How to support myself while supporting my transitioning spouse?
February 18, 2015 12:24 AM   Subscribe

Looking for emotional guidance while my spouse goes through gender reassignment.

My spouse of a few years has decided to transition (FTM.) I sort of knew this might be coming so it's not a total shock.

I am looking for resources that will help/guide me through this. Not the logistics so much but the emotional and relationship issues. I am very supportive of whatever my spouse needs to do to be happy. In some ways we are in an ideal situation - I am bisexual, our families will be supportive, we live in a liberal area, we don't have kids yet. But I am afraid of losing the person I love now, and it will be a pretty big shock to my identity too. I'm nervous about how all the stress and change will affect our relationship. Obviously thinking of my spouse as a different gender will be a big adjustment and I will miss some of the benefits of being with a woman.

Most of what I can find online is written by the wives of MTF spouses, often who already have children. It just doesn't seem relevant to my situation. I would ideally like to hear from someone who has supported their partner through a FTM transition and know what I can expect. Books and blogs are my favorite media, but documentaries or podcasts would work too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen the documentary Becoming Chaz? It's available on Netflix. It's about Chaz Bono, so there are obviously all these other layers of complication with the celebrity stuff, but it did seem open and honest and included lots of unvarnished interviews from his family, friends, and especially his partner at the time, Jennifer Elia--I thought it was almost as much about her/their relationship, in some ways, as Chaz's personal journey. She talks about her various difficulties with the situation and how it affected her own identity, and the ways in which the transition is difficult for them. There's a follow-up called "Being Chaz," but I haven't seen it.
posted by spelunkingplato at 1:11 AM on February 18, 2015

My ex was a trans guy. My experience with it was a bit different to what you are going to experience, as he had already started transitioning before we met. He had been on T for a couple of years already, but I supported him through much of the process of organising his top surgery. Feel free to memail me and I will try to be as helpful as I can.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:25 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a heads up, the Chaz Bono stuff is really dire. He has a propensity to confuse being an asshole with being a man.

The acronym you want to look for is SOFFA (significant others, family, friends and allies). To be honest, though, your best bet is asking your spouse if he can arrange for you to have coffee (or whatever) with the partner of a trans guy he knows.

Anyway, I know some people who fit the bill. Memail me if you want me to try to put you in touch.

(I've just realised I've been assuming you're a woman. Most of the stuff for partners of trans men is aimed at (cis) women and most of the partners you'll find are cis women. The men are out there, though, they just take more finding.)
posted by hoyland at 5:54 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Also not a fan of how Chaz expresses a lot of his thoughts on masculinity and being trans.)

Here's a cis woman's journal, where she is frank about feeling conflicted about things like her partner's top surgery:

If you're looking for someone to personally reach out to -- I'm FTM and my dfab (designated female at birth) partner is bigender (sometimes identifies as female, sometimes as male). Theres's a bit of overlap with your experience from both sides of the table.

Like you, I'm bi, but I've gravitated so much romantically towards women that I hadn't really experienced what it was like to be perceived as a gay man until my partner started presenting as male in public. It's an unaccustomed space for me to navigate in, regardless if we're in a queer-friendly environment or not. And when my partner presents as female, we often feel like our queerness is being erased whenever we pass as a "default" cishet couple. It's frustrating all-around and we've found ourselves cultivating a lot of trans/agender friendships lately.

My partner often has difficulty passing as male (I pass 100%); it's strange being the person in the relationship who is dealing with the sympathetic embarassment when the other fails to pass. I'll warn you now that there's going to be some intrusive, unpleasant feelings you'll have to confront when you find yourself looking at your partner and thinking, "could you just tone it down a little". It's especially hypocritical in my case, because I'll bet you my family and friends experienced similar thoughts early in my transition (and boy did I have some hilariously bad missteps as I explored what masculinity meant to me).

My partner is also much younger than I and has a very different attitude of who they tell about their gender identity. I used to be stealth and am now progressively becoming more out (especially within my niche communties), but I still find myself conflicted with how and when my partner tends to disclose their identity. This is another area where I am having to think long and hard about what it means to be queer, especially in the South, and how we sacrifice our identity to "fit in".

I don't think our relationship has suffered due to our transness; these are just areas where we really have to be honest about our feelings. Luckily, we came into this relationship with a solid respect for gender identity, an awareness of how body dysphoria is not a reflection on our partner, and a shared opinion that penis-in-vagina sex isn't a measure of how we choose to be intimate. We still have our internal baggage to work through, and communication is key.

The technical stuff is the technical stuff, and while there's some interesting territory to navigate wrt physical transition -- the majority of difficulties, imo, tend to revolve around how your identities are going to shift.

I wish you both the best of luck and feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Wossname at 11:18 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've spent a fair chunk of time seeking out info and/or community for partners of trans guys over the past year. As you've found, there's a lot for/by MTF partners, but not so much for/by FTM partners. Here's what I've found in my searching:

-Tumblr has a fairly strong community of FTM partners. They tend to be on the young side, probably since Tumblr in general is, and tend to be focused on the initial phases of transition. Check out the "ftm partners" and "trans partners" tags.
-Single, but helpful articles: "Notes on Surgery" at the Toast; Thoughts for Partners of Trans People at First Time, Second Time.
-The TransPartners Project - not updated often, but has more links
-Resources for Partners of Trans People at Journey Into Manhood
-Transgress Press just released a book by and for partners, called Love, Always (I haven't read it but have a copy on pre-order)

If you identify as a lesbian, there are a fair amount of blog posts and out there that talk about how to cope with that identity shift; search on "lesbian FTM partner" will bring those up.

