I don’t know. If you figure it out would you tell me? Anyway. A lot of the life of a cis partner of a trans person is trying to smooth out the dysphoria in the trans person’s life. This is not easy. It’s downright hard. Perhaps impossible. Oh you don’t know what dysphoria is? Sorry. Gender dysphoria includes a ton of things. Google it. But very simply it’s the feelings of disconnection and body hate trans people feel about their bodies. Sometimes the world thinks it’s about their dislike of genitals. Nope. It often focuses on anything that makes them feel like they do not present as the correct gender or that makes them feel internally uncomfortable with their gender. That could be hair, how tall the are, face shape, body shape, weight, really anything.
So last evening we had a very dysphoria filled evening. My wife was unhappy with just about everything about herself. I cannot solve these things. It took me a long time to realize that even when I solve these things I can’t solve these things. Even when I fix her hair, fix her makeup, and do everything to make her look pretty she doesn’t feel pretty. It isn’t in my control. I have to let go. I’m not good at things that aren’t under my control. But I’m working on it.
One of the most common topics of conversation with cis people about trans manners is how to address trans people. Do you use sir or ma’am if you aren’t sure how the person wants to be addressed? What about non binary people? This is a difficult topic and I’m not the expert. But as a cis person navigating trans spaces fairly frequently I can give you some tips.
If you meet someone who’s gender or sex you are unsure of you shouldn’t just ask. That’s not only rude you will make the person feel terrible. Do you want to be asked that question? Well then don’t ask. But we use a language where formal terms include gendered terms so you might think you are trapped!!! You aren’t. If you are meeting the person in a networking or professional setting use the same skills you would use if you met them before, or worse aren’t sure if you met them before, but can’t recall their name. Introduce the person you’re with. “Hi, I just wanted to introduce you to the guest I brought from out of town for the reception, Ms. Jessica Smith.” The other person will likely then introduce themselves. Great. Problem solved.
But what if you’re a service person at a restaurant or a cashier or work in another job where you see strangers all day and are expected to gender them. “Ma’am would you like more water?” You don’t need to use gendered words to be polite. You can just say “excuse me, may I get you more water?” The small change in phrasing avoids using gendered language. For a non binary or trans person you may be saving them embarrassment or sadnesses. Get use to avoiding gendered language when you can. Is it always possible? Of course not. However because my wife isn’t out yet but I really hate using he or him or husband I use spouse or partner or her name instead.
What if you make a mistake? Don’t even apologize. Move on. Correct and move on. That’s it. The end.
There are other things you can do to help the trans and gender non conforming people in your life. Even those you don’t know about. If you are in management at a company you can start using preferred pronouns as part of your signature line and as a question with new clients. Not only does it help trans people it helps cis people become aware of the issue. You can include your pronouns in your social media profiles for the same reason along with your gender.
Language matters. These are easy things you can do to improve people’s lives. I hope you’ll consider them.
My mom and my sister and I got pedicures last night. I invited my wife but she thought it would be too complicated. She wasn’t entirely wrong. I am not sure how it would have gone. My mom and my sister accept my wife but they still use male pronouns and I still use male pronouns when I’m with them. An act of cowardice. Should I ask them to switch? Switch myself? When my wife refuses to do so in public? I have no idea. I’m at a loss. I know they care about my wife and want us to be happy and couldn’t care about the trans thing less. But neither my wife or I are brave enough to push it. How can toenail polish be so complex?
I’ve determined I like the word queer to describe myself. The other day in bed I asked my wife what it means. Also pansexual. I’m still trying to understand that. I think I might just be too old to get some things. She says queer is an umbrella term for all people in the LGBTQ community. I said no way. It can’t be. I’m a lawyer so I argue definitions. It has its own letter. Q. So it must be that someone can be Q and not be any of the other letters. She rolls her eyes. She suggests “chaser.” I’m not amused. I didn’t chase this. I didn’t seek this out. I’m rolling with it.
The problem is she’s had it with my search for identity. But I’m determined. We went to an Indigo Girls concert the other night, not her thing, but I usually love them. It was a seriously white girl audience. I mean that in the most pejorative sense. They were so…quiet. And good. And ladylike. So…Serena Joy. I am totally a white girl but damn it if I’m going to act like that shit. Identity matters. I like queer. My hair is green now. Teal green. I think I can pull off queer. I am sleeping with a trans woman after all. Right? Don’t I get some identity?
Now where were we? The story of my love’s transition and my transition is so fuzzy and strange at times. Sometimes I read the stories of other partners just learning their partners are trans, usually on reddit, r/mypartneristrans and I remember how it all felt. Mostly I remember the grief. How do you deal with losing the person you came to know and love most in the world? It can feel like a death. I talked to my wife about this once. She scrunched up her face. “But I’m still here.” Yes. You are. “You didn’t lose me.” But I did. I lost my husband. His smell. His body. His way of being in the world. The way I felt when we had sex, even if it turns out he didn’t feel the same. I lost my place as the protected wife. So I’m sad sometimes. There are things I miss. Grieving for someone who’s still right there is odd. And it really irritates my wife. Which I get. She thinks I don’t love the new her completely if I miss my husband. I don’t think that’s true. I love them both.
