As the stigma against transgender people slowly lessens, more and more people are deciding to transition to their true gender identity in middle age. When they do, their spouses and long-term partners face a monumental decision: Should they stay in a relationship that is about to change in profound ways?
Usually, the popular image of a post-transition couple that stays together involves a male-to-female trans woman and her cisgender female spouse — think The Danish Girl or Laverne Cox’s character in Orange Is the New Black (or read the recent New York Magazine feature, “My Husband Is Now My Wife.”). It’s understandable why this appears to be the “default” view: Researchers think cisgender women are a lot more likely than men to stay with transitioning partners. As Helen Boyd, a gender-studies professor at Lawrence University who has studied married trans women, put it in an email, the number of men who stay with transitioning partners is “abysmally low.”
But there are men out there in those relationships, and many of them have trouble finding the recognition and support they need. As a result of social norms that tend to accept the “fluidity” of female sexuality but deny this concept in men, partners of trans men who stay often find themselves grappling with their sexual identity, and often feel rejected or misunderstood by both the straight community and the LGBT groups that would typically provide support, leaving them feeling isolated.
Readers of the blog Accidentally Gay are, by now, quite familiar with these issues. The author of the blog, Lucky, a formerly self-identified straight male, has chronicled his journey after his wife (now husband) decided to undergo FTM transition 20 years into the 40-something couple’s marriage. Science of Us spoke with Lucky and Jello about their experiences.
Jello, how did you decide to come out as trans after 20 years of marriage?
Jello: I was always very masculine. I had a crew cut in sixth grade. In my teens I hitchhiked under the guise of being a boy so I would be safe. I felt very comfortable like that. Plus, I was in the punk scene, and mohawks are pretty uni-gendered. I didn’t even know you could transition until the internet came into existence. And I kind of played with it for a while. I thought, Maybe I’m just genderqueer, but it finally came to the point where I was like, That’s just not working for me. Mostly because I did this project where I decided that maybe I just wasn’t being a woman “right.” So I put a lot of time and money into doing it right, trying the makeup and the lady clothes. I did that for a year, and it felt like I was wearing a costume.
Was that a kind of test to see if you could get the gender you were assigned at birth to “stick”?
Jello: Yeah, that was like my last-ditch effort, really giving it a go at being a woman. I found out a lot about feminism. I ended up loving that, but I didn’t love the trying-to-be-a-woman part. That didn’t work for me.
What did you think that year when Jello was dressing kind of extra girly, Lucky?
Lucky: It was kind of weird because Jello didn’t tell me the purpose of it. So it felt like it came out of the blue. I was like, “Okay, you can be as girly as you want,” but it didn’t seem right. It didn’t fit for Jello. And I think I kind of picked up that Jello was unhappy with it. Outwardly he seemed happy, but since we had been together so long I think I picked up that it wasn’t working.
Did you prefer it at all when Jello was presenting as more feminine?
Lucky: I’ve always been kind of attracted to the punk-rock girls who are fairly masculine, like Tank Girl, that type of thing. It was actually less attractive to me because Jello lost his harder edge, so I wasn’t … I mean, he was very pretty, but it didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t as interesting as his normal personality.
So after that year, you decided to come out, Jello. What was that conversation like?
Jello: We were in the bedroom and Lucky had just come out as probably being not 100 percent straight. So I thought this was my chance. And a bit later I said, “You know, I’ve been playing with this gender thing, and I don’t really think I’m a woman, and I don’t think I’ve ever been.” Then I said, “What would you think if I transitioned?” And I told him that if he couldn’t cope with me being a dude, visibly, then I wouldn’t do it, ’cause we had been together for decades at this point, and I didn’t want to live without him. And he didn’t even pause. He was like, “If you need to transition then you need to do it.”
What were you thinking, Lucky, when Jello told you he was trans?
Lucky: I don’t know if it was really a surprise. It didn’t surprise me, but also we’ve been best friends the whole time. We started being best friends before we got together. All I could think of was if my friend needs to transition, he needs to transition. There was no doubt at all. He was really worried about it and kind of beating around the bush for about an hour until he finally got up the courage, because he said he was really worried about me breaking up with him. And I told him, “It doesn’t matter if I break up with you. You just need to do what you need to do. Even if I couldn’t handle it, I’d recommend you do what I’d say to any of my friends — no matter what the person you’re with says, you need to take care of yourself.”
