Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Handle A Partner’s Possible Transition?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.

Dear Professor Foxy,
I’m a cis woman in an amazing relationship with a man who has gender dissonance. Question 1: How can I best support him? I’ve tried to educate myself on trans issues and cis privilege as best I can, and learn from him. I listen if he wants to talk about things, and gently try to tell him he’s not a freak etc. I’m also trying to avoid pressuring him, e.g. sexually and about transitioning (which he’s nowhere near making a decision about yet). Otherwise I try to support him by being a nice person. Is there anything I’m missing?
Complicating factor: I’m straight. I assumed otherwise as a teenager, for the dubious reason that I didn’t fancy boys (I was on medicine which I later realised killed my sex-drive utterly). I had one brief and unsuccessful fling with a girl, but since coming off the meds I’ve dated only men, and never examined my sexuality.
Since my boyfriend told me, I’ve tried to be honest and careful with my own feelings, trying to check that I’m comfortable with the idea that he might be a transwoman (which he hasn’t figured out yet, hence the male pronouns). I do this by thinking of him as a woman occasionally (using female pronouns in my head) and by sometimes thinking of him as female-bodied while we’re making out. All fine so far.
I’m still worried about potential incompatibility if he transitions, so I want to explore my sexuality. So far all I’ve done is see if sexy bits of The L Word turn me on like straight TV sex-scenes sometimes do. Conclusion: maybe – trying to work out if you’re getting turned on kinda hinders the whole getting-turned-on thing. Question 2: Any tips on exploring my sexuality? (N.B. We’re exclusive.)
The flip side is that I’m worried that my liking his male body will prevent/delay transitioning. Question 3: how can we avoid this? We also worry that, having transitioned, he’ll fancy men instead of women (I heard it’s possible), but I guess there’s no way to predict that.
Transitioning aside, PIV sex (which I really like) probably isn’t going to happen, which for the moment I’m totally fine with. Question 4: how do I make sure I’m still ok with that, as things continue? Am I allowed to think like that? I love him dearly, and our relationship has so far been amazing. I talk about all of this with him. But I stayed in my last relationship too long out of *duty*, and though I don’t feel at all like that now, I’m afraid of repeating the pattern. I don’t want to become like the stereotypically oppressed wife of the ex-gay, sacrificing her sexual needs to her partner’s issues (pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/the_religious_right_and_the_objectification_of_women/). Some people in this situation categorise themselves as wholly straight/gay but are ok with making an exception for the person they love – does that work? Am I doing the right thing? How do I balance supporting him with being true to myself?
Bonus question: We’re going to explain the situation to my (generally lefty) parents once I’ve graduated. Any tips?
Thank you!
Yours,
Hopefully Bi

Dear Hopefully Bi –
I want you to breathe. Your partner is just starting a journey. He may end up fully transitioning, he may end up occasionally wearing women’s clothing, or he may do none of the above. Regardless of what his journey will be, you want to be supportive (which is great). However, you are already going into full-fledged end result mode. That’s not helpful, either for you or for him.
I think your supporting of him is wonderful. You self-educated, which is great, as too often non-trans folks expect trans people to educate them. You are showing him love and support – also great. Have you asked him what he needs? Does he have other people that he talks about this with? You can support each other, but you cannot be each other’s only support.
I can’t tell you what your sexual orientation/attraction looks like. I don’t think you can at this point either. Instead of trying too hard to anticipate the future, keep going with the flow. As he takes steps, see how that feels in terms of your emotions, your desires, and your relationship. You are trying to predict his desires and your reactions, his body and your reactions, his sexuality and gender and your reactions. If he transitions, he may fancy men. You may find the need to sleep with men. You may become polyamorous in your relationship or just your sex life. You can’t know all of that at this point: just keep talking.
You know what the potential concerns are not only around his possible transition but also around your own habits, so keep an eye out for your unhealthy patterns. Think about how you’re supporting yourself. Do you have friends you can discuss this with? Have you found any on-line communities of people going through similar situations? How is he supporting you? Make sure that you have built-in structures for taking care of yourself. For example, a set dinner or coffee date with a friend to discuss what is going on with you, your partner, and your relationship.
Put telling the parents to the side for now, as you don’t know what the situation is and you can’t explain until you know where you stand with it.
Breathe, honey. You have a great partner, good communication, and a journey in front of you. Keep taking care of yourself and him, and make sure he is doing the same. You have no idea where this journey ends, but you have a great basis for a relationship, be it romantic or friendship, and either one is a blessing.
Best,
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

Join the Conversation

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Hopefully Bi,
    You sound like a really wonderful person – very giving, supportive and understanding of the needs of others, almost to a fault.
    With that said, there is a time and a place for selfishness.
    You’ve done an awesome job of understanding your partner’s gender process, and accepting him no matter where that path leads him.
    BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU?
    You’re a straight cis woman who likes PIV sex and you have every right in the world to have your needs met without apology
    There may come a time where you’ll find that – while you’ll continue your support of your partner’s process as a friend, you’ll have a need to find a cis man to have a sexual relationship with.
    And that would be perfectly OK!
    There are a lot of ways to love people, and in my own life some of the people I love the most are “just friends” – in other words, you may have to think about ending this relationship as a relationship because YOUR sexual needs are going unmet.
    You’ve done an incredible job of taking care of your partner’s gender needs perhaps it’s time to take care of your sexual needs with the same attentiveness even if that means you have to leave your partner as a partner and can only be a platonic friend to him.

