I'm a real trans widow – saying your trans partner is 'dead' disgusts me

Emerging from a curtain of beads like an actress making her grand entrance, I was instantly taken with Helen’s gentle smile. 

Meeting at a mutual friend’s Christmas party in 2009, Helen and I bonded quickly – we shared a sharp sense of humour and a love of geeking out over topics like The Silmarillion (The JRR Tolkien story collection).

As we were both transgender, anxieties around romance were greatly lessened – we didn’t have to fear prejudice from each other.

I had transitioned a year earlier, for Helen it was six months, so it was a vulnerable time for us both.

Helen was studying in Leamington Spa while I was at my family home in Nottingham. Then in our early twenties, we talked for hours online. Initial flirting grew into a deeper connection.

Out of work at the time, I soon became intimately acquainted with both Helen and Birmingham New Street station over about 10 months.

We spent weeks watching House, playing with her kitten Greg, and discussing Tolkien. 

Helen would say that we were like Beren and Lúthien – a star-crossed romance between an immortal Elven princess and a mortal warrior. She said I was as beautiful as an elf. We would have done anything for each other.

In late 2010, I began working as a publishing assistant in London while she remained in Leamington after her studies. I travelled there by train most weekends. 

Helen rarely visited the capital – she was suffering some health issues and found it difficult leaving the house for any length of time. The cause was uncertain but her symptoms grew worse with activity – just walking to the shops totally wiped her out.

I supported her as much as possible; even stayed at her parents’ house following her gender reassignment surgery. 

We chatted long into the nights discussing future plans; we wanted to move in together, where I could care for her. 

It was upsetting to see her in pain, though she took great effort to hide it as much as possible to avoid worrying me. 

I made it clear I was prepared to stand by her, no matter what. We spoke of getting married but that sadly was not to be.

In 2013, beset by constant agony, Helen took her own life. 

Hearing the news over the phone from her flatmates, I crumpled to the floor, screaming in disbelief. She did not leave a note. So many unanswered questions.

My world disintegrated, I spent weeks off work informing friends and family, planning her funeral as well as going through her possessions… the bureaucracy of death. It was a long, sorrow-filled blur. 

Some relatives and friends had never really accepted me as Helen’s partner until she was gone. 

I gave the eulogy, full of references to the life we shared and should have had – I said she was my Silmaril; the starlike jewel that Beren had won to win Lúthien’s hand in marriage, the legacy of their love. 

As a trans woman who lost her long-term trans partner to suicide, I had to endure insinuations that our relationship was never real from friends and strangers alike. 

Our transness meant that we didn’t get the same affordances allocated to straight, non-trans couples.

I often heard ‘I’m sorry about your friend’, even from those who knew our marriage plans. No matter what I said, they seemingly could not imagine a relationship between two trans women as anything but platonic. It was frustrating. 

It’s almost eight years ago but the grief still lingers. I never got closure on my time with Helen. 

Although we never technically married, coping with losing her was difficult. I reached out to several widows whose partners had died suddenly. Some were straight, some were LGBT, and although almost all were much older than I was, it helped me a great deal. 

I grew to cherish our memories; re-reading early messages filled me with warmth, remembering our courtship. Slowly, I learned to adjust to the hole Helen left behind. 

Then, several years ago, I was horrified to notice the term ‘trans widows’ cropping up on Twitter and in right-wing articles.

The phrase refers to the heterosexual partners of people who have come out as trans and transitioned, usually from male to female. 

The expression seems to have stuck with anti-trans activists in particular and is, quite frankly, insulting. 

It’s being used in a very serious sense as though their partners have died and they are left with the profound anguish and guilt that comes with grief. 

But their newly out trans partners are alive – no, not even just alive, but thriving in ways they were not able to before. 

To see someone you supposedly love gain confidence, and trust you with information they have been carrying for years, perhaps decades, only to tell them – and the internet – that they are now as good as dead strikes me as both deeply callous and self-centred. 

If anything, it suggests their partner was never a person to them. It’s as if they were merely fulfilling a role or were an ornamental feature in their lives. 

They are talking about human beings. These so-called ‘trans widows’ never had to plan funerals for their ‘lost’ loved ones, and yet here they are, making this all about pitying them. Laying blame on the selfsame partners they claim are now in essence deceased.

I still miss Helen – sometimes I’ll hear something exciting about one of her favourite games and want to tell her.

The life we planned never happened. I’ve struggled to find new love since. 

There are unique challenges to being both trans and widowed – navigating spaces where widowhood is almost always considered reserved for straight couples – my experience is considered less valid as it’s outside the familiar social template. 

If Helen were around, I feel she would be annoyed that I’m not able to describe myself as a real ‘trans widow’ because the term has been captured hatefully by a group who regard announcing that you are trans means you have expired. 

They are making being trans something shameful, objectionable, and anti-life. To me, these people – usually women – are not ‘trans widows’ in any sense. 

It is an affront to all the trans individuals who have been brave enough to be honest with their partners rather than continue living a lie. 

Trans people already fear rejection from those they love. I worry that some trans people in relationships may fear coming out even more because of this framing that their transition would be ‘widowing’ their partner and leaving them bereft.

It is nothing of the sort. To be a widow means living with losing the love of your life. Every day, wishing they could be back to laugh and cry with you. 

To come out as trans, to transition, to live how you feel you need to, this is not death but beautiful, vibrant life. It is living in a way the person never could before. 

It is something to be celebrated, not mourned.

I hope these ignorant people can one day be supportive of the person they supposedly love rather than hurtfully declaring them departed.

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