If your SO just announced they are trans…

Miri
17 min readFeb 2, 2023

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…and it is threatening your relationship, ou are not alone! It is horribly stressful, confusing, and brings into sharp focus a bunch of complicated things about ourselves, our partners, our families, and our society, that we really wish we didn’t have to deal with. Y

ou may feel horrified, or deceived, undermined, shocked, and very angry. Devastated, and afraid of what comes next. But you are not wrong. All these things are natural responses to hearing that your partner is saying that a fundamental piece of how they participate in the world is not what it seemed.

I am one of the many kinds of trans women- but I didn’t feel I absolutely had to try to deal with it until I was old enough to see the end of my life coming. I am 72, and came out to my wife 6 years ago. My cis F wife still feels just like so may cis F wives do. She is not supportive, and unfortunately for me, also declares she does not want to be in the future. That is difficult, of course, for both of us.

I am writing because I see so many other wives and husbands here starting from the place of wanting to be supportive and to find a way to resolve the many daunting issues in a win win way. This is theoretical, since I don’t have the cooperation of my wife, but I think it is a sound guide to the process of making it work with the greatest mutual reward.

I want you to have confidence in your future together, using a structured approach which enables frank and blame-free discussions, and amicable resolutions.

The bottom line is that challenging gender norms renders the trans person AND their partner a minority, and minority stresses range from a bit of a nuisance to unlivable. On top of that, it is really difficult under the best of circumstances to navigate from a relatively ‘normal’ relationship to one that is out of sync with most people’s deeply held beliefs, whether originating with parental or religious authority figures or just developed from personal experience, bolstered by what has been sold as common sense for millennia, and entrenched taboos that prevent people from acting rationally.

Your view of yourself, as a person, as a partner, and as a member of society are all intimately linked to your sense of your own gender, and your relationship was formed in relation to your partner’s gender. So, yes, this is a big thing.

That said, we can become much more clear and wise about this thing called gender.

And prove that love is very powerful.

A moment of definition for love. The best definition I have encountered: “Loving is knowing the wholeness of the beloved.” Of course, love is meaningless unless we also act to bless the beloved.

Ready?

The starting place is to affirm your commitment. Then, the work is to say, “Darling, gender is complicated, and that means it is tall order to redefine gender as it operates in our relationship, and in all our other relationships as well!, But I am totally ready to do that. We need to be on the same page, and doing it together. So let’s first talk about everything that is involved, and deal with all the complications as a team.”

I have outlined here a stepwise process I hope can provide a structure to avoid foundering on the intense emotions involved and overload from fears about all that could go wrong. Each step needs at least one day and really, more like a week of talking. It takes time under the best of circumstances to surface things we feel . They may be the outcome of trauma, or just buried during years of habituation. They may be raw emotions we don’t feel safe expressing. So it is critical to prioritize finding ways to have peaceful and informative discussions about highly charged subjects. That too is not simple, but obviously worth doing. and necessary to success.

The goal is for you both to become more realistic and more centered in the joint decisions to be made! I hope it can help. Feel free to write me where the process needs improvement or clarification.

