When a partner, friend, or family member begins transitioning, there can be a lot of doubt for everyone. If you are reading this, you want to show your loved one that you care and support them. However, you may be worried about making them uncomfortable or crossing any boundaries. It can be hard to know how to be helpful, especially if you aren't familiar with the trans or LGBTQ community. To help, we talked to Amy Baldwin, a Somatic Sex and Relationship Coach on the Juicebox Sex & Relationship App and host of the Shameless Sex podcast, to give her top dos and don’t for supporting a loved one through a gender transition.
Transitioning can be exciting, but the process can also be long. It often takes a while for the body reflect how they feel on the inside. Sometimes that process can bring up feelings of self-consciousness, so continued words of affirmation can be really helpful. If your partner is transitioning, make sure to let them know that you still find them attractive at every stage of the transition.
Keep in mind that hormones will not only change their body, but can have an affect on their personality as well. Changes to their sex drive, sexual preferences, and emotional state are not uncommon.
Check in with them as much as possible. Ask them how they are and if they need support. It changes everyday, so the more check ins the better. Keep current with them. It can be hard if they are in or are entering a situation they don’t feel they will be accepted, especially during the holidays or periods of change. At the same time if you are their primary source of support, have resources for yourself so you don’t burn out because of the things that are happening for your partner.
If/when they change their preferred pronoun, try to put a lot of effort into using the pronoun that they request. Slip-ups happen, but it can feel good to know that you are putting in a lot of effort and care. If you are having a hard time adopting the pronoun, practice writing a story about your loved one using the pronoun as many times as possible, and then read it out loud. The same exercise can be helpful for name changes as well.
If your partner wants to be referred to as they/them - and you are having trouble adopting this, spend a day with the rule that you can only saying they/them in reference to everyone.
Understand that not every transgender person is the same. Constant loving communication can help you learn about where they are in the process and what they need from you. In addition, open your definition of what transitioning is. Queer-gender and gender-fluid people go through similar changes, but this can be harder for people unfamiliar with gender identities to understand.
Some trans people are more than happy to share their experiences and thoughts. However, don’t assume they are willing to go in depth. For example, if it’s not already a part of your relationship to talk about genitalia, don't bring it up. Treat your loved one just like you would anyone else. In other words, just because they are transitioning does not mean you permission to talk about their body parts. Treat them with the same amount of courtesy and respect as you would anyone else.
Transitioning is still a very personal journey. If you care about what they’re going through, take it on yourself to learn what you can. A lot of cities have support groups for partners of those in gender transition. Cleis Press offers a few great resources for supporting children and teens in gender transition.
The more you can learn about their experience, the better. If you are having difficulties in supporting a transitioning loved one, or have concerns about your own gender transition, private, one-on-one help is available on the Juicebox Sex & Relationship App.
Also check out our blog post about Reclaiming "Queer."