Supporting your partner through transition

By Dylan, a love is respect Advocate

So, your partner just came out to you as transgender. Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you didn’t. Either way, you’re probably feeling a lot of emotions right now. Perhaps some are positive, some are concerning, or maybe you’re just altogether confused; perhaps you’re wondering what you should say or do next. Well, take a couple deep breaths, get yourself a glass of water, maybe a snack and blanket, and give yourself permission to feel everything you are feeling in this moment- happy or sad, confused or curious, concerned or excited. This is a big change. Not only for your partner, but for you, too. It’s 100% okay to take a step back to process this information.

Okay, so let’s assume you took our advice and followed those quick self-care tips (or at least some of them), and now you’re ready for the next step. First and foremost, it is of utmost importance that you be honest with yourself about what you want and need, what you are comfortable with, and whether or not you are able/willing to support your partner through their transitional journey. Even if your partner is not ready to make any changes yet, in a situation like this, you cannot ignore your feelings and needs. There are a lot of questions to ask yourself about if and how you could handle this.

This self-reflection is absolutely necessary. Why? Because staying with someone for any reason other than you love them and genuinely want to be with them would not be fair to either of you.  

Let’s say you identify as a straight, cisgender male, and your partner is transitioning to match their male identity. You might find yourself feeling conflicted about what that change means for your own identity. In other words, if you were to stay with your FTM  (female to male) partner, would you then be considered gay? The same question holds true for any and every gender identity and sexual orientation, but for the sake of keeping things simple we will stick with this one example. So, maybe you are not attracted to men and you would not usually consider being with a male partner, but you still love your partner very much and want to be with them, because you love them for who they are, regardless of what sexual organs they might have. If that’s where you’re at, then great! Sounds like things might work out just fine with this relationship.

To clarify, as the non-transitioning partner in this scenario, it is not required that you change your own identity or orientation in response to your partner’s transition.

But what if you don’t feel that way? What if you love your partner and would really like to be with them, but no matter how long you think about it, you just can’t see yourself being with a male (insert any other gender identity here) partner – what then? Well, that’s a question you’ll have to answer honestly for yourself. As difficult and upsetting as it might be to end a relationship with someone you care for, moving on is likely the best option if you’re not in a place where you can see yourself staying with and supporting your partner throughout their transition.

Okay, let’s say you’ve thought it through, and you’ve decided that you’re in this for the long-haul- you DO want to be with this person and you want to support them as they transition. If that’s the case, a good next step could be to educate yourself. Even if you think you know all there is to know about transitioning and the LGBTQIA community, please, do yourself and your partner a solid and do some research. Start with some general info (check out the GLBT National Help Center’s website for free and anonymous info), then graduate to learning more about hormone replacement therapy and surgery options, (which may or may not be something your partner wants to explore). Consider attending a PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays) meeting, or contact their hotline.

Once you’re confident that you know your stuff, ask your partner if you two can talk through potential changes to your relationship. Keep in mind, it is possible that your partner will not want to discuss their transition in great detail – whether that be with you or others. If that is the case, it is important to respect their boundary and only discuss the transition when initiated by your partner. Also, be humble throughout this process. Even if you spend hours upon hours researching, remember that learning isn’t linear, and supporting your partner isn’t a “one and done” check box. Even after research, you may have new questions or feel unsure about things as the relationship continues. If your partner is up for talking, remain respectful, curious, and honest. Try not to avoid the hard questions, but also make sure each person feels up for answering. Boundaries can change at any time, and it is okay to take a break to think, then come back together to finish a discussion.

As you will discover in your research, a transition often comes with a new pronoun and a new name, which can be confusing for you and your partner at first.

They may be quicker to adjust to the changes, since it’s their name and identity, so don’t get discouraged if you mess up from time to time. Just be open about your mistake, correct yourself, and do better next time. Soon, it will all come naturally. If your partner is changing their gender identity, it is possible they will begin taking hormones, which will therefore gradually change their outward appearance (changes are highly unique to the individual and can vary based on the dose of hormones your partner chooses to take). This, too, can take some getting used to for both partners, and it can be a very emotional period in the relationship. It may alleviate some stress if you try asking your partner how you can help. Can you go with them to doctor’s appointments, give them their injections, go clothes shopping with them, attend a support group with them, etc.? Sometimes just letting someone know that you’re there and willing to support them- however they may need- makes all the difference in the world.

Another thing to be mindful of is potential changes in your partner’s (and maybe yours too!) boundaries and preferred sexual practices. Your partner may decide that they no longer want to engage in an activity that they used to enjoy, they may be interested in something they once disliked, or they may want to explore some entirely new things. This is often a very personal and intimate discussion, and it is incredibly important that you are respectful of these potential changes. Of course, as in any healthy relationship, consent is essential; both you and your partner are allowed to set boundaries for each other and say no to any particular activity. If, in these conversations, or at any point in the relationship, you realize that your wants, interests, and needs aren’t matching up anymore, it may be time to discuss taking time apart or ending the relationship. As we mentioned earlier, making the choice to support someone through transition is a constant process, and considering all of the changes that may be happening in your relationship, it’s important to check in with yourself regularly to make sure this is still something you’re able to (and want to) commit to.

The fact that they feel safe and comfortable sharing their authentic self with you is a good sign that your relationship is probably pretty healthy, and based on trust, honesty, mutual respect, and equality.

Even if you decide not to continue being in a romantic relationship, though, your friendship and support around their gender identity and expression, and through their transition, will be important. Remember, our advocates are here 24/7 by chat, text, and phone if you want to talk about any concerns you have about your romantic relationship.