Our story, part 2: Where’s that sense of relief?

Image description: Cartoon of Veronica looking puzzled and standing beside a sofa with one cushion removed.
Hint: It wasn’t under the sofa cushions.

Image description: Cartoon of Veronica looking puzzled and standing beside a sofa with one cushion removed.

The first few times* that I came out as gay, I had a huge sense of relief. The people I told reacted with love rather than rejection or aggression. I released all the tension and fear, and for days afterward, I buzzed with positivity and potential. Each time I came out, it got easier. Even when I was met with aggression later in life, it didn’t dent the armor that early acceptance had helped me build.

I assumed it would be the same for Veronica. That makes sense, doesn’t it? You worry about telling your partner that you’re trans; you tell them and they embrace you; the music swells; and cathartic joy and relief abound…

I’m not saying there was no relief. We certainly felt at peace for that whole first evening. But it didn’t grow over the following days and weeks. Instead, it was replaced by stress, increasing gender dysphoria, and struggles with the establishment — and her experience is apparently not unusual for transpeople.

I’m sharing this part of the story because I wish I’d known this at the time. Maybe it will help someone else. As her partner, I needed this information. I believe it would’ve helped me react with more empathy. It certainly would’ve kept me from giving pep talks that demonstrated a lack of understanding of the complexity of transition. And it definitely would’ve helped me frame her experience in a truer context.

The next morning was fine. It was like most of our mornings. We had to feed the cat, open the rabbits’ nighttime hutches and top up their water, and let out and feed the chickens. Then there were showers, breakfasts, and work emails from clients in other time zones. We were perhaps a little more tender toward each other; a little more aware of checking in with each other; but it felt like a regular morning.

As the day progressed, I noticed Veronica getting pensive. The next day, her mood was low and although we kept checking in with each other, it didn’t seem that we could turn it around with words. Each positive reaction from friends and family brought a little joy and comfort; and there were moments of gender euphoria** and triumph; but that low persisted over the next few months.

I saw Veronica putting a lot of effort into presenting as a feminine woman. She applied all the knowledge she had of makeup and learned more; she worked at styling her short hair; she got her nails done; she stayed away from mannish clothing and flats; she wore earrings and pendants. She looked good. I could see the woman emerging quickly from her previously femme-masculine-to-genderfluid presentation.

Content warning: Transphobia and ignorant misgendering

Despite the effort, she encountered transphobia every time she went out: direct jeers and snide loud comments from teenagers and adults in Wexford town; stares and rude words from an older woman in Enniscorthy; loud remarks and expressions of disgust from people on the street in Dublin. She was repeatedly (and ignorantly) misgendered — called “Sir” or “mate” in restaurants and shops.

Whatever struggles I’d seen her have with her appearance before, this was 100 times worse. No amount of positive reactions or loving words could drown the negative out at that sensitive stage. She told me it made her feel like she would never be seen as who she really is.

The reality of medical transition in Ireland was a huge stressor. The HSE still adheres to a backwards practice with multiple gatekeepers rather than the informed consent model. It includes an unnecessary psychiatric evaluation. She had to find a GP who’d agree to refer her to a psychiatrist who’d decide if she’s “transgender enough” to be referred to one of only three endocrinologists who provide services to transpeople.

She had to push the GP for weeks to ensure a referral letter was sent. The waiting list for the psychiatrist was over five months. And the waiting list for the endocrinologist after that five-month wait is over 18 months. We found a way around it — which I’ll write about another time — but for a while, it looked like over 2 years to even hope to start a hormone regimen. And another year after that for surgical options.

We also had to contend with financial worries (the costs of the medical transition, essential electrolysis, and a whole new wardrobe); concerns about legal documents and international travel; and bitterly disappointing reactions from a few people who we’d thought were better than that.

Speaking her truth to me was a gift for me. I got to know her better and love her fully for who she is. But I also had to watch her go through some really miserable times in the face of transphobia, gatekeeping, financial worries and dysphoria. Our conversations quickly turned tense and joyless. We struggled with our lack of agency in some areas. I struggled with empathy. And I don’t feel like she got to enjoy any feeling of relief.

I learned a lot during that time and I am a better partner and ally now. And things would get better for both of us as we overcame some of the external challenges and reconnected as partners.

*In case you’re not aware, coming out is not a once-and-done event, unless you can gather everyone you’ve ever known and will ever know into a room.

**Gender euphoria is a term I’ve seen many trans and nonbinary people use to describe moments when something makes them feel right. Like the first time Veronica got her nails done professionally. She was so happy that I wanted to give all the moneys to the nail technician. All of them.

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