  • SecondBeach

    I think it’s important to remember that sexual identity and sexual orientation are often two separate beasts. There are lesbian trans women and gay trans men (check out Asher Bauer’s great writing about being a gay/queer trans man at Carnal Nation: http://carnalnation.com/content/56599/1067/beyond-homo-and-hetero.) If he is truly attracted to you know, there is no reason to doubt that will continue as his own identity changes, just as several trans men I know who were born women and previously identified as lesbian continued to be attracted to women after transitioning.
    Also, the role (or lack thereof) of PIV sex isn’t set in stone either. Some trans women – and certainly many genderqueer people – don’t have bottom surgery and fully incorporate unchanged anatomy into their feminine gender identity.
    And finally if you’re looking to for test out queering your sexual appetite, check out Pink and White productions. The porn company, owned by a queer woman of color, features performers of wide range of sexual identities and orientations and is highly transpositive, as well as anti-racist, anti-sizeist, anti-ableist and kink-friendly. Very respectful and seriously hot.
    Best of luck, relax and communicate.

  • Athenia

    The sexy bits of The L Word turn me on too and I’m straight. So, I don’t think that’s a good measure.
    I think as far as exploring your sexuality goes, you’ll be exploring it with your partner. It’s not about anyone else; it’s about what works for you and your partner.
    Best of luck and don’t be afraid! Come what may!

  • Ali Miller

    I’m a 26-year-old trans woman who transitioned last year as a graduate student at a large public university, and my partner of three years is a cis woman. She could have written a letter just like yours about a year and a half ago. Today, we are closer and more in love than ever before, and look forward to a long happy life together! I thought I might share some highlights from our experience:
    – Your relationship will not survive without lots and lots of honest communication. Sounds like this isn’t a problem for you two. You need to be open to the possibility that you will not feel the same for eachother post-transition. For example, my partner was honest with me that the changes in my body made her less/not attracted to me physically (even though I am very fit and attractive on an absolute scale). That hurt for both of us to realize, but honesty will start you on your way to -doing- something about it!
    – Sexual orientation is actually very unlikely to change as a result of transition. However, your relationship alone is not proof that your partner is attracted to women. There’s pretty strong odds that -if- your partner will come to prefer men sexually after transition, you already know it. If your partner fancies you and other women now (emphasis on other women), you can bank on that after transition too. When I shared with my partner pre-transition, my fantasies were almost exclusively about men. Fast-forward to the present and, yes, we are both exclusively attracted to men sexually. However, this has in no way compromised our emotional/romantic bond. We are polyamorous in our sex life, and it’s actually been fantastic! We both had poly inclinations before transition though, so maybe that’s just us. I know you mentioned that you’re exclusive, but it’s something to think about. Honest communication is really important with other sex partners too — it takes due diligence to make sure nobody gets stepped on.
    – I think you will come to find it very cute that you are testing your sexuality by watching sexy scenes from the L-word, haha! Not teasing, just love. :) However, its -my- experience (anecdotes, not data) that a lot of cis women seem to really -want- to be bi (all of my female partners have expressed this), but ultimately must concede that they are not fulfilled by sex with other women. I’m very sorry if that sounds like bisexual erasure — there are zillions of girls out there who will discover how great pussy is for them!! You may be one!! Rock on bi women!! But, now isn’t the time to try to “coax” your orientation in line with your relationship. Explore lots, but be passive and embrace your inclinations as you discover/affirm them. Don’t try to force anything.
    – Start shopping around for trans-positive connections to your local queer community. You’ve enjoyed het privilege all your life so far, but if you stay together though transition, guess what?? You’re gay!! Boom!! Hahaha!! At least that’s how you’ll be identified — you won’t fit in with straight people the same way anymore. Having a family of queer peers will become very important, since you’ll need to do a lot of venting with people who understand. You’ll also need friends who understand to celebrate your successes as a couple together! You mentioned graduation — if you are university students, then your school’s LGBT center is the place to start.
    – Expanding on the above, you should really try to connect with another straight cis woman who’s been in your shoes. You are in a very special situation, and you need the support of someone who understands (just as much as your partner does).
    – I double dare you to get such an intimate portrait of gender transition, and not question yourself a little. Even if you don’t ever directly question your gender ID or sexual orientation, you may come to think very differently about your own gender presentation, how you embrace your gender role, how you interact with others, or how you engage sexual situations. Fasten your saftey belt, it’s quite a trip!
    – The interpersonal dynamics of your relationship will change. It’s stunning how scripted the gender roles in hetero relationships can be — that script is about to be rewritten. No, exploded!! The way you give and receive affection will change. I’m fully 12 inches taller than my partner (I think we’re adorable, btw :) ), so I’m still the big spoon, hahaha. However, they will likely want to be touched and talked to differently. Domestic roles may change. How you present yourselves as a couple in public will change. Keep an eye out for this and respond accordingly. See the above about honest communication.
    – It seems pretty common for trans women to suddenly deal with a lifetime of disgust about their bodies all at once at the beginning of transition. It may not be obvious that this is coming, and it can pop up at unexpected times. I’ve never cried so hard for so long as I did the months immediately following the decision to transition. I literally wanted to rip and cut my own flesh off, and i was -totally- inconsolable. Know that this has -nothing- to do with you, and that there is nothing you can do to make it better. It will be painful to watch. It ends eventually.
    – Should you remain with your partner through their transition in a mutually supportive and loving role (keyword: mutual), assert some ownership over the transition experience. You are not a passive observer. My partner and I call it “our transition”. Make sure you’re “in” enough with your partner to be able to speak with authority about their transition to others. Know by heart what transition means to your parter, why they are doing it, what their goals are, and how they are meeting them. Make sure they know all about -your- struggles and can speak with authority about your experience the way I am speaking about my partner now.
    – Despite the challenges and struggles you’ll be facing, knowing a trans person so intimately during such an important part of their lives is quite a privilege. Enjoy, and learn lots!
    – Oh and one last thing! You mentioned that you miss PIV sex. I can only speak from experience. PIV sex was out of the question for me once I began transition, and that’s still the case. However, I have absolutely no qualms about using a strap on! :) Even though we both have male sex partners, we still have sex with eachother for play and to feel physically connected. Food for thought!
    Best of luck to you and your partner! It might not work out… but it can! It did for us, and it’s been really f-ing great!