  1. Do a commitment check. Primary relationships are complicated and yet we form them on fairly slim points of connection. They can be destabilized by all sorts of life events like illness of a parent or child, or addiction, or job changes, or… your partner finding out that they need to resolve their gender properly. In the best case, your committment is to stick together and deal with each others’ challenges as a team for optimized shared benefits at acceptable cost. If you don’t feel that committment, consider making it.It has to be reciprocal, of course. Each partner has to be rowing the same boat. [In this step you agree to ignore the challenges and chaos of the trans revelation and just focus and talk about the underlying committment you have. This is the floor you are standing on and the foundation of all that will come in the future. Clue: What will greatly help in this is starting the discussion not on the conclusion [committment or not] but rather to focus on the core personal qualities that you love in each other, that are the most fundamental- i.e. trustworthiness, kindness, caring actively for each other, creativity, etc. This is why we agree willingly to commit.
  2. Take stock together that none of these qualities are gendered! Take a long breath. Realize that as you are discussing what is most important and truly valuable about a person, like personal integrity or a sense of humor, neither of you is messaging about your own gender or looking for a gender message in your partner. This is critical for distinguishing what character is and the superficiality of gender in relationship to gender. Stop for the day. This is the most important item because it shows what is meant by your partner saying he or she is going to be the same person. Yes, there is more to it because gender is a integral part of how we live, but it is the fundamental person that does the important work in a relationship. Sleep on this!
  3. When you are ready, agree together to bring into focus the layers of gender and the deep role of gender role definitions in your lives. First, though, try to feel your own bodies — without judgment. Work your way in, from fingertips to wrists, to elbows, etc to the neck and head. Then up from tips of toes, moving slowly through your legs and into your groin and pelvis. Then, up the belly and out to the breasts and shoulders, and back to the throat. Try to feel your body as what it is- an evolutionary adaptation for amazing human abilities, and with two specialized anatomies for sexual reproduction. {Pause to realize that many people are born with sexual anatomies that do not clearly fall into male or female, however.} The next day, take some time to consider your secondary sex characteristics, body hair, breast development, voice, skin quality, etc. Just observe and reflect.
  4. Talk about how the first thing we want to do on seeing a stranger approaching is to determine if male or female. Why? The fuller this discussion the easier it is to plan realistically for coming out, and deal with why people react the way they do to trans people.
  5. Yes, gender is HUGE- it affects the style with which we do everything. The way we stand, our word choice and tone of voice, our expectations of others, our sense of security in the world. Society is organized around the gender norms, so we are on alert all the time about gender. Consider together the ways you act that are determined by gender tole, and try to talk through many examples, noting which things that either feel good or not, and why. Making a list here would be helpful, since it gives some clarity to at least the initial things that are driving the desire to transition in your partner, and the areas for you of resistance.
  6. At this point, we are going to try to isolate various strands of gender. First go back in time to the dawning of gender awareness -how you felt in our body about your primary and secondary anatomy before puberty, during, and after. When and how you first noticed sexual functioning, and how sexual attraction was introduced. Childhood memories, teen struggles, early adult mishaps. If it became less confusing and more practiced. What are our personal triggers today for sexual attraction, etc. Everyone is different in this history and how it settles in our lives. It is difficult to keep making the distinction, but the point is to feel how bodily experiences change from when we are alone, or with others. This part is to explore the roots of and discomfort with our own bodies.
  7. Now, sit down with a cup of coffee and discuss each other’s experience of gender socialization, both teaching and enforcement. This is going to take a while! Allow lots of time. Tell the stories of all that you feel and what befell you or was offered to you, because you were born with male or female anatomy. Recall for each other the earliest time you can remember being aware of gender, and talk about those experiences as you grew up. The sound in your parent’s voice when they said ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’; how they called your name, when they shared their views on gender roles. Who else had something to say about gender- playground friends and enemies, teachers, religious figures, books you read, movie characters, game characters, etc. The web is really large and sticky, isn’t it? I know I underestimated that- I just wanted relief- and it seems within reach- but….
  8. Talk in depth about the feelings you had about each requirement for you as your assigned gender. When either of you felt either happy or sad or confused. This is hard to do since socialization discourages such reflection and we begin to suppress our own feelings in order to comply. There are lot of inconsistencies in gender training and a lot of pressure applied. As a little boy it became clear to me that I was not to cry, and my feelings didn’t matter unless they were pride, anger, or self-righteous certainty. It was traumatic, but it took me 60 some years to realize it didn’t have to be that way. When little girls are told to accept discounting of their opinions as a price for love, it is just one more of the terrible gender assignment traumas internalized into our identities. We also have privileges that we don’t consciously consider, but are aware of as intended to be compensatory. As a man I assert my opinion, simultaneously knowing that I am also the one assigned to die in war. Feminists have detailed the many repressive features of society with respect to females, and discussion about that is exactly in order right now. The view men have of a woman’s life is very skewed, and much of what we consider compensatory provisions, like being able to be beautiful and exercise sexual power over men, is a very mixed blessing if a blessing at all. This all can and should be discussed. Gender begins with anatomy, passes through divisions of labor, is encrusted with rights, restraints, and responsibilities, and becomes a prescription for every little detail of our lives. It is metaphorically our job, our dance, but not our necessary destiny. Just as our professions may dominate our lives, they are not our person. The point here is to get into the details, though, since each one has to be revisited during transition. You will understand each other much much better!
  9. Today, try to have a thought experiment- if you were together on a desert island, what would change about how you experienced gender, and how you as a pair would express that. In this scenario, you each are responsible for survival, so there is a lot of work to do. If you have kids, they are in the picture. But there is no one but you two to please. Just spend a little time imagining how a day might go, and what routines you might want to establish, and if those routines were disturbed by emergencies, what you would do. This step is meant to free both of you to think about your gender when free from societal expectations. It obviously also forms the options of what can take place in your private life, as opposed to public identity. This is a crucial safety valve!
