So recently I read an article calling it an offensive double standard for a trans* partner in a relationship to expect their partner to address them with the correct pronouns and–egad–even correctly identify the relationship dynamic! The author writes from his personal experience as a trans man who has a partner who continues to be self-identified as a lesbian. You know, despite that label being demonstrably inapplicable and inconsistent with reality. The whole thing seems to be a pretty desperate attempt to avoid stepping on toes. Yes, it is never right to dictate to someone how they should feel or what they should identify as. However, having a partner respect and use the appropriate terminology to reflect your own identity as a trans* person seems like a pretty basic request. That is like the bare fucking minimum you can offer as a partner of a trans* person. I’m truly sorry–I know it’s tough to move away from a label of your sexuality you may feel very comfortable with and identify very happily with, but please understand that if your partner is transitioning, they are going to go through changes a thousand times larger and more numerous. Socially (let alone physically) transitioning is a huge, huge step for trans* people. If you, as a hypothetical female partner of a trans* person, can’t even help your FtM boyfriend out by not calling yourself a through-and-through lesbian and your current relationship dynamic a lesbian one, you’ve got some more serious issues to address than being “offended” by your trans* partner’s honestly pretty mild request. He is only asking for you to open your eyes and respect the relationship dynamic as it truly stands.
This goes for genderqueer, non-binary, and other types of relationships as well as the typically thought of MtF and FtM scenarios. If you as a partner are not sure how to correctly refer to your relationship, by all means, please ask. It may seem stupid at the time, but I can guarantee your partner will appreciate that a million times more than continuing to call yourself a “gay man” when she is in the process of living life openly and honestly as a female. If your partner wishes to be referred to by gender-neutral pronouns, it’s very likely references to the relationship should be treated in the same respect. The words “partner” and “relationship” are fairly safe defaults, but every person handles their gender identity differently and the best method is always to ask. Maybe your non-binary female-bodied partner totally won’t mind having her girlfriend call the relationship a gay/lesbian one; it really depends on each person’s individual comfort levels and boundaries.
Again, I do understand I can come off as sarcastic, but I am being completely sincere when I say I know it can be hard to move away from labels you identify strongly with. But here’s where it gets really tough. If you entered into a relationship with your partner and they come out as trans* after the fact, it can be jarring from always being gay/straight/lesbian or any other solid label to suddenly bi/pan/queer or any other label which may now logically fit. The thing is, it is not logically consistent to carry on identifying as a label that doesn’t even work anymore. Even if you’ve always self-identified as straight, if your partner who initially presented as female transitions or otherwise begins presenting as male, it does not make sense for the label of “straight” to still be in effect. The label has been broken. Okay, so you’ve got a few choices now, and I’ll try not to tinge any with negative judgment, because it legitimately can get difficult for everyone involved at this point:
1. You continue identifying as your old, now-inapplicable label. The reality of this choice is that it will almost certainly be very emotionally taxing on your trans* partner. You continue being able to identify as you always have, with the risk of really hurting someone you care deeply about. This is an uncompromising position in one direction: selfishness.
2. You begin addressing your partner and the relationship with the correct, applicable terms. This, unfortunately, does involve some real change on your part. You need to split from your old, possibly very comforting and familiar label in order to help your partner feel accepted as their correct gender. You start using terms that are logically coherent despite very possibly dealing with your own identity crisis as a result of this choice. This is the uncompromising choice in the other direction: selflessness.
3. This choice is similar to the first, but… ugh. You decide you cannot bring yourself to continue being with your partner through their transition and have to end the relationship. Oh my god, this sucks.
3. (cont.) Again, don’t think I am passing judgment; the fire is out of me and I’m left only with sympathy at this point. Please do not think I am expecting the partners of newly-out trans* people to just suddenly, magically alter their sexual desires and romantic leanings. I know this is not probable or even possible without some internal predispositions already existing. This choice is a horrible one to make, but you are (if you are reading this, probably) not a horrible person for making it. If you feel your love cannot withstand your partner’s transition, it is probably for the best if the relationship is ended. Your partner will struggle to be happy with someone who cannot physically or romantically be drawn to them. You will struggle to be happy with a partner you are not actually attracted to, even if you really do truly love them. I’d like to fantasize of love without physical limitations, but this is just not the case for most people. If you’ve landed here and this resonates with you… I’m sorry.
Well, fuck, that was depressing. To summarize: If you wish to maintain a relationship with your trans* partner, be prepared to make some personal changes to your own terminology and identification. It can be extremely hard to emotionally distance yourself from things like this, but it’s important to realize a label like “gay” just simply doesn’t work in relationships involving both males and females. You do need to make some sacrifices and do some work in order to help your partner feel safe and accepted at home in a world constantly seeking to invalidate trans* identities. If you feel it’s not possible to carry on the relationship with the new terminology or dynamics in place, you probably need to bring things to an end. Just… don’t leave your transitioning friend in the dust, okay? Please.
It’s not logically consistent to be in a state of what I’ll call “limbo” in regards to gender terminology. Being self-identified as a gay man while simultaneously being in love with and attracted to a trans woman is not a logical final step. Something has to give. In the end, it is not the place of anyone to force labels onto anyone else. However, as partners in a relationship it is your responsibility to come together and sort out the most honest course of action to take in the face of your partner’s transition. Even if that honest choice hurts like hell. Relationships are things of compromise and toil. These are hard decisions to make. I understand that on a very personal level. No matter what choice you make together, don’t leave things in limbo. Try to find the best way through things in a way that is respectful to all involved.