These days I don’t feel grief much anymore. My wife is just my wife. I guess that’s how things go. Grief fades. And of course she was right, she is still here. If I was hoping (ok yes I was hoping) for transition to take away her anxiety and tendency towards obsession and hatred of Sunday’s that didn’t happen. So we are muddling along. More on the muddling later. As usual I’ve accepted everything faster than she has. Could we just transition already?
I’m back now. Perhaps I will someday explain the story of my disappearing. I’ll say for now my own health challenges become suddenly overwhelming and I had attend to them. But I’m back now. I won’t leave you again.
There are days when this entire process seems to be about me being a beauty school. Hair. Nails. Makeup. Clothes. I’m like a finishing school for a trans girl. Which is hysterical because I stopped wearing anything but Chapstick and sunscreen years ago. I gave up makeup and cut my hair short and stopped wearing anything but whatever happens to be clean. But for some reason having to do all this for my wife has made me feel like I should do it again too. Am I girl enough in leggings and a T-shirt? Do I need eye-shadow? So instead I died my hair purple and started wearing slightly crazier clothes. My wife says I went LGBT friendly. I think in part it helped me see what not being invisible would be like. It’s not always easy from for me. I kind of like invisibility. But I’m testing my boundaries too. While I buy training bras and nail polish for my wife.
So you might notice I switch from “he” to “she” and sometimes “husband” to “wife.” Here’s the deal with pronouns and gendered terms. Some trans people care A LOT about being properly gendered, meaning that people use “he” or “she” based on how they identify. If someone tells you they wish to be identified as female or male you should USE THE PRONOUN THEY REQUEST. Not doing so is rude. Similarly if someone changes their name you should use their new name. But if you make a mistake, apologize and move on. It’s ok. Good faith matters. Perfection isn’t possible.
My use of pronouns and gendered terms in this blog and in life isn’t political. It’s practical and part of the process of confusion and transition in our life. Because my wife isn’t living as a women and very few people know, I am extremely careful to say “he” and “husband” in public, on social media, and with anyone who doesn’t know. But I think of my wife as a girl. However, this blog is in part about my process of coming to terms with transition. Part of that is trying to figure out what pronouns to use. In our private communication I use “girl” and “wife” and female emoji. In the interests of consistency I will try to do so here going forward but when talking about my process I think it’s important to use “husband” when explaining how complex this process has been for me. I was married to a man for seventeen years.
There are other effects of HRT. It makes you tired. It makes you crave salt. In our relationship what this has meant is it’s almost impossible to convince my husband to do anything active. Which I hate way more than him being a woman. Because I love to move. I’m always moving. Can’t help it. It’s somewhere in my genes. I have to exercise or I go crazy. At one point my dear spouse was obsessed with running. Sadly running is the one exercise I despise. I tried. But I couldn’t maintain it. It just made everything hurt. But then he hurt his back. Not a little. A lot. He couldn’t sit up. He couldn’t walk. He was in constant pain. So no more running. During that time of pain and immobility is when he realized he was trans. And he got better. But he never really regained a desire to run or exercise. The HRT doesn’t help. But as I said, I have to move. Need to move. It would be nice to share that. And he talks about wanting to get in shape, lose weight. But I think it’s about wanting to be a cuter girl. And as a girl who dieted and exercised for years in pursuit of being a cuter girl, that never lasts. It’s impossible to maintain. The pursuit of cute isn’t a good way to find a love of exercise. It’s a sore spot. But you can’t make someone want to move.
A standard treatment for trans people is hormones. Trans women take estrogen and testosterone blockers. The right combination and dosage can be complicated. The hormones have various effects. They make your skin softer, can result in a reversal a male pattern baldness (now I have your attention), grow some breast tissue, and result in fewer and less firm erections. That last one I’m not a big fan of but it is what it is. They can also make you moody and, in my estimation, behave like a teenage girl.
So when my husband went to the doctor and got a prescription for hormones I was shocked. We had discussed him going to the doctor but I didn’t think they would just hand over a prescription. I was wrong. When my husband announced this to me we were getting ready to leave for a romantic weekend on the beach in Florida. He started taking the hormones just before we left. And I’d estimate he become the exact replica of me at 13 in about a day. He was moody, anxious, paranoid, and well moody. Which is great when you are in a small hotel room with someone for several days. I had no idea how to respond. I saw my life falling apart. I cried alone on the beach and tried to reconcile the levelheaded, reasonable man I had lived with for eighteen years with the teenage girl upstairs in the hotel. Finally we talked and he agreed to cut the dose in half. But the weekend was a sign of things to come. I knew I was in for a lot more. Maybe it was good I had trial by fire that weekend. It prepared me a little for the months that were to follow.