  • Comrade Kevin

    I’m going through the same kind of gender dissonance and it absolutely terrifies me. I’ve even been losing sleep at night over it.
    Right now I feel pulled and tugged in about five different directions at once, and I’m seeking some clarity and peace of mind. Fortunately, I am going through some intensive therapy right now that leaves me frequently raw, but does a good job of providing answers I know I need. What complicates matters of gender identity for me is a history of childhood sexual abuse.
    The damage it left with me has made me question my sexual orientation and question whether my gender confusion is a result of the abuse or a natural biological state. Though I know I have trans issues to work through, I am reluctant to make any sort of quick decision and know that whatever I decide will be slow and undertaken only after long deliberation.
    Still, I am only human and I want to know where I’m headed and where I need to be.

  • Comrade Kevin

    If anyone knows of someone (perhaps even themselves) who I could speak to about this period of gender dissonance and overall uncertainty, would they please feel free to contact me?

  • Ali Miller

    “You’ve done an awesome job of understanding your partner’s gender process, and accepting him no matter where that path leads him.”
    Hold on, Greg. Hopefully Bi’s partner is “nowhere near making a decision” on transition yet. Sounds like there’s a looong way left on that path yet.
    Of course, I’m glad her interests are being kept in mind by the readers — no advice would be complete without exploring the possibility that the relationship might not work. A quick mental poll of young T people I know indicates the chances aren’t too hot.
    But, you seem very eager to dismiss the idea that the relationship may work at all. That she should cut her losses and go get that PIV sex before she turns into a pumpkin!
    Do you always recommend ending a relationship at the first sign of trouble? From HB’s post, this seems like -quite literally- the first sign of… something new.
    Hopefully Bi has made a very warm gesture to her partner by reaching out like this — is it unreasonable that there might be a few ounces more love and affection to be found in the relationship?
    My partner and I didn’t have sex for the first segment of my transition, but here we are, together, madly in love, so happy we almost feel guilty, and having more and better sex than ever. Just sayin….

  • Ali Miller

    If you are serious about gender issues, then you should find real live trans-spectrum people to talk to. We’re much friendlier in real life than on the internet! :)
    PFLAG is a good trans-positive LGBT organization nationwide (at least, it is trans-positive in my area). Also, google around for local queer/trans resources.
    This isn’t something you’re going to deal with on a message board, in a chat room, or by email.

