transgender men and their partners. She shares her story below as a part of Transgender Awareness Week about her life and relationship with her husband.
As Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012 draws near, I am aware that TDOR has expanded into Transgender Awareness Week. This brings more opportunities to further educate the general public and build awareness of the presence and needs of transgender/transsexual persons within society. I was asked to blog about my experience as the spouse of a transgender man because this is a perspective about which little is written.
In many ways, marriage to a transsexual man is just like being married to any partner. Some days it’s awesome and some days it’s a little not so awesome. In other words, life has its ups and downs. Any relationship that is a long term, a through thick and thin kind of relationship, needs to be worked on continually to stay healthy and grow. I am fortunate. The foundation of my relationship with David is based on love and respect. I celebrate him as a person. We have much in common, including a love of God, a sense of calling and deeply held values. We share a love of music, art, nature, gardening, walking, good food, stargazing, ocean watching etc. The fact that he transitioned female to male 38+ years ago is almost irrelevant. Most days we do not think about it.
It is not irrelevant to some others, however. We know this from personal experience. We pass easily in public as a heterosexual couple. I do not think of David as a “former” woman. He is David, my husband, my male heterosexual spouse, my honey, my lover, my guy, my hero, my best friend. But I am always shocked when someone might comment to David, “you used to be a woman, right?”
I was surprised this summer as we packed up to move 3500+ miles across the country, that I began to worry about how our new neighbors, community members, health professionals, property managers, utility company’s etc., would treat us if they knew David was a transsexual man! In Portland, and even the greater North West we have been so out since 2009, most people we interacted with knew our story. I never gave it much thought after the shock of coming out had subsided. I knew who celebrated us and who did not. I felt we had a good support group, supportive, safe medical and dental providers. After the initial months following the sharing of our story I no longer worried much about someone coming at David with a gun during worship. Life had settled into a new normal.
However, driving and moving across country brought these fears back to the surface. There were parts of the country in which we did not feel safe. We were grateful for no medical emergencies along the way. We carried antibiotics just in case. When we arrived in Boston and faced locating a new church as well as secular communities, such as doctors, dentists, shifting from a parsonage to a rental property, utilities, needing all new services and having all new neighbors, anxiety increased. I find I am not so eager to tell others our personal story of David’s transition. I want to keep a low profile and avoid hassles. I do not feel like telling our new neighbors. What if they are not friendly, open and inclusive-folks? What would happen to us then? Isn’t it just better to be out on a “need to know” basis? Less hassle seems to mean less vulnerability.
It makes me sad to have to think of these truths. It makes me aware once again that one needs to be prudent in this world. The trip reminded me that being married to a transsexual man brings things to the table that cis-gendered heterosexual married couples may not have to think about. I feel very protective of my husband, our privacy and our lives.
Among transgender partnered couples we are fortunate because David passes so well. We can blend. We are not among those transgender couples that stand out and are often harassed simply for being who they are and loving who they love. Some people risk even their very lives being out in public together and showing any affection for one another. I grieve for this population of people. We do not forget, this is one of the reasons we choose to be “OUT”, to advocate for and stand with our marginalized population.
So what is it like being married to a transgender clergy man? It is like being married to a cause! A privileged cause because #1 I am married to such a wonderful person, and #2 I am able to stand in solidarity with a marginalized population. To be a public face of love and marriage within the transgender community is important because decisions about marriage and equality affect us too.
At the most recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church, I heard many delegates (62%) describe and vote that our love is akin to bestiality, call for us to be stoned to death and lumped us together with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as those “Incompatible with Christian teachings and therefore unfit to serve”, i.e. even exist! As long as oppression and prejudice remain, we remain dedicated to the work of advocacy and will continue being public.
Yes a cause, letting people know we exist, we love each other, and we are just like any other couple with hopes, dreams and aspirations. Unlike many couples, we live with angst about our future because of David’s gender identity. Will David ever serve another church? Will our marriage continued to be honored? Will our new communities accept us and support us when they know the whole story? During this 2012 Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance, these questions remain to be answered. Living into each new day we will continue to love one another, to speak out and to live in hope!