Relationships are hard. Regardless of who’s involved, what identities they bring to the table, the compatibility of each person’s love languages and zodiac signs, or any other needs and desires folx carry into a relationship, it’s going to take a whole lot of love and communication for said relationship to thrive and be successful. Engaging in a romantic relationship with a transgender or gender non-conforming (GNC) person is no different.
It goes without saying, but the easiest place to start is by respecting their chosen name and pronouns. For more information on pronouns, see the Pronoun tab.
While talking through you and your partner’s needs is crucial, it’s important to understand that they may have trouble conveying their thoughts. Certain actions or phrases could be triggering for your partner or may just feel plain wrong. THAT’S OKAY. While you should always consult them about their needs first, the internet is rife with information and perspectives of other trans and GNC folx who may be in a place to more articulately describe certain feelings or put words to recurrent triggers. Therefore, we recommend doing your own research—Google (or DuckDuckGo—we’re not judging) the questions your partner may not feel comfortable answering. Below are brief discussions about common partner concerns. While they are not all-inclusive, they will hopefully get the ball rolling for you and your partner to help everyone transition comfortably and together:
Talk about it. The more open and communicative you are with your partner, the better.
Different body parts or sexual acts may cause your partner varying levels of dysphoria that they either didn’t experience or express prior to coming out. It goes without saying, but if anybody says “stop” during sex, STOP. Comfort your partner as needed, and then when they feel ready to talk about it, engage in a conversation about what happened that made them feel uncomfortable.
One of the biggest changes to your sex life may be language-related. Click on the picture below to read about examples for finding language that affirms your partner’s gender identity:
While this article is specifically tailored to partners of transwomxn, the general concepts and creativity can be applied across the board.
We also want to acknowledge our Asexual siblings, and that not all romantic relationships have to have a sexual component. You do you, and don’t let anybody judge.
Hormones & Surgeries
Again, TALK ABOUT IT. Get introspective to see how you feel about your partner starting hormones or getting surgery. Neither Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) nor Gender Confirmation Surgeries (GNC) are overnight processes, so don’t feel like everything is going to change overnight. For more information about specific HRT or surgeries, check out our TransMasculine and Transfeminine pages.
For some trans and GNC folx, HRT and surgery are more about taking control of their bodies than the actual physical effects. Talk to your partner about why they are/are not interested in HRT or surgery. Below are some sample questions you can ask:
- How would starting HRT/getting surgery make you feel?
*note: don’t say “female hormones” or “male hormones” unless your partner uses those terms first. Every human has both estrogen and testosterone in their bodies, and therefore neither is exclusive to any gender.
- How do you think HRT/surgery would affect our relationship?
- What effects are you most excited about?
Prior to meeting your partner, you likely had a gaggle of loved-ones and acquaintances with whom you were in regular contact. Depending on how long you’ve been with your partner, they may have met your loved-ones and acquaintances, or been mentioned in passing. How do you tell these folx that your partner is trans or GNC?
Coming out is a hard process, both for folx who identify as trans or GNC and for their partners. How do you start the conversation? How do you ask your loved-ones and acquaintances to switch names, pronouns, and expectations when talking about your partner? What if they don’t want to stick around?
If coming out to your loved-ones and acquaintances about your partner’s gender identity doesn’t make you anxious, then you’re either incredibly fortunate or a sociopath. There is always the possibility of rejection or dismissal, and depending on these reactions, you may have to reevaluate relationships with your loved-ones or acquaintances. There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all script for coming out as the partner of a transgender or gender non-conforming person, but here are a few helpful conversation starters:
- So, you’ve heard of “LGBT,” right? Well, *insert partner’s name* is the ‘T’.
- *insert partner’s name* and I had a really interesting conversation the other day: it turns out they’re transgender/gender non-conforming
If your partner comes out to you as trans or GNC, and you do a bunch of introspective soul-searching and meditation, and realize that you can’t stay in a romantic relationship with a trans or GNC person, then it is okay to leave. Relationships end for a variety of reasons, and if you can’t be supportive of your partner’s transition, breaking up may be the most effective way to show them love. If you can still support them as a friend, then make that abundantly clear, but try to be mindful of how you end the relationship (try not to saddle them with abandonment issues, if at all possible).
For both gay and heterosexual couples, gender can be a defining characteristic folx look for in partners. If your partner comes out as trans or GNC, it can change that dynamic in many ways—good, bad, ugly, and all around different. The biggest, most noticeable change will hopefully be in your partner’s mood, and how much happier they are now that they’re able to live authentically.
Transitioning isn’t exclusively limited to the trans or GNC person either—as their partner, you’ll also go through a plethora of changes, albeit considerably less visibly. People grow and change in relationships for a number of reasons, and coming out is another instance of this natural development. If you’re able to mourn the loss of who your partner was, thereby making space to embrace the person they’re becoming, then stick around and see what happens.
Regardless of what you decide to do—“Should I Stay or Should I Go” Syndrome, as The Clash call it—this experience will force you to look deeply into your heart and analyze everything you ever knew about yourself. Come to terms with whether or not you’re able to love your partner unconditionally, then go from there.
Other Relationship Stuff
If you do decide to stick around, you’ll need to TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING. For example, if your partner is feeling insecure in their masculinity, getting them flowers might not make them feel as good as going for a hike. That being said, we know a lot of transmasculine folx who love to get flowers and hate hiking. It all depends on the person and the relationship.
This also means expressing your thoughts and feelings. If you tell your partner what they want to hear, or avoid having hard conversations because they feel awkward, then the problem is no longer about gender, it’s about communication.
While many partners are thoughtful and will take the time to honor and listen to your feelings and needs, some folx can get lost in their transition, and forget that relationships are reciprocal, and therefore require them to put in just as much effort. If this is the case for your partner, or if either of you wants to learn more about other queer relationships, we recommend reading She’s Not the Man I Married, by Helen Boyd or the myriad of blogs and chat rooms that host stories written by the partners of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. YouTube also has everything, so check it out. Obviously, every relationship is different, but it is always helpful to read about other people’s perspectives in similar situations.
Below are some additional resources for partners:
For some, friends are just work or school chums to talk to before getting home to family or loved-ones (including four-legged companions). Other folx see friends as their chosen family—the people they love, trust, and feel safest and happiest around. These are the folx who know you and sometimes, you lose track of time just hanging out. Different folx have different levels of closeness with their friends, although friendships are particularly important to youth.
Studies have shown that friendship among teenagers can increase self-esteem, cognitive function, and empathy; lower rates of suicidality, anxiety, and depression; and boost an individuals’ immune systems—just to name a few. These close-knit relationships are normal and healthy part of human development. Therefore, when an adolescent comes out as transgender or gender non-conforming, one of their biggest concerns is often whether or not they’ll be accepted by their friends.
A lot has changed since we were in high school. From our observations, adolescents today are more accepting and inclusive of trans and GNC identities than they were five to ten years ago. That being said, as a major support system for trans and GNC youth, friends may have to change the ways they interact with their friends to make them feel supported.
Being on this website is a step in the right direction. Explore Out of Yer Shell to learn more about your friend’s identity and rich, cultural history. Pay particular attention to the Pronouns tab and use their chosen pronouns and name with 100% accuracy ASAP. Transvivor is also an awesome website for learning about the trans or GNC experience.
Talk to Your Friend
While there is a lot you can and should learn online, everybody’s experience is different, and it is more appropriate to ask your friend questions about their gender identity than it is to make assumptions based on a post you found on Tumblr or Reddit. When questions come from a place of love, respect, and learning, your friend will probably be glad you asked them. Open-ended questions often work best, but asking pointed or yes-or-no questions can often be helpful. Here are some examples of questions you can ask your transgender or gender non-conforming friend:
- How would you like me to treat you differently (if at all)?
- Are certain gendered terms (i.e. dude, bro, girrrrrl, etc.) okay? Are there other terms that you would prefer?
- How can I be helpful (with your transition/coming out/etc.)?
For both partners and friends, the best thing you can do is reiterate your love for your trans or GNC loved-one as often as possible. Being transgender and gender non-conforming is HARD and love and support from friends and partners can make a world of difference. Always use their chosen name and pronouns and affirm their gender identity as often as possible. While being trans or GNC is a big part of their identity, remember that it isn’t their entire identity. They’re still your partner or friend, and they need you to love them now more than ever.
“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.”Winnie the Pooh