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Why So Few Christian Marriages Survive Transition

Why So Few Christian Marriages Survive Transition

by Jennifer Ann Burnett , MD

Jan. 23, 2008


(I wrote this Letter in response to a brother in the Lord who e-mailed me and asked me why a M2F transsexual he knew [he referred to her as “T”] seemed intent on pursuing her transition, even though it meant that her wife would divorce  her and she might possibly never see her children again.)


Dear Bob,


The above situation is not uncommon. Yes, there is indeed an element of “selfishness” (or rather, self-preservation) that arises in Transsexuals when we finally realize that we have reached our final crisis of "Transition or Die". You must understand that we have been living a false life for DECADES, trying to repress, suppress and deny our “true selves” and thereby "control" our Gender Dysphoria (GD). Then once it comes out and we finally begin to taste what it is like to be our real self, it is almost intoxicating! And what is worse, when we have to again (even though temporarily) put ourselves "back in the box" during our stealth phase of transitioning, the gender dysphoria we experience becomes excruciating!


During my early transition, I could only be myself when I was able to leave community and spend the weekend in Portland, OR. It was impossible to be "me" in my small town without being discovered, and it was just not the right time to publicly "come out" yet. Since it took a lot of planning and my free time when I could get away was very limited, I could only go to Portland every 6-8 weeks. My time there as Jennifer was so WONDERFUL but when I had to return, I CRIED UNCONTROLLABLY FOR THE ENTIRE 3 HOUR DRIVE BACK!

Since T is experiencing such incredible relief now because she is finally able to break out of the prison she has been in for her whole life, it is easy to see why she is more self-centered than she ought to be (as a Christian) at this time. Also, she has been fighting this for decades and she doesn't realize that since it took her so very long to come to the realization she has, that others (like her spouse) need far more time to process all these changes than they have been given so far. Therefore the wife sees T as being out of control and moving TOO rapidly when T herself feels she needs things to go even FASTER than they are, especially as her gender dysphoria gets worse and worse each time she has to go (temporarily) backwards to resume being her "old self".


As to the question, "Doesn't T see that she will lose her spouse and maybe even her own children?"- The answer is that if you are in a life or death fight for your own sanity- Yes, maybe you will be willing to even sacrifice your future contact with your family if that means you can finally get out of the suicidal depression that has been afflicting you every day for months (or even years)! If the alternative is death anyway, then losing everything else in your life to preserve yourself from death IS a reasonable choice!


Bob, my heart also aches for people like T and her spouse. But even when the transitioning spouse is willing to do everything (else) to save the marriage, less than 10% of Christian couples will remain together. The wives "justify" divorcing their transitioning spouses for many reasons (The "I don't want other people to think I'm a lesbian!" excuse is one of the most common). But if you look at it closely, it really is that the wife is ashamed of her husband and her pride would be too hurt to consider staying together with him (her). The wife really is being self-centered herself to NOT stand by her spouse in HIS/HER time of greatest need (i.e. during their transitioning)! I have seen examples of some godly wives who have REMAINED WITH/STOOD UP FOR their husband during and after transition. Unfortunately, such righteous women are few and far between!

We should remember that the transitioning spouse is only following the recommended treatment for her  "terminal" medical condition- GD. Transitioning IS the ONLY effective means that will allow a transsexual to go on living. If the wedding vows the couple made together were "For better or worse, in sickness and in health...", then the wife's choice to abandon her transitioning spouse is NOT consistent with her marital promises. Yes, she may site that she has good reasons NOT to stay, but no one is actually forcing her to leave her husband and their marriage.

Therefore she must take far MORE responsibility for the divorce than the transitioning spouse who still desires to remain married/stay together, even if it means that they will never have sex together again. After all, if her husband had an incurable cancer of his genitals and was told by his doctor that the only way that he could save his life is to have them completely cut off, would that justify the wife divorcing him? When a Male-to-FemaleTS has reached her “Transition or Die” crisis point, “amputating” her false male “façade” that is emotionally and mentally killing her becomes the ONLY viable option left.


The BIGGEST difficulty for a couple in this situation is that there is virtually no one in their church, family or friends that has the training and background to help Christian couples work through these complicated problems. The wives (virtually with the full backing and support of their pastors and ALL the couple's Christian friends) become adamant that they will NOT listen to their transitioning spouse's Gender Therapist, as he/she is the ENEMY who is "encouraging" their husband to become a woman and thus "abandoning" them and their children.

