Relationships are constantly challenged by changes of all kinds because people themselves are always evolving. Sometimes it happens so fast (illness, a new job, a new birth or death in the family), that there’s no way to be prepared. But other times, you can try your best to be a ready and able partner in a time of transition. Specifically, we’re talking about your partner transitioning from female to male.
We asked some trans men who have been through the process of transitioning while in a relationship for the best kind of support they would or could have been offered, and other helpful things to consider in a similar situation. (Note: Things are different for every person, situation and relationship. This is from the perspectives of four trans-identified people who offer up their own experiences as personal advice.)
Rudy is 25, Middle Eastern and identifies as a straight male. He had a girlfriend during his social transition at 22 (so no surgery or hormone usage at the time). They are no longer together but are still friends.
Evan is 27 and from Los Angeles. He realized he was trans* at 18, but didn’t start transitioning until he was 22. He is now married to a cisgender woman and identifies as queer, using male pronouns.
Leo is 26 and has been transitioning over the last eight months. He has been in a relationship with the same woman for four years, and she has been “extremely supportive.”
Simon* is 32 and began medically transitioning two years ago, although he identified as genderqueer/on the trans spectrum for the last 10 years. He identifies as a trans man. He was in a three-year, long-distance relationship at the beginning of his transition.
Q. When you came out and were beginning the transition process, what was your partner’s reaction and how did it make you feel? Was there something you would have liked for them to do better/different?
Rudy: Well, she was very supportive—I was actually extremely transphobic before I came out. Of course, that was me internally not accepting myself.
Evan: I realized I was trans* when I was 18 while I was at college in San Francisco. My girlfriend at the time was really supportive with me becoming comfortable discovery what being trans. We broke up for a reason that had nothing to do with being trans*.
I lived in a gray area of genderqueer for four years too scared to transition mostly out of fear of the unknown. During that time I was in a on-again/off-again relationship with a girl that started off as a long distance thing but after two years she moved in with me. We broke up for many reasons one was she was very controlling and had problems with my genderqueer “stuff” i.e my deodorant or the fact that I wear boxers and men’s clothes. After we broke up I hit what I call the Trans Walls, where I needed to face the fact that was was not living and if I didn’t transition I was going to kill myself.
I met my wife about a year into my transition. When we met my wife identified as straight, I know that I am very lucky. When it comes to being with a trans person support is the most important thing. Also being realistic. With a transition all your relationship go though a transition, and sometimes lovers become friends. I understand why a lesbian would not want to date me. I’m fabulous, but I look very, very much like a man. On the other hand I get why most straight woman would not want to date me.
Leo: Coming out to my partner wasn’t difficult at all. I kind of had one of those “thought out loud” type of moment. We were laying in bed about to go to sleep when I was thinking about how to tell her and it just came out. She turned and looked at me and told me that she was fine with it. She loved me for who I was, not my gender or what I had in between my legs.
Honestly, if I could go back and repeat that moment, I wouldn’t change a thing. In an awkward kind of way, it was perfect.
Simon: I began the transition process about six weeks before I told my girlfriend at the time. There were several reasons for this. First, I wanted to make sure that starting hormones felt “right” to me before I told a lot of people, particularly those with a much stronger vested interest in my gender/identity, like my girlfriend and my family. I had been debating about starting hormones for so long that I wanted to make it easy on myself to stop them if I didn’t like what happened, or if taking them didn’t make me feel any better. I was also a little worried about her reaction because I had a friend in college whose girlfriend broke up with him because she did not want to date “a man” and was a “lesbian.” I figured that because we were apart, dealing with that kind of reaction long-distance would be harder than if I could tell her in person.
Because my girlfriend and I lived apart, it was easy for her not to know. There aren’t many huge changes in the first few months, so there wasn’t too much physiologically for me to discuss, and anything I did want to chat about, I talked to my trans friends about. When I did tell my girlfriend, it was the first time we had seen each other in person in about four months. I told her over lunch while visiting her on the east coast. She took it well and didn’t seem too concerned at first. But she also is very much an internal processor, so even if she had been troubled, I’m not sure how much of that would have come out at first. She identified as queer as well, and had a history of dating cis men, so I think to her, the change was not threatening in any way.
I learned after we broke up that she was much more upset about my waiting to tell her than she initially let on. I was happy with her reaction, I suppose. She is not particularly outwardly-emotive, so I wasn’t expecting a lot of enthusiasm. She told me she supported me and that was what I wanted to hear. Had I known how upset she was that I had waited, I would have been able to better explain why I felt the stakes were so high and why I decided to wait.