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The Trans partner shoe shop

For the trans partner, there is little in the way of guidance, advice, institutions or organized groups to help guide one through the precarious, tenuous, onerous process that we find ourselves in.

Provided with hindsight, as a guide for those who might be struggling, in no particular order, clearly not a definitive checklist, and in no way are all points applicable to all:

(See Whose Shoes? for some other voices). 

For parents of trans children, see resources under Trans View, and this open letter as a start. 

  • Breathe. This has nothing to do with you. It is not your fault. This lessens you in no way. It doesn’t reflect anything you’ve done, your identity, how you’ve behaved or how you’ve carried or portrayed yourself.

  • Be your own advocate. This can be difficult because you are likely to feel immense guilt regarding what your partner is going through, and your potential part in aiding and abetting their pain. Give yourself permission to feel conflicting emotions. Make sure you and your feelings are heard and not whitewashed. Make sure to straighten out any incorrect assumptions, and correct people’s words and terminology when they get them wrong.

  • Take life in tiny pieces. Be patient. Start off by living minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. Don’t make any rash decisions; give any major decision lots of time. If you decide to make changes, change only one thing at a time for greater perspective and objectivity about any consequences. Your partner may want to sprint to an ‘end point’ but this is a long trek. Time is your best ally. 

  • You may feel you’re on a roller coaster at warp speed while your partner experiences the process at the pace of an elderly wounded snail on a glacier. Many will note that their partner, having made the decision to transition, will want to be living as authentically as possible, as soon as possible. Conversely, some trans people take a very slow, considered and conservative approach to transition, driving their partners insane by forcing them into a life of subterfuge.

  • Transitioning aboard a tumultuous raft of hormones can skew the focus and stability of your partner. The person your partner appears to be at the beginning of the trek is likely to alter considerably, and not just physically. On occasion, you may not recognise your partner at all, and will think them the most selfish, egotistical, unreliable, untrustworthy, inwardly focused dirtbag, ever.

  • Your partner never went through all the social cues, conditioning and adolescent experimentation that is an intrinsic part of growing up in the ‘other gender’. They will likely make lots of missteps, appear to portray themselves unrealistically or even comically—clumsily mimicking the gender they are confirming.

  • This is a huge learning curve for all and requires all the patience and good humour you can muster. Be mindful of who the trans person might choose as a gender role model, particularly those who are FTM, some of whom adopt an overly aggressive ‘maleness’, and testosterone only exacerbates this.

  • You will likely feel fatigued. Like the fatigue suffered by those caring for the sick or infirm, that of the transition process is all-consuming and overwhelming. Its tentacles clutch every aspect of your life—your mental, physical, social, legal, moral, religious, spiritual, and family well-being—as well as your safety and security. You are offered no vacation or respite. 

  • You might lose your partner in more ways than one. Many of us are suddenly thrust into the ‘adult’ role in the relationship, without an equal. All the difficult ‘grown-up’ tasks are dumped in our laps while our partners are immersed in self-absorption, escalating emotions, anxieties, depression, and insecurities; or perhaps a new, and slightly manic, excitement and exuberance.

  • Tell somebody. A confidant. Someone you can trust. Someone with empathy. Someone who will understand and will have your back but still have compassion for your partner. Someone to whom you can pour out your emotions. A close friend, a sibling, a family member. Someone who will not offer quick solutions or unnecessary advice but can hear you, and has the flexibility to understand and appreciate that your feelings and outlook will likely change. 

  • Love. This is the person you fell in love with. They have just had a monumental mind shift, whether they knew all along or gained recent insight. It took courage for them to tell you.

  • Your partner may try to assure you that they ‘are still the same person’. They are … only, they are not. Their intrinsic being may be the same, but to truly remain the ‘same person’ they would not feel compelled to transition. This is difficult to reconcile and can be completely disorienting. They may think their transition is purely physical, but changes in hormones can have huge effects. 

  • Research. Research. Research. Find out all you can about transition. Begin to understand gender dysphoria. What it entails and how it manifests. Find out all you can about the hormones. The surgeries. The implications. Legal status. Rights and responsibilities. Potential dangers and discrimination. 

