Partnering through Transition: Expect Experimentation
The passage below is excerpted from Reaching for Hope: Strategies and support for the partners of transgender people.
From the moment we’re born, we have influential people in our life who teach us how to be the gender we’re assigned. These lessons are both spoken and unspoken, through direct teaching or by role-modeling. Trans people must unlearn those teachings and retrain into the person they want to be.
Here’s how transgender researcher Dr. Ruth Pearce describes it:
At the time of writing, I am 10 years old, 14 years old, and 30 years old. I was born 30 years ago; in chronological terms, I have lived for 30 years. Chronological time is, however, just one means by which ageing might be understood. When we talk about age in terms of chronological time, we make a number of assumptions. Most importantly, we assume that our journey through the life course is linear, progressing from birth (at the beginning of the journey) to death (at the end). But my age can also be understood in terms of trans time. As a trans woman, I have experienced non-linear temporalities of disruption, disjuncture, and discontinuity.
People who transition as adults didn’t have the chance to do things that ordinarily take place over the course of years, for example, developing a personal style. They didn’t get to try on glittery heels for prom or experiment with goatees and soul patches. Our parents were occasionally frustrated or embarrassed when we experimented with too much eyeliner and short skirts, or expensive sneakers and angry-slogan-embellished tee shirts. But they loved us through it. That’s your job now.
Expect experimentation. Your beloved may choose a name and discover it doesn’t fit. They may test their emotions to figure out if it’s okay for a transmasculine person to cry. They might experiment with behaviors to convey toughness or fragility.
Like our parents, we have to be careful with our suggestions, and patient with the process. We all deserve to look, dress, and act the way we want, as long as it’s not intended to harm others.
You can find ways to help your loved one re-experience significant milestones, and the process can be fun! Have dance parties with music from decades past. Recreate a prom. Get some clothes from the era to wear at home. Have a series of birthday parties for age 5, 10, 15, and 20. Find out what toy or item they wanted at particular ages and get it for them. Relive having a drink for the first time when they came of age. Experiencing these kinds of things may help your loved one move through the awkward adolescent phases more quickly and smoothly.
It’s helpful to have a conversation early in the process about the kind of input your partner would like about style choices. This can be a fruitful time to discuss societal perceptions, your own views on the intentionality of gender presentation (or lack of it), and perhaps even do your own experimentation.
There is great opportunity in this season of exploration. Your beloved gets to weigh different modes of expressing masculinity and femininity, adopting traits and behaviors that are useful and healthy, and discarding those that are damaging to self or others. And you can do the same.
Self-definition and self-determination are about the many varied decisions that we make to compose and journey toward ourselves… It’s OK if your personal definition is in a constant state of flux as you navigate the world.
 Trans Temporalities and Non-Linear Ageing, www.ruthpearce.net, 2018.
Suzanne DeWitt Hall is the author of the Where True Love Is devotional series, the Living in Hope series of books supporting the loved ones of transgender people, The Language of Bodies (Woodhall Press, 2022), and the Rumplepimple adventures.