Question: Insecure Trans love

Anonymous asks…

As a cisgender woman, how do I encourage the transman I am dating to feel more comfortable about his body?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on October 22nd, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 17 comments »

17 Responses to “Question: Insecure Trans love”

  1. Ace

    It can be long and difficult. The key thing to remember is that you are not a qualified therapist (unless you are, in which case the thing to remember is that it’s unethical to therapize your romantic partners). If I had known that, I would have saved a lot of heartache and broken relationships.

    Listen. And I don’t just mean be a sounding board; it’s so important to take in what he says about himself and use it. Extract the valuable stuff to know out of the self-hatred. Interacting with him (personally, romantically, sexually) in such a way as to encourage self-esteem can be very tricky: sometimes, a positive comment about something we dislike about ourselves can be a wonderful thing to hear, other times it makes us feel even worse.

    It’s important also to tease apart the bad feelings about his body that are caused by body dysphoria from those that are caused just by social beauty standards. The former cannot be changed; they’re the reason why there are hormones and SRS, and they’re very different in kind from the latter and can’t be dealt with by just improving self esteem. Don’t try. There are few things more frustrating for a trans person with body dysphoria than to be told “You just have to feel better about your body!” Cis people in general do not know the experience of body dysphoria and cannot relate it to anything, so it’s so crucial to accept his account of it.

    One of the things my partner told me he most appreciated hearing was: “I love you the way you are, and I’m going to love you the way you’re going to be.” Paradoxically, it’s important for anyone’s self-esteem to hear “I love you the way you are,” but if you’re not careful, that can be received as, “…so why change? Stay miserable to please me.” Be aware of the implications of your comments, even the loving and helpful ones.

    Which is not to say that you should be a doormat or walk on eggshells. A few times I’ve had to tell my partner that if he wants to be with me, he has to have a certain baseline level of trust that I feel good about him and I want him to be happy, so that he can put a good construction on my remarks and not mine them for negative connotations that weren’t there. In return I promise to do my best to be worthy of that trust, and to think about what I’m saying. A relationship where one partner is the “nurturer” who has no problems and the other one is the poor, sad “patient” will never last and will drag you both through hell. Trust, mutuality, and equal respect for each other are very necessary.


    epinards replied:

    very elegant, thank you for sharing this.


  2. Anonymous

    Accept him as a person, and as a man, regardless of it. And accept the limitations of your own role. It’s not your job to “save” your trans partner, it’s your job to love him.


  3. Jessica

    Listen to him and be supportive, but don’t be his toady. A relationship where there is trust means telling him what you really think – not to be mean, but to be really honest, even when it’s not particularly what he wants to hear.

    I my own relationship, of more than 30 years with my partner, I have to say that I depend on my partner to tell me when I am full of shit. Not many people will do that for you. I don’t mean that they’ll tell you to get lost or that you’re wrong or crazy, but just that you have followed a line of thinking you need to rethink – or that you’re being inconsistent. Reality check time.

    In my mind, part of being there for you, and even part of defending you, even when you are wrong, is telling you when you are wrong and working with you to find your way again.

    Those of us in transition – in which I include myself because I don’t think transition is something that happens and is then over, at least not for me – we get off on tangents, we find rabbit holes and all kinds of intellectual and emotional explorations. Sometimes we have made valid discoveries about ourselves and our worlds and sometimes we’ve just built a beautiful and elaborate house of cards. We may not want to knock those down, but we may need help to resume actual positive self-inquiry and stop messing about. I know I do.

    Some people might see this as coming down on you or limiting you or being negative… Well, when I go some new place in my life and I expect my partner to go, too: this means she has a right to know where we’re headed and to shout Whoa! before I take us both over some cliff. BE A PARTNER – a part of a team on a difficult journey over uncertain terrain. Yeah it’s difficult and you may have wrangles… but making up is fun, too, with an equal. Best of luck!


    epinards replied:

    this is so powerful. I am so grateful to the OP, for asking a question that is eliciting such deep responses from y’all.


  4. --V--

    Number one thing I find is just be expressive about your attraction, and affection, for him. There’s millions of other things that’ll be specific to the two of you, but that’s going to be a fundamental basis of it.


  5. Dazza

    Just little things – those are the things that make me feel more comfortable.

    Touching him affectionately, telling him when his clothes look good on a specific part of him- my friends always make little quips that up my confidence like “that waitress was eyeing you” or “I wish my boyfriend was like you.”

    Just casually reaffirming his masculinity. He probably thinks about it more than you do.


  6. J.D.

    though the situation isn’t exactly the same, I will echo that it really is the little things that matter. They add up and I can tell you that I remember every single time my girlfriend has told me I look handsome or defended my gender identity or even just smiled and told me I look good in my cargo pants. -shrug- just remember that those little things really matter.


