To the Partners of Trans People With Love…
To the Partners of Trans People: I just received my copy of Love Always, Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge & Resilience, from Editor Jordon Johnson. I was so excited to see my name in print on page 132. I hope that Love Always will be a resource for SOFFAs, and mental and physical healthcare providers who wish to educate themselves as allies.
I know when you look at the title of the story, you are going to get the reference. Transition Envy. Do transgender guys get middle-aged man complexes? Well, if I could afford it, I’d probably have hair replacement and a BMW. Is there a special crowd funding for mid-life crisis?
Part of my story of transition is also a story of my struggle to accept the fact that there are all sorts of masculinities, and just because I did not figure out when I was 5 that I was transgender, that does not minimize my particular journey. There are lots of faggy, queerdo guys like me out there, just as much as those on the other end of the spectrum who give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for their money. And when you are in a relationship with another queerdo transgender guy, it does not really make life less complicated.
One very interesting fact that is worth noting is that Love Always has transgender/transgender relationship essays, as well as essays from all other different permutations of gender and sexual orientation which you might possibly come up with. Early on in my search for support, I found that many support groups were for the partners of MTF people, and they simply did not want a genderqueer or a questioning pre-trans person (as I was at the time) in their group. Exchanges with group leaders lead me to believe that I was invading their safe space by being a transgender person. However, some SOFFAs needed support specific to those who are either gay or lesbian, or who are in a trans/trans relationship. The support spaces, at that time, were filled largely with heterosexual women in relationships with transgender women, and the issues that people were dealing with were quite different. It makes sense that not all of our issues are the same, however, we are not a monolithic community. The change in our community is so quick that it is difficult, even for transgender people, to keep up with all the various changes in politics and terminology.
Relationships within a mercurial political landscape is difficult. To give you an idea of the mercurial nature of label politics within the transgender community, we might take a look at the usage of umbrella terms. The most recent is the label trans* with an asterisk. The term derives as an alternative for the term transgender as an umbrella term which had fallen out of favor. In the course of a few years (about 2009-2015), the term trans* had become really widely used, then criticized by young people in the transgender community. In my opinion, the usage or non usage of umbrella terms make the landscape of transgender politics an utterly baffling field of land mines to walk through. That does not mean that allies should not attempt to understand, but plan on devoting a fair amount of time. Because if you are like me, you’ll be perpetually embarrassed at sticking your foot in your mouth.
The recent change of the gender options on Facebook to 58 genders is another illustration of how very complicated gender can be. Combine that with multiple sexual orientations such as gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, pansexual or polyamorous to name a few, and you get the picture that relationships within the transgender realm could have infinite possibilities. Live Loud Graphic’s interpretation of popular identities may not necessarily be mine, but it is interesting to think about (see graphic):
Another factor which could make the counseling of transgender people in relationships more complicated is WPATH. WPATH standards of care have changed dramatically. WPATH now has a more positive view of middle path identities. People are transitioning faster and faster. Transgender health clinics seem to support a more quick transition, as do the WPATH standards. However, counselors do not seem to keep up with the changing of standards. Now, there seems to be more of an emphasis on difference and experiences which can vary dramatically depending on culture, class, age, gender, etc. My hope would be for counselors and therapists to keep up with issues of intersectionality.
My Testosterone Based Opinions
A transgender woman recently told me that she was not interested in hearing my testosterone based opinions. That comment pretty much is a guarantee to stop me dead in my tracks. She probably accomplished what she intended which was to get me to STFU. As a feminist and a person with the history of living in a female body, I had to stop and ponder. I did not seriously consider that my opinions were invalidated due to the fact that I inject testosterone into my system. Maybe for her, they were due to the fact that she so utterly rejected testosterone and what it did to her own body? But I had encountered enough misandry and reverse sexism in my youth to recognize the statement as a balancing of the power system, even though it was blatantly misandry. And who am I to say that my answers are applicable to those in the transgender female realm? I can honestly say that I do not know exactly what it is like to be in the shoes of a transgender woman. And I think that many times it is much more difficult.
When I think about the issues trans men in relationships have versus trans women in relationships, I have to say that because of the nature of testosterone and estrogen and the sometimes very opposite effects on the emotions, psyche and libido, I would say that partner issues among partners of transgender women and transgender men are extremely different.
Transgender women and Transgender men do not transition in the same way. Genderqueer people and middle path people do not transition in the same way that those who are on the edges of the transgender spectrum do. We do not have the same types of orientation and relationship issues or even the same types of personality issues and ways of going about transitioning or being in a relationship.
So to treat everyone in relationship with someone who is transgender or gender non conforming in a blanket sort of fashion is totally wrong. To apply the same standards of relationship counseling is wrong. And I am speaking specifically from the perspective of a transgender partner of a transgender person when I say this. I have no counseling experience. I can only speak to my experience of attempting to find support and feeling frustrated, as well as the total lack of support specific to my own identity. I will not cave to the internet bullies who told me when I first started seeking support that relationship support for SOFFAs is for “normal spouses” and not for transgender people.
Problems with people’s attitudes which I have met in the past have varied along very dramatically different polls. I have heard the attitudes of some relationship counselors who have based their therapy solely on the basis of transgender women transitioning back in the 80s and 90s and even early 2000s. I do not want to go to an experienced therapist who has counseled for 30 years who says to me that yes they do know about transgender people, only to find their philosophies and ideas not subject to change. I also would not want to encounter someone in counseling who assumes just one type of transsexual and that the WPATH standards of 30 years ago are the same as those of today. I would hope those in counseling would be open to the changing landscape of transgender identities and middle path folks, as well as to each journey and life path. Someone who has 30 years experience has surely picked up a wealth of wisdom along the way and has much to impart, if they are open to the new landscape of changing identities.
The opposite could be true, and I could possibly find someone who knows absolutely nothing about transgender therapy, but is a good therapist in general, who I have to educate about my identity. However, I hope that when I go to a therapist, and ask their credentials that I don’t hear something like, “Yes, I have knowledge of transgender people. I read all about *insert transgender celebrity* in the news. Just because you know of one transgender person, or you’ve watched shows on television, does not mean you are qualified in the area of transgender issues. Now that visibility is increasing, there should be more and more accessible information. And those sources produced by mass media are not always the ones which are the most authentic. Mainstream media usually only shows the middle to upper middle class, or affluent, leaving out a whole realm of perspectives. A book written from the perspective of transgender people or partners of transgender people holds more weight, in my opinion.
Another example of a problem that transgender people as well as SOFFAs of transgender people experience when seeking out support is just that the community is so small and people know each other so well, that there is the possibility that by going to a particular therapist or support group that there is a conflict of interest. Someone you know has counseled with them. Maybe even one of your exes, or a previous spouse has had them for a counselor. If I want to the privacy of my partner, or respect his right to have his own neutral support, then I have to make sure that I am going to a different place than he is. But there are so few counselors and support group that it becomes impossible. With more transgender therapists and support groups, it would become much less difficult to find support.
I am so very grateful to those people who choose to go into the field of counseling transgender individuals, or transgender spouses and partners. My hope is that those who choose to go into the field in the future, also realize that to keep up with the changing needs of the community will require an extra amount of research and contact with the community. And like Baskin Robbins, we are not all vanilla (or mainstream).