  • Bridgette

    My experiences are very different than most people’s out there, Kevin, so I’ll add a word of caution. My experiences with the trans community have been less than positive, but I first came out in Georgia. I tend to get a lot of flack over the fact that I finally had to completely ditch the idea of having a trans identity since all it did was create more dissonance in my gender identity than it resolved. At this point, I consider myself purely a woman and see the transsexuality as a medical condition. I am not sure if that helps any.
    I am glad that you have had a lot of positive experiences with therapy resolving the sexual abuse. I did not. I was raped at eleven and the therapy did little to help me get through the trauma.
    It was not until I met a wonderful adviser at my college that I began working through everything by writing about it.
    My only gender dissonance has been from trying to integrate a trans identity.

  • Ali Miller

    Hi Bridgette. I’m so sorry you’ve had a bad experience with the trans community, but I’m not sure I understand what you mean. You’re a transsexual woman — you *are* the trans community.
    Do you mean that many queer/trans spaces you encountered aren’t warmly accepting of transsexual women? Sadly, that can be the case. I still often maintain stealth about being a trans woman in queer spaces for that reason. It’s getting better.
    Do you mean that queer/trans spaces tend to accommodate genderqueer people more/better than transsexual people? That’s common too. Unfortunately, the numbers just really work against us. I’m actively involved in a group of over a dozen trans youth at my university, and only three or four of us are transsexual people. I often feel like an outsider because my gender presentation does not challenge the gender binary.
    Yes, transsexuality is a purely medical condition (it has a purely medical cure) for many/most who identify that way. I still think ties to the queer community are very important! Even though your assigned gender was incorrect and you are female without qualifier, you’re still queering gender by rejecting your assignment!
    I don’t at all mean to challenge your account. However, it’s my experience that your situation is actually -quite- common. I.e., trans women often seem to feel like the don’t belong, and end up “disappearing”. I really want to hear from women who’ve withdrawn about why that’s the case.

  • Bridgette

    Ali, hi. I have run into a lot of pressure to have some form of transgender identity. I know that might not always be apparent, but I hate to consider myself a transwoman, and even shy away from considering myself transsexual. This has had a lot to do with just feeling as if I was trying to integrate some form of male identity, even if it is a former identity, into my Self. I grew up largely female. I was more of a tomboy than I was a boy. I loved to play with dolls, and I was lucky to have parents who accommodated that. It was actually very difficult for me to realize and accept that I was born male, which might seem a bit odd.
    My male persona, which was never very deep to begin with, kept me from realizing just how much pain I was in. I ended up with a disassociative situation and a near split between the male mask and the female interior. The male mask was never really part of me. It was something that only emerged when I needed it since, at home, I was free to be, well, a girl even if I could not dress like one.
    Adding to the situation, I am lesbian. In fact, my sexuality has been the biggest problem area for me because any attempt to suggest that I am going to end up preferring men has resulted in destructive behaviors and deep depression.
    The majority of the problems I have had within the community have come from transsexuals. Because I was always emphatic about my sexuality, and emphatic about my gender identity, and because I did not have a lot of dissonance between being female and having to undergo transition, I was often accused of being a faker, or not really being trans. Oddly enough, because of my flawless, if not overly feminine, gender presentation, many lesbians have been far more accepting of me than the trans women I have met over the years.
    I have refused to stop talking about my experiences, but I talk about them from a purely female perspective rather than a transgender experience. I began estrogen therapy two years ago, anti-androgens two months ago (I am allergic to sulpha, so we were very cautious about starting anti-androgens), and will have my orchiectomy sometime in the next few months. I am in a great deal of pain since, ten years ago, I tried to castrate myself. It was the fifth attempt, I believe, since I was seven to ‘correct’ the problems I had with my body.
    I hope that this answers all of your questions. I am sorry that we kind of hijacked the threat a little. I should add that I chose not to get into a relationship until I was further along in my transition just to avoid these potential issues brought up by Bi.
    Bridgette

  • Ali Miller

    Thanks!
    Yes, thread-jacking over. Sorry!

  • Bridgette

    Ali, you are welcome. If you want, we can continue this conversation through email.
    Take care,
    Bridg

  • April

    Wow. It’s not often you can read that kind of story and nod and say, “I’ve been there.” I wrote about some of the harder aspects of it when it was happening. Our relationship didn’t ultimately work out, but there were a myriad of reasons why not, and it wasn’t completely because of the impending transition. Good luck to you; it sounds like you’re already able to communicate with one another very well, and that will help immensely!

  • j7sue2

    Trans community. I don’t think there is one, really. After transition, transsexual women are just women, most of the time. And we have no need to be with other transsexual women, unlike lesbians, say, who obviously need to be with other lesbians to find sexual partners. There does tend to be quite a strong support network around transition, which can take several years, and is a huge challenge, but once someone is “cured”, the only reason to take on a trans identity is if you want to be politically active in the field. Otherwise, it’s a disadvantage, with no advantages. I don’t mind telling people, but it’s not my identity, any more than – say – I identify as a subachromial decompression survivor (it’s a minor shoulder operation)