When your partner is a trans woman, you learn just how much transphobia she faces. To be a good partner, find ways to educate yourself and speak up for her.
I’m gonna be upfront: it feels awkward to write about being a good partner to trans women as a cis woman, even if I’m writing it as a cis person to other cis people.
That said, many of the articles I found when I was doing research for this piece focused on either sexual interactions or generally being a good ally, rather than the daily partnership of a relationship. Unfortunately, that speaks to an experience many trans women have — a struggle to be taken seriously as a romantic partner, seen instead as hypersexualized or completely asexual. So, as a part of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, I wanted to write something for my fellow cis folks who are in love with a trans woman.
For context, my wife, who transitioned long before we met, self-identifies as fat and non-passing. While she had already settled into a self-care routine and a personal style, she still struggles with being misgendered and with dysphoria. With access to hormones becoming increasingly difficult, too, it’s been a learning process to understand the cycles of her mood. I see the ways everyday life wears her down. I see how people in her social groups dismiss her identity. I see her pain and do my best to hold space for it. But the most useful thing I’ve been able to do to support her is to learn some strategies for being a good partner that help alleviate her burden, rather than add to it. Here are some of my tips.
1. Educate yourself
Many trans women have written excellent pieces about how to be a loving partner to them, and I highly recommend you read them — perhaps in addition to this piece, perhaps instead of this piece. I’m listing a few here:
- How to Respectfully Love a Trans Woman: Navigating Transmisogyny in Your Romantic Relationship
- The Transgender Dating Dilemma
- 14 things you should know before dating a trans girl
When educating yourself on trans experiences, politics and struggles, take the extra step of finding pieces written by trans people. Also look for pieces written by trans people with multiple marginalizations — the daily life of a white trans man is likely to be pretty different than the daily life of a black trans woman. Is the trans woman you love nonbinary? Learn about that by reading as much as you can! Understand that everyone has their own unique experiences, so don’t assume that the things you read will resonate for your partner.
2. Listen more than you talk
It’s been hugely important to offer my wife space to talk about shitty interactions she experiences in the day-to-day. When she seems upset, I ask her if she wants to talk about it — from there, I’ve found it useful to ask her if she wants advice, sympathy or just for me to listen. By following through on her wishes, I can ensure that I’m giving her support she finds helpful. If you must ask questions, ask open-ended questions, and respect your partner when she says that she doesn’t want to talk further about the topic. Many of these issues are hugely triggering and upsetting, especially when there’s little one can do to avoid or address them.
3. Speak up about microaggressions
While being catcalled in some transphobic, typically threatening way is obviously angering and scary, I’ve learned that my wife struggles much more with the barrage of microaggressions she’s expected to tolerate and forgive on the daily. Sometimes it’s about language being used around her, sometimes it’s about terrible jokes and sometimes it’s about refusing to use the right pronouns. By educating the people around me and being willing to make it clear that those things aren’t OK with me, I can help impact the transphobia people knowingly and unknowingly regurgitate on a regular basis.
Some of the worst microaggressions I’ve seen in relation to my wife happen when she’s not even there. By speaking up for her (and for trans women generally) in her absence, I can help ensure that the spaces we’re in together are safer for her to relax in. By being willing to speak up when she’s around, I can also relieve her from feeling like she needs to step into conflict and conversation with people who aren’t treating her with respect.
4. Buy lots of pickles
Ok, this is sort of a joke, but it’s actually also indicative of something more serious.
Many trans women are on spironolactone, an anti-androgen that also works as a diuretic. As such, it’s incredibly important to both ensure hydration and to replace all the salts lost in that process. Pickle juice isn’t the only way to achieve both of these things, but it’s an effective way that’s gained quite the reputation among trans women (side note: it’s also useful in the desert, if you’re someone who likes to go to Joshua Tree or Burning Man).
By keeping pickles around (if the trans woman you love is into pickles, of course), you are quietly indicating a level of care and understanding around your partner’s health needs. That sort of mutual care is incredibly affirming, and the lack of fanfare around it also means it’s low emotional labor for her.
By taking on this work in solidarity with the trans women in your life, you can demonstrate love and compassion in a way that doesn’t center cis people and instead assertively combats transmisogyny. May you feel empowered to do this, not only on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, but every day of the year.