  • Become an ally. As you are living this, you are much more than an ally, but don’t expect to be welcomed into the trans or wider LGBTIQ communities with open arms. The trans partner has feet in both the trans and wider worlds and treads a very fine line between respecting the needs and expectations of a minority while having to explain the situation to—and appease—an ill-informed and possibly hostile majority, as simply as possible. Speaking two languages simultaneously is hard, and slip-ups are to be expected.

  • Understand that you will think very conflicting thoughts. Your allegiances will be tested. Your partner will expect you to understand all they are going through and support them, while they appear to become incapable of empathy or consideration for you. At the same time, you may have to appease family members and others who are in denial, very reluctant to accept or downright hostile to any changes. It can be as precarious as walking on a knife-edge through eggshells.

  • Get professional help. Seek therapy or counselling. You and your partner will need it—individually and, potentially, together. Find someone you are comfortable speaking to and have a good rapport with. If you have children, find professional help for them, too. Young children can be very accepting but older ones might find it hard to understand their new place in the family or world. They might fear it will happen to them, too. 

  • Communicate with your partner. Communication is vital. There can be no secrets when transitioning affects both of you or any children. It is heartbreaking for your partner to reach a point where a radical life change is the only option. This does not invalidate your being, position, persuasion or beliefs. Sometimes it can feel as if your pain pales in comparison, but it still deserves acknowledgement. Negotiate and discuss all issues with honesty, kindness, compassion, and love. In conjunction with your partner, devise a strategy for how and when you wish to convey revelations and announcements to family, friends, co-workers, neighbours, and a wider audience.

  • Outside communication is vital in cases where a trans person is taking their transition slowly or in secret, as slip-ups are inevitable. It is really important for the trans partner to have a support network.

  • Join a private group of trans partners, but not until you’re ready. It is vital to be ready to speak to other trans partners. Understand that opinions, approaches and acceptance levels fill the spectrum and vary widely. Choose a forum that suits you. Reddit is popular—but anonymous trolls, ill-informed do-gooders, and the judgment police can turn such forums hostile. Organisations such as PFLAG may be a good first step.

  • Read blogs, books, posts and comments from other trans partners. With an open mind. All perspectives are valid. There is no ‘right’ answer or procedure. Find that voice that resonates with you, or pick and choose those bits that seem the best fit. There are so many ways to deal with transition. Perhaps your way is the best, but don’t discount the wisdom of those in whose shoes you are following. ​Also be aware that some trans partners are vociferous and extremely defensive when justifying their decisions.

  • Your partner’s goal posts may continually move. The elusive 'end point' might be nudged, or never appear. To many trans partners, who hope each change will be the last, this can feel like death by a thousand cuts. ​When negotiating with your partner about anything to do with transition, expect that the terms and agreements might become very fluid, requiring constant renegotiation.

  • Transition is confusing for all. It’s a dilemma: to divorce, and let go of, someone you desperately love, or to stay and continue a partnership with someone you are no longer in love with.

  • Laugh! Try to find humour and joy and fun. Smiling and laughter trigger an increase in endorphins, lifting one’s mood. Transition is a very serious business, and it can drain the whimsy and joy from life.

  • Practise self-care. Exercise regularly. Breathe fresh air every day. Go for regular walks. Get a dose of green. Connect with nature. Sit for a while in a park. Visit gardens and national parks. Do not medicate with drugs or alcohol. Do yoga. Binge-watch Netflix. Read a book or three. Allow yourself to be pampered. Get away if you are able. Meditate. Find yourself a positive mantra. Do breathing exercises. Get regular massages. Read an uplifting and inspirational book (or quotes at the very least). Practise mindfulness (whatever that is).

  • Accept that you may have fallen into a depression if it becomes impossible to find any joy, or to function. Gender transition is a justifiable reason, and many have been there before. Seek professional help. Know that there is absolutely no shame in taking medications to right a chemical/neurotransmitter imbalance in your brain. Also know that there is no one solution that fits all.

  • Cry. Bawl. Scream. Yell. Rant. Blubber. Wail. Howl. Cry some more. It is perfectly OK to feel sad, angry, bitter, distraught, confused and unhinged, and a complete loony. This is a legitimate reason to be [insert any and all emotions here]. Don’t feel remorse over such emotions. Don’t apologise for them. You will feel things you never thought you would. You will be tormented by conflicting and contradictory thoughts—some very dark. If you find it cathartic, cry all you need to.

