Finding out that your partner is trans can be quite confusing for people, and the responses can vary greatly depending on loads of different factors. The first factor is how far into the relationship you discover this.
For people who know their partner is trans before they get together, managing transition and their identity as a partner of a trans person can be easier.
“I found out when my wife and I got together. She was still living as a man and spent most of the evening trying to convince me that her being trans was a reason for us to not be together. She felt that being trans meant that she could never be in a successful relationship because her transness would always get in the way. I, of course, spent most of the evening convincing her that she was worthy of love and that we could make it work together. To be completely honest, I had no idea what being trans meant, other than being a huge fan of the Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was a teenager (I now recognise how massively problematic Rocky Horror is for many people). I sometimes think that it was this fact, asserting that trans people deserve love just like everyone else without any idea what the practicalities would be, that kept us together. No matter how hard things got, no matter what we went through, it always came back down to the fact that she is deserving of love, and I took it upon myself to prove to her that I was right about that.” (Jo)
That being said, there are still challenges for people who know beforehand, because there is an expectation that they will know how to manage their feelings as their partner transitions.
“But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It was difficult. I felt completely out of my depth. There were times when I didn’t understand why she was the way that she was. I didn’t get how anyone could just know anything so completely and be so stubborn about it. There were times that it was lonely and times when I couldn’t talk to anyone for fear of having them judge her and by association me. There were times where I would go to functions on my own because she didn’t want to be on display. It was hard, and I’m not going to deny it. But it does get better. It gets easier, and you get stronger.” (Jo)
There are also times when you find out that your partner is trans but are still unprepared for what to expect in the long run.
“My partner and I had been friends for a while before she told me. At the time, she was very confused about it and linked it more with her sexuality rather than her gender identity. Our relationship developed beyond friendship. While she mentioned it occasionally and dressed up in women’s clothing, she never talked about transitioning, and we both seemed content with the odd ‘role-play’ session. Around the time she got a new job, she began to get depressed, so I encouraged her to visit a therapist (as she did during her teenage years). The therapist suggested a more regular outing in her female form (one weekend a month), which we trialled. Five weeks before our wedding, she told me that she wanted to transition into a woman full time, and [she] did so within two weeks of us getting married. People ask me why we still got married when I knew she was going to transition, but, to me, she was the same person I had fallen in love with – it didn’t matter what she wore. When she applied for her GRC [Gender Recognition Certificate], I had to sign a form to state that we wanted to remain married after her gender was officially changed to female, which I was happy to sign.” (Stevie)
No matter when you find out, though, the crucial thing is that you need to go through transition together. As your partner changes, your relationship will change, and so will your individual identity.
“Facing transition together is what helped; me being there for her, talking to her and supporting her helped. She talked to me about what she was feeling, what she was going through, what her next steps would be and what her hopes and fears were. I spoke to her too, about what I was afraid of, what I was hoping for and what I was losing. Together we made it, though, and I honestly think we are both better people for it. We certainly are both much happier.” (Jo)
The Myth of Always Knowing
A common narrative portrayed in the media is that trans people have always known that they were trans. The common phrase “born in the wrong body” can create an illusion that all trans people know from a very young age that they are trans and thus spend their lives deceiving people.
“My wife didn’t figure it out herself until she was 31; she did tell me within a week of realising that she needed to do something about this (and she spent that week agonising). It was just before our ninth wedding anniversary, and I was shocked and definitely scared. I was bisexual, so I knew I would be willing to present myself as being in a lesbian marriage, but I also realised there were going to be all sorts of terrifying and sometimes unexpected changes. She tried briefly to ‘just cross-dress’ or to maintain that she wouldn’t ‘fully transition’, but I think we both suspected fairly quickly that she was in denial.” (Tasha Martin)
The danger of the always knowing myth is that it can create a barrier between the trans person and their partner. It relies on the idea that a trans person has knowingly entered the relationship and tricked the other party into getting involved with them. It breaks down the trust within the relationship and can leave partners feeling betrayed, resentful, angry, hurt and abandoned.
I think that it’s more helpful to think of it as a person knowing that something is different and they don’t feel like other people but only much later getting to the realisation that they may be trans. This, to me, is where the difference between dysphoria and the trans identity comes in. A person can have gender dysphoria but not understand what it is or how to deal with it for a long time before reaching the point where, through some circumstance (for example, counselling, searching online or meeting another trans person), they actually come to the realisation that they may be trans. Realising that they may be trans is also not the same as embracing the identity. Some people will identify as trans and not want to transition or change their bodies; some trans people will feel an urgent need to transition because there is a sense of feeling like they’ve wasted so much time; and there are many other points along that continuum.
This extract is taken from The Trans Partner Handbook by Jo Green, available from the 21st August. To read more, why not check out the book on our website.