If you have been following Adam’s series, you will know that he has a partner who has supported him through thick and thin. I have had many people reach out to me asking I tell their story, because everyone wants to know what it’s like. In the finale of On being trans series, Arley tells how it feels to be Adam’s partner. So here it is, without further delay. Arley’s story in all its glory. We probably won’t answer any of the questions you had, but this one is for them; it is their message to us.
When Arley and I first spoke about writing their story, they suggested to start with the questions they have gotten through time about their sexuality. Arley identifies as pansexual, or pan, which means that they fall in love with people, regardless of biological sex, gender identity, etc. In their own words, to be pansexual is “all about being drawn to someone’s spirit and character”. Arley explains that, for them, sexuality developed naturally and sex and gender identity have never limited whether they develop feelings for someone or not.
“People think [being pan] comes from being with Adam. I fell in love with him and that was it.”
It can be frustrating, they tell me, how it seems like many people have asked whether their sexuality changed after starting a relationship with Adam. Arley and Adam did not fluctuate from a lesbian relationship, on to a bi relationship, and finally onto a straight relationship. Both were queer from the start, and as such unique and outside of tags themselves.
“I have never had to question my identity.”
Arley reflects that because of their sexuality, being able to support Adam during his transition was a lot easier than for other trans individual’s partners. They argue that in some cases they can feel self conscious admitting their own understanding of Adam’s transition, as for many others it does not come so easy.
“We have never had to discuss it. His body is not the reason why I am with him.”
As Arley argues, they go through the transition nearly as much as Adam does as they have become his main carer. For them, this transition in their relationship was easy, but acknowledges that for people who felt strong and comfortable in a cis relationship it can become a challenge. In relation to that, different social identifiers such as race, class, geopolitical location, place of residence, age, and/or etc also need to be taken into consideration while building the narrative around a trans relationship. Arley feels privileged with the way they are able to understand and support their partner, yet at the same time they insist that there are not enough voices contributing to this dialogue, and thus their experience should not be the only reference.
The fact that Arley themselves love Adam no matter what, and has fully supported his