Lucky, what does “not 100 percent straight” mean to you?
Lucky: I had never dated a guy before, but there had been a couple of same-sex college experiences in a group setting. We also watch porn together, different types of porn, and gay porn I find just as arousing as straight porn. It doesn’t bother me at all. And so we had been talking about it. I think it was something on Tumblr …
Jello: We weren’t on Tumblr.
Lucky: Okay, we were watching something, and I was following up on it like, “I think I might be heteroflexible,” I think is the word for it.
Do you remember what you were watching? A friend of mine recently had a similar experience with a Robert Mapplethorpe photo.
Lucky: [Laughs.] It’s just something I’ve thought about. Also, Jello was talking about a couple of the guys she found attractive, and it just kind of went from there.
I noticed you said “she.”
Lucky: I was talking about before Jello transitioned, and I sometimes slip when I do that. I’ve never slipped up on pronouns talking about anything we’re doing currently. It’s only when I’m talking about Jello pre-transition that I have to catch myself, because it’s just a habit. And it’s only happened, like, three or four times. Sadly, this is one of them. And it’s usually when I’m talking about Jello’s physicalness, something going on with his body or his look.
Could it be like muscle memory?
Lucky: Yes. Absolutely. Because the other time specifically that I slipped with Jello was I was petting the cat, and I looked at the cat and said, “Go see your mom.” Because I’ve done that with our cat for 18 years. And then immediately I switched, “No, go see your dad.”
Jello: I also think it’s a lot harder to get used to new pronouns than a new name. You can pick up and throw a name on and people will all adjust to it. You adjust a pronoun and people have a problem. You can do it with someone’s cat — “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s a boy cat.” But culturally I think there’s so much significance with gender that your pronoun has so much impact.
It sounds like neither of you felt very heteronormative during your youth. How did each of you grow up?
Jello: I came from an upper-class family, and it was definitely not a safe environment, so I was on my own and homeless from when I was about 16. I haven’t talked to my family in ten years. It actually made my transitioning a lot easier because I don’t have to worry about that. Lucky’s family background is also pretty unusual.
Lucky: My family comes from a motorcycle club. They’re all, like, Vietnam vets, lots of police involvement, lots of illegal activities. I kind of had the opposite experience, though, ’cause all the friends and family of the group were very supportive, and I got to hear from several of these big bikers saying they were bisexual. I just never came out to them because I was kind of rebelling the opposite way. When Jello and I first got together I was pretty straight-laced.
Where did you grow up?
Lucky: Pacific Northwest.
Are your family Hell’s Angels?
Lucky: [Says the name of another active outlaw motorcycle gang.] But please don’t print that.
So did you grow up in that culture of biker dudes making out to freak out the squares?
Lucky: That is part of it. And, actually, my grandfather was a Hell’s Angel.
Jello: We agonized for months about telling his family. Lucky went up and told his parents without me. Your mom was just astounding. She pulled out, like, an Oprah quote. Something like, “If that’s his gender identity, then that’s his business.”
Lucky: Words I never expected to hear out of this old biker woman’s mouth.
Jello: Like, “Where’d you hear about the term ‘gender identity’?” I thought it was going to be a tough sell, but …
Lucky: They totally accepted him.
Even the burly biker guys?
Jello: Oh yeah. There was this one time I was sitting on the couch at a party and this guy came up to me and started giving me shit like, “What are you doing to your body?” And Lucky’s family all came up and surrounded the guy and were just like “Get out” and wouldn’t tolerate it. And I was just shocked because I come from a family that’s not very supportive, and I didn’t expect that. I think that helped Lucky a lot. Initially, his family was concerned. His siblings were like, “Are you okay that he’s doing this to you?” Now they don’t even skip a beat about it.
Lucky: I got a lot of concern-trolling initially. Mostly from straight, cis, het dudes.
So where are you in your transition now?
Jello: I’ve been on testosterone two years. I’m just now getting all the paperwork for top surgery [to remove his breasts] because we get our insurance through the federal government, and they were a year or two behind the Affordable Care Act and everything else on coverage for transgender care.
Do you have facial hair?
Jello: A little bit. I look like a 12-year-old boy with a dirt ’stache. I started growing sideburns this year. I’m like, “Look, my manhood! It’s starting!” I’m read as male by most people now.
