What’s it like to be with someone who is having a sex change?
My partner is transgender and in the process of transitioning from male to female. Because our situation is so uncommon, many of our friends are fascinated by our shared experience of transitioning. More than one close friend has asked me– often with a hushed tone that implies shame or embarrassment– “What’s that like, being with someone who’s having a sex change?” For them, and for everyone else who is curious about the experience, here are my answers.
Being with a partner who is undergoing a “sex change,” or male-to-female transitioning, is…
In popular culture, a “sex change” is viewed as a one-time deal– a sudden surgery in which a person enters the room as male and comes out a female. In reality, these treatments are painstakingly slow. One year into transition, we’ve only barely gotten around to body hair and facial hair removal and the very beginnings of hormone treatment. Other steps in transitioning are still many, many years away thanks to financial limitations and medical delays. In the meantime, my partner still looks like an awkward step between my “boyfriend” of last year and the wife she will be in a few years.
Treatments for transgenderism are extremely expensive. We’ve already sunk nearly three thousand dollars– a tenth of our collective income– into treatments, but the effect is barely there. The total cost of transitioning, if we continue to pursue it despite our financial limitations, will be well over $100,000 to complete all the recommended treatments (not even including sex reassignment surgery, or “bottom surgery”).
Rates of hate crimes against transgender people are extremely high. I live in constant fear that my partner will be assaulted or murdered because of her identity. During this stage, where the “sex change” is still in progress and she still looks visibly male, the odds of someone targeting her for a hate crime are high. This makes life unnerving, at times, for both of us.
There’s no pain quite as intense as losing a loved one because you’ve fallen in love with the “wrong” person. Several family members and friends, who adored my partner when she was, by appearance, a “he,” jumped ship as soon as we came out to them. I was yelled at, cursed, and called a freak for being with the one I love. I’ve lost decade-long friendships. I’ve lost portions of my family. There are times that I feel like we’re in this frightening journey alone.
Female hormones, including synthetic versions of them, can cause intense mood swings when rapidly increased or decreased. Hormone treatment for transgender women have many intense emotional and sexual side effects, which can take a toll on even the healthiest relationships. The degree of frear, disbelief, shock, and confusion inherent to this process has made my partner’s transition very difficult for me.
My relationship with my partner has never been more solid than in the time since she has started transitioning. Although times have been tough, I feel like my willingness to stick with my partner through this journey– and my partner’s willingness to work with me and be respectful of my needs during this time– have validated our relationship and made it more solid. Few couples have the strength and unconditional love to make it through these challenges, but we’ve got enough of it to survive and thrive despite them. Although I anticipate many challenges in the future, I know that our love for one another will enable us to survive.