Identity and Relationships Following Disclosure of Transsexualism in Long-Term Close Couple Relation...
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Christine Aramburu Alegría PhD APRN FNP-BC Orvis School of Nursing / University of Nevada Reno - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Identity and Relationships Following Disclosure of Transsexualism in Long-Term Close Couple Relationships. Christine Aramburu Alegría PhD APRN FNP-BC Orvis School of Nursing / University of Nevada Reno 24 April 2014. MTF-NF Relationships.

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Christine Aramburu Alegría PhD APRN FNP-BC Orvis School of Nursing / University of Nevada Reno

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Identity and Relationships Following Disclosure of Transsexualism in Long-Term Close Couple Relationships

Christine Aramburu Alegría PhD APRN FNP-BC

Orvis School of Nursing / University of Nevada Reno

24 April 2014

MTF-NF Relationships

  • Increased awareness and focus on transgender persons and issues affecting this population

  • Relatively little research on transgender persons and their close relationships

  • Call from Institute of Medicine (2011) for an increase in research on the transgender population

Purpose of the Study

To explore individual and relational identity reformation in MTF-NF couples in which the disclosure of male-to-female transgenderism occurred after the relationship was established as man-woman.

To explore relational activities that facilitated successful relationship adjustment and reformation


  • Individual questionnaires

    Relationship maintenance activities

  • Individual interviews – Open questions on:

    Relational dynamics

    MTF transition status (e.g., hormones, surgery)

    Views on self, partner, and the relationship

    Evolution of views

Participant Recruitment

Internet forums

TG groups / organizations

Network sampling


17 couples (n=34; 17 MTFs, 17 NFs)


3 - 44 years (m=21.8 years)

Age range:

30 - 69 (m = 55)

70% of participants were 50 to 69 years of age


Length of Relationship at time of Disclosure:

>65% had been together more than 10 years

Length of Time since Disclosure:

40% - 4 to 8 years

35% - 9 to 11 years


MTFs identified as Female and / or Transwomen

14 of the 17 MTFs: Full-time (as women)

3 of the 17 MTFs: “Majority of the time”

6 of the MTFs: SRS

3 of the MTFs: Pre-op SRS

Reformation of Identity

Through communication, interactions, and re-framing, the process of reforming views of the other, the relationship, and the self occurred in a fluid, non-linear manner.

Importance of:

  • Language

  • Interpretation

  • Re-forming / Re-integrating

Disclosure: How it Occurred

Intended and gradual

e.g., evolution from CD to TS

Intended and single event

Unintended and single event

e.g., finding clothing, emergency hospital visit

Initial Reactions to Disclosure


Meaning for the self, partner, and relationship


Sexual orientation e.g. “situational lesbian”

Pronoun usage in public

Definitionof “transsexual”

Lack of awareness of similar others

Inhibiting the exploration of identity

Preventing disclosure to partner

Feelings of isolation

Initial Reactions

“It was uncomfortable and it made me question what it would mean for me and what it was. Is this normal or not, and then if I’m in this relationship, am I normal or not. Whatever thatmeans. In this situation that’s what you think. This is not what I signed up for. This never occurred to me. Idon’t know anybody like this. It was just so out of my normal range of what my world included on a day-to-day basis.” (NF 9)

Identity Reformation

Fourmain themes related to individual and relational identity reformation emerged:

  • Gender expression

  • Societal presence

  • Sexuality

  • Relational Growth

Gender Expression

Partners’ views of gender expression evolved in phases:

Exploration / Experimentation

Re-gender (as woman):

Adolescent phase


Gender roles

Identity / body congruence

Gender Expression: Experimentation

“[We went to] a dominant-submissive group – female dominant-male submissive – because we were thinking that maybe he needed to be more submissive at home. Maybe that was where we needed to go with our relationship and then this would all go away. It was like, ‘Well maybe if we do this, this will be what’s right and it won’t necessarily have to be about being a woman; maybe it’s just a role’” (NF8)

Gender Expression: Exploration

“She would get together with other cross-dressers, and for a while I thought – and she did too – that that was enough. I was fine with it. It was confined and limited, and that’s what I needed – to believe it was about the clothes and that it was confined.” (NF17)