  • Work out what you want to tell the world. Be cognisant of how much your partner will want revealed. Prepare, or at least consider, answers to potential questions. You don’t need to answer anything you don’t want to. One of the more likely first questions will be a version of, ‘So. Have they had the surgery?’ Turn it back to the asker—‘Why do you want to know?'; ‘Why? Are you considering the surgery yourself?’; ‘What do you know about gender-confirmation surgery?’; ‘Will knowing make any difference to you?’ ​Other questions might include: ‘Are you staying together?’; ‘So … are you … like … you know … sleeping, uh … in the same bed?’; a sceptical ‘You really had no idea?’; ‘Have you told the kids? How are they with this?’; ‘What does this all mean?’; ‘Are you getting help or support?’; ‘Are you splitting/getting divorced?’

  • Don’t be in a hurry to label yourself. As your trans person is finding their true self, you may find yours; or you may simply come to the conclusion that you knew it all along. Some find they have a flexibility (in gender and/or sexuality) that they had never imagined. You may find that as your partner becomes more authentic, you become more closeted. Some people may want to label you, put you in a box. Realise that labels don’t matter.

  • Give up on the life you once imagined. Your imagined life has unalterably changed. Like anyone who has faced a tragedy, loss, trauma, or catastrophe, life continues on in a new trajectory. It does not have to be worse life, just modified. Don’t mourn the life that might have been.

  • If you have children, be there for them. They are likely to be very confused. Let their schools know what is happening or (at the very least) that there are ‘changes’ at home, to prepare the staff for any withdrawal, depression or acting out. Resist ‘trash-talking’ your partner in front of the children. Introduce the topic slowly, vaguely, and in very broad terms. Reaction will depend upon a child’s age, maturity and personality.

  • Ignore comments or advice from anyone who has not experienced being a trans partner. Like receiving parental advice from people without children, this is likely well-intentioned but will completely miss the nuance and complexity of your predicament. Also feel free to ignore any advice from anyone who is a trans partner. Everyone’s situation is different. Run fast and far away from anyone who starts sentences with ‘It’s not my place to judge ...’,  ‘I’m not transphobic, but …’, or ‘I’m not prejudiced …’

  • ‘Haters gonna hate’. Any trans partner who has publicly spoken or written about their particular relationship has drawn hateful responses. Regardless of what the writer might do, think, or believe, or the perspective they offer, there will always be people who have a problem with it and will not hold back in saying so. Ignore the haters and don’t read their comments.

  • Avoid viewing yourself as a martyr, hero, trailblazer or victim. Of course, it may be easier to deal with the circumstances if you have a ‘role’, but be sure to determine what you need rather than what such a character might expect to end up with. Look after your own needs and wants. Get out and spend time with other people.

  • Expect to feel mournful and lost … This is a loss. It may be difficult for others to understand, but grieving is legitimate and to be expected. To trans partners, the loss of the person they loved can feel very much like a death.  Of course, there are many who do not see it as a loss at all but as gaining a stronger, happier and more agreeable partner.

  • Look for positives. Make sure to keep in touch with your own interests, loves, and activities that make you happy. Laugh. Smile. Find joy. Look for the bright side, humour in adversity, and silver linings. Compiling a ‘gratitude list’ may remind us of things to be grateful for.

  • If positivity doesn’t work, write an ‘ingratitude list’. Note every single item that sucks in your life. Pour out and document all your miseries, misfortunes, disappointments, inequities, betrayals and sources of depression, using as many cuss words as necessary. Burn the words if this helps banish depressing thoughts from your brain. 

  • Be aware of emotional manipulation from your partner. They will expect your acceptance of who they are; they should offer you the same respect. Their transition should not threaten your essential being, preferences or viewpoint. If you were cisgender heterosexual or lesbian to begin with, it is more than likely you will remain so. Don’t be made to feel guilty for not being as attracted to your partner as you once were. 

  • Be prepared for your trans person to question—or at least be curious about—their sexuality. Living in a binary world creates expectations. To ‘cross the binary’ raises many questions about what should happen, or what sexuality might now be considered ‘normal’. Curiosity is to be expected, and it is possible that the trans person will become interested in role playing, perhaps using sex aids. This may be a phase, or a sign of a complete change in sexuality. Many partners of trans people are left feeling inadequate, not attractive enough, not strong enough.