What was your reaction when Jello first started growing facial hair?
Lucky: I’m just not that into beards even though I might have one occasionally [laughs]. His sideburns are fine; they don’t bug me. He has not grown heavy enough facial hair yet for me to have to confront that issue. But I know it’s coming. He’s got really faint, faint hair — it’s more like a 10-year-old’s peach fuzz. Honestly, I think the fact that he is growing it in so slowly might help me. If his hair had grown out the day he started his transition it would have bothered me more. But it grows in so slowly that it’s a process of getting used to it.
Jello: When I first came out you were like, “You can’t have a beard.”
Lucky: I don’t really feel that way anymore.
But initially you weren’t comfortable with it?
Lucky: I would never, ever say, “Don’t do it.”
Jello: He’s just lucky I come from a line of hairless people. I’ve been on T for two years, and I’m just starting to see stubble if I don’t shave for two days.
I feel like a lot of trans men consider growing facial hair a rite of passage. If Lucky said, “I just can’t handle a beard,” would you ever compromise on that or anything else that comes up?
Jello: I don’t feel like we would ever have a serious conflict about it. It would probably depend on how much it impacted my sex life, to be honest. That would probably be the mitigating factor.
Lucky: It wasn’t a turnoff or anything. It was just weird because it felt like a different person. The biggest problem I have with the facial hair is I’m not associating it with my 20 years of marriage. It’s different, so it takes some getting used to. Like sometimes, even now I’ll look at Jello from behind, and Jello doesn’t look like Jello from before, when he was presenting as female. It’s not that I find Jello unattractive, but I have this weird missing of what I remember as the original Jello. It’s like seeing two images overlaying each other with the same behavior.
Will you miss Jello’s breasts after top surgery?
Jello: I always kind of had a problem with them before.
Lucky: Yeah. They were kind of off-limits before.
Jello: They were aesthetically pleasing, but I didn’t have a boob thing. I didn’t like people to touch them before, so he never really got the full experience.
Lucky: They were gorgeous, but you’ll be hot with a man chest.
Has your sex life changed?
Jello: It’s gotten better.
Lucky: Yeah. Jello’s definitely been more assertive, I think would be the right word. I think it’s been great.
Jello: It’s definitely more active now. Testosterone is amazing. I’m more comfortable with my body. Before I didn’t really initiate sex because I felt really weird about it. I’ve never liked my chest touched; I never felt like I was in my body during sex, even though I could definitely get a reaction. I always felt like I was acting, and now I feel like it’s me. Not that the sex was ever bad — it was just less frequent.
Lucky: It was a lot less frequent.
How often were you having sex before?
Lucky: Once a month if I was happy and things were going really well. And now it’s a lot. Like a couple times a week. It would probably be more, but now we’re old, and it’s like, Oh, wait, CSI is on — we’ll do it later.
Jello: I think for that first year on T I was still able to get multiple orgasms. There’s a lot of clitoral growth with that, too.
How much clitoral growth are we talking?
Jello: Like an inch and a half.
Did that weird you out at all, Lucky?
Lucky: I did a lot of research when Jello came out to me, so I kind of knew what to expect. So there was no surprise at all. It’s like, okay, that’s kind of cool. It makes it way easier. ’Cause beforehand Jello’s clit was really tiny. And it reacts way more strongly when touched now. Also, he’s more insistent during sex. Like beforehand he was uncomfortable being touched down below, probably due to some of his gender dysphoria. Once he was on testosterone it became, like, “Hey, can you touch this?” all the time. It’s like, “Oh my god, now I know how women feel.”
Jello: Also, with T everything is changing so fast, so you can actually get, like, a pins-and-needles, foot-falling-asleep erection feeling in your junk. It’s uncomfortable and horny all at the same time.
What was the first six months of your transition like?
Jello: My voice dropped almost immediately. I didn’t force people to use the correct pronoun. All the people that knew me knew I was transitioning. One of the bro dudes asked if I had a cold, and I was like, “No, man, puberty.” My biggest physical complaint was the muscle gain. I went from being super-skinny to having biceps now. I did not work out to get them. I started growing hair from like the groin outwards. So my thighs got hairy, my belly got hairy. The only time I’ve ever liked my belly is now. I kind of hated that stomach pooch my entire life. Now I’ve got a beer belly. [Laughs.]
