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My partner is gender-fluid and occasionally experiences dysphoria. Most often it seems to be caused by societal pressure to conform to their assigned gender, but occasionally they seem to have some body dysphoria as well.

I'm familiar with dysphoria primarily in binary trans contexts and agender contexts, but I'm a little unsure of how to be comforting and supportive to a gender-fluid person, as their presentation changes.

I really want to be supportive and my partner often turns to me for comfort when they're feeling dysphoric. I usually try to listen and offer kind words of encouragement, but it often feels lacking.

As a supportive partner, how do I offer comfort to a gender-fluid partner experiencing dysphoria?


Clarifications:

  • Their pronouns are they/them/their.
  • They also have the support of a licensed therapist.
  • 4
    Considering the generic answer, perhaps a specific example would help us understand the specific concerns you have? – Catija Mar 18 '18 at 21:31
  • In addition to the specific example, explaining specifically what was "lacking" about its result would also help us understand what sort of answer you are looking for – Jesse Apr 10 '18 at 5:36
  • 3
    In the context of this, are you trying to provide supplemental support in addition to something like therapy or are you the brunt of this person's support system? – mag Apr 10 '18 at 10:51
  • aye man I can tell you as a severe PTSD patient that disphoria, as youve realized, is just part of the deal in this situation. Kudos on that heads up bc its important. All you can do is provide a healthy amount of support and encouragement. This of course is not specific to gender identities outside a "norm" bc its universal. – Preston Bennett Apr 11 '18 at 5:07
11
+100

Being a transwoman, I have plenty of experience with dysphoria, but I can only imagine what is like to be gender-fluid, shifting back from one gender identity to another over time and circumstances.

That said, the most important thing you as a partner can do is:

Affirm your partners gender whatever it is at the time

This harder than it sounds because it is preferred that all possible genders get a fair share of appreciation and affirmation. Also, you are the person that they wake up next to in the morning and you must intuit, possibly based on non verbal cues such as facial and body posture, what the gender of the day is before they have had time to work on their gender expression. It helps tremendously when there is at least one person who gets it right most of time.

Work with them on their gender expression

Social dysphoria results from social interactions where people treat you differently from the way you are at the time. This is unfortunate because most people will be unable to guess unless you look and act the part, especially when the current gender does not match your partners physique. Get a big wardrobe and fill it with clothes that allow them to choose to wear something that fits the current gender identity, not just the dominant one. As a partner help picking out stuff, but be honest and say it if it does not suit them. Compliment them on their attire in a gender affirming manner (e.g. 'sharp threads, dude' or 'you look lovely in that dress'). Occasionally, give feedback on mannerisms (e.g. 'if you curve your hand like that it looks quite feminine but if you hold it straight it looks more manly')

Tell them that you love them no matter what gender they are

This hardly needs explanation except that this goes for intimate moments and sex too. And from my experience this is where the body dysphoria can kick in big time. Talk about this with them and really listen to their body reaction.

Discuss physical changes

Body dysphoria is caused by the physiology of the body not matching the identity. It kicks in when you look in the mirror or when you touch yourself or are touched by someone else especially in the genital areas, but also the face. It is also tied to some physiological functions. Imagine how frustrating it can be for an AFAB to identify as masculine and have your menses at the same time.

Cosmetic changes can help reduce some of that, e.g. tucking for AMABs and binders for AFABs, hairstyle, makeup or lack thereof and so on. I certainly feel less dysphoric after applying makeup but this is also a matter of personal preference and cultural background, not everyone is the same.

But sometimes it is not enough and some more permanent changes are called for. These can range from permanent facial hair removal, partial Hormone Replacement Therapy to operations such as plastic surgery. You, as a partner, can be open to discuss these options and assist in finding medical professional help. Keep in mind that these changes are permanent and should be such that such procedures make it easier to shift. Medical treatment for gender-fluids with severe body dysphoria is still in its infancy, however.

Don't lose yourself

Don't make them your project. You are a person, they are a person, you are equals. Live it together.

  • 1
    This is a great answer. I know that @Tay-W brought this up, not you, but do you have any thoughts on voice therapy? I know that singing training can expand someone's range in both directions, and thus (in theory) voice therapy might be an investment that can help someone avoid some social (& body?) dysphoria by better fitting voice to gender. – cactus_pardner Apr 10 '18 at 23:02
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    @cactus_pardner Yes, I take it too and on top of that I also sing in a choir which helps a lot with range. The latter is a transgender choir, inclusive, and the conductor is very aware of our desires and the changes our voices are going through (well, the transmales mostly). Voice therapy also addresses diction, articulation and other aspects of the human voice that have implications for (self)perceived gender. But do take one that specializes in gender dysphonia (with an 'n', not an 'r') – GretchenV Apr 11 '18 at 5:04
9

The key points here are extracted from this article.

In short, these are the few ways that you can support your partner:
(These are copied from the article shared above)

  1. Validate your partner's experience
  2. Ask them how you can help
  3. Suggest distractions and activities
  4. Give them a care package
  5. Encourage them to seek help

My Personal Anecdote

Although different from your question, I figured it would be relatively helpful as I dealt with a situation fairly similar to point 1, 2 and 3 above.

I have a friend who identifies as gay and when we were in college he broke up with his boyfriend and fell into depression. He started to feel dysphoric and said things like

Why am I a guy? If I were a girl maybe it wouldn't be so hard to find a guy that truly loves me for who I am.

