Jo Green, founder of Distinction Trans Partner Support and the author of The Trans Partner Handbook, explores the importance of talking openly about mental health when you are in a relationship with a trans individual.
As Jo notes in the extract below, trans people are more likely than cis people to experience mental health issues, but communication is key for both parties to feel fully supported throughout transition. In this extract, we hear from the partners of trans people on their experiences of dealing with mental health issues.
Trans people are more likely than the cis population to have mental health issues, which are caused by a long history of gender dysphoria and/or chronic minority stress rather than by being trans (World Professional Association for Transgender Health, 2011). Minority stress is the increased stress of being part of a minority group, and it is due to the lack of awareness in the general population and consequent discrimination faced by people in a minority.
“I think the worst of this aspect was when my partner was growing up and the times when she contemplated suicide. This was at a time when there was no internet or groups visibly available. I feel very fortunate that my partner confided in me very early in our relationship, and the past 15 years, it has been a journey we have made together. I do have to reassure her that [I] will always be there for her, which I will be, and have given it lots of thought to be sure that this is a situation I can cope with and am happy to be in.” (Avril)
According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), trans people can present with a number of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety and self-harm. They also present with compulsivity, substance abuse or sexual concerns, as well as being more likely to have suffered a history of abuse or neglect. Trans people are also more likely to suffer personality disorders, eating disorders or psychotic disorders. WPATH also notes that trans people are more likely to present with autistic spectrum disorders.
“I have learned to work with my partner’s mental health needs. [I] have learned cues that help me know when he is feeling anxious or stressed, and [I] encourage him to talk if he needs to or to seek medical assistance if there’s a need for that kind of support. It’s definitely not something to be ignored or avoided, and in most cases, it’s a requirement for the transition process.” (Julia)
You’re in a relationship and your partner tells you that they want to transition. How do you feel? You want to support your partner’s choice, but you’re worried it will change what you have with them. Is it fair to feel anxious and uncertain?
Realising the need for a support network for the partners of trans people, Jo Green set up Distinction Trans Partner Support Group. Here, Jo explains how you may feel as the partner of a trans person, and how important it is for trans partners to find their voice and be supported throughout their partner’s transition too.
Despite the common narratives in the media, most relationships survive one person transitioning. From working with partners for years, I’ve found that transition means that you need to start communicating much more. And it’s this communication that becomes the key. We went from the average couple to a cohesive unit. Watching my partner transition meant watching her grow into a much better, happier human being. Just being able to witness someone grow from someone quite isolated and unhappy, into someone who glows with confidence and joy is an honour. It’s given me the courage to explore my own gender issues and come out as non-binary. Trans people teach us that nothing is set in stone and there is no such thing as doing something just because you should. It’s all about doing what you feel is right for you, which for me is a wonderful approach to take.
Finding Out Your Partner Is Trans
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)
Authors Ros Ball and James Millar co-run the popular Twitter account @GenderDiary, which they set up in 2011 to record all the ways their young son and daughter were treated differently by friends, family and even strangers in the street. Adapted from the account, their new book, The Gender Agenda, explores how this inherent gendering can affect the formation of children’s identities and provides gender non-specific resources for parents keen to challenge the stereotypical status quo. We caught up with Ros and James for a chat, ahead of the book’s release.
We wouldn’t have The Gender Agenda without the @GenderDiary Twitter account, which chronicles the everyday examples of gendering that you encountered while raising your young son and daughter. What was it that triggered you to set up the @GenderDiary account in the first place?
When our son was born, nearly three years after we had a daughter we picked up that they were being treated differently in little ways. Not just the obvious pink cards and blue cards but the presents we received for them when they were born – our daughter was given a little fluffy white bear in a pink hat, our son received a green dinosaur baring its teeth. The subliminal message from the off was that aggression is for boys.
We were both paid up feminists long before we even met, hence James was reading Living Dolls by Natascha Walter, which was the big feminist book at the time, and that was the trigger for the project in that it mentioned ‘There’s a Good Girl’ – a 1981 book by German lawyer Marianne Grabrucker. James tracked down a copy on eBay and gave it to Ros for Christmas (probably the best present he’s ever given her in nearly 20 years.) Ros read ‘There’s a Good Girl’ and was totally overwhelmed by a feeling of “YES. This is how I feel. This explains so much of my ANGER.” It then seemed a really natural outlet to start writing it down, and since we were both fairly avid fans of Twitter already that seemed the obvious place to put it as you could share your thoughts, experiences and feelings fairly instantaneously and, as we were to discover, get feedback too.
“When I was 35, when I went full time and was working in my office as a woman, I was acutely aware of the maleness in my voice. That’s when I thought ‘I need to do
something about it.'” – Natasha
Authors Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham are leading speech and language therapists. They work with trans and non-binary people who are keen to find and develop a voice that feels more authentic and true to their identity. ‘The Voice Book for Trans and Non-Binary People’ is a comprehensive guide to vocal change and communication that can be used by speech therapists and by trans and non-binary people. Each chapter features narratives of individuals transitioning, giving an account of their experience transferring voice and communication skills from the clinic to the real world. In this extract, we hear from Natasha, as she describes her journey to find her true voice.
Read Natasha’s story of migration and identity here.
For more information and to buy this book, click here. Want more exclusive content from our books and authors? Why not follow @JKPGenderDiversity or join our mailing list here.
Read an exclusive extract from Straight Expectations
Chapter 13: The Transition (2004—2006)
“I did my own research to get clear about what we were dealing with. I wanted to understand the process of transitioning. I realized we needed professional help. There weren’t a lot of resources at that time. The only one who seemed perfectly clear was Julia herself. She was completely confident. She knew who she was now and insisted we had to figure out what to do so she could be the person she knew she was inside. It wasn’t about sexual preference. She was transgender and wanted her brain to be congruent with her body.”
Ever since they were young, Peggy Cryden noticed her children’s gender expression did not correspond with society’s expectations of their biological gender. In this moving and honest memoir, Peggy details the experiences and challenges of raising both a gay son and a gay, transgender son and shares her family’s journey of adversity and growth, which has helped inform her work as a psychotherapist.
Beginning with her own unconventional upbringing and personal relationships, the second half of the book follows her children from birth to adulthood and through their numerous experiences including coming out, depression, hate crime, relationships, school and various aspects to do with transitioning (legal, physical, medical, social) as well as their appearances in the media as a family. This book is insightful, charming and thought-provoking, and through levity and humor, offers a positive approach to parenting outside of convention.
To learn more about Straight Expectations or to purchase a copy, click here. You can also view the full range of JKP’s gender diversity books here, join our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook.
Fox Fisher is an illustrator, non-binary Trans campaigner, co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton and runs the My Genderation film project. He is the co-author of children’s book, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl.
Click here to watch Fox’s message to his younger self.
Trans Day of Visibility is an important day to raise awareness that not all trans people have the opportunity to be out and proud about who they are. Trans people still have to hide away parts of their identity out of fear, because of stigma and because discrimination. This day serves as a reminder that everyone should be able to be themselves, regardless of gender identity. We cannot truly live in an equal and just society if certain people have to hide away parts of themselves and do not have the freedom to be who they are.
When I was growing up there was no visibility of trans people and I had no one to look up. I didn’t know of anyone who was trans and I think that if representation and visibility had been at the same point it is now, I would have come out much sooner and saved myself from years of self-hate and depression. Thankfully, today things have taken a huge shift and trans people are able to come out sooner and live as their true selves.
This is why I felt it so important to co-create a children’s book where we never find out if the central character, Tiny, is a girl or a boy, because it shouldn’t matter and everyone should be treated with respect regardless of their gender.
Fox’s new book, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl, is out in May. Click here to find out more.
Follow Fox on Twitter and YouTube.
Speech and Language Therapists Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham work at the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic in London. They help transgender and non-binary clients to find and maintain their authentic voice. Here, they share some useful tips on how to develop the voice that feels true to you.
Your voice is a totally unique and personal expression of your whole self. It enables you to express your thoughts, feelings and ideas, to form meaningful relationships and tell your story. We cannot hide our voice and when we speak it reveals something about our age, gender, emotional state, culture, education. It is a very human experience to feel vulnerable when we speak, especially in front of a group or where we feel the stakes are high. Whilst the unique quality of your voice is partly determined by your body, voice is something which we do. It is an activity that can be crafted and developed. With exploration and practice, you can find and sustain the voice which fits with you. Everyone will have different and highly individual goals.
I began my transition of physically moving from my cis-gender (assigned female at birth) to the man I am now seen to be, only 4 years ago. Although it has taken a very long time to recognize my gender dysphoria (I was 61 when the penny dropped) inside my very being I thought and felt very male ever since I can remember. I’m saying ‘male’ because it seemed to be the very opposite of female! I know gender is a spectrum of varying experience, and being female can vary from being ‘very girly’ along a line to being ‘Tom boy,’ but still happy to be female. I lived as a ‘Tom boy’ all of my life, but it wasn’t enough. Since knowing my true gender is male and letting go of all the physical female parts of me, I have never felt so much at home. I didn’t know I wasn’t home until I got here. Why did it take so long? Perhaps because of my autism which causes delays for me in building connections.
Being and feeling connected to my male self is now a reality. Some trans individuals decide they don’t need to change their body in order to feel complete in their trans identity. For me though, my dysphoria meant I couldn’t look in a mirror or allow my wife access to parts of myself during times of affection. My female body was alien and didn’t belong to me. Now, the alien has gone and I’m complete again. Living with such a dis-jointed self was literally tearing me apart. Now, those torn and wounded places that were so foreign are in harmony again and I look in the mirror and see the full reflection of all that I am.
The journey has (still is) been long, painful, exhausting and costly. But, the view from the top of this mountain has meant all the effort is worthwhile. If you asked me would I do this again, of course I won’t have to, but, my answer would be ‘yes.’ I cannot emphasize enough the joy of feeling so connected! All my senses and even my cognitive processing is more in line and less fragmented than before. I make decisions with less fear, doubt and indecisiveness. I have autonomy in ways I never thought possible. My autism hasn’t changed and I still have lots of sensory issues that I need to attend to and cater for, but, I don’t feel bad about who I am anymore.
To read more about Wenn’s experience of transition, follow this link to his new book, Transitioning Together.
We asked author CJ Atkinson what Trans Day of Visibility means to them personally.
International Trans Day of Visibility was founded in 2009 as a reaction to the lack of LGBT holidays celebrating transgender people’s successes, and is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and victories of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and raising awareness of the essential work that is needed not just to save trans lives, but to make the world a little bit more accommodating.
Trans Day of Visibility 2015 was a tipping point – an explosion of trans people taking to Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook to show their beautiful, hopeful faces, intending to demonstrate one important thing: trans people exist. For me, TDoV 2015 was a personal victory: it was one of my first public “there’s no going back now!” coming out moments as, with strep throat and feeling rough as anything, I posted a selfie and whispered ‘here I am’ into the void.