Do I Support My Transgender Partner or Am I a Gatekeeper?

U.A. Nigro

After the shock of hearing the words, “Honey, I am transgender” have diminished, we as partners go throughout the five stages of grief. Sometimes repeating them more than once. This is quite normal for such a life-changing situation. Then and only then can we move forward into our partner’s transition. One problem that seems to plague couples is how fast or slow transition will occur. There is no set time frame for transitioning. No list of guidelines to follow or how to guide. Each and every person has their own set of circumstances, health concerns, and needs to consider.


Some transgender folks want to go full speed ahead, while others are more cautious and need to have reassurance before going forward. On the other side of the coin, some cisgender partners are super encouraging. They jump right in with support and any help they can offer. While, other cisgender partners put forth conditions and hold the reins tightly while moving ahead. Some so tightly they can be considered gatekeepers.

gate·keep·er- noun

-an attendant at a gate who is employed to control who goes through it.

-a person or thing that controls access to something.

“the primary-care doctor serves as the gatekeeper to specialists”

So what is the difference between being a supportive partner and a gatekeeper during your partner’s transition? Well a supportive partner would say let’s sit down together and hash out some kind of time table as to when to tell the family, friends, work etc. It is one that you are both comfortable with that is considerate of everyone’s feelings. Whereas a gatekeeper would say, “Sure I am okay with you transitioning, however you need to do it my way. If you choose not to do it my way, you can just leave. You can only dress as yourself at home on the weekends and you can’t start hormones till you loose some weight.” As partners we really have no right to tell our partner how, when, and in what way they can transition. Unless of course you are a gender therapist or an endocrinologist, you should not be the one making those decisions. If you have decided to stay and support them, then that’s what you need to do. Throwing down ultimatums and threatening to leave if they don’t do it your way is just wrong. The big decisions surrounding transition should be made together with the proper professional on the same page.

Being a partner is one-half of a couple. There is another half, and you have their feelings to consider. No one should make any big decisions without talking it over with the other person first. That just shows a lack of love and respect for the other person. Having your partner transition was never in the plan, I’m sure, and I know it wasn’t in mine. However, we need to work it into our plan when something life-altering happens to us. Watching my wife transition into the beautiful woman that she is today has been an amazing journey. Sure not every day was a bowl of cherries, but when I see her happy and smiling it somehow seems worth it.


I am also fully aware that when our partners become immersed in their second puberty we somehow fall into the roll of parent. Tread these waters lightly. You never want to parent your partner. Always keep in mind what the word partner means. You can get through this successfully with your relationship intact if you work at it together. Any good therapist will tell you that the most important aspect of any relationship is communication. I call it relationship rule #1. When communication with your partner breaks down, the relationship begins to break down. If your feelings were hurt because of something your partner said and you didn’t share those feelings with them, those hurtful words grow inside your mind and become monstrous. A tiny negative comment about an outfit you are wearing, after festering in your mind, could turn into, “My partner doesn’t find me attractive anymore.” One small thoughtless comment can begin an avalanche of hurt and disappointment. Find time to express how you are feeling with your partner. Promise each other that you will listen with an open mind and an open heart.


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