As he was more of an introvert, trying to hold up a conversation with him or to try to recommend him to go and seek the school counselor's help always failed. Thus, instead of getting him to stop thinking those thoughts immediately, I empathized with him, and said something along the lines of

I understand how you feel. I may not be the best at giving advice, but I am here to listen to you. Whenever you want to talk, wherever you want to talk, I am here to listen. You don't have to keep this to yourself.

I didn't know how to help him, so I just offered a listening ear. During one of the sessions where he started to come to terms with everything that was going on, he told me that I offered him exactly what he needed; just a listening and understanding friend.

Throughout the whole period of time where he was a state of confusion and delirium, I brought him out to hang out with friends, go to the amusement park, play games at the internet cafe together, etc. Distracting him made him a little less bogged down by his situation. A great solution I discovered to use was to bring his mind towards the future, where I said things like

We should do this more often. How about every Saturday at 3pm, same time same place?

That gave him something to look forward to, instead of constantly looking back into the past.

Finishing notes

From my personal experience, I think that you acknowledging your partner and providing them with insights into the future when you are doing activities with them to distract them from their dysphoria (e.g. oh, I love watching [drama on Netflix] with you. We should do this more often, say, once every other day?) are the best immediate remedies for the situation.. then, if you think they need it / is ready for it, then you can suggest seeking help.

1

To really show your support for your partner, it would be beneficial to be proactive and not simply responsive in your support. Do your own research into trans and gender-fluid experiences, talk to other trans people and their partners who have been through similar situations and seek their advice. Look up resources for partners, friends and family of trans people and educate yourself.

The best way to demonstrate supportiveness is to be the one to approach them and offer it; the difference between opening your arms for someone in need and being the one to suggest an embrace when they need it (but may not be able to ask for it).

You could ask (if you've not discussed it or if they've not gone through with it yet) if they have any desire to pursue some form of medical or physical transition, hormone therapy, surgery, voice therapy, etc. - and offer to support them and help them through it if they like. If they don't, reaffirm that their identity remains valid no matter what options they do or do not pursue.

Be ready to stand up for them when they can't or don't want to; society is not kind to trans people and it may wear down even the thickest of skin over time.

Most of all care for them and be kind and sympathetic, don't patronise them, but be aware they are among the most vulnerable of demographics currently and have certain needs. If you can inform yourself of those needs ahead of time and be ready for them you'll show you're a trustworthy and reliable person who isn't just there for your partner as a passive entity but actively goes out of your way to pursue your shared happiness.

0

I cannot claim any special knowledge here, beyond learning from friends' and Internet strangers' experiences and a passing knowledge of psychology research.


Building on enlighten_me's answer, I'll first point out that the article they linked to, 5 Ways to Support a Trans Person Experiencing Body Dysphoria, suggests:

It’s best to ask folks what they need when they’re experiencing dysphoria. It’s as simple as saying, “How can I help right now?”

There's a lot that your partner feels is out of their control and not what they want, so you may be able to give them some agency by reminding them that what they want matters and that you want to help them achieve what they want (barring harmful urges, of course).

However, they may not always see practical, helpful actions in front of them, especially if they're overwhelmed and depressed. Hopefully you can suss out whether they would like you to emphasize or de-emphasize gender.

You are well-positioned to affirm your partner's gender, whatever gender they are currently feeling. You understand them deeply and have a relationship of trust; you can interact in private; and they can probably explain or express their current gender and/or dysphoria in shorthand or symbols (e.g. wearing by a certain bracelet, as someone mentioned in the gender-fluid wiki in your question).

  • You can affirm your partner in the gender they are feeling, in terms you know they like.
  • You can express the things you like about them that highlight that gender presentation.
  • You can draw them away from mirrors and into expressing that gender. E.g., applying nail polish or polishing men's dress shoes are both gender-coded things that help one present oneself more spiffily but that do not require looking in the mirror to do. They're also active, rather than ruminative, and so they may help.

You may also be able to provide them a respite from defining and performing gender. You and your partner have a romantic/sexual/soulmate/??? bond, and you can embrace and care about them as a person, not a [particular gender] person.

  • Again, is there a way to get your partner away from a mirror and using their body without gender triggers? Sculpting, playing with a pet, both of you tackling household chores...
  • Do you have a nickname or term of endearment for your partner that they like across gender identities? Like their first initial, their last name, "Hon," "Dear," or "Champ"?
  • You probably share a lot of values that transcend gender.
    • Self-affirmations of values help in a lot of situations where a person (or their identity) fields threatened (blog post summary).
    • There may be couples-counseling resources that could remind you both of these values. (A quick search points to this book, although I cannot vouch for it.)
  • Above all, each of us has an identity (and inherent worthiness) that goes beyond a single trait.

Finally, you may want to think about how your partner reacts to your gender expression when they're in various places gender-wise. It does not mean you should curtail how you express yourself, but it possibly could help you provide more physical space or choose to sit side-by-side with a shared focus on, say, the TV or the cooking.

-2

Listening and words of encouragement during any crisis is often the best approach you can do. Only other alternative is to recommend they see a professional that has experience in this area. You must be doing alright considering your partner keeps turning to you for comfort.

So just keep doing what you are doing and if things get much worse, then your partner should see a professional. Also if your partner has gender-fluid friends, perhaps they can ask how they handle these dysphoric episodes.

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