Doctor’s Note: Today’s column deals with trans issues and trans identities. Because of the nature of the topic I will be riding hard on the comments. Misunderstandings and sincere attempts to learn are understandable. Misgendering, perpetuating negative propaganda about trans people and general TERF bullshit will mean getting the banhammer.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
My husband and I were each other’s “first” and now we have 2 kids and 15 years together. Over the last several months he has started exploring a more androgynous gender presentation, and a few weeks ago we had a long heart-to-heart in which he told me he wants to see a therapist who could help him sort out how to possibly transition to living as a woman. I’m pansexual (although it’s always been a moot point until now) and I will love him no matter how he identifies or dresses. If it makes him happy, I’m all for it.
That’s the easy part. The hard part is that we live in a deeply conservative part of the US and I can predict with 99.9% certainty that transitioning here would/will SUCK. His parents won’t understand, he just started a new job at a place that’s almost entirely cishet white men with beards, our kids will have a harder time at school, etc. Obviously transitioning would/will be a huge step and not one we could come back from.
My question: what can I do to support him finding what he needs? I have no problem telling his dad where to shove his “jokes” and our immediate circle of friends would be fine, but every time I think about how much crap he would/will have to face, it makes me feel sick. He hasn’t decided yet how much he wants to change (clothes? body? pronouns?) but trans/nonbinary people are all but invisible around here. I’d be happy to go out guns a-blazing but obviously it’s not about me and I don’t know how to prepare to be the supportive partner he’ll need.
I want to preface this with an obvious fact: I’m a cisgendered man. I don’t have the perspective that a trans person would have on this matter, nor as the partner of a trans person. And while I have some thoughts on the subject, I think it would be far better to give space for trans and non-binary folx share their thoughts, experiences and suggestions on the matter. I put out the call for my trans and enbie readers to weigh in, and here’s some of what they had to say.
From Cliff Jerrison: I transitioned while in a relationship and my partner was GREAT about it, but the thing that really touched me was that he actually celebrated my transition milestones. He literally bought me a cake when I started hormones and came out to my family. And that was huge, because sometimes transness is framed as all tragedy–dysphoria is tragic, transphobia is tragic, transition is a grim necessity. Seeing my partner actively happy for me, treating my transition as a joyous time and not just a hard one, was wonderful. Oh, one more thing! Because I was transitioning to (approximately) the same gender as my partner, he’s been a resource for new skills like how to shave and men’s room etiquette, and that’s another way he’s supported me.
From @Klezmerstyle: I didn’t actually start to transition until after my divorce, but I talked about it some with my ex-wife and she wanted me to immediately start doing it or stop talking about it and it caused me to clam up and not talk about it for years. Support is good, pushing is bad. Also, it’s not always an entirely linear process, and if someone reverses things or goes back to presenting in older ways for a while it’s not because they’re being indecisive, it’s probably because they’re scared and grappling with things. They certainly aren’t lying to you.
From @Sophia_Pines: For the first years my partner didn’t believe I’m trans and was expecting me to detransition at some point, I wish sometime she showed that she loved me and not [deadname], I feel like I’m the consolation prize. Every time we spoke about gender confirmation surgery she put her annoyed face and voice. I was planning on having SRS this year but obviously it’s not going to happen, I just wish I can before we’re getting married (tentatively June next year) because I want to know if our relationship will implode or not.
From @BonkeyMoon: My partner was incredibly supportive, even though we were at a very low point in our relationship. I’d say be sympathetic to the dysphoria and anxiety that comes from transition. Learn and use their name and pronouns. In my case, accompanying me to public restrooms was very important.
From Branwyn: When I came out to my wife, she didn’t bat an eye, and soon after was giving me old clothes. It was years later before I could get myself together enough to transition, but when I did she accepted it fairly easily. There were bumps, but it’s been ok. Open communication is very helpful. Respect pronouns and names. Don’t talk a lot about it being hard to shift. We know, the effort is appreciated and being reminded how hard it is makes us feel like a burden (do everything you can to avoid that). Help them learn what you can, and be there to hold their hand when they do big steps.
