Supporting my girlfriend through medical transition
April 10, 2013 6:33 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is about to start a series of medical-related procedures as part of her gender transition (M2F). What can I, as a cis(ish) woman, do to be a good support to her?

I had met my girlfriend long after she was already living as a woman, so the question of "I knew him as a man and now he-she-what the hell is a woman argh!!" doesn't even apply. She's about to start hormones and get an orchiectomy fairly soon. It's been a long time coming and she's pretty excited about it all.

My main concern has to do with the medical effects - I personally get horribly affected by my own hormones, and also saw my mother deal with hormonal issues, and I'm not sure how the hormones she'll be taking will affect her physically and moodwise. There's also the matter of care before and after the surgery - I'm not sure what to expect, and my girlfriend is currently learning more about it too.

How can I be of support in helpful ways through the medical stuff? Are there likely to be significant shifts in mood, energy, sex drive that I need to be aware of? Anything I can do practically that can be of us (especially since we live together)?

My girlfriend and I have been pretty good at communication, but this is a whole new frontier for either of us so it's been difficult to anticipate potential needs. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by divabat to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't read it yet, let me suggest Mom, I need to be a girl. It is the most positive trans story I have been exposed to. It does talk a bit about what happened surgically -- pain, coping mechanisms, etc.

My understanding is that orchiectomy should stop the male hormones. It would likely help if you get involved in following dosing of hormones and helping to track symptoms. From what I gather, it can take a few tries to get dosage right and it can be hard to stay on top of everything for the person undergoing side effects from poor dosing. (I can testify firsthand that this is true for steroids and other drugs. I have a serious medical condition and have taken a lot of stuff over the years.)

My experience has been that trans individuals have a strong need to feel really accepted by someone. I think just being there will mean a lot. From what I have read, a lot of trans people face this stuff alone and it makes them very painfully aware of how family and others have rejected them over it.
posted by Michele in California at 9:14 PM on April 10, 2013

Have you seen any blogs documenting the transition and surgery process written by other people? I've read a few (years ago, so I don't know if they're still up -- a lot were over at LJ, through a trans friend) and they are really interesting, mostly from the perspective of how different each experience can be. Often the writers have gone to the surgical clinic with a friend getting procedures done at the same time (particularly when going to another country), so they can contrast their own experiences with those of someone else who may have more/less supportive friends and family, more/fewer complications, all that.

I think it also depends a lot on what kind of medical care your girlfriend is able to access and afford. If she is seen in a "normal"-seeming clinic that is part of a larger health system, relatively near where she lives, with friendly, experienced staff and a comfortable setting, that's great. But if she isn't quite sure how she'll pay for an entire course of treatment and needs to figure out a slightly more sketchy way of getting the hormones she needs, for example, I can imagine that might bring up many more emotions of this whole process somehow being out of the ordinary and kind of covert/something to be ashamed of. Which it isn't, but it just adds another layer to the whole already-complex situation.

I do know that having an orchiectomy has made a big difference for some of the transwomen I know who have chosen to go that route instead of doing the entire reconstruction at once. That should be a pretty big step for your girlfriend to know that this is actually happening, that her body is actually changing and will never be the same. That will be pretty powerful.

Good luck to both of you, and all of your friends :)
posted by Madamina at 9:25 PM on April 10, 2013

Kudos to you for being supportive of your girlfriend.

(I'm MTF trans and have been on HRT for about a year; happily married with 4 kids.)

I very strongly suggest that YOU join a trans partners support group/forum. I have recommended Helen Boyd's My Husband Betty forum (she runs a private partners-only group, too), along with (surprisingly, perhaps), a corner of Reddit -- /r/mypartneristrans. Helen's book, "She's Not the Man I Married" is also one of the few books out there written from a trans partner's perspective, although it does focus a bit on how the male to female transition affected the author -- and since you never knew your girlfriend as a male a lot of that may not be on point for you.

Generally on the 'net, the trans support groups are pretty well-known. The partner support groups, not so much. My wife found that talking to other partners (online) was very helpful.

You say you are "cis(ish)" but it's not clear from your question whether you have identified as lesbian. One of the things that really throws partners in transition is the loss of heterosexual privilege. Since you were together with your girlfriend after her social transition this might not be a big deal for you; but it is something to be aware of, nevertheless.

(I remember reading about a lesbian couple in which one of them transitioned FTM; and the partner bemoaned no longer fitting in their previous circles since, for practical purposes, the two of them were presenting as a hetero couple. Transition is complicated!)

The basic trans narratives are full of stories about what HRT does, mentally and physically. One of the non-obvious things that I've heard (and I noticed myself) was that my scent changed. Subtly, at first. And then significantly. It's been significant for some. (My own wife says she couldn't care less.)

You mentioned "mood, energy, and sex drive" : Short answer, for me, the answer was "all of the above". Overall, I'd say expect for mood swings and "being hormonal". For cis folks, getting used to hormonal changes happens (relatively) slowly throughout puberty. For trans folks transitioning later in life, it's akin to a second puberty -- except you're supposed to be an adult and Have Your Shit Together, even when you don't. So yes, I went through breaking-down-in-tears-for-no-good-reason and some other mood-y things.

Regarding the orchi, one side question. Is your girlfriend getting the orchi done by someone who knows what they're doing? It's my understanding that an orchi done the "wrong" way can greatly complicate SRS.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 9:49 PM on April 10, 2013

Response by poster: QuantumMeruit: to answer your question about my identity, I identify as queer - the "cis(ish)" is because I myself am going through some gender-variance-exploration at the moment. We were a queer/lesbian couple from day 1 pretty much.
posted by divabat at 10:21 PM on April 10, 2013

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