Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Thematic Analysis of the Experiences of Wives Who Stay with Husbands Who Transition Male-to-Female

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Thematic Analysis of the Experiences of Wives Who Stay with Husbands Who Transition Male-to-Female

Article excerpt

Gender Identity Disorder (GID), the clinical condition characterized by a pervasive feeling that one was born the wrong sex and the desire to live as other than the gender that was biologically assigned, affects about 1 in 12,000 to 45,000 natal males and 1 in 30,000 to 100,000 natal females (White & Ettner, 2004). Recently, as a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V; the official compilation of mental health diagnoses) was being drafted, many called for this diagnosis to be removed as a mental health disorder, thereby depathologizing what many advocates consider to be a variation of gender identity. Of the genetic males who enter treatment, approximately 50% are either married or have been married, and about 70% have children (White & Ettner, 2004). Genetic females with GID are typically less likely to enter marriages with males, and are also less likely to have children (White & Ettner, 2004). Overall, awareness of transsexuals has increased in society and transgender persons have taken a more prominent place in the LGBT community, though they are still among some of the most marginalized in American society (Lev, 2004).

Transgender literature dealing with couple and family dynamics is limited. In fact, in 2004 Arlene Lev noted a scarcity of professional information on the treatment and support of the families of transgender individuals, and the marriage and family literature is essentially silent on this issue. She further reports that little discussion exists on the needs of committed partners, and the possibility of transitioning within supportive families is rarely suggested. Clinicians who work with transgender individuals often receive calls for support from partners and family members. Lev also noted a subtle homophobia that underlies an assumption that families or marriages cannot survive gender transition and that early guidelines for married transsexuals called for them to divorce before gender reassignment treatment or surgeries were possible. Much of the literature emphasizes the negative aspects (e.g., depression, family issues, job/career challenges) of transitioning on couples and families; yet, there are potential positive aspects and strengths (e.g., being more true to self, resiliency, positive personality changes) of these couples that should be highlighted (Israel, 2004). Unfortunately, couples who wish to remain together have little information available and few models as to how this type of transition might be negotiated (Cohen, Padilla, & Aravena, 2006). This current study aims to address this gap in the literature by examining the dynamics of couples who have stayed together.

Although limited, there is a growing literature specifically focused on couple relationships related to transgenderism. For example, Samons (2009) identified factors (e.g., thorough assessment of the individuals and the relationship, information about wives' common fears, strategies for coming out, and the broad range of normal sexual behavior) that should be taken into account by a therapist when approaching this work, and stressed the importance of involving the partner of the transgender person early in the process of therapy. Another article focused on the disclosure event within the lifespan, considering the disclosure experience in the context of sexual orientation, ethnicity and cultural/lifestyle factors (Nuttbrock et al., 2009). In terms of the couple relationship, Nuttbrock and associates (2009) emphasize the importance of the timing of the disclosure of one's transgender identity to one's partner and the implication of this on the long-term prognosis for the relationship, with better outcomes when one's gender identity is revealed in the early stages of a relationship. Coolhart (2007) provides an overview of transgender couple and family issues for marriage and family therapists, and notes the importance of assessing couple and family dynamics and actively including partners and family members in the therapeutic process. …

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