YOUR TRANSGENDER PARTNER
Having a partner come out as transgender can mean different things for different people. Some partners won’t consider it a big deal whereas others will feel confused, upset, and ready to leave. Regardless of your initial response, it is important to remain in touch with your thoughts and feelings about your partner’s transition throughout the process of negotiating the new terms of your relationship. Transition isn’t always easy—both for the person doing the transitioning and for those around them. Although the direction of your relationship may shift or become unclear during this process, a commitment to mutual respect, open communication, and informed decision-making, will hopefully make the transition easier for all involved.
Understanding What Being Transgender Means
If your partner has come out to you as transgender or as questioning whether or not they are trans, it is important to know what that means to them in order to understand what they are going through. Being transgender means different things for different people, and each person will experience a different set of challenges (and joys!) associated with being trans. Typically, the word is used as an umbrella term for a wide variety of people who identify as something other than the gender they were assigned at birth. This can include people who identify as:
- Transsexual – an individual who identifies with a physical sex that is different from the one to which they were assigned at birth. People who transition from male to female (MtF) are transsexual women or transwomen. People who transition from female to male (FtM) are transsexual men or transmen. Other commonly used terms within this category are “pre-operative,” “operative,” and “post-operative” transsexual; however, being transsexual is neither limited to nor dependent on undergoing surgery or taking hormones.
- Cross Dressers – performed by primarily heterosexual men who wear “female attire” for a variety of reasons. The term cross dressing has replaced transvestite as a term to describe this segment of the population because transvestites are stereotyped as people who seek sexual pleasure from wearing clothes that are typically associated with the opposite sex; in this way, transvestite is a very narrow definition.
- Androgynous – an individual who possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics; someone who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles.
- Genderqueer – commonly used as an umbrella term that refers to non-binary genders (between, a combination of, or outside of male and female).
- Agender – “without gender”; someone who does not identify with or on the gender spectrum at all.
- Feeling your feelings Know that it’s okay to feel whatever you feel—confusion, sadness, anger, etc. Finding a counsellor or a trusted friend to sort through your feelings with during this time can be a useful thing for both of you to do to ease some of the stress associated with the changes taking place.
- Learning more Ask questions when you are unsure of something or are looking for more clarity. Set aside specific times where you can sit down with your partner and discuss the questions, thoughts, and feelings that you may have. Set aside time for yourself when you can research more on the internet, at the library, or at your local LGBTQ+ organization. Remember that gender is a very complex thing and you can support your partner by seeking out knowledge and information on transgender experiences and identities on your own.
- Knowing your limits If you cannot accept the fact that your partner is or might be trans, it is likely not a good idea to stay with them—for the sake of both of you. If you think that this is “just a phase,” it isn’t, and your partner will always be trans. As well, you have to consider the long-term impact of wishing your partner wasn’t transgender on their mental and emotional health. As well, it’s important to know that, if you do decide to stay, that transition will take up your life in various ways for the length of and following your partner’s transition. It’s important to keep this in mind while negotiating the new terms of your relationship, knowing that it’s completely up to you whether or stay or leave.
Defining Boundaries Together
It’s always important to consider the possibility that your partner has yet to come out to others. When meeting their friends and family, avoid making the assumption that they have told them that they are trans. You want your partner to feel safe and comfortable with you, so it is important not to disclose their identity before they are ready. Respect their choice to share or not, and support them as best you can. Transitioning can be hard and it is different for everyone, so communicate with your partner to see where they’re at.
In regards to intimacy or sexual relationships, it is always a good idea to discuss boundaries and preferences with your partner. Designate a time before becoming intimate where you can discuss your likes and dislikes and any concerns either of you may have. Ask them if there are places they prefer to be touched and other places that they would rather you avoid. Respect their preferences, just as you would want them to respect yours. It is always important to be open about these things so you can feel comfortable and safe in the bedroom.
Being There For Your Partner
Your partner needs you to be there for them whether they are just beginning to transition or have identified as trans for a long time. People who are transgender can experience various challenges, such as being rejected or isolated for their identity and experiencing disproportionately high levels of violence. You can help to create a safe and supportive environment for your partner by treating them with respect and care, and by paying attention to both their and your own boundaries.
For heterosexual, cisgender female partners of transwomen:
For partners of transpeople who have come out in a same-sex relationship:
For lesbian-identified partners of transmen:
For partners of transmen: