My boyfriend made an excuse of needing to run to the store and once he’d left, I noticed the cream-colored envelope perched on my desk. It was a letter containing all the words he couldn’t bear to speak aloud but that I’d known for a while were coming: my boyfriend was transgender. The announcement completely changed our lives and our relationship but in the best possible way.
Admittedly, I’d been willfully blind to my partner’s previous hints. He’d been hinting at his experience with gender dysphoria for a couple of months before writing the letter. I knew something was going on inside of him but I downplayed it in my head, thinking it was nothing serious or life-changing. I denied it until the letter made me realize I couldn’t anymore. I cried in the quiet light of our living room. I’d moved to a new city to build a life with him and now I was going to break it all down to build yet another. Though his pronouns hadn’t changed yet and his physical transformation would take time, my partner was a transgender woman.
The initial emotions were a rollercoaster. In addition to shock, I went through multiple stages of grief in the moments after reading my partner’s letter. Denial hit first, then anger at myself for not anticipating this despite obvious hints. Bargaining reared its ugly head next. Maybe he could just crossdress; that should be enough, right? Finally, depression settled like a cloak over me, dampening the previous dizzying emotions into a singular thought: my life as I knew it was now over.
I had to imagine a life I had never once considered living. My dreams of walking down the aisle to a handsome groom waiting at the end were dashed. How we would conceive children was beyond me. Coming out to parents, friends, and other family members seemed daunting. What would people say or do to us? According to the Humans Rights Campaign, rates of violent assaults on and murder of transgender people are at an all-time high. What did this mean for the two of us? Would strangers hurt and harass us as we underwent the transition? This was tough to process and still is months later.
I decided to stay. When I moved to Chicago to be with him, I did so because I felt a pull to him. I truly felt like we were destined to be together on some deeper level, and that didn’t change just because his gender was going to. When I truly took time to process my feelings, it all became clear: I was going to stay by my partner’s side.
My partner’s announcement made me realize some new things about myself. I was a straight woman in a heterosexual relationship up until that point. As much as I was scared about society and the implications for my partner and myself, I wasn’t opposed to him transitioning. The idea of my partner physically becoming the woman he knew himself to be inside didn’t change my feelings towards him. I was extremely surprised to find out this flexibility in myself. I had no idea that I would be OK with dating a woman. I guess I wasn’t as straight as I thought.
We had to redesign the future we’d imagined together. We’d talked extensively about engagement, marriage, and children, but those timelines would have to change. My partner explained that during a transition, transgender women usually go on estrogen and a testosterone blocker. This alters their appearance and can change their attitude. Hormones take years to fully develop a person from male to female, so we wanted to wait until we both were womanly before celebrating with a wedding. We also had to consider using a sperm bank in order to have children, which is an expensive business. Transgender women are infertile as the estrogen and testosterone blockers stop sperm production. There were complications to confront, but nothing we couldn’t conquer together.
Settling on a transition schedule that worked for the both of us was comforting. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), laser hair removal, doctor visits, therapy, coming out to family and friends—all part of the process of transition. On my end, there was also the necessity of finding support groups and figuring out what kind of financial contribution I could make to the transition. Often, one of the biggest complaints among partners of transgender people is feeling like their voice has been taken in the relationship. My partner understood that this transition wasn’t just for him but it was also a big one for me. By working together, compromising to allow us time to process each change, and moving at a reasonable pace, we avoided a lot of fights and miscommunications. I was comforted by knowing my fears and needs were being listened to.
We decided to tell our parents two days after the initial coming out. In hindsight, we wish we’d have waited to do this. Parents can be unpredictable. My own sister is a lesbian who came out in high school and my parents had no qualms and accepted her unconditionally. I had high hopes this would be the same for my partner, but I was surprised by the backlash. Both my own parents and my partner’s were confused, hurt, and angry. This added a lot of pressure and stress in an already fragile time for the two of us. I’d naively hoped that they’d be part of the support network we so desperately needed. Alas, it seems that homosexuality is still a lot easier to process than being transgender. We may not have their support, but we’ve found it from other sources.
Life surprisingly goes on just as normal as before. Sure, there are tough times when we’re upset and life is a struggle, but those are rare. Generally, we’re still laughing together every day and embracing the changes that come our way. The soft feel of leggings and sticky lipstick has replaced coarse hair and rough skin and we’re both happier every day. The changes are gradual but we’re excited by them rather than being ashamed or afraid of them. The toilet seat still goes up but our love has not died down. Life goes on and we’re loving every minute of it.
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