Honestly, just be loving and cognizant of how hard this is for them and let them lead the way. And when they ask for input, be honest, but remember it’s their journey you’re coming along for. Also, not sure how they ID, but make sure they’re ok being referred to as “husband” and not “Partner” or “wife”.
From @Ghastronaut: Three main things I remember: Honesty and restraint. The partner needs to be honest with themselves and the person transitioning. If the partner isn’t normally attracted to their partner’s gender, that’s a conversation that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Second, and more importantly. This is something you’re going through together. However, you need to step back and let your trans partner take the lead. This is their journey first, even though it’s hard for you too. Absolutely *under no circumstances* out them without their *explicit* consent. Doesn’t matter to who. Doesn’t matter how supportive the person you’re telling will be. It isn’t your place and it will break their trust like nothing else.
From @Malamentary: My advice: GET A THERAPIST. My partner was committed to being supportive but that meant she never processed her grief at the shift of identity. Partners of transitioning people need to be supportive, yes, and they need to face their own shit. We stayed together for several years after I transitioned, but when things started to unravel it became clear she had never truly come to terms with it. She lost her identity as a lesbian but was so committed to being seen as supportive that she never worked through that grief.
From Dana: I’m also in the very, very early stages of transitioning. The support I want and need is:
– Positive affirmations that my partner continues to love me, not just reassurances they won’t leave because of this change. Their support & encouragement is one of the only reasons I’ve been confident enough to start this journey.
– Even if I look like a toddler picked out my clothes and my makeup is a mess, tell me I look pretty. Help me to be prettier. This is all new to me and I’m learning in months what cis women learn over their whole childhoods. But please let me know when I’m dressing like a woman half my age!
– Call me on my bullshit. I remember when my young feminine side reflected some cringey stereotypes. I hope another twenty years of life experience has made me a better woman. Engage me in dialog about the female experience when it’s clear I’ve missed the mark. It’s better it comes from them, who I trust and I know has my best interests at heart.
– Tell me what they need to be comfortable & happy with the new me. Should I keep wearing that old shirt I wore on our first date? Am I being too coy; should I make the first move more often? Am I transitioning too fast for them to process?
– If they can’t talk to me about something, please find a therapist who can help them put these things into words so we can grow together.
So there you have it, Support Class. It may also be worth reading some books by or for the partners of people who transitioned or are currently transitioning. These may help you either identify issues that may come up that you hadn’t thought of yet, or give you perspective from other folks who have been where you are. The only other thing I would say is remind and reaffirm to your partner how you love and care for them and that you want to support them often. This can be a complex and often confusing time, and knowing that you’ve got their back and that you’re still their number-one fan, cheerleader, provider of buffs and heals and overall emotional and social support is going to be huge.
I was a bit of a late bloomer, and have only relatively recently given much thought about relationships and my sex life. Outside of a brief relationship (a few months) out of high-school, I have had much experience. I currently feel that where I am now, I’m not particularly interested in a long-term relationship, but I am open to something casual and even no strings attached hookups.
The problem I have, is that the country I live in has a very conservative attitude about sex and relationships. Most people here consider sex something to happen only within marriage, and people (both men and women, though not equally) are judged very harshly about premarital sex. There also isn’t much of a nightlife here (alcohol is available but highly restricted and expensive). As a result, I feel like it’s absolutely impossible for me to have a casual encounter where I am, even if I were to go out and socialize.
I hope you may have some insight or advice into my predicament. Your articles and videos are great, thanks for the work you do.
Eager But Stuck
The funny thing about sex: no matter what culture you come from or what laws they may have had about sex and sexuality… sex always wins in the end. People like to get freaky, bang the way they prefer to bang and with the people they prefer to bang out with. Laws restricting pre-marital sex or extramarital sex, laws prohibiting same-sex relationships, even masturbation and sex-toys have never kept people from fucking. It has only either driven it underground or lead to the discovery of some very creative loop-holes.