Lucky: He’s really proud of his belly. I wouldn’t call it a beer belly. It’s more like a quarter pint of belly. But he’s always like, “Look at the hair!” Oh, his skin. His skin got way rougher. Before his skin was really soft, and within, like, three months his skin was … I don’t want to say thicker but definitely more solid.
What did you think of Jello’s voice dropping?
Lucky: I didn’t notice the voice at first. I mean, it was quick, but I had been traveling, and also I have bad hearing. What freaked me out was that at the time Jello was taking YouTube vids of the transition, so it wasn’t till, like, two months into the transition that I went back and played one of his earlier videos, and that was like a weird gut-punch for me. Like I had lost someone. I have no problem with what Jello looks like now and being with him, but every once in a while it’s like I’m missing someone — physically, not emotionally. Emotionally and everything else is still the same, but physicalness you’re used to, like the body shape is different. Sometimes when we’re being intimate I’ll just stop and be like, Whose body am I touching? It doesn’t happen nearly as often now, but for the first six months to a year — and it would go away quickly, too — but it would be like a really hard gut-punch when I realized. Or, this is going to sound weird, but Jello’s smell has changed a lot. We were going through some of his old clothes, and those can still smell the way Jello smelled before, and that was pretty hard.
How did the smell change?
Lucky: I don’t want to say it’s “deeper,” but he’s got BO now. Before he had a really light, almost-no smell. And I have a really good sense of smell; smell was the hardest part.
Is there anything else about Jello’s feminine presentation that you miss, like how his skin was softer before?
Lucky: Sometimes if I look at his back, he’s got a set of tattoos that he’s had for most of our marriage, and within the first year the muscles on his back had grown in, and I’d look and see in the dark him sitting on the edge of the bed talking to me, and the tattoos didn’t match with the body I saw under it.
In the beginning if I’d wake up in the middle of the night and lean over and kiss or reach out and touch Jello’s body, that would throw me off and be kind of weird. Not now at all. But for the first few months there was an awkwardness. I’m pretty handsy in my sleep. I’ll lean over and rub his back, and there’s way more muscle and it’s way broader than it was. So sometimes there’s — not really recently — but I’ve woken up and been like, “Who’s in my bed?” and felt disoriented.
Has your relationship changed in other ways?
Lucky: Our argument styles changed drastically. It’s gotten a lot better. We don’t argue at all now. I shouldn’t say “at all.” Sometimes we do. But before when we would argue we would get into these big yelling arguments, and then Jello would cry, and that freaks me out. Since the transition, Jello can’t cry as easily.
Jello: Before the transition I was the kind of person who would cry at the drop of a hat. Frustrated cry, angry cry.
Lucky: But not curl up in a ball and cry — more like cry and throw something at me.
Jello: My anxiety is so much less now. More like I will say something snarky and we’ll have a little back-and-forth, and that’s it. It doesn’t ever hit the crescendo where I’m, like, just throwing things, slamming doors. We haven’t had an argument like that in two years. The testosterone was very good for our marriage.
That’s sort of surprising. It didn’t make you more aggressive?
Jello: Actually, I am less aggressive now.
Lucky: He used to be really aggressive. Jello doesn’t get nearly as angry either.
Jello: I had some anxiety issues. I don’t have anxiety anymore, I don’t have panic attacks anymore.
So you’d say Jello is easier to live with?
Lucky: Yes. When the transition was first happening, we didn’t know how to approach each other during an argument. He shifted pretty quickly into reading as male. And at the very beginning we’d argue, like, through a wall or from the other side of the house, and I’d come out and I’d see him and I wouldn’t know how to handle it because I don’t know how to argue with guys like that. Like, You’re a guy now? What am I supposed to do? I obviously can’t punch you.
Jello: I think you’re more patronizing to me now.
Lucky: Yeah, now I go for the “little man” comments.
Jello: But we don’t really have big disputes now these days. If we do it’s usually like that sarcastic joke dispute.
Lucky: Maybe more like the catty-gay-guys stereotype. But the one big difference is when he presented as female he cried a lot, and it freaked me out. I don’t know why.
