How can I provide support to my transgender partner?
I'm just wondering if you have any advice for the girlfriend of a trans guy. I absolutely adore him, but sometimes I feel so bad for him because he has to go through a lot of awful stuff with society and his family. I know I can't fix things for him, but is there anything I should be doing/saying to constructively make him feel better? What should I do when he gets depressed?
Dear Loving Girlfriend,
It's great that you want to offer support to your partner. Helping a loved one deal with the pressures of society and family difficulties isn't easy, but there are things you can do and resources you can seek out to help you and your partner cope.
One consideration is to remember that your feelings and your partner's feelings about being transgender may diverge; that is, while you sometimes feel bad for him, he may or may not be feeling bad for himself. Acknowledging your observations that he faces some situations that you believe are hard and asking for his perspective might be a good way to begin a conversation. As an opener, you could opt for frankness and say something like "I've noticed that [so-and-so] is having trouble accepting your gender identity—does that bother you? Can I do anything?" Or you might choose a more general, subtle approach, like "It seems like you've had a rough time with your family lately, do you want to talk about it?" Having open and honest conversations about your partner's and your individual experiences with gender identity and expression may be a good way for you both to express your feelings and show each other your concern. You might even consider asking him about the type of support he appreciates. At the same time, be aware of his needs and try to avoid pressuring him to talk.
Talking with peers may also help you and your partner learn ways to deal with difficult situations. Hearing from others with similar experiences may help you both to feel like you’re part of a larger community. You might consider looking for a support group in your area where you and your partner can meet others who identify as transgender or are in a relationship with a trans person. FTMInternational has a number of online and in-person meetings for both female-to-males (FTMs) and allies (including family, friends, and partners) across the globe.
Another way to show support for your partner could be to join an organization or advocacy group on your own. GLAAD has a list of resources where you can access information for trans people, including different organizations that you can join and support.
If he gets depressed, as you’ve mentioned, listening to him and letting him know that you care may be the best way to support him. However, it’s also important to take your own mental health into account and recognize when it may be time to suggest additional support for the two of you separately or together. You may consider encouraging him to visit with a mental health professional who has experience dealing with challenges related to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) experiences. The National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network is a great resource as they have a directory of United States (US) and Canada-based LGBTQ+ therapists in your area. Additionally, you may also suggest checking out the Insitute for Human Identity (IHI) Therapy Center that also offers individual and couple sessions on a sliding scale.
Above all, it can be important to treat your boyfriend as a well-rounded person, who has many identities, interests, and experiences. If he senses that you feel bad for him or pity his situation, it could do more harm than good. If you choose to have a conversation, you might also ask your boyfriend what he loves and appreciates about himself, so that you can remind him of his great qualities when he does feel down. Many couples struggle with support and communication, especially when dealing with complex topics like gender identity. For more information, check out the Go Ask Alice! Relationships archive for more tips.
Best wishes to you both,
Originally published Sep 05, 2008
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