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How do I cope in a relationship where I'm not out as trans?

Updated: Mar 13

Q: I was wondering if you had any advice for how to cope in a relationship where you are not out as trans yet to them. In my current situation, I think they would be supportive but their parents are not and I do not want to come out as trans to more people for a year or so for safety reasons. How do I cope until then? My s/o uses a lot of compliments with feminine language directed towards me which increases my dysphoria. Thank you for your time. :)

S: This sounds like a super difficult situation (through no fault of your own or your partner's), and I'm sorry you're dealing with it. Prioritizing your own safety is definitely a good call, but it's infuriating that you need to do that in a way that forces you to hide your identity from people who should be supportive. This isn't actually advice, just an acknowledgment that it's incredibly unfair (though if it helps to give yourself permission to be angry, go for it.)

One thing that can help when you're in a situation where you can't be out is finding other spaces where you can. If you're only ever interacting with people who think you're a woman, then that gets overwhelming. If you haven't already, seek out some communities (online or in-person, anonymous or otherwise depending on what makes sense for your own comfort and safety) where you can be out or at least won't have your gender incorrectly assumed. If you have any individual friends or family you're out to, you can ask them to make a point to call you by the language that is comfortable for you when it's safe to do that. You can also reach out as needed and ask people do to this when you're having a particularly bad time of it and just need to hear someone acknowledge your identity.

Regarding your partner, can you identify some of the language they use that makes you uncomfortable and ask them to stop using it? You'll probably want a reason prepared that isn't about your own gender (like that you prefer to focus on qualities other than your appearance, or that you're trying to practice using non-gendered language as a way to stop assuming gender in other people) in case they ask why, and maybe examples of what you'd like them to say instead. This could be a pretty awkward conversation depending on if/how you two talk about this sort of thing, but it may help minimize the issue without requiring you to come out. It could also be a soft launch into talking about gender in general, since it sounds like you'd like to come out to them eventually and that's usually easier when gender diversity isn't a new topic of discussion between you.

Depending on what the compliments are about, does your discomfort flag anything specific that you want to explore now? You don't need to come out as trans in order to shift your physical presentation (though of course a lot of trans and gender diverse people don't choose to do that, so this only applies if it's something you want). Even though you can't be out right now, you can still explore your own gender and gender expression to an extent.

K: Echoing everything said by S. I think the ideas to identify language you'd like your partner to avoid and perhaps exploring ways to shift your physical presentation without coming out are all great ideas. I also think it is worth exploring areas you are able to be out (or not assumed to be a gender you're not) to help cope with dysphoria until you're in a position and situation where you can come out safely. Lastly, I'm not sure if I'm reading into the wording too much, but if you think your partner would be safe to come out to, but not their parents, I do want to point out that you can be out to some people and in some contexts, but not others. An ex-partner is the first person I ever came out to, and he was the only person who knew for maybe 6 or 7 months. He'd gender me correctly and we'd talk about my gender in private, and we discussed how to handle things around others (namely, to shift language where people wouldn't notice, like saying "partner" and try to avoid pronouns when possible, but to keep using the uncomfortable pronouns when it wasn't), and it helped a lot even having one other person in my life who knew and I could fully relax around when we were together. If I read too much into the phrasing though, then never mind. You're the person best suited to know when it's safe to come out to others.

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