The Relationship Advice Destination For Trans People & Their Partners

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
Dana*, 27, met her boyfriend, Ryan, when he was three years into transitioning. A few months into their relationship, their sex life started to dwindle – something she suspected was down to Ryan’s gender dysphoria
"He had a hard time articulating it, and needed time to figure out what was going on," she tells me. Dana, who is from the US, was struck by the dearth of resources available to her: information on trans men is particularly scarce, she says, compared to trans women. (This could be owing to the media’s fetishisation of trans women, which has over the years given them greater visibility.) 
So Dana posted on the subreddit r/mypartneristrans, expressing her frustration – and her guilt at feeling frustration – and signing off with: "How can I be a better partner about this?" She was met with detailed responses and support from people who’d experienced the same thing. It ultimately prompted her to speak to Ryan about his dysphoria but this time with "more understanding, and perspective". 
For trans people and their loved ones, the internet can be a hostile, terrifying place. But in certain pockets, there are nurturing online communities for people with marginalised identities – particularly on Reddit, where anonymity gives queer people the freedom to express themselves. 
The reality is that cis-trans relationships are still relatively rare: 87.5% of participants in a 2018 study said they would not be open to dating someone who is trans. The ramifications of this for trans people’s mental health and wellbeing is deeply concerning – and it means that for someone dating a trans person, places to turn to for advice are scarce. 
"So much of the media's attention is on the spectacularisation of trans identity and the trans experience," says Carla Pfeffer, a professor of sociology and women’s and gender studies at the University of South Carolina, and author of a book on cis-trans relationships. "But this atomises them, and fails to think about the trans person as a whole person, with a family and lives and partners and experiences that extend beyond their transness."
In the UK, transgender relationships are included in the sex education curriculum. However, as we know from the insight this education offers into heteronormative relationships, it’s easy to understand how it doesn’t provide enough support when it comes to trans relationships. Niche subreddits offering support to the partners of trans people are seeking to change this. Among them are r/mypartneristrans, which is the largest with 29,000 members, and smaller subs, such as r/transinrelationships, which has over 800 members. 

So much of the media's attention is on the spectacularisation of trans identity and the trans experience. But this atomises them, and fails to think about the trans person as a whole person, with a family and lives and partners and experiences that extend beyond their transness.

Professor Carla PfefFer
Posts on the sub are wide-ranging in topic: everything from helping a partner with their fashion choices to financing transitions in a relationship and finding suitable lube or queer porn. Ronan, who is a moderator for r/mypartneristrans, tells me that there are certain topics which come up regularly, including dealing with a partner’s hormone-induced mood swings, loss of attraction, and general advice on how to make their partner feel more comfortable. 
Although the sub isn’t aimed at trans people, r/mypartneristrans welcomes posts from gender nonconforming people, and trans people are active on the sub. Theresa, a 33-year-old trans woman from Arizona, posted on the sub after her partner, Sandy*, came out to her as a trans man. 
"I'd like to think that I'd still love her no matter her gender, but again, I've never been in this situation before," she wrote in her post.
"I was terrified," she tells me. "I was like, how can I navigate this?" Theresa recalls feeling unable to ask for help because of the assumption that she, as a trans woman, surely wouldn’t struggle with her partner’s transition. 
But on Reddit, "the responses gave me permission to have the feelings I was feeling: fear, confusion, grief, doubt," she explains. "It gave me reassurance someone had walked this path before and it hadn’t ended catastrophically, and allowed me to just vent." 
According to research carried out by Pfeffer, 50% of relationships involving at least one trans partner end in a split during the transition period. "Sexual identities can shift; gender identities can shift. And sometimes those two don't shift together." But these online spaces to vent might actually be what prevents the dissolution of a relationship, she says.  
"It’s really important that cis people dating trans folks have a space to ask questions and get advice from actual trans people," says Ellis, a 22-year-old trans man from England who regularly responds to posts on the sub. "Often, cis people will only have cis friends who fail to challenge them on any biases they may hold," he adds.  
Ellis says that overall, trans people are empathetic to cis people posting on the sub, while prompting them to interrogate any potentially transphobic views. "It allows for a more consensual exchange of information than these cis partners going to a trans person they hardly know IRL and asking these questions, when they haven’t checked whether this trans person wants to share," he explains. 
He agrees, though, that all too often – on Reddit and beyond – the burden falls on trans people to educate their cis counterparts. "We spend so much of our time doing 'trans 101' type shit, and we never get to talk much about our real material experiences and what we need to live better lives, like healthcare, housing and universal basic income."
Other trans people have a more complex relationship with the subreddit. Sally*, a 27-year-old trans woman from the US, used to spend hours trawling through the sub’s posts. "I wanted to know how people saw me," she says. "I grew up effectively thinking I was the only one like me. As a trans person, you go anywhere looking for content you see yourself in, or possible future versions of yourself."

I wanted to know how people saw me. I grew up effectively thinking I was the only one like me. As a trans person, you go anywhere looking for content you see yourself in, or possible future versions of yourself.

What she found in the group was largely depressing, she says. This is because, as Sally points out, people are more inclined to go to the sub when they’re experiencing problems with their partner, and Redditors will often use the space to lament their partner’s transition
In fact, Sally is adamant that forums like r/mypartneristrans shouldn’t exist. "When relationships with trans people are discussed separately from those with cis people, that discussion itself becomes deeply anti-trans," she explains.  
"Every otherwise normal failing and grievance of the relationship becomes exceptionally rooted in one partner's ‘transness’, while that trans partner is removed from the conversation." Sally suggests that instead, there should be spaces for trans-cis couples to meet and discuss experiences together. 
Ronan is dismissive of this criticism. "To trans people who take offence to the sub: it’s not a sub for trans people," he says bluntly. But Ronan, who is trans himself, says that he has benefited hugely from spending time on the sub. "Understanding the nuanced perceptions of the people around me prepared me for a lot of tough situations," he says. 
Pfeffer empathises with the view that spaces like r/mypartneristrans – which foreground the experience of partners – shouldn’t come at the expense of the trans person’s story. Neither should they be framed as competing interests, she says. 
She believes that spaces like r/mypartneristrans are vital. "And no, it shouldn't be predicated on both partners having access to those spaces, any more than trans exclusive spaces should be open to non-trans partners."
"I think that everybody needs exclusive space to process their own feelings and their own experience," she continues. These types of spaces have long existed but the difference with Reddit, Pfeffer points out, is that because it’s so public, anyone can see what’s being shared on the sub, which inevitably creates tensions.
With portrayals of trans relationships in popular culture still few and far between, the public nature of a group like r/mypartneristrans could play a role in normalising, and celebrating, these types of relationships. No one exists in a vacuum and the hope is that by lifting up the partners of trans people, it might benefit the wellbeing of trans people everywhere. 
*Some names have been changed to protect identities

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