  10. Affirm what you have done- you joined in and reimagined your relationship in a new setting. You are not on autopilot, you have learned a lot about each other, and you are both reconsidering a lot of very fundamental things. It is time for actions- some small, and some large. Affirm your basic commitment to each other- to collaborate in all changes and help each other with whatever frictions arise, trying to see through the others’ eyes. Most likely, despite the difficulty, they still feel a huge need to find relief, and it seems all to simple to them. The specific problem for you is how to provide relief, in a relationship that is as positive and hopeful and rewarding to you as to your SO. And it is a huge challenge. You are a saint for trying to meet it- actually. But this is where the mutual commitment is the priority and together you can make changes that work.
  11. Have your SO make a list, freely stating things exactly as they seem to him or her, without editing. ‘I hate my boobs’ or ‘ I want to be pretty’. The next step is to take just one and go into detail about the images and feelings behind the statement. Some can be really difficult- for example, trying to sort out when and how much and why your partner feels unhappy with their body. How much is actual physical irritation and how much is due to the social meanings assigned to body types- i.e. beard means man, and man means …. Try to find some easy wishes to grant- clothing choices being a simple example. ‘Sure, let’s get you some cute underwear and some dresses to wear! At home, I can easily help you enjoy that. “ The purpose of this is to get forward motion, to end the feeling of hopeless imprison for your SO. At the same time, acknowledge your own feelings — how this change feels to you, and what kinds of modifications in time and place and manner help make it easier for you, and still satisfying to your SO. Set an experimental time period- say, a week, and have a sit down to objectively try to measure the pleasures an pains discovered. Make some adjustments for more comfort and then sit with it a bit. Successful change requires time an habituation. Here is where the demand shifts to your SO to delay gratification, to stay in synch with you. And it is practice for pacing. and caring about each other’s comfort. It can be very detailed if needed! “You can wear a dress and women’s underwear after dinner on Thursday, when we are doing dishes and getting ready to watch tv. If I feel too nauseous at any time you will take it all off and wear your familiar clothes, but I will try to sort out what I feel by making a list, and you will write down what you are feeling as well, to be discussed after two or three days. I want to find a way to give you this experience, but it is very upsetting to me. There are so many parts of it I find really hard to understand, even- like why wear underwear that is clearly not designed for your body parts! It doesn’t make sense to me!“ The purpose of this is to reduce transition to its smallest useful expressions, so the impact is manageable and the opportunity to evolve feelings is sustained by taking time to analyze and discuss.
  12. Your feelings are just as intense and needing resolution and comfort as your SOs. So today ask for something you need that stretches your SOs envelope. What you want may feel in direct opposition to their stated need, but this is the mirror image situation. Ask for a small window- “Can you let me nestle in your arms tonight and wear your jeans and t shirt and let me smell and remember my big strong man? I will try to connect that man with the woman you are feeling, and . I am losing that man and that comfort. I don’t know exactly who I am without him. “ This is big, and hard, and why you have had discussions about commitment and character. You can say “ I am struggling, and I need to grieve.”
  13. Take turns suggesting next steps, as experiments. In testing out transition desires for short periods, to keep the emotions manageable, and seeking agreeable solutions as to what, when, and how much. Imagine a vacation if you can, somewhere where no one knows you, and where you can explore the desert island relationship without any other people who have power or influence over you in the picture. But save that for when you have felt your way into it in private at home, in your own core mutual safe zone. Try to outline what each of you expects as you plan it, and then compare notes when the experiment is over. All of this is just things that can be done together in private, setting aside futures that might include other people’s views. The purpose of this is to take seriously the magnitude of each little change, to practice mutual stretching and mutual care in making changes, and to discover what things each partner wants and dreams are, in bite size pieces, affirming your commitment to each other in the very process of sharing this information, and affirmatively seeing how much can be agreed on.
  14. After a few weeks, take stock. What were the learnings? What felt really good for both of you. What felt unequally satisfying. What can be modified to accommodate. What compensatory changes can you make to gain new satisfactions In what way are the goalposts moving for each of you? This is a difficult thing, since we all make a lot of assumptions when we partner about where the goalposts are going to be. Each major change we make in our lives tends to lead to a new perspective on our limits. This is a time for reaffirming commitment, your mutual care and collaboration, and specifically costs and benefits of various approaches. Today you are solving for the challenges transness, and your relationship will get deeper and stronger and more ready to solve for problems of teenage rebellions, or getting old, for example.
  15. We make a lot of compromises in life and dealing with transness is just one of challenges we face. The priority is that each compromise is intended to be a win win negotiation- done in small enough steps that it is risk free, and emotionally manageable. See how much can be done in the privacy of home as an experiment to see how it feels.
  16. Once you have relieved the deprivation of preferred gender expressions for your SO at home, and found mutually rewarding accommodations for you, time to look outside the house. Things look a lot different in private than in public. Try to plan the actual vacation away where you can function as a couple in a society, as opposed to a desert island, but where your gender expressions can change without any consequence in your relationships outside the home. This may be financially out of reach, but even imagining it again can be helpful. More critical are considerations of work, of friendships, church, clubs, etc. Of primary importance is your children’s experience at school. I chose not to make an issue out of my transness while our daughter was in school. Parents try not to make their issues with society a burden on their kids all the time.
  17. Let’s return to the question of identity. I found that the most critical therapeutic action for me was to simply fully acknowledge both my feelings and the paradoxes involved. A lot of angst was involved with trying to get other people to validate, tolerate, or support my sense of identity as a woman, or as a man who could enjoy the things of a woman, but mostly other people simply find it too hard. A huge benefit arose from simply keeping focus on my own sense of validity. I do feel for some unknown reason like a woman, and it never goes away, and when I just accept it as a fact that no one else has any say over, I feel very peaceful. I also feel much less stressed over whether I can or can’t express it. All sorts of additional benefits came with that, like realizing quite clearly what being a woman is like in society and that I didn’t want to jump out of one gender prison into another. That many females are quite manlike, and I am one of them. That things that were points of envy for me as a man, like cute dresses, have their positives and their negatives!
  18. You as partner of a trans SO have a challenge in identity to try to resolve as well. It became clear to me that for a cis female woman a major status element is the quality of the man you have attracted. For so many reasons that man is the complement to your womanhood that makes that womanhood complete. The feminist theoreticians point to new types of womanhood’. It can seems like a personally irreconciliable conflict, but I hope you can find a path there.

