Miles's Reviews > Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On

Sex Changes by Christine Benvenuto
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Jan 20, 2013

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When you see a car wreck or a dead animal on the highway, you don't always want to look, but sometimes you can't help yourself. If you want to see a real bloody wreck of a marriage, feel free to pick up this book and look. What you should not do is expect to learn much about transexuals, or even get any general idea about how transitioning might affect those around a transexual person.

Benvenuto describes her train wreck of a marriage, including three young children, which, after 20 years of what she thought was happiness, began to unravel when her husband declared himself to be a woman and began the process of sex change. Although the story sells itself as the experience of a marriage ended by a man's decision to become a woman, that interesting fact gives this whole miserable story a false significance.

In reality, like many survivors of difficult divorces, the author has much to be angry about. The dividing of friends, the indignities of divorce negotiations, the loss of economic security and friendships, the rejection she experienced from her several Jewish communities as they seemed to take his side, all ache. Beyond all that the rage just boils and flows, stemming ultimately we gather from the feeling of falseness that accompanied her 20 years of intimacy with her husband before he declared that he was not who she deeply believed him to be - a man.

But is this about transgenderism or transexuals? Would it be any worse if her husband had discovered that he was a Christian Evangelist? A neo-Nazi? Or, l'havdil, gay? Would it be any different if her seemingly heterosexual male Jewish husband realized that this outward identity was fundamentally at odds with who he really was in any of a hundred fundamental ways and then resolved to change it? It seems blindingly obvious to the reader that her husband changed, discovered himself to be something that he had never really known himself to be (or never accepted himself as being), and decided to act on it. People change, and sometimes when we are invested in them being one way the change makes it impossible for a relationship to continue. One person's liberation becomes other people's profound loss. Transexual-ness has almost nothing to do with the underlying marital dynamics of this situation, except to add some colorful 21st century details.

This is a book about a miserable, aching, angry divorce. Many times I wanted to scream - "get over it, move on." Oh don't get me wrong, her husband seems like a narcissistic piece of work too, although we have only her testimony to go on. But her subsequent affair seems to suggest a fair degree of unreflective narcissism on the author's part too, and she just seems unwilling and unable to let go of, or even get any perspective on, her own sense of anger and betrayal.

Even at the end, after Benvunuto builds a new relationship with a married man who apparently then divorced his spouse to marry her, she still clings to the beauty of her relationship with her first husband as it, and as he, once was. We can easily sympathize. Those must be painful memories of her children and husband all together as a family. But surely there is a limit. We can all hope that the writing of this book enabled the author to move on - it's hard to believe that she had done so by the time she wrote the last chapter.

It's a train wreck. An ugly, angry divorce, with a dash of modern je ne sais quoi created by the husband who needed to become a woman. We sure do live in modern times. This cry of raw pain from divorce court is eminently readable, and not without both documentary and prurient interest to be sure, but still and all, deeply confused.

As other reviewers noted, ten years of distance and a good tight edit might improve things considerably. Or perhaps ten years would yield only indifference and boredom with her old drama without yielding any philosophical or psychological insight, and perhaps the most this author can offer us is her cry of narcissitic outrage and her unreflective sense of injury in the immediate aftermath of the wreck. This is what it feels to step out of the wreck, bleeding and half alive, not what it feels like to have recovered and lived.

The book would better be titled "A memoir of Divorce, Sex, and the Complete Inability to Move On".
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message 1: by Una (new)

Una The wife didn't change. The husband did - and he knew before married her that he was less than totally committed to a heterosexual relationship. Why did he marry her?


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