Jello: We both have different baggage in our upbringings, too. My dad physically abused me, and Lucky is six foot four, so when we first got together and when we got in an argument, if he stepped into my space or raised his voice, it freaked me the hell out. Like, I would shove him and bail because my dad was very violent. So our argument style kind of danced around this. Whereas in his family if someone got upset enough to cry, it wasn’t going to be a good scene.
Lucky: Because you don’t do that. Growing up around motorcycle people you don’t show emotion like that, so when someone does, it just confuses you. So if he would cry I would just yell really loud and then leave. But now that doesn’t happen. Actually, we can talk easier. Because before we would have had that big freak-out fight and have to leave for a couple hours and come back. Now it will flare up, and then we find ourselves talking within five minutes. Like, during the argument the talking will start.
Do you feel like you’re approaching each other more as equals now?
Jello: Yes. I think our dynamic is more equal now. Before I transitioned I was taking on a lot of the more traditionally masculine work in the relationship. I feel like Lucky might have felt like he was getting emasculated because his “little girlfriend” was fixing the house.
Lucky: ’Cause I’m not like that at all. I don’t like to work on cars, I don’t like to get my hands dirty. Like, I’ll go bake in the kitchen. But growing up in a really toxic masculine environment with the bikers, I think I was stressed because Jello as a really tiny female was more masculine in pursuits than I was.
Jello: Nowadays, if it manifests, it’s more like a friendly competition. Like when we’re working out. But when I looked feminine … like, I remember when we were in our 20s and we were building a campsite with other dudes around and you didn’t want them to see your girlfriend build the campsite because you didn’t want them to think of you as less than.
Lucky: Yeah. Because I was a stupid 22-year-old male. And it doesn’t help that other 22-year-old males will give you shit. Now it doesn’t bother me. Our relationship is still the same. Like, he still does all the masculine stuff ’cause I need it. But perceptually I don’t feel like I’m less of a man than him.
Also, if there was an argument and friends were around they would always call Jello “bitchy” and get on me about why would I listen to her? Now it’s two guys, and they don’t get involved at all. And the “pussy-whipped” comments, those stopped. In general, in our relationship Jello takes the lead. At the time he was presenting as a female, I would get a lot of “pussy-whipped” comments. Now my friends try and be good.
Jello: Straight guys say shitty things to each other.
What do your straight cis guy friends say now?
Lucky: We’ve lost a lot of friends over the years. Women were nice about it, while my male friends were just dicks about it. It’s usually guys that are asking me how I can stay with Jello. It’s like, “This is my partner. I love him. I would never consider not being with him.” Most women when they find out are really supportive. They’re like, ‘“Oh my god, that’s great.” It’s just usually straight guys [who aren’t]. And then they start asking inappropriate questions. They want to know first of all how I’m attracted to a guy. But then they want to know details of what’s happened below the belt for Jello, and I’m like, “That’s really not your business.” Some people act disdainful, and then lately I’ve been getting people, like, fetishizing it, and I’m like, “Okay, you’re gross, go away.” Overly sexual and just creepy comments, like, “How do you guys fit together now?” It’s like, “I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
How did this sort of pressure impact you, Lucky?
Lucky: All of a sudden you’re considered gay. When you’re a straight, cis, het guy as I was, you don’t realize how people treat you differently, even your own friends. And I think just understanding that it’s okay is important. Like, a lot of my gay friends, they grew up gay, so they kind of built their support network and their defenses for that as they went. And it was like all of a sudden I was a teenager again and just feeling excluded from things.
Jello: The more male I’m read, the more gay you are.
Lucky: I’ve gotten better now, but at the time I didn’t know who to talk to. It was just a really confusing thing. And I had a few people who didn’t want to hang with us anymore. So that was hard to kind of get over.
After Jello transitioned, did it make you think about your personal identity any differently? Do you think of yourself as gay now?
Lucky: I have a hard time thinking of myself as gay because I’ve kind of felt this way the whole time. That’s the one thing I have a hard time with with the LGBT community. I don’t know how to fit in.
Jello: You were worried people wouldn’t accept you.
Lucky: That they would call me fake-gay. And there’s still that. Sometimes we’ve had occasional weirdness.
Jello: Sometimes gay men are not that accepting. Go figure.
Where did you encounter that attitude?
Lucky: The first time was at this support group for trans people and their partners. Weirdly enough, from some of the lesbian partners of trans women. They were nice enough. No one has been outright rude.