However, nearly every Christian counselor (the ones that the wives and their pastors DEMAND that their husbands see!) have zero training or experience with GD. They merely resort to the ‘old standby’: "What you are doing is a SIN and you must repent and ask God to heal you/give you the strength to FORSAKE YOUR SIN, blah, blah, blah". This is their basic problem: If all that these Christian counselors/pastors have is a ‘hammer” then they will treat EVERY problem as if were ‘nail’, which just won’t help in this case! The one with GD just gets “pounded on” repeatedly, being told they are a sinner, immoral, deluded, insane or even demon-possessed. They finally just withdraw in frustration (or may simply commit suicide, which is not uncommon); communications break down, and divorce is inevitable.

I will now go on to make some presumptuous (though generally quite accurate in the many Christian TS that I have counseled) statements regarding this situation. T is no fool; she has already been on chat rooms and websites and also has likely met resistance on the part of her church and/or other Christian friends. She KNOWS the odds are stacked way against her. The chances of her remaining in her church (presuming she is an evangelical) while she transitions is preposterously low!!! Evangelical Christians (as a whole) are the most hostile, unloving and judgmental people in the world when it come to any GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender) issues!

She has also ‘read between the lines’ regarding her conversations with her spouse and already knows that the ONLY way she can remain in the marriage and be tolerated is to totally forsake her transition and “repent”. Yet she also KNOWS that this is no longer possible for her; she has been doing it for decades and she has reached the “Transition or Die” crisis point and chosen to LIVE. She knows that nearly EVERYONE in her present life will NEVER be able to understand or accept her. It is sad, but if you are an evangelical Christian, it actually makes it MUCH LESS LIKELY (than those couples that don’t even believe in God) that your marriage will survive!

So what IS left for T? If none of the people presently in her life (spouse, family, friends, church, etc.) are going to understand her or support her, then the situation really boils down to, “If I’m bound to lose, no matter how hard I try, then WHY EVEN TRY? Isn’t it better to just cut my losses now and start over? Why RISK the additional emotional trauma this will bring me when I am ALREADY going through the HELL of changing my entire life with little or no local support?”

I know that I did EVERYTHING possible to preserve my marriage. My ex knew while we were dating that I was TS, had begun my transition in 1984 and then put it “on-hold” until my children were raised. By God’s grace, I was able to last until my youngest was preparing to graduate high school. I restarted my transition, sought a well-qualified MD, Gender therapist and saw the same Christian Counselor she was already seeing (and miraculously, he even supported me in my transition!).

Despite all this, she betrayed me and wrote a letter to my CEO that cost me my job and left me unemployed for 9 months. Yet I forgave her and even helped her set herself up in a new business. I trusted her and was again betrayed; she forged checks for more than $22,000. She ruined my credit rating, destroyed joint assets and did so many ungodly things! And her pastor (my former pastor) did NOTHING to try to stop her behavior or reprimand her. SO WHY WOULD ANY SANE PERSON WANT TO FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE?

I say all the above only as a “warning” to what “Doing the Right Thing” can cost you. If I had to do it all again, I hope I would still choose to honor God and do the right thing even though I would once more have to “turn the other cheek” far more times than I had cheeks left to turn. But I would never dream of DEMANDING that another Christian TS in my position follow my example; few people have the guts to take that kind of abuse and betrayal. I would therefore be very understanding of T and her situation, even though you, Bob, may see things differently. You are not in her shoes and you don’t know all that she is/has been going through. “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Mat 7:1).

If you desire, you may share this letter with her. Offering exhortation and wise counsel to a sister in Christ in a spirit of love and at God’s leading is a GOOD thing. Continuing your heart-felt prayers for her is even BETTER. If you need to talk further, we can arrange a telephone call. Let me know. I will be praying with you for T and her spouse.

And keep in mind that Miracles can happen! Case in Point: Two weeks ago, God granted me the privilege of leading my younger brother to Jesus during a phone call to him to help him during the period of severe depression and anxiety he has been going through. This is the same brother who, upon hearing of my transitioning back in 1984, threatened to drive up with his gun and “put me out of my misery”. And we will be having dinner together this Friday, and it appears that I will soon be able to see my two teenage nieces for the first time in 6 years! (Until just recently, my brother refused to let them know about their “new” aunt and I was forbidden to even call him at home for fear that they might find out!)


Walking Daily in His Wondrous Love and Grace,


Dr. Jen



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