Gender Expression: Adolescence to Maturation

“I was like a teenager. I had to mature. We went from being husband and wife, to being like a mother and daughter, to being two mature women. She (NF 13) had to guide me on an appropriate presentation as a woman my age. ” (MTF 13)

Gender Expression: Gender Roles

“For a period of time I felt kind of butch because, really, [MTF 12] is more feminine than I am. I don’t wear makeup and jewelry and all that stuff, and now she’s taken to primping and getting earrings. She’s very interested in feminizing herself. I completely understand, and I think it’s fine, but I’m the opposite now. I don’t need to shave my legs, but she does. She is the feminine one.” (NF 12)

Gender Expression: Identity / Body Congruence

Duality (i.e. man and woman)

Initial expectation as partners work to make sense of the situation

Eventual elimination of duality

Sex reassignment surgery

Typically, the long-term objective

Gender Expression: Identity / Body Congruence

“I actually got to the point where I couldn’t deal with this [duality] anymore. I told her,‘You are one person at home and another person that goes off to work and I’ve just had it. Do one or the other. I’m done. I cannot deal with this two-person.’ It was upsetting and confusing.” (NF2)

Societal Presence

The couples reported changes in how they perceive their place in the social world:

Marginalization / finding community

Being viewed as “lesbian”

Viewing selves same as non-MTF-NF couples

Successful outings increased confidence for future outings

Societal Presence

“We have our straight friends in the neighborhood and in church, and I don’t feel I really belong there. The people at the LGBT diversity center – I’m not really one of them. I’m an ally there, but I’m not of them. So I kind of walk between two worlds and I just kind of walk that thin line now. I feel like I’m neither one. It’s kind of an original place. And for that I feel grateful.” (NF 13)

Societal Presence

“One way we explained it to ourselves over time was that many couples who married for better or worse deal with some really horrible things that happen with their spouses. My uncle was bedridden most of the time my aunt was married to him. These are horrible things, but good loving spouses will do whatever’s necessary.” (MTF 1)

Societal Presence

“When we first started going out in public, I could walk next to her, but couldn’t hold her hand or put my arm around her. I couldn’t do anything that would obviously lead someone to believe that we are a couple. But that is no longer true. People don’t bother us, so it gets easier.”(MTF 9)


The couples reported changes in their sexuality related to:

Sexual Fluidity


Cessation of sexual activity


“My sexual identity has really been a difficult thing with all this. Am I a lesbian, am I still hetero? Labels mean so much. I think of myself as a ‘situational lesbian.’ (NF 12)


“I had to get those pictures out of my mind of what a married couple should be, what my ‘husband’ should be. I’m much more comfortable now, being with a woman, and I’m much more comfortable with sex and imagining sex with a woman and enjoying sex with her being a woman.” (NF 4)

Relational Growth

Couples reported overall growth in their relationships:

Closer, more authentic relationship through communication

More positive and pleasant interactions

Agents of change / trans-advocacy

Charting new territory

Personal Growth

Time of reflection for NFs

Examination of life / of what’s important

Examination of relationship / investment within

Examination of gender roles / sexuality

Personal Growth

“I needed to find myself separate from another. In coffee shops I could sit and there would be people all around me, and I could feel where I was, as opposed to where they were, and that seemed to be what I needed to feel. In couples there is so much connectedness. So on a certain level, I needed to feel my wholeness, and I would work things out that way. It took me on a thought process for myself and about what I want and need in my life. I needed to reclaim and feel myself and my relation to the world. It’s been amazing. I tell you, [MTF’s] disclosure and transition process has been most wonderful for growth.” (NF 16)

Pro-Relational Activities

Support groups

Education (for self and providing for others)

Selective disclosure to others

Adjustments in public behavior and language

Adopting confident demeanor


Compromise / Negotiation

Pro-Relational Activities

View relationship as joint transition

Acknowledge loss involved, e.g.:

Loss of partners as men

Loss of future as envisioned

Loss of “hetero” privilege


Over time, increases in confidenceand validation as a couple

Day-by-day negotiations (especially initially)

Transition as joint evolution, requiring ongoing communication and positive interactions

View selves as agents of change: MTF-NF couples are just another way of “being in the world.”

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