I've found a couple of FTM partner-specific groups and forums that seem to have faded/are no longer active, which is slightly unhelpful. I'm still looking.

On a personal level, my boyfriend had already started the transition process when we got together, so my experience is probably slightly different to yours. The things that stress me out are not the things I'd have expected. I worry about things like making sure his health insurance continues to cover his testosterone, that I'll have the ability to work from home when he has surgery, that I have the legal paperwork that will let the doctors talk to me if something goes awry. I worry about where to find information - like if the symptoms for a heart attack are different for men and women, what do I need to watch for in him? By and large, it's more the medical side of things than anything else...and even then, it's not all-consuming. (There are little things, too, like I've noticed I've adjusted (consciously and unconsciously) things I do when we're together to help make ensure that he's gendered correctly by others.)

It can take a lot out of you as you support him through this, so make sure to take care of yourself. Try to find someone you can talk to, whether that's another FTM partner or just a friend who's willing to listen.

I'm more than happy to talk about my experiences, and I also have a private blog with more links - memail me if you'd like. :)
posted by okayokayigive at 1:12 PM on February 18, 2015

To be transparent this is a piece published on a platform I help manage, but I think the way that the author discusses her partner's transition (and its impact on her) was very thoughtful. Here's another piece by the same author.
posted by kylej at 4:31 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you looked for support groups in your area? I imagine those groups will probably also be mostly women with M2F transitioning spouses, but maybe you can find some common ground and at the very least it's somewhere to start. Even if there aren't any husbands of F2M people, perhaps somebody in a group like that could introduce you to somebody in a similar situation.

That's all I've got, in terms of suggesting resources. But I do have a smidgeon of experience in this area, and I hope some of this can be useful.

On a much smaller scale, I experienced something like this myself years ago. My longtime girlfriend spent a year or so exploring her gender, never quite identifying as a man but doing the full drag king thing and going to clubs and stuff. I'm trans myself (M2F) and had a lot of fun being the "girl" in our relationship, but even so it was sometimes confusing and hard.

In hindsight, I feel like I really minimized my girlfriend's struggle with gender. I loved that she made such a pretty little elf of a man, I thought that was sexy and adorable, but it was constant frustration for her. I tried to be encouraging, but I'm not sure how well I did.

A lot of things that just seem like part of who your wife is, or things you love about her, have probably been driving her nuts for a long time, because she is not a wife and she is not a she. You have to figure out what kind of man your husband is, and treat him like that man. Resist the temptation, for instance, to tease him about being short or to use any belittling or feminizing nicknames. Maybe you have enough sense to never do that stuff, but I did it and I regret it now.

I'm not sure how to put this, but I think you'll be doing yourself and your partner a big favor if you work on seeing him as a man who happens to have female anatomy, instead of as a woman who is transitioning. Try to accept that you are already married to a man. Your spouse is a man, and everything he does during his transition is bringing him closer to the man he wants to be. When you are trans, it can be really frustrating to be with somebody who is the gender you identify as, even if that is the gender you are attracted to. It's complicated to be romantic with somebody, when you kind of want to BE them. It's possible he has some frustration there, and you should be ready to listen to him if so.

I'm sorry, I've rambled a bit and I hope I haven't strayed into self-indulgence. I think there is reason to be very optimistic about your future together. You sound very supportive, and it sounds like your spouse wants to stick with you too. If your spouse is attracted to men, and you're bi, that's absolutely ideal for a situation like this. It's rare for people in a transitioning situation to start off syncing up that well, and you're both very lucky. (And in my experience F2Ms tend to look like male models, they are gorgeous men, so you've got that to look forward to.)

(NOTE: I posted this the other night, then I felt like I was kind of hogging the spotlight too much and the mods thoughtfully took it down for me. Then I thought it over and decided to re-post the damn thing, just in case the OP can get anything helpful out of it. I foolishly assumed the OP was male, and if the OP is female some of this advice obviously wouldn't apply.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:34 AM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yes, please look at support groups. For example, I know within the past few weeks our ManCave transmasculine support group through The Center on Halsted has hosted an "open meeting" where the guys bring in friends, family, etc.

I'd poke around Autostraddle (a community of, mostly, queer-identified women-identified people) and look for relevant articles and then explore the authors of those articles. For example, here's an advice column question about growing apart from a boyfriend who is trans. The author, KaeLyn, has a blog about being a queer person married to a trans man and trying to add a baby to the family.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:27 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if you haven't seen Bill Roundy's adorable comic about how dating trans men doesn't change anything about his orientation (he's gay, not bi), you totally should read it. It touches on some of the assumptions partners of trans men have to deal with.

Anna Bongiovanni's comics are drawn by a genderqueer person, but they're really good and touch a lot on dysphoria and clueless things dates do that trigger it as well as respectful ways to help someone who is going through it. For example, here's a comic about how Scout helps their best friend Andy get through a miserable period.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just in case you're in Chicago: Mancave has another open meeting for family/friends coming up.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:42 AM on February 23, 2015

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