04/15/2014 07:48 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How My Partner's Transition Gave Me a Schlubby Ape-Man Complex

Paul Taylor via Getty Images

When your partner transitions genders, you become acutely aware of things you might never have considered before. Not long after I found out my partner is a transgender woman, I began to take a hard look at my own sense of self and identity with some of the same focus she used on herself. What I found surprised me.

The overwhelming majority of partners of transgender women I've encountered are cisgender women. As helpful as their perspective is, many of the unique challenges they face are things that don't translate to my relationship. I've heard stories about helping their partners with things like makeup, hair, and clothing, or of catching their partners using their supplies to try things on their own. I can't relate there. While I can help shop for things she needs and give my opinions on what I like, I'm ultimately a man who has been with men for most of his adult life. My knowledge of and assistance with makeup and hair is limited at best. I've had the same $14 haircut since approximately 2001 and shop for clothes almost exclusively at chain discount department stores. I'm not exactly a pinnacle of style here.

It's been interesting how this process can make a partner like me strangely self-conscious, though. I've always been rather comfortable in my skin -- comfortable enough, anyway. Sure, I'm overweight and certainly didn't hop out of the pages of a magazine (wait, is Midwestern Schlub a magazine?), but I've always adopted an attitude of liking what I like in terms of style. I never really thought too hard about it or cared too much, and I was fine with that. While I've gained and lost weight several times over the years, I never really had any huge physical hang-ups about myself, either.

I had been mindfully working at living a healthier lifestyle during the time in which she came out, so perhaps that put me at a heightened awareness of the physical aspects of what was occurring. Whatever the cause, I found myself internalizing things I would have never cared about before. As my partner talked about her dysphoria and pointed out all the ways she's uncomfortable presenting as male, I found myself assessing the same traits in me and starting to feel a bit uncomfortable too, albeit in a different way.

As her focus on body hair removal progressed, there was more than one occasion where she talked about hair in particular places like her hands and feet being repulsively ugly. I realize, of course, that she's holding herself to a feminine ideal and embracing her true gender expression, but in those moments I couldn't look at the hair creeping down my arms onto the back of my hands without thinking, "Huh. Is this really off-putting? Am I some sort of disgusting, hairy-handed ape-beast? How have I not noticed this before?"

I stood in front of the mirror and thought she might be onto something I just hadn't noticed, and that I should do something about it. I impulsively grabbed the clippers to trim my chest hair in order to test out what a difference in body hair would feel like on me. As it turns out, it just felt itchy and not much of anything else. I don't have the patience or desire one needs in order to deal with body hair removal -- aside from the quick manscape here and there, of course; I'm not an animal.

The same thing happened with clothing. As she talked about how difficult it had always been to shop for herself, she said things like, "Men's clothes are just so boring and ugly. I hate the clothes I've always worn. I hate plaid. I hate giant, clunky guy shoes." Her list of hated, ugly clothing items was not short. While I know she's innocently relating how repressed she's felt in not getting to wear the clothes that she would truly feel comfortable in and that would represent her actual gender, her list of horrible, ugly, disgusting, boring items covers, oh, about 90 percent of my wardrobe. I found myself standing in our closet, looking at my clothes, thinking, "She thinks everything I own is ugly."

Especially since I know that's not what she means, these really are rather stupid thoughts. She doesn't like those things for herself because they represent the repression and disappointment she's felt her whole life. That has nothing to do with me. I should be as comfortable and confident in my own sense of self and style as I ever have been, right? While I logically know I should do that, I still now find myself second-guessing my own tastes and nitpicking myself in the mirror -- a very new, very strange phenomenon for me that is still taking some getting used to.

This has happened in other areas too, as she disparages her "boymode" identity and her more telling masculine features. I see the things that cause her so much pain and discomfort reflected in and projected by me. Perhaps I'm compelled to adopt her views on them in some kind of subconscious caretaker effort to make her more comfortable, or perhaps I'm just feeling a little unsure of myself as I adjust to fluctuations in my own body. Either way, it's been strange for someone who has historically given very little thought to these things to be suddenly so very aware of them. Maybe someday I'll again be able to walk into a store and feel comfortable with my only serious criteria for a purchase being 1) whether it covers what I intend it to cover, 2) whether it complies with my office's dress code, and 3) whether it is on sale.

On second thought, she might be doing me a favor here.