This article is written somewhat tongue in cheek, as I don’t necessarily believe that there are 4 essential things you should keep in mind while transitioning with your partner. BUT while Dylan was transitioning to gender neutral I felt fairly alone in the world so set upon the Internet to give me some back up and support, and what did I find… ‘The 4/7/6/9 ways to be a great partner while your partner transitions’… I found the Internet, usually a wealth of information, extremely lacking and it made me angry. Not once did I ever stumble across an article about how I could look after my own emotions through this journey, how my partner could support me, nor how we could do this together as a team. And this, in my opinion, presents a huge gap in the minefield of information out there about transitioning.
Many people transition with partners and the partner, as several articles informed me, plays a key supporting role in terms of both supporting their trans partners’ emotions, as well as being a pioneer in leading the actual transition through the usage of new pronouns and names and reminders to all of your community to support this new identity. This is an extremely important role, and one that is both exciting and daunting. Exciting because it leads to great happiness for your trans partner. Daunting, because in leading this push for your partner’s new identity, you can often be at the forefront of a pull away from your own identity. As a lesbian who has solely dated women, I have really felt my identity shift and have at times felt extremely threatened by this. Hence looking for ways to support myself through this process- cue Internet!
So this article is an article for both people in a relationship that undergoes a gender transition, the trans partner and the other partner. It is what I would have wanted to be advised, and what I have found has worked for me. It is also an article to reiterate that in any relationship both people deserve equal emotional energy, especially during a time of change. It is a counter to the many articles telling me how to best support my partner, and instead giving some ideas of how both of you can support each other and work together. Yes, the journey of the trans person is often seen as being epic in its proportions and changes, but so too is the journey of the partner. If you do it together it will be so much easier for both of you.
So, without further ado, my top 4 tips:
1 – Inclusion.
Being included in your partners transition, and their thought process surrounding this, is essential to keeping a healthy and open relationship. Similarly, it is important that they are included in where you are at with the changes that are occurring.
Often when Dylan and I argued it was purely because I felt blindsided by a big decision that had been made seemingly from nowhere, when in actual fact Dylan had been thinking about it for a significant length of time. Dylan said that including me in their thoughts and fears about their identity was terrifying, and seemed far too confronting, largely due to the fear that I may not like the explorations and may back out of the relationship. I understand this, but a well thought out conversation discussing these fears, vulnerabilities and thoughts would have gone a long way to explain to me where Dylan was at in life, and more importantly why. For example, comments about name changes that came completely out of nowhere were very overwhelming to me, and made me feel both disconnected, as well as uncertain about Dylan was thinking and why. In contrast, a conversation about thought patterns could have brought us much closer together and had both of us working on this as a team.
Likewise, it is important for the non-transitioning partner to share their thoughts about the transition. The key to all of this really, is communication, which leads me to point 2.
Communicate clearly, regularly and respectfully with your partner, even when it’s hard and scary to do so.
This may seem similar to point 1, but it’s more of an enabler to point 1 really. In order for you to be able to include each other in these often difficult, sometimes convoluted, and often confusing thoughts it’s vital that you lay some ground rules for communication. If I’m honest Dylan and I did not do this well at the start. Our pattern was me fretting about a small (seemingly innocuous to Dylan) comment, then forcing Dylan to elaborate, feeling blindsided by the new revelations and getting angry because I was overwhelmed and shocked. It wasn’t good. To start to work through this we realised that we needed to communicate much more regularly and effectively normalise the conversation so that it was not a huge revelation every time the conversation was forced out. We set aside times to discuss our thoughts in the beginning, in comfortable, happy places so that we could feel connected whilst discussing issues that were often very sensitive. We tried to listen more and actively think about what we were saying and why we felt certain ways. In addition to this we read about different love languages and thought about the different ways that we both communicate our love for each other so that we were better able to appreciate these love acts. (Click here for a brief explanation of the languages). Through this we felt much closer to each other as we knew each other’s fears, vulnerabilities, strengths and communication styles and our relationship really flourished because of this.
Even though things may be tough, always try to connect and enjoy each other’s company.
Connecting time is different to the time that you spend actively discussing transition and identities, although sometimes they can meld together. When you are in the middle of huge changes that are emotionally very demanding it is easy to become stuck in a bit of a rut. An important thing to remember though is that both of you are still, at your core, the same humans that you have always been. Dylan and I always made sure to have date nights, go out and do fun things together, buy little gifts, send that reminder ‘I love you’ text, cuddle a lot. We found that the more connected we felt to each other, the easier the conversations were as well because we both felt really well supported, which again leads to my final point.
Support each other and recognise when one of you needs some extra help.
This point is always one of the first for the partner of a transitioning person- ‘listen to your partner, remind them you love them, be that strong person they can turn too when it seems too hard’ etc. It should be the same for both of you though. Unfortunately I feel I was sometimes lacking in this for Dylan. I did show some amazing support, including throwing a surprise naming day, attending appointments etc, but I also let my own fears sit at the forefront in the beginning, and for this I will always be regretful. I wish that I had been a stronger rock for Dylan, but in hindsight I can understand how our communication patterns led to this not happening. In contrast, Dylan has been an exceptional support to me throughout this journey. When I had a bit of a breakdown after seeing an inexperienced psychologist who left me open and vulnerable Dylan sat with me and held me while I cried, and even went so far as booking me a luxurious facial to give me ‘something for myself’. Dylan was my strong rock, despite knowing that the reason I was devastated was firmly intertwined with them. My main point about support is recognising when your partner, trans or non trans, needs that extra helping hand and not taking it personally. It can be a long, daunting, overwhelming and confusing process that you are undertaking together and there will be days of doubt and pain. On those days you may not be able to solve the worry, but you can alleviate some of the pain by being you- the beloved, special and comforting other half of your duo. Sometimes this will mean setting aside some of your own thoughts for the moment and reassuring your partner. Sometimes it will mean crying together as you both share mutual understanding of your journey. Sometimes it will mean wearing the ‘big human pants’ and taking control of something that seemed too hard, and confronting the issue head on with your partner. However it manifests, knowing that you have each other to lean on when you need it and sharing this journey together will ultimately make you stronger and better connected as a couple.