Jello: It’s usually the frozen smile and this kind of pulling back from accepting you. I wanted to meet other trans guys. Which turns out is not easy to find. It was mostly older trans women and a couple genderqueer kids. I love the genderqueer kids. Genderqueer kids are, like, so accepting.
More accepting than the trans women and their partners?
Lucky: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Jello: Older people sometimes have a really hard time with us. Most groups tend to be mostly transgender ladies. And transgender ladies, I think they need more support anyways, because society is crap and nasty to trans women. I think there was some frustration, too, like some ladies in the group had serious losses of partners, and here I come trotting in with a handsome man. Because the fact is that most partners don’t stay. And here I am. I end up winning the lotto with a dude that’s willing to be gay for me. I don’t think they wanted to invest in him because they didn’t think he was gonna stay. We were asking for resources [for people with FTM partners], and we looked and we literally could not find anything.
Lucky: Almost everyone I talk to in this community, their spouse is female. I’ve never met a guy who has stayed with a transitioning spouse. It’s all women who are staying with their partners.
Why do you think that is, that more cis women stay with their trans women partners?
Jello: I think women are more accepting. I don’t think there’s as much panic with women. There is such a cultural thing about being gay, so I think that’s a lot of pressure.
Lucky: I also think it’s at least partially socializing. Actually, part of it is my parents have been together 45 years, been through a whole bunch of horrible shit between them, but they stayed together no matter what ’cause they’re married — that’s what they do. It seems to me a lot of women are told to put up with your partner, take care of them, work with them, whereas most of my male friends are told there’s plenty of fish in the sea. If she doesn’t do what you want her to do, go find someone else.
Jello: Yeah, I think women are definitely socialized more to take care of others and to look at it from another side. Whereas there’s a lot of male privilege saying, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Lucky: Like a lot of the guys said, “There’s plenty of women out there.” We had several cis het friends right when the transition started who told me, “You know, you can find someone else.”
So there’s more pressure on men to leave?
Lucky: Absolutely. Just from the other guys that I hung around with, I got a lot of “Why are you still there?” So there was a weird pressure about it. In some of the communities I’m involved in people call me “faggot.” Like, “Why would you want to be a faggot?” And I’m like, “’Cause I love my husband.” I can’t imagine not being with Jello. It doesn’t matter what Jello looks like. Jello could turn into, like, a little cat or something and I would still love him. I mean, I wouldn’t have sex with him if he were a cat …
Jello: … No, that’d be gross.
Lucky: But you know what I mean. Women are generally supportive. Dude to dude it gets weird. I get texts from them like, “Hey, I’m gonna help you get laid.”
Jello: They’re really trying to help Lucky.
Lucky: Like, “We’re gonna get you out of a bad relationship.” They get weirdly concerned, and I’ve never understood why they even care.
Jello: People get really weird about giving up privilege. I think that’s one of the reasons trans men have it easier, is that you are stepping into privilege. Whereas if you’re a straight dude who’s gay or effeminate you’re losing privilege.
Spouses that stay need support. Because if you’re the person transitioning it’s really, like, by necessity, a very self-involved period of time. All you think about are what changes are happening with the hormone replacement therapy. What do I need to do to transition? Am I being read as male? Am I dressing right? Did I do something funny to give myself away? It’s very self-involved. Your spouse almost becomes a transitioning widow because everything in the world revolves around your transition initially, and unless they have a good support network they’re sort of left behind. I’m sure there were times when I went weeks forgetting to say “How was your day?” or “What’s happening with you?” It would be easier to stay if more spouses had that support.
Was that one of the things you were looking for support with initially, Lucky?
Lucky: Yeah. I was really concerned for him, so that kind of overrode a lot of it. But yeah, there was probably a few months where we probably didn’t talk much about what was happening with me. That and I didn’t know how — with his testosterone, his moods do shift slightly over the week depending on when he took the shot. And I didn’t know whether that was normal. So a lot of the support I wanted to know was how to take care of Jello. But then as the weeks went by it was kind of self-focused — I was like, “Is there someone I can talk to about what’s going on?” ’Cause I kind of felt alone.
Jello: When you start hormone replacement therapy I think a lot of partners do need support because you’re forcing your body to go through puberty again. And those first three months there were some mood swings.