  7. epistemic murk

    Although I have no real experience with what’s going on here, I feel the need to single out Ace’s comment as brilliant. So caring.


  8. Dae

    One thing I’d recommend is to think about where his discomfort is coming from, and listen to him if he chooses to talk about it (and make sure he knows you’re there for him if you haven’t already). As at least one person has mentioned, it can be tricky for cis people to understand dysphoria.

    I can only speak for myself here, but sometimes, my loved ones have tried to advise and comfort me by talking about me accepting my body and who I am. I think they meant to be helpful, but I don’t think they really understood the issue or my feelings. I don’t feel like there’s any conflict between who I am and who I want to be. I am who I am, and I want to be myself. I also don’t feel like I have problems accepting my body — I know what I’m comfortable with about it and what I’m not. I don’t feel like the conflict lies within me — I feel like it lies in how society approaches gender and how my body dictates how people perceive me.

    So I think a good starting point is trying to understand where your boyfriend is coming from and how he feels. I think this is something that’s very individual. And sometimes just being willing to listen can be a huge help.

    You probably can’t make him feel more comfortable with his body. But you can affirm that you find him attractive and see him as a man. I think Ace is spot on about the importance of accepting someone both as they are and as they will be in the future (if they choose to undergo a physical transition).


    Jessica replied:

    Very true. Many people approach the trans person as if they’re broken. We’re not broken and we don’t need to be fixed.


  9. Philip

    The little things make the biggest deal. Just being there for him and loving him go a long way. He’ll learn to love himself in time with the help of supportive friends and a supportive girlfriend.


  10. Anonymous

    I’m understanding this question in a different light, or maybe it’s just that I’m seeing this through my own position.

    I’m also a cisgendered girlfriend to a sweet transguy, and I’m wondering how to support him while he’s going through a dysphoric bit, how to help comfort him. Not change who he is or tell him to “be comfortable in his body” or to be his therapist or anything, but how to be there for him when he’s particularly distraught.

    Anybody have any suggestions? I do what I can, and I’m pretty decent at reading his needs (or so he tells me, ha) and just doing little things that reaffirm his masculinity and remind him that I love him and find him attractive, but does anyone have anything that really helps get them or their partners through dysphoric days/weeks?


  11. jean c.

    I second what Ace & others have said very eloquently.

    … to add one thing: understand that how he feels about himself will change & shift, that though now he might be totally psyched about certain parts of his body or certain things, in a couple of weeks or a couple of months he might feel totally differently. I know I have confused my girlfriend a lot at times, she’s been like, “but I thought you were comfortable with such-and-such!” and I find myself saying, “well yes, I guess I used to be, but now it feels weird…” and I try to be articulate about things, but I know that she feel slightly disoriented sometimes.

    I think that this is probably true for all humans, that the way we all feel about our bodies and/or sexuality changes & shifts all the time… but (to make a broad generalization!) genderqueer / gender-questioning / trans people probably tend to be really sensitive to those changes in attunement, in dissonance or resonance…

    so I guess, be patient with his thoughts & feelings changing over time… which actually sounds like good advice for any relationship? :)


  12. Morgan

    Listen. Listen actively – if he wants to talk about the way he feels, don’t just sit there and listen but comment constructively, just don’t try and dominate the conversation.
    Love him, and let him know you do.
    Be honest, be constructive.

    Don’t be too overbearing, but don’t always let it slide if other people are misgendering him – I don’t know how well your boyfriend passes, but my girlfriend has a lot of trouble with always having to tell people she’s not a boy, and says she appreciates me sometimes stepping in and correcting them – both because it takes some of the heat off her, and because it proves to her that I really do see her as a girl.


    Ace replied:

    Oh yes, that’s very important. My privilege as a cissexual person means that I can advocate for my partner and other trans people at much lesser risk to myself (risk of ungendering, insult, harassment, violence, etc.) and with a much better chance of being taken seriously. And, as you say, it takes some of the heat off him when I do this.

    I feel it to be my responsibility to educate, both because I feel comfortable in that role (I also volunteer as a facilitator for school workshops about homosexuality and bisexuality) and because it isn’t the oppressed person’s duty to educate the privileged.

    Of course, I do have to make sure when I do this that I respect what he’s told me about what he is and is not comfortable with having others know about him, and that I don’t tolerate questions that are inappropriate and asked out of an ungendering instinct or prurient motives (e.g. asking about his genitals or how we have sex, when his relationship with the person isn’t such that we talk about sexual matters — this happens very often).


    jean c. replied:

    yes! this is so crucial, to have someone else, your partner, or just any ally, speak up for your identity. for the reasons ace & morgan said. a quality of a true ally, not just in the now-standard use of the word, but in the real literal definition. yes!!!!


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