Gender vs. Sex
Gender, the difference between gender and sex and the idea of gender transitioning and gender fluidity are all getting a lot of attention these days and have a place in couples therapy. It’s important to understand that sex and gender aren’t the same thing. Sex refers to the biological organs with which a person is born. Gender relates to how a person sees themselves and how they relate to the world. Whether we like it or not, the ways that gender expresses itself and the ways gender informs who and how we are in the world are many and often hard to see.
Gender Brings Assumptions In A Relationship Even For Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Couples
Gender and the endless assumptions it brings with it affect all romantic relationships. There are assumptions about how masculinity and femininity ought to express themselves in the distribution of domestic labor, financial decisions and sexual dynamics.
Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, in particular, have, by necessity, had to spend a good deal of time looking at these roles and examining who they are in self-conscious ways. If you are transgender, a partner who does not identify as transgender is compelled to examine his, her or their gender as well. This is both challenging and exciting. While none of us can simply cast aside the weight of gendered cultural expectations, critically examining yourself in a given relationship can allow couples to see possibilities beyond what many couples perhaps ever notice.
Gender Transitioning In A Relationship
Couples get to decide how they want to be together and what the terms of their love should be. One partner, whether cisgender or transgender, revealing that they are exploring a transition in how they present around gender can change everything and also, at the same time, nothing.
Who are you together? How does the non-transitioning partner understand this? In cases of what had been constructed as an opposite-gender relationship, there is the question of what this transition might mean for their sexual orientation–real or perceived. How does this express itself in a couple’s sexual relationship? Should the couple consider having an open relationship (or ceasing one)?
As one or both partners explores his, her or their gender, this raises new issues in the sexual relationship. Sex is, in so many ways, constructed as gendered, but couples often find themselves asking, “Do those conventions work for us?” What constitutes attraction, how sex is initiated, and even how sex itself is defined often need to be explored. One of the tasks of therapy may be to help a couple create these shared understandings or visit the possibility of changing them.
Even if you don’t fit in a neat gender box, the issues dealt with in couples therapy look pretty much the same
When we talk about the issue of gender related to transitioning or couples with one or both partners identifying as transgender, gender nonconforming, gender neutral, etc., it’s important to have a couples therapist that understands these experiences and can speak about them in both savvy and respectful ways, while also not making assumptions about each individual’s path to that moment in life or the ways those issues present themselves in relationships. But, the help these couples need are equivalent to the help any couple needs in couples therapy: communicating, dealing with conflict, making decisions, managing money, developing their sexual relationship and so on.