That is the process.

In terms of trouble spots, the process breaks down when we have what I would describe as emotional short circuits. When we brush up against the things we have been warned about, like looking or behaving too much like the opposite sex, and deep psychological alarms go off, most of us will just short circuit the process and pull back into the safety of stereotypical norms.

This is how humans survive- lightning fast processing of risks, then taking action before the actual danger materializes. We are taught from early childhood that powerful people are pleased or displeased when we stray from the rules of gender. Our friends, our bosses, the random person we overhear talking, all are echoing the same veiled threats against gender variance beyond what is locally acceptable.

Luckily, humans also have the ability to use logic to manage the emotions and improve outcomes.

Here is the logic that can save us and our relationships:

a. Gender is a concept- a social construct guiding behavior that begins wtih a named identity, based on sexual anatomy. It’s a boy! or It’s a girl! are the first words we hear. Then we are assigned to a training group. -We hear people discussing the approved expressions for our gender- ‘Oh she is so pretty! ‘ ‘Oh- he is so industrious’ .

Thousands of cues and clues guiding us with the explicit expectation that we need to be ready to join a team, choose from a set of future roles, and practice a set of prescribed behaviors, while restricting ourselves from crossing the lines set for us.

The enforcements of authority, often accompanied by threats, spring up immediately if we stray: ‘That is not ladylike! ” “-”Keep your legs together”- “Don’t throw like a girl”-“Don’t be a sissy!” We learn what is expected of us as a male or female.

Women and mean are each given powers and privileges the other team doesn’t have. Boys get to manspread and talk over girls, and girls get to hug each other and be aware of and respond to people’s feelings in nurturing ways.

There are huge social roles that need to be filled. Many of these roles are being shared, fitfully, across sexes now, but the historical divisions of labor are very much still with us.

So we learn to toe the line. And we really want others to as well. It is destabilizing when someone isn’t playing by the rules. It also feels better that our own personal discomforts with gender restrictions are shared — we are all in this together.

However, biology is a natural process and there is considerable variability in all natural processes. Everyone is unique. This variability is what drives evolution- some of us will survive almost any set of circumstances. But variability also means no simple order of things exists.

Research is also revealing that there are the many stages of embryonic development and sequences of hormone washes, during which our psyches are masculinized or feminized. Variations in these processes appear to account for a lot of transgender experience.

In my case, it is as if I don’t have male genitals. My sense of my body doesn’t include them as part of my body map, even though I know they are there and have to handle them often. I also feel my breasts as significant, but competing with my shoulders, which come into play whenever I need to move heavy objects. So my sense of myself is like a split screen- living in parallel universes. Yes, that is stressful.

These are the kinds of feelings described by transgender people. There isn’t enough research on body sense, and the formation of gender identity, to help us frame it and look out for it when children are young, so that we force fewer people into boxes they don’t fit in.

Compassion is in order, since the trans person is struggling to understand who they are and how they can fit into the society they find themselves in, and this calls for the partner entering into that struggle, as well.

I’ll argue from experience that having half a loaf is a lot better than no loaf. And having a full loaf without a partner I love feels like a net loss.

Please let me know where this can be clearer, and if it helps!

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Miri

We can all help each other a lot by freely expressing our gender