We were two years into a committed relationship. We had moved in together and settled into a life of postgraduate studies and domestic logistics, plus the day-to-day mundanity of supermarkets, mealtimes, and Netflix. It was 2020, so we had also been trapped in our apartment for a record stretch, and half the country was canned. The perfect storm of stress and isolation forced introspection onto us as we tried to lead precedented lives during unprecedented times.
By the time the lockdown lifted, she (Lucy) had kicked a life-long nail biting habit, and I (Summer) had come out as transgender.
Lucy Aalto, Author
Society has no script for when your partner comes out as trans.
From family love stories to cheesy Christmas rom coms, we learn the patterns of courtship and love as children. Most of these images of “normal” relationships leave little room for anything other than cisgender heterosexuality. There is certainly no version of the story where one half of a couple switches genders entirely. So when Summer came out to me as trans, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I’d had trans friends before. But I’d never considered that one day I might have to navigate the gender transition of a romantic partner.
I’m bisexual. When Summer came out, I’d been out of the closet for roughly four years, so her revelation did not spell the end of our relationship, as it does for so many. But at first, I wasn’t totally assured that I’d be attracted to Summer through the coming changes she would experience. Many bisexual people go through cycles of self-doubt about the legitimacy of their attraction to a specific gender, and I’m no different. At the time, I’d had little romantic or sexual experience with women. Could I really be sure I was bisexual? After all, I had always had a preference for men. What if I wasn’t bisexual and I was actually a straight girl going through an experimental phase? Or worse, what if I’d been “doing it for attention” all along?
Those thoughts followed a pattern of internalized biphobia I thought I’d outgrown already. In reality, I’d only quashed those thoughts due to their irrelevance (or so I thought) to my relationship. What did my attraction to women matter when I was in a relationship with a man? Oh, silly me.
Uncomfortable questions about my own sexuality were only a small part of the unknowns I faced as Summer embarked on her medical transition. Would her personality change? What would our sex life look like? Would I be any good at supporting her through this? And, most importantly, would she be safe?
Looking back on that last question has taught me that when your partner transitions, you transition along with them. When the gender dynamic between you shifts, your role changes. I often tell Summer jokingly as I head off to gym that my fitness goal is to be able to “fight a TERF for you.” And while I would never initiate a fight, I know that if someone came at Summer, I’d absolutely get beaten up trying to defend her. I’m not “the man” in our relationship — neither of us is. But I started feeling protective of her in a way that I hadn’t felt prior to her transition.
Day-to-day life with Summer is filled with little moments of learning and wonder. When HRT first started having noticeable effects on her body, it was magical. Witnessing my partner experience so much awe and excitement left me with no doubt that she was making the right choice. Her transition taught me a lot about my own body, too. I had never considered the extra fat on my upper arms particularly feminine until Summer started developing some of her own, and I learned that it was a secondary effect of estrogen. Her temperature started running colder, like me. Her skin softened, just like mine. I now know that none of these things are innate, and hormonal shifts can affect almost everything about my body and hers. It’s fascinating.
I, too, have taught her things. Like how to tie a ponytail. Or the importance of moisturizing (she’s still resistant to that one, since estrogen gave her near-perfect skin anyway). But for the most part, supporting Summer hasn’t been about how much I know, or lead, or teach, but how comfortable I am with the unknown. The answers to all of the questions I had when she first came out did not reveal themselves quickly. Both of us had to wait and see. But I’m now in a place where I can comfortably say that yes, I am attracted to women, because I’m so attracted to my beautiful girlfriend. It turns out I don’t have a preference for men, either — that was the heteronormative bullshit talking. Her personality has changed: she is calmer, happier, and less combative during conflict. She has become better for us and has taught me how to be better for us, too. Our sex life may have changed drastically, but we’re both happy with where it’s at right now.
As to whether or not I’ve been any good at supporting Summer through this? She tells me that I am, so I’ll take her word for it. I’m not an expert, but I do love her, and every day I show up and I try.
Summer Tao, Author
I was sick of living in some guy’s skin.
“I think I’m trans.” The words kind of fell out of my mouth.
