I was asked by Ben to write about being the partner of a trans person, to try and paint a picture for some other partners of trans people. I don’t know if this will achieve the intended goal, but I want it stated right at the start—it’s hard. Being the partner of a transman is hard. When you start a relationship pre-change (I’m going to use the word change here, because it fits closest, but it’s really making the outards match the innards), there’s a dichotomy between how you’ve seen them for so long, and how they want to be seen.
But at the same time it’s worth it. I’m okay. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m okay. Of course I’m okay. I am so tired of that question.
To be honest, I’d always had an inkling this could be a possibility for him and for us. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting B. A. (or Bad-Ass, as I like to think of him), he earns that nickname. I’m not going to say the dude hasn’t met a mountain he didn’t want to climb, but I will say it’s best not to be the mountain in between him and the mountain he wants to climb.
But this is my story, not his. I began to think of the possibility of Ben being trans when he started to aggressively grow out his leg and pit hair, and when I saw him taking herbal supplements that advertised testosterone production and estrogen reduction, I knew where that was going on, and I was scared. I wasn’t scared because I questioned our commitment. I wasn’t scared because I thought it would be the end of us. It didn’t matter what Ben looked like. I fell in love with that weirdo who fell into the northern Pacific Ocean on our first date, and refused to cut the date short because he was soaking wet—in January.
It would be almost two more years before we’d talk about Ben making a transition, and when he finally came out, he didn’t give me much time to prepare, so I legitimately didn’t know what to say, other than I knew I wanted to stay with him, and that was something I never questioned.
Every single day we wake up together is the best day of my life. Ben is my best friend in all things. The desire to make this work was the easiest part of the process. The hardest stuff is: the uncertainty over physical/mental changes, coming out, the lack of support from the gay community, and what to do with my goddamn tiny hands.
You may be wondering why I’m ranting about my tiny hands. Allow me to explain. When you are (insert gender here) in a relationship with (insert gender here) you learn to love their body, and after a decade that body gets pretty goddamned familiar. When the script flips, and parts of that body aren’t a part of who they are anymore, it becomes a bit of a process to decide what to do. Do you grab their breasts? They don’t really identify with them anymore; they just happened to be there. What about putting your arm around them? Too demeaning? Holding hands? Is that masculine enough? Is it supportive? I’m still learning the ropes, and it’s not as if there is a guide. Personally, I’ve felt that in order to make this work I’ve had to do my best to emulate how he wants to be treated by how he treats me. Sometimes I fuck it up. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes my unwillingness to use my tiny hands, in an effort to figure it out, had led to hurt feelings. It hasn’t been easy.
Another obstacle is the physical/mental changes themselves. I happen to have a trans employee, and we did speak about the process. Quite frankly what he had to say was terrifying. He reported he was a completely different person on the other side: anger issues, left his family, etc. This wasn’t my experience at all, and for future reference, if that is your experience, keep it to yourself when talking to a concerned partner of a trans person. There was a lot of unnecessary grieving on my part for no goddamn reason.
The surgery itself. The after care is pretty brutal, especially if the person you are caring for is normally stupidly self-reliant. Doubly so if there are complications. Take time off work. Trying to do both means high stress and low sleep, which invariably leads to a mental breakdown.
Coming out. Ben, for all his wondrous positive qualities, feels as if he doesn’t owe the world a coming out story or an explanation. On a fundamental level, he’s right. This is who he’s always been—his friends and family just didn’t have the clarity of his gender. But on a realistic level, if you want them to acknowledge the change and not be confused, they need to be told. I think this is especially important in helping to shape the opinions of people who maybe haven’t thought about how hard it is to be trans in today’s environment. Consequently, I’ve had to come out on his behalf to the bulk of his family, which has compounded the anxiety I still have after coming out to my own family. To be clear, my parents are wonderful loving people. They don’t understand, but they’ve unilaterally told me they will support me no matter what, and I appreciate them for that, but I hope someday they can talk about how they support us. Sometimes I feel as if I overthink, and keep Ben from them, in order to spare hurt feelings or misunderstandings, but I think I only add to my own anxiety. However, if I can sense the confusion and slight disapproval on their part, I know he will be able to.
The last, and honestly most surprising thing to me, was the lack of support from the gay community. I anticipated having to suddenly worry about where I show affection to my husband in public. I anticipated having to worry about how two men in a relationship would be perceived. What I did not, and could not, fathom was the reaction from the gay community (not individuals—we have great friends). I remember taking Ben to a support group at the Q center in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country. I sat outside the building for two hours because it was determined I didn’t belong there. I didn’t qualify for their support.
In another example, several weeks ago at Pride some gay men refused to even speak to us, because we didn’t fit the norm. In my opinion, percentage wise, the gay community has just as far to go as the rest of the country in terms of acceptance. For a minority community to not support someone on this journey is mind boggling to me.
And even with all these things, having a partner transition not a horrible experience. You get to watch someone grow into who they are. You get to watch that confidence bloom. Yes, the journey has been and continues to be hard at times. Yes, at times I get tired, and may speak or act in ways I’m not proud of. I’m sure Ben feels the same way. But I can tell you unequivocally and without reservation that if I had to start this process again—you bet your ass I would.
Love is weird like that.