Three years ago, in a somewhat symbolic manner, I put my husband Antonio to rest in order to welcome his female version, Tamara. I wrote a letter in an attempt to appreciate all that he had taught me, all that I had learned about myself and about love by being with him for 7 years. I tried to make peace with what had happened and the task before me. The letter took me 2 or 3 nights to finish. I then said goodbye and went to pick up Tamara at the airport.
It was only when I saw Antonio heading toward me at JFK that the realization of what was happening really struck. I had been staring at Tamara for several months on the computer screen, both having our own difficult conversations and facilitating conversations between her and our toddler. I had gotten somewhat used to her low-cut shirts showing off the hormone-induced curves, her long hair with bangs and very elaborate make-up. It had become clear to me, over the 5 months we had been geographically separated, that I was in fact not attracted to this person anymore, and I could not force myself to be. It was not that I was completely closed to the idea of being with a woman. When Antonio first came out as transsexual, my initial reaction was, “ok, I can do this, the last thing I want to do is lose the person I love, so we can make this work”. I considered myself a very open person, and felt like that openness should translate to being accepting of this transition, shocking as it was.
When I saw Antonio walking towards me, with his wool paperboy hat and his army green jacket and baggy khakis, suddenly all the logic and reason I had about what was happening came crashing down. All of the books I had read and the understanding I had of this process disappeared, and what was left was a hysterical wife who thought she had put her husband to rest. When she saw him she said nothing, but deep down inside her inner voice screamed, “Why are you doing this to us? You are still there, you are still you. Let’s forget this ever happened”. But I knew we could never go back to how we were, and that was confirmed the second he said, “I dressed up as Antonio so they wouldn’t question me at Immigration”.
Antonio was the act. Tamara was the real thing. For as guilty as I felt, and as much as I tried, I was no longer in love with her.
I also did not hate her, or even dislike her, though I think it would have made it easier. Deep down, she was very much the same person I had married. She was the Bolivian revolutionary who I had met at the Social Forum in Venezuela in 2005, who I wrote letters to until we met again in a Buenos Aires cafe on a rainy morning. Neither of us got to where we were going that morning, we just sat there and talked for hours, cortadito after cortadito.
We lived in Argentina for two years, completing our graduate studies and working hard to make ends meet. I recall those years as some of our best, surviving on empanadas and cheap garlicky pizza and walking the four miles home when we didn’t have bus fare, but not giving a damn. Now even those wonderful memories are interwoven with the truth that Antonio was already questioning whether he could continue living this way, about whether it was worth it.
After finishing our studies we moved to Bolivia, a country I initially assumed I would stay in for a year or so, but I fell in love with the people and the culture and the history, and fell even more in love with Antonio. In 2009 we were married and two years later had our son, Inti, and also began raising Antonio’s daughter from a previous marriage, Lucia.
I will never understand what the turning point was for Tamara. I have tried to ask her several times why she decided to come out when she did, and have never gotten an answer other than, “I knew I was a woman my whole life and had enough”. I’m not sure why knowing that is important to me, other than the harsh reality that my life would have been simpler if she had come out before we had kids together. As a mother, I hate myself for considering that idea, especially now that I could not imagine my life without my son. But if I had just been a single woman, living in Argentina, then, well, I would move home, get a great job, meet a great guy and have this crazy ex story.
The reality is I was living in Bolivia, very much in love, raising two kids, and I never, ever imagined coming back to the States.
From one second to the next, it all changed. One Sunday evening Antonio bent over and I saw a tattoo on his lower back and thought, “Why would he ever get a tattoo without telling me? And in such a random place! Maybe he is cheating.” Even moments before coming out, I was totally blind to the fact that my husband was really a woman.
The tattoo was a pink butterfly and after telling me he was transsexual, he told me that the butterfly symbolized transition from something ugly to something beautiful, something complete.
What followed were hours, days, weeks, months, of absolute and complete shock, followed by sadness, grief and mourning. Lots of sobbing, “what am I supposed to do?”, and wondering, among other things, who the hell I was if I had been with this person for 7 years who was not what they appeared to be.
I’d like to say that I hit rock bottom right away, but I didn’t. It probably took me a year to really get down deep, rolling around in the muck down there, to only then slowly start crawling my way back out. And from my point of view, now that I’m out here on the other side, with all my baggage and trust issues, with all of my doubts about how we are long distance co-parenting and about how unsmooth I am in answering my son’s friends’ questions of, “does Inti have a dad?”, I’m now, finally doing ok (and after all, I did end up moving home, getting a great job and meeting an incredible guy…but that story’s for another day). The piece of advice I cling on to, from all those terrible clichés people were always whipping out to try and make me feel better (everything happens for a reason, God only gives you what you can handle, etc.), is “the only way out is through”. I like that one. It resonates with me, and I find it to be very true.
So for all those recently divorced moms out there, or moms who are just in a tough spot for one reason or another, I would say the same thing. Wherever you are on your path through separation, reconciliation or renewal, the only way out is through, mama.