Relationships are hard and one of the hardest things about them is learning to handle your partner’s emotions. This is true of any relationship, but even more so when your partner is going through something as emotionally tolling as a gender transition. No matter how much you love and support your partner, the process of transitioning can cause emotional strain for both of you. We compiled a list of a few tips to help you out when you find yourself needing to support your SO through their transition.
1. Do some research
Even if you are transgender yourself, it can never hurt to do some more research and fully understand the process that your partner will be undertaking. You might have plenty of very normal concerns about what the transition process will imply for you, your partner and your relationship. Will the hormones change their personality? Will your relationship change? What about your level of intimacy and chemistry?
Remember: your worries are not fact. Of course you will have concerns; change is hard for everyone. However, doing a thorough investigation of the process will help to prepare you for what is to come and allow you to support your partner from a place of knowledge and understanding, rather than from one of guesses and hunches.
With that being said, it’s important not to rely on your partner to be your educator on the subject. They are are your partner, not your teacher. It can be overwhelming for both of you if every conversation between the two of you becomes consumed by their transition. You should feel free to ask questions and show your interest, but do the bulk of your research on your own.
Here are some informative and approachable sources, to help you understand the gender transition process and curb your anxieties:
2. Mind your language
Maybe your partner has been going by their gender-identification pronoun for a while now. If that is the case, this part is easy for you — just keep doing what you’re doing. If your partner has only recently come out to you about their gender identification, it can be difficult to change the words you use to describe them.
Chloe*, a sophomore, said that “one of the hardest parts of my transition for my friends, family and partner, was adjusting to the use of female pronouns.” This is also one of the things that she found most frustrating. “I felt like they were not respecting my choice to transition and trying to discourage me when they continued to use masculine pronouns,” Chloe says. “I understood making mistakes with pronouns in the beginning of my transition, but after several months, it just started to hurt.”
The first step in this adjustment is to talk to your partner and find out what they want to be referred to as. Learn whether they want to be called your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or if they prefer a neutral term and want to be referred to as your partner. It is also important to make sure that friends and family know which pronoun they should be using for them. If you notice them slipping up, talk to them, and make sure they know how imperative it is to be mindful of the language they use when talking about your partner.
This is essential to do at ALL TIMES. Only using the proper pronouns in front of your partner, but not when they aren’t around, is disrespectful and will also make it more difficult to avoid slip-ups in front of your partner. Using the proper language for your partner is critical in making them feel accepted and comfortable during their transition.
3. Realize that you are going to be a big part of the process
It is a given that you should be there for your partner, emotionally. What many people don’t realize is that you may need to be there to help in other ways, as well. This is especially true if you are living with your partner. You may need to help them with injections, daily treatments and other daily medical obligations that they might need.
This probably seems pretty difficult. Sticking your partner with a needle every day will be hard at first, especially for the squeamish. Don’t let this scare you away. Taking on this role will not only make your partner feel supported and loved, but it will bring the two of you even closer than before. Don’t be afraid to offer your partner help with their medical routine and other aspects of their transition that are challenging for them to do on their own.
4. Go the extra mile
It is common for someone going through a gender transition to feel more vulnerable than before. If you want to ensure that your partner knows that you are there for them and supporting them, it is important to go the extra mile during their transition.
Christina Spaccavento , a qualified sex and relationship therapist who regularly works with the LGBTQ+ community, says that one way to really show your transitioning partner that you are there for them is to “go along with them to support meetings or to an appointment with their doctor and/or therapist. This shows them that you are also engaged in this process.” She also suggests doing things like going shopping with your partner, if they need new clothes for their new appearance. “Going shopping with them can be really helpful,” Spaccavento says.
Additionally, make sure that your partner knows that you are there for them emotionally. “If there are any issues that they are worried about…you are there to talk about them,” says Spaccavento. Building up their confidence is important as well. "My partner complimenting my more feminine features during my transition made a huge difference," says Phoebe*, a freshman collegiette. "Making an effort to note the progress I had made and reminding me that I was beautiful really let me know that my partner was there for me.”
5. Don’t make your partner feel like an outsider
Try to avoid constantly talking about the fact that they are transitioning and be careful not to badger them with constant questions. It can be easy for someone who is transitioning to feel ostracized from their friends and family and reminding them that they are transitioning can increase this feeling.
Try your best to not act any differently than you did before, especially when socializing with friends and family. It is crucial to make sure that your partner feels like nothing in terms of their social life has changed due to their decision to go through the process of transitioning. According to Transgender Mental Health, it is common for transgender people to worry about how their transition will impact their friends, family and relationships, so do your best to let them know that nothing has changed.
If you catch yourself constantly bringing up their transition in conversation, or find yourself treating your partner any differently, be sure to stop yourself. You may not be able to do much to control how your partner’s friends or family will act, but you can do you best to remember that nothing about your partner has changed and that treating them differently could cause them to feel shunned.
6. Support yourself, not just your partner
The process of a gender transition will be emotionally tolling on both you and your partner that is going through the process. It's easy to become consumed with supporting your partner and making sure that they know they are loved and supported. What a lot of people forget is that one of the best ways to support someone else, especially emotionally, is to make sure that you are in a good emotional state yourself. "If you have any concerns, issues or worries about the relationship, being open and honest with your partner is best,” Spaccavento says. "You can discuss concerns with them in an arranged 'couple meeting' so that the two of you can work through any issues together. It is okay to feel confused, confronted, worried and even [grieved] for the aspects of your partner that are changing.”
It is important to remember that your feelings matter and that you are able to talk to your partner about them. It is normal to feel worried, sad, confused or overwhelmed by their transition. Be honest about your feelings, don’t hide them in order to coddle your partner. However, be sure to do this in a way that is respectful and supportive of your SO.
*Names have been changed.