Relationships in Transition

There are a lot of things you can never properly prepare for when you come out as trans. Not least among them, and, personally speaking, one of the scariest, is how your partner is going to react. Transition is hard enough for trans folk. Now imagine being a third party, helplessly watching it all unfold, with no power to affect things one way or the other.

Transitioning is inherently selfish: we do it for ourselves. For our health. For our mental stability. For our happiness. We have to proceed through our transition for the reasons we need, in the ways we need, at the speed we need. We have to. While transitioning is selfish, relationships are built on common ground and, at times, compromise. Add in other factors like forcing your partner to re-evaluate their identity and sexuality, and it’s not hard to see how this can cause stress on a partnership.

I lucked out. My girlfriend is pansexual, so she hasn’t had to re-evaluate herself through this period, but that’s not to say it has been smooth sailing the whole way. It has been anything but.

When my girlfriend first discovered that her boyfriend was actually her girlfriend, she says she never once considered leaving. She told me “This doesn’t change anything. I still love you.” She was right about one thing: she still loves me. To say nothing has changed, though, would be disingenuous, I think.

Powerless is a word that has come up a lot in our relationship recently. As someone who takes pride in her ability to take the reins on the direction of her life, my girlfriend was not prepared for feeling like an observer in her own relationship. Likewise, I was not prepared for power dynamics to become a thing between us. I never saw power dynamics in our relationship before. We’re 50/50, aren’t we? Partners.

Well, yes. Also, no.

We were, and still are, 50/50 partners in our relationship. We give when giving is needed, and we take when taking is needed. We split chores. We trade off paying for dates. What I didn’t realize at the time was that, because my transition was completely in my control, I had introduced an element into our relationship in which she had zero say; a first for us. So, functionally, the power balance had indeed shifted. I was just too wrapped up in my own shit to realize it at the time.

This was, of course, on top of her waking up every day, slowly seeing less and less of the man she fell in love with. As much as she loves and cares for the new me, nothing quite prepares you for the minefield of emotions of seeing someone you are so intimately familiar with being redefined before your eyes.

A big part of this on her behalf was an overwhelming fear of HRT. Scour the internet long enough, and you will hear all manner of horror stories on any individual topic, transitioning included. As someone who likes to know what she’s getting into, my girlfriend did a lot of homework; all of which made things worse, not better.

She had heard stories of dead sex drives, strained relationships, shifting sexuality. Our relationship was going through enough without a looming storm cloud threatening to take away our sex life.

All her concerns, valid as they were, could have easily (well, maybe not easily) put to rest had she had access to supportive/successful stories from other partners of trans people. So, try as she might, she looked for some assurance that there was light at the end of the tunnel. What she was met with was more along the lines of:

How do I stop my partner from transitioning?

Can my partner be happy if I don’t want them to transition?

Partner has come out as trans, but I’m not queer. Do I get a divorce?

For someone who was already having trouble finding firm ground to plant her feet, this was not exactly what she was hoping to find. Her searches came up nearly empty, and brought light to something neither of us ever considered:

There is FUCKING NOTHING out there for partners of trans people.

There is a plethora of information out there for me. Breakdowns of HRT effects, what to expect, articulate discussions on the pros and cons of surgery, how to protect myself, how to get my ID changed. The works. For our partners? Crickets.

So, here she was, trying her best to keep her wits about there, calling out for help, and getting nothing back but the echoes of her own voice. It was hard on her. It was hard on us. Nearly a year into our relationship, our first real fights were about my transition. We both shed our fair share of tears.

I’m not ashamed to say there was more than one occasion where I thought my transition was going to cost me my relationship. Despite her protests that she would never leave me and still loved me more than anything, I had heard so many other horror stories, and tears were becoming such a regular thing for us, that I just didn’t see a version of events that worked out well for anyone.

Thankfully, I’m glad to say it did indeed work out. So far, at least.

I have been on testosterone blockers for a little over a month now, which means we’re knee-deep into the part of my transition my girlfriend was fearing most. To hear her put it: “The world didn’t end.” Her biggest fear was always the unknown, and the wait for me to begin transitioning medically was excruciating for both of us.

Now that we have both seen that HRT (at least at this point) hasn’t negatively impacted our relationship, things are getting back to normal. Well, the new normal, anyway. All relationships have rough patches, and it was silly to think that, just because things had been smooth sailing to this point, that we were never going to hit ours.

If I could leave you with any advice, be you in a transitioning relationship or not, it would be this:

Talk.

It’s always been my feeling that the majority of problems in relationships stems from letting things stew, or not being open and honest with one another. If you can’t bare your soul to the person you are spending your life with, what’s the fucking point? Talk to your partner. Even if you know it will be an uncomfortable, or even painful, discussion: do it. It’s going to suck while you’re in the middle of it, but you will come to understand each other better, and you will end up closer for having gone through it together. Trust in one another. Talk.

