Coming out as transgender is a life-changing moment, and it's a milestone that deserves to be celebrated. If your partner comes out as transgender, how you react can make all the difference. Your partner's gender identity is not a choice, but you can choose how you respond to your SO's news. Yes, you may potentially feel confusion or fear about how your relationship will change, and your questions and feelings are valid. However, your SO should be prioritized in the moment, and the best way to support your trans partner is with respect, tact, and lots of love.
I spoke to Renée H. Reopell, LCSW, and they gave me insight into how you should respond to, comfort, and celebrate your trans partner after they come out. "When someone shares their authenticity with you, this is a privilege," they explain. "It is a privilege to sit with someone's true self and honor that fully." As well as working to understand and support your partner's gender identity, it is your responsibility as a trans person's SO to self-educate about the trans experience and the discrimination trans individuals oftentimes face. If you're not sure how you can effectively support your trans partner, here are some tips.
What Is The Best Way To Respond When Your Partner Comes Out As Trans?
You should feel honored when someone shares their authentic self with you, Reopell says. Oftentimes, transgender individuals are made to feel like their gender identity is something shameful, which is why it's so important to appreciate your partner's trust in you rather than see it as a burden. "As a partner, this is your opportunity to celebrate and support this genuine trust your partner has with you by prioritizing your partner, their needs, and their voice," Reopell says.
When your partner comes out as trans, you'll likely have questions, but at least initially, try to spend more time listening than expressing your own thoughts. "You may have a lot of feelings of your own to work through, but right now your partner needs you to show up for them, centering their vulnerability," says Reopell. "Simply, this is about your partner's feelings right now. Showing up for them is an honor."
Sharing one's authenticity takes bravery and strength, so you should respond to your partner's admission with the utmost care. The best way to make your partner feel seen, heard, and respected is to say, "Thank you so much for trusting me and telling me that." Reiterate how much you love them and care for them, and then ask what you can do to provide support.
What Questions Should You Ask Your Partner?
Before asking anything of your newly-out partner, consider your questions carefully, and accept that your SO may not be able to offer the explanation you need. "It is OK and healthy for your partner to not have answers to questions you may ask," Reopell says, "and it's important you allow space for ambiguity and exploration." You should also keep in mind that your partner is just one person with unique experiences, so they can't speak on behalf of the entire trans community. Questions you might ask include:
- When did you first know you were trans?
- How do you describe your gender identity?
- What gender pronouns would you like for me to use when we're together? What about when we're with family, friends, or in public?
- How can I best support you right now?
The questions you pose to your trans partner should be more about understanding their experiences and feelings and less about sating your own curiosity. As Reopell points out, it can be emotionally taxing for the trans community to educate cisgender people. Consider using Google or other means of self-education to find answers rather than expecting them to come from your SO. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the Human Resources Campaign have plenty of info that can help you better understand transgender issues, gender identity, and transitioning. You may also find the titles on PFLAG's transgender reading list to be useful.
How Can You Help Your Trans Partner Come Out To Family And Friends?
Like any other private information, your SO's gender identity belongs to them and requires their consent to share. Ask your partner who they feel comfortable, safe, and secure sharing this information with before you open up to anyone else. "Get to know what your partner wants," Reopell suggests. "Everyone is different. Remember your partner is the expert in their own gender and what their gender needs." Let them decide when they're ready to share their identity with others rather than making that decision for them.
As close as you may be to your SO's family and friends, your partner understands their relationships with those people best, so trust their judgment and respect their wishes. The last thing you want to do is out your trans partner to someone else before they're ready to do so themselves. As Reopell says, "When in doubt, ask. It's better to ask than make a hurtful assumption." And when your partner is ready to come out to others, ask how you can best help them navigate those conversations.
How Can You Become A Good Ally To The Trans Community?
Supporting your trans partner means supporting the trans community as well, but dating a trans person does not make you an ally by default. According to Reopell, being an ally involves taking action. "Allyship is a constant work in progress, seeking education, resources, and identifying the interpersonal and institutional ways gender (and cisgender-normativity) is weaponized against trans people," they explain. Educate yourself about the ways in which people in the trans community face systemic inequality in everyday life, including barriers to healthcare, inaccurate identity documents, and lack of legal protection, among other injustices.
In addition to educating yourself on the trans experience, try examining your own experiences with and understanding of gender. "Take some time to sit with your gender narrative (I'd recommend Kate Bornstein's My New Gender Workbook), and pay attention to the number of ways you've created your gender identity," Reopell suggests. If you better understand your own gender identity, it will likely be easier to understand your partner's.
While conversations with your newly-out SO should revolve around their needs, it's necessary to spend time reflecting on your own feelings as well. Learning about your partner's gender identity may change your relationship, so you'll want to make sure you're emotionally equipped to handle the challenges that may arise. Coming out as trans can be tough, but if you show your partner love and encouragement, you can better navigate what comes next together.
Renée H. Reopell, LCSW