The following is a guest column entry by Rose "Threetails" LaCroix.
There are few things more life-changing than a gender transition, though being in a relationship with someone going through that process probably comes close.
When I first met my fiance, I was living as a gay man and pretty straight-acting for the most part. I was terrified of allowing myself to be anything else. The problem with that is that when I first came out trans*, nobody believed me; even my fiance, who knows me probably better than anyone else in the world, had a difficult time accepting it at first.
With time, my fiance finally came to understand that I really was the person he fell in love with, though many couples aren't so fortunate. I don't know if the exact figures have ever been worked out, but the conventional wisdom in the trans community is that something like 3 out of 4 relationships end when one partner decides to transition. There are certainly a lot of reasons for this.
Let's get this out of the way first — sexual orientation is a big factor. You can't really help who you're attracted to. If that's your concern though, I offer this bit of advice: If you consider your relationship valuable (some people sadly don't), try to make it work. You might discover that attraction isn't as cut-and-dry as you first thought (something like 70% of adults are at least slightly bisexual, according to Kinsey). My fiance and I were lucky; it turns out he's more attracted to women than either of us thought, and after a rough start, our intimate moments actually got better after I transitioned.
Another reason many couples don't stay together through a partner's gender transition is because it's emotionally exhausting. The process brings a lot of emotional turmoil both for the person transitioning and for those around them. You may have to ask yourself if you're emotionally fit to deal with your partner's problems, and they'll have plenty: Many transfolk suffer anxiety and depression from years of rejection and self-denial. It's important for you to do your homework on how to help a partner who is depressed or anxious.
Keep in mind that clinical anxiety isn't just a whole lot of worrying; it's a debilitating condition. It can cause the body to develop severe physical reactions. It can disrupt a person's ability to work or study. It can turn nice, outgoing people irritable and paranoid. Worst of all, it can cause a person to feel like they're losing their minds. In fact, fear of going insane is one of the classic symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD.
In my case my anxiety got so bad that I thought I was experiencing the early stages of schizophrenia until a series of doctors all reassured me otherwise. What complicated this was that a few people in my life — among them at least one therapist and members of my own family who didn't want me to transition — were actively trying to convince me that I had lost my mind. They might not ever realize it, but the psychological abuse they dished out nearly put me in the hospital. It took frequent consultations with a gender therapist provided by my university to keep me grounded enough to forge ahead and finish my BA.
Here's where it gets really messed up: My experience isn't unique. Ask around the trans community and you'll find plenty of stories of people who experienced some of the worst anxiety of their lives during their transition, made worse by people who simply refused to understand what they were going through and chalked it up to a “mental breakdown” or psychosis. Sometimes, even the doctors and therapists get it wrong because many of them don't know how to deal with gender dysphoria. Whatever you do, don't throw fuel on the fire by refusing to give your partner the benefit of the doubt when everyone else seems to think your partner is losing their mind.
One final thought: a very important reason I believe many relationships don't survive is simply because there's not a whole lot in the way of good, general advice for couples in this situation! It's hard to universalize something as personal as a gender transition, but I think I could lay down some basic ground rules that should apply in every case:
1. Refer to your partner with their preferred name and pronoun. This will show them that their struggle to affirm their identity matters to you. It's a very good way to prove that you're exactly the kind of loving, supportive partner they're going to need. If you mess up, just apologize and more importantly, keep trying!
2. Be their champion. If you ever wanted to be a hero or heroine for someone special in your life, now's your chance, because they need it. Your partner will meet a lot of hostility in the world; they might lose friends, they'll probably be told they're sick or perverted, and there's a good chance they'll be estranged from at least one family member. Be their comfort when they're crying, be their advocate when they've been denied, and be their defender when they are attacked.
3. Always remember, they are the person you fell in love with! If they seem completely different from the person you thought you knew, remember that a new opportunity for honesty has opened up in your relationship. This is someone who has hidden behind a mask all their lives and now has decided to share the truth of who they are because they trust you and love you. Even if the real person is a bit different from the person you thought you knew, people who successfully transition often turn out to be happier and better adjusted than they were before they began their transition. My fiance has often said that he never realized how unhappy I had always been until I transitioned.
4. Communication is important for everyone involved. Talk about what you're thinking, feeling, and experiencing on a regular basis. Talk about things that make you uncomfortable and take an active part in the natural give-and-take of a good relationship by always knowing what page your partner is on.
Ultimately, there can be no guarantee that your relationship will weather the storm, but if you act with patience, understanding, love, respect, support, and acceptance then there's a very good chance your relationship will stand the test of time.
Rose LaCroix, known in the fandom as "Threetails," is a writer living in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon with her fiance, artist and musician Kobi LaCroix. She graduated from Portland State University in 2015 and holds a BA in social sciences. Her first novel, “Basecraft Cirrostratus,” was nominated for an Ursa Major award and for a Rainbow award for LGBT fiction. Her novels, including her latest novel “The Vimana Incident,” can be purchased on Furplanet.com.