There is no real manual for transitioning, let alone transitioning as a couple. Our transness, what makes us uniquely proud of our relationship today, was once at the core of our most tumultuous time. Trans people are not immune to shame: In our shame, we drifted apart shortly after coming to terms with our genderqueerness. After healing from this period together, we are reflecting on this time vulnerably and with a renewed sense of commitment for each other.
Since the beginning, our relationship has undoubtedly emboldened us to be more authentic. From the get-go, our younger “boy” selves connected about our passion for irreverent self-expression. In college, for example, Alex’s comfort with femininity encouraged River to experiment with style, trying makeup for the first time and wearing bolder pieces. Similarly, true to our individual strengths, we have consistently pushed each other to find power in vulnerability, opening up about our painful pasts and dreaming of better futures together.
Guided by that vulnerability, we came to the realization that our genders were in flux. As we ventured into this more honest journey, we also realized that genderqueerness looked different for each of us: Genderqueerness affirmed Alex’s past experiences, while it opened up what felt like a completely new door for River. Alex’s journey felt steady in an already familiar direction, while River’s exploration felt disruptive in a new way. Though both of us transited so much together earlier on, as River’s journey took root in a womanhood that had long felt inaccessible, we started to struggle with the reality of our new relationship dynamic.
Up until River’s transition, Alex had navigated life as a gay cis man. Being with a trans woman meant confronting Alex’s own queerness, something previously only interrogated in theory. Because of the erasure of femme-for-femme relationships, Alex had long felt that dating other femmes, especially femme women, was completely out of the question, even when the attraction had been there before. On the other hand, because of past traumas, Alex had also long found validation in being desirable to cis men, so being with a trans woman meant confronting unhealthy attachments head-on. Unfortunately, in the intensity of these feelings, Alex became avoidant and, despite Alex’s best efforts, this avoidance manifested itself as emotional neglect toward River.
With time and extremely vulnerable conversations, what became clear was that we were both living in shame. River’s “sudden” transition was simply the catalyst for our confrontation of our internalized transphobia: River thought of herself as powerless in her transness, enough to participate in and, at times, affirm Alex’s neglect. Meanwhile, Alex failed to recognize what was most “debilitating” about River’s transition: the weight of Alex’s own transness–her own trans womanhood, specifically. In our ignorance, we failed to affirm how we have always been, despite and because of our shifting selves, a femme-for-femme couple.
Without healthy models of possibility for our specific type of relationship, as we worked on reaching back out to each other, we felt compelled to center our transness in our creative journeys individually and together. Our art has since allowed us to heal from the darkest period of our relationship by flipping the script completely, celebrating our own, each other’s, and others’ transness, even when we were not ready to open up about our past shame. This time around, our art continues to support us, especially as Alex starts confronting what womanhood means to her.
We are lucky enough to have been on journeys that ultimately mirrored each other in beautiful ways, leading to some incredible realizations about what inspires our growth at the very core. We feel indebted to the souls that make up our chosen family and the souls that make up our beautiful following, both of which reminded us time and again that love can indeed conquer all in the end. In the vulnerable photography that accompanies this text, we are opening up again, pushing ourselves to love each other, through our art, even more fiercely. Here is to the many blessings we are sure the future holds!
Photography by Jordyn Belli