For many of us, coming out is a tightly mediated decision that balances risk, anxiety, and hopefulness. Some people take years or decades to let the world know their truth. My mouth got ahead of my brain before I was certain. Lucy was perched on the bed with her laptop. She looked at me and we both processed the statement in silence for a few seconds. She assured me of her support, even though she was unsure of what I meant in totality. Smell that unconditional love?
A weeks-long plunge into Google followed: Support communities, Discord groups, and memes — so many memes. Reading other people’s accounts of insidious gender dysphoria was like checking a list of my personal experiences. Item after item was notched down in my mind, bringing me closer to this select group of people. I was both wholly at-home with other questioning trans women and utterly floored by how much my desires aligned with theirs. I think I’m trans rapidly evolved into I’m probably trans. I was still jittery and anxious about my future. I hadn’t fully grasped what a trans woman was — I still haven’t — but I wanted to be one.
The coming weeks in our relationship were mostly unchanged. I framed my gender-questioning as exploration rather than certainty. However, I’d already resolved to set up a doctor’s appointment to procure estrogen. A very “cisgender” “man” thing to do, I warrant. About two months later, I had my first dose of estrogen in me. That reinforced it: This was a medical step with the potential for irreversible changes (without surgery). I was nervous, but committed. Lucy’s support had been unshakable thus far, so where else was there to go but forward?
My mind brightened quickly on estrogen. In the first few days, I felt strangely calm. There was only the faintest, transphobic voice in my head crying out, “This is irreversible! You’re gonna get BREASTS and people will think you’re a FREAK!” That misbegotten voice was soon replaced by well-deserved silence as my physiology settled. I didn’t know this until it disappeared, but I had lived my whole life with a kind of brain fog. Taking estrogen was the cognitive equivalent of putting on glasses and seeing leaves for the first time. Lucy can attest to the masculine version of myself wandering around in agitation and muttering, “I have no idea what I’m doing right now.” Those moments waned once I began shoveling estrogen into my body.
I didn’t flip a switch and become a perfect partner, but happiness is intoxicating. I slid between serenity from living in a quiet mind to excitement at each physiological change. My skin softened. Amazing! The acne I had fought for a decade subsided. Wow! I didn’t even know that my body could develop breasts from medication alone — that one still impresses me. Joys built upon joys as my body felt more like home. I think Lucy noticed the newfound brightness. I sat with my shoulders looser and napped more often. Crying felt therapeutic rather than angry. I slept soundly knowing that each day was the best condition my body had ever been in, and it could only improve.
It wasn’t all perfect, of course. My sex drive plummeted, just as the doctor said it would. At first, I chalked it up to needing to adapt to my new body. But honestly, I wasn’t feeling the insistent itch of my masculine sex drive anymore. There was now a calmness. It’s fine if it happens, it’s fine if it doesn’t. I fretted and worried for months that this would end our relationship, but it didn’t. Lucy’s sex drive — responsive as it is — followed mine, and we settled into a cozy dynamic of cuddling and emotional connection as opposed to fucking. My mind quieted in all aspects of life. I took the lead less often in the relationship as I shed the burden of my masculine expectations. She makes more decisions and phone calls now. I lost upper body strength to the point where some jars became unstoppable. Dreadful.
Even though I transformed before her in body and mind, I think the underlying person I am has remained the same. I just slid into my new place placidly and joyfully. I was still a fastidious person, but that began to manifest as being detail-oriented rather than tightly-wound. I was still anxious at times, but I became less snappy and more prone to reflection. The occasional arguments we had benefited immensely from a more emotionally stable and reflective version of myself.
It’s 2023 now. Google Calendar tells me it’s been over 880 days of being trans. Eight hundred eighty-plus days of a changing body and changing connection with Lucy. My relationship with my body and with my girlfriend just feels right, as though being a trans woman with a bright and focused cis woman was the mode of being that fits me best. Call me biased, but if your partner is transitioning, give them a chance. It’s not without challenges and anxiety, but rarely do people embark on such monumental journeys without knowing what’s best for themselves. Part of me wants to find a counterpoint to “balance” the positive viewpoints, but all I can see is the day on which I took control of my life: The day I said, “I think I’m trans.”