(Seriously: nobody has ever bought a dildo for condom application practice, all those “neck massagers” aren’t going on necks and “for novelty use only” has never meant someone didn’t stick their dick in it or shove it inside themselves…)
So the odds are that there are far more people in your country and home town that are down with a little pre-marital action. It’s just a matter of finding them, which is going to involve some detective work on your part. As with folks trying to find the potential partners who’d be right for them,, a lot of what you’re going to need is to start looking for the places where the folks who are most likely to cool with casual sex are likely to hang out — virtually or physically. Dating apps are the most obvious answer. While people, especially women, are less likely to openly advertise that they’re interested in casual hook-ups or no-strings affairs because that’s frequently an invitation to turn their email into the end point of a dick conveyer belt, swipe apps like Tinder are hotbeds of people looking for some strange.
Similarly, you may want to look within social circles, rather than clubs or bars. While yes, a bar or club scene can help facilitate a no-strings hook-up, that’s not the only way, or even the best way. Alcohol may be a social lubricant, but it can also be the lubrication on a slippery slope of bad decisions. A lot of bar or club hook-ups end up being one-night stands because people’s judgement get impaired and they end up deciding to do things that they probably would’ve avoided under the cold light of sobriety.
Plus, there’s the trust and pleasure factor. One of the reasons why women are less likely to indulge in a casual fling is because the risks are high and the odds of the sex being any good are low. This is especially true when it comes to one-night stands and same-night hook-ups. Most men are all but guaranteed to orgasm during sex. Straight and bi women are far less likely… and the likelihood drops even further during a one-night stand. A lot of guys see one-night stands as all about their chance to get off, and simply don’t see the point in trying to bring their a-game to someone they think they’re not likely to see again. That turns a lot of women off the idea of casual sex entirely. Who wants to risk pregnancy, STIs and physical violence for a guy who thinks that monotonously pounding away like a fleshy jackhammer is the ne plus ultra of good fucking?
This is why you’re more likely to find people who’d be open for a fling or a casual arrangement with people who they know and trust… especially if pre-marital sex is taboo. In a restrictive culture, people are more likely to keep similar arrangements in house, as it were. Even when there aren’t explicit laws on the matter, when there’s a lot of societal opprobrium, people are more likely to want to stay on the down low and stick to people they know or trust. Nobody wants to have their vulnerability and openness rewarded by shaming them or insulting them for doing the thing their partner asked for in the first place.
But regardless of where you meet people or how you meet them, you’re going to have to put in the work to be someone they’d be down for hooking up with. It won’t help if you discover the secret underground sex party full of writhing hottness if people think you’re someone who’s going to ruin the party for everyone else. Part of this entails making sure your style and presentation is on point. Part of this entails being somebody that women can trust, someone who is absolutely physically and emotionally safe, who focuses on enthusiastic consent and mutual pleasure and enjoyment. But the biggest and most important part of finding a casual partner is being a great casual partner. One of the single biggest barriers to casual relationships — especially for women — are the number of folks who think that being in a casual relationship means treating your partner casually. Far too many guys tend to think that if they show an ounce of kindness or friendliness to someone they’re only casually seeing, she’ll assume that this is more than it actually is. Not only is that insulting to the people they’re sleeping with, but it ends up being a justification for treating their partner like a living Fleshlight… which is a great way to ensure you’ll never sleep with them or anyone they know ever again.
So do your research and do your work, EBS. Connect with people, make friends and contacts. Be friendly, warm and flirty, but also be honest and up front about what you have to offer, what your limits are and what isn’t on the table for you. Be able to take refusals or rejection with grace and aplomb and acceptance with respect and care.
And if nothing else, when you meet someone who seems like they might be down for something casual, just ask yourself: what would Captain Jack do?