Lucky: There were some mood swings. And I was like, “Oh my god, is this ever going to end? Are we going to be like this the whole time? What’s going on?”
Jello: ’Cause you’re feeling raw.
Lucky: He would get grumpy.
Did you feel like any of that was taken out on you?
Lucky: Oh, yeah. All of it. And I was pretty desperate to talk. I understood what was going on logically, but that wasn’t helping emotionally.
Jello: You just want to talk to someone and say, “Hey, this sucks,” and hear “It sucks, but it’s gonna get better eventually.”
So what kind of support were you looking for?
Lucky: Just someone who had been through it before. When we first talked about it my biggest concern was that this was Jello’s slow way of breaking up with me. So I looked around hoping to find someone, and I couldn’t find anyone. I talked to some of the women who were with trans ladies, but it seemed like kind of the opposite things they would have problems with. So I was able to talk to them a little bit but not completely.
Lucky: ’Cause the mood swings for trans ladies were emotional or all over the place, whereas Jello would be more aggressive. So the people I talked to were really comforting, and I got a lot of help out of it, but it seemed like they didn’t get it. And I think some of them were really nice, but I think some of them held on to that stereotype of “You’re a guy, just get over it. Stay or get out.”
A lot of partners of trans spouses talk about feeling pressure to be supportive all the time. Did you ever feel that way?
Lucky: Only by default. He never looked at me and said, “You need to be more supportive,” but as a spouse I felt obligated to do that. I think the advantage is we’d been together for 20 years at that time, so any relationship that lasts that long, there are peaks and valleys anyway. I don’t want to say that you become just friends for portions of the marriage. I mean, you still love them and you are married, but things slow down and people kind of do their own thing, and I think that because we’d been through turbulence before, it was just like, “Okay, this is just one of those times” and I’ll ride it out, and if things don’t look up in another six months, I’ll kind of bop him on the head and tell him, “Hey, I’m here.” ’Cause my whole purpose was to get him through it anyway, because Jello was really stressed about me leaving him, and he was really stressed about the transition, and I wanted to make sure to alleviate any concern he had. So I didn’t think about it for the first couple months. It wasn’t until four or five months in that I’d notice he’d be like, “Wait, so what happened at work?” ’cause I switched jobs and he wouldn’t catch a lot of the things I had been talking about or dealing with.
I will admit I did feel resentful on occasion, but I just kind of learned to push it down. Because I figured it won’t last forever. He is going to eventually transition all the way and then he’ll have to look at me. So there were times when I was frustrated. And that’s what kind of made me start the blog. And I had a lot of people talk to me and ask me questions privately. So I developed a pretty cool support network accidentally. Because I couldn’t find anyone when I was looking. And so I kind of distracted myself with that until Jello came back around.
But most of the spouses you meet through there are cis women. Do you think there are different challenges between the relationship you’ll typically see between a cis woman and a trans woman and your relationship?
Lucky: I think trans women have a way harder time than I do. But I think cis women partners are better at developing those sorts of support networks. As a guy I don’t think I have the toolbox most women have with that relationship and connecting with people. So I probably had a little rougher time than normal there.
Jello: Lucky gets more pushback than I do. I know that we both had to do a lot of soul-searching about our sexualities and our gender presentation with each other. I round up to queer these days because it’s just easier. I know what I feel, but politically or verbally I don’t know if the language is as accurate as I would like.
Lucky came to the conclusion that he doesn’t want to be sexually active with someone he doesn’t have an emotional tie with already, and I think that’s hard for a cisgendered man to come to that decision because there’s so much pressure to “get it while you can,” do one-night stands, and be a “real man.”
Lucky: ’Cause I had a friend who saw that I was getting these offers from women, and he was on me like, “Hey, your husband doesn’t care. It’s okay if you go do that.” And I was like, “No, I don’t want to.” It was like a weird extra pressure.
So initially in your transition you agreed to an open relationship?
Jello: We’ve always had that arrangement, and he’s never been that interested.
Lucky: Jello was worried when the transition first started, so he offered to get me a girlfriend, ’cause he was worried that I’d lose out because I do like females. I think women are beautiful.
You still find yourself attracted to women?
Lucky: Oh, absolutely. And I do find some guys attractive. I’d say I’m bi, but I’m definitely more geared toward women.
Jello: Lucky for me you’re just a little bit gay.
This interview has been condensed and edited.