  • You may find yourself on suicide watch. Dysphoria is a horrible affliction, not always erased by transition. Difficulties and lack of acceptance expressed by colleagues, peers, friends and family erode the self-confidence and self-acceptance gained during transition. Make sure you know the phone numbers of suicide hotlines and support services. If you see warning signs, or fear your partner will self-harm, trust your gut and seek intervention.

  • Expect that your partner may be unhappy or very disappointed with how they present physically as they transition. A lifetime of dreaming about transition can create unrealistic goals or expectations. Older transitioners will transition into bodies that are … older. 

  • Expect your trans person to be completely clueless about dating, particularly with the opposite gender for the first time. MTFs can get themselves into compromising, difficult or dangerous situations simply because they miss the nuances of signals and language, and are oblivious to grooming behaviours.

  • Try not to feel used or abused. Many trans partners feel like a ‘placeholder’—providing a conventional façade until their significant others live as their authentic selves. Some trans people blame their partners for having ‘held them back’ from living their authentic lives. No one can be held accountable if they had no idea, or if their partner misrepresented themselves.

  • You may feel some jealously towards your partner’s changing appearance. Particularly for the partners of MTF: the trans bodies may be leaner, devoid of the disfigurement of pregnancy, boobs not subject to the ravages of time, breastfeeding, or gravity. They might likely be ‘blossoming’ with the pure joy of changes they’d only ever dreamt about. They will be experimenting with looks, with hair and makeup. All their clothes will be new/different. They may be enjoying the effects of plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures. They may post lots of selfies, receiving lots of compliments and effusive support. As they transition into their beautiful butterfly, you may feel as you are slowly devolving into a grub.

  • Expect to feel short-changed in the adjustment of ‘gender roles’: this may just not happen. You may find that your expectations of what a new ‘woman’ in the household will bring to simply not materialise. There are whole layers and years of gender conditioning and expectation that will not magically be resolved.

  • You are likely to lose friendships and connections. Accept that these friendships might not have been as close or as deep as you had thought. Be prepared to let go of those who cannot be supportive—this will offer you far greater relief in the long term.

  • You will be OK. You seriously will be. In the beginning this may well seem impossible. In the middle stages of transition you will likely think you will never make it through. It will take time, perseverance, adjustment, and a whole lot of thought and reflection. And time. And more time. And even more time. But you will be OK.

  • Own it. Whatever you decide. Whatever you do. Whether you stay in, or leave the relationship. Whether it takes months, or years, or even decades to make a decision. It’s OK. If anyone has a problem with the direction you follow, it is their problem, not yours. Never make any decision based upon what you believe others might think. Don’t be confined by what you believe the ‘right thing to do’ might be. This is your life. The way you play it is up to you.

WHOSE shoes?

Here's where you will find some of the voices of those wearing the same shoes: 


  • Amanda Jette Knox discusses the coming out of her trans daughter, then later, her trans wife in her blog The Maven of Mayhem

  • Diane Daniel has been writing for some time on her site She Was the Man of My Dreams

  • Helen Boyd's blog and resources at En|gender 

  • Melissa Reyenga discusses the coming out of her wife in Unwrapping the Onion. Raised and homeschooled as Fundamentalist Quiverfull Christians, this blog series confirms the intrinsic nature of gender—gender dysphoria occurred despite being raised within a community that does not educate, inform, or affirm any gender variance and is overtly hostile towards such. 


Forums, Networks, YouTube & Lifelines:

  • Reddit forum MyPartnerIsTrans

  • Trans Family has a Yahoo forum for spouses TransFamilySpouses 

  • For international support and resources, the Straight Spouse Network

  • Trans Lifeline's SOFFA program (Significant Others, Friends, Family and Allies), is currently creating the Trans Lifeline Family Line, a crisis hotline, specifically for the loved ones of trans, nonbinary and/or questioning people. This volunteer service is to be staffed by operators with similar life experience. 

  • Trans IRL - Laura, Jenni, Rachel - The Spouses' Take. This YouTube channel has been created by Samantha, who shares the experiences of trans people. In this episode, three spouses discuss their experiences living with a transitioning partner. 

  • For those associated with the US Military, the Modern Military Association may have resources. The group includes the Milpride program for military families with LGTBQ youth. 



Whose Shoes?
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