The Other Side (my girlfriend’s take)

Okay, FIRST OF ALL, I would like to point out that at no point, even during our worst moments in this transition, did I consider leaving. I’ve known pretty much since our first date that Ashley was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life, and no amount of HRT is going to change that. I will admit, however, that if I had been dating anyone but Ashley and they chose to transition, I would have left in a heartbeat. Now, I’m pansexual. I have no problem with dating trans or NB people, I’ve done it before and would do it again in a heartbeat. But to be with someone from before transition and then watch them literally change in front of your eyes- it’s a big process to go through. Everything changes and the transition isn’t about you, it’s about them. You essentially become player 2 in the game of love, and I’m not often good at being anything but player one.

Being the partner in someone’s transition is like being the passenger in a race car that’s careening at breakneck speed. Everything seems to be moving way too fast, and you aren’t in control of the steering wheel or the brakes- which means you REALLY have to trust the person driving. I trust Ashley wholeheartedly, but it’s still been a very wild ride. Now that I’ve learned to relax and accept that I’m not in control of this part of her, I’m finally enjoying the ride. So I’m going to talk about my feelings in all this and how I’ve come to a place of happiness through a really dark journey.

When I found out about Ashley being trans, it was after a period of knowing something was wrong. She’d gone quiet and unresponsive, and in our very communicative, lively relationship, this was a big warning signal to me. So when I found out that it was “only” that she was trans, and that she still loved me, I felt relieved. She wasn’t going to leave me! She was just a lady! I like ladies, everything was going to be okay! And that first month, before she was out, I was so focused on her- on helping her come out, teaching her how to do makeup and taking her shopping and treating her like the lady she was- that I was able to put my feelings on the back burner. This made life easy. I didn’t have to face any of my feelings about the transition, because she needed me and my Mom brain kicked in and I could go into mindless Nurture Mode. Plus, I was one of the only people who knew about her being trans for a month, and I got to teach her how to be a lady, so I felt needed. Important. Valued.

Then, she came out publicly. She learned to do her own makeup and found support in trans friends. I wasn’t as vital anymore. And then the feelings of mourning started to set in. My heart became an all-dressed chip- I suddenly had ALL the feelings about everything. Good feelings, bad feelings, terrifying feelings.

I loved Ashley, and I loved how beautiful and how comfortable she was in her own skin, and I knew that functionally she was the same person, but I missed the scruff of the man I fell in love with. I went online looking for stories of how other people dealt with this change and I found…well, exactly what Ashley said I did. Functionally, nothing good. Everyone seemed to want to leave their partners, or keep them from transitioning. I would never want to dampen Ashley’s happiness or keep her from being her true self, and I also found the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life and I wasn’t aiming to leave that behind.

Sex is incredibly important to me. And mine and Ashley’s sex life? It’s been amazing from the start. I knew sex was going to change with HRT, and I was open to change- but I wanted to know HOW it was going to change. So, I did research to find out how sex changes with HRT- and, overwhelmingly, found stories of trans women completely losing their sex drive, or worse- discovering that their previous attraction to women only had completely changed and now they preferred men. Was I going to go through all this with her, just to have her leave me because she preferred men? I was terrified.

February was a dark month for me. On top of coming to terms with my partner’s transition, on top of finding no resources for myself, I was going through some personal, non-transition-related issues of my own that were making my existence pretty miserable. To Ashley’s credit, she was patient and understanding with me every step of the way- willing to listen to every fear I had, console me, and love me through all this.

We went to a mixer for two support groups in February- one for trans folk, one for partners of trans folk. I was excited to finally have a space, a community, who understood what I was going through. “When are you starting?” I asked.

“Uh, we aren’t sure yet”, the organizer replied.

It’s almost April. Ashley and I signed up the same night. Ashley has had four of her support group meetings. I have yet to hear back from mine about a start date. It’s frustrating. I felt very alone for a while.

But then I remembered- the reason I’m going through this is because I’m NOT alone. I’m with the kindest, sweetest, most patient, most wonderful person in the world. She makes me laugh and we have amazing discussions. I respect her and trust her more than anyone else in the world. She’s beautiful. Every moment of this transition I’m learning about myself, about Ashley, and about being a loud advocate for trans rights, and I value that. A month into HRT, we are seeing some physical effects, but it hasn’t affected our intimacy. She still wants me. Our sex is still amazing. And my feelings of fear, my feelings of mourning, they’ve subsided and given way to an even deeper love and respect for this amazing, fearless, incredible woman.

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog because your partner is transitioning and you love them and you’re desperately looking for resources, I urge you to stay. Stay with them and process your feelings together and hold their hand through every moment. Because you WILL get through those feelings, and it will be worth it. If you can weather this, your relationship can weather anything. I went to a dark place and I came out stronger, with my Ashleyface by my side, and it deepened my love for her in a way I didn’t know was possible. And if you need another partner to talk to who wanted to stay and support the person they loved instead of run away, my email address is brandydawley@gmail.com. Feel free to use it. I couldn’t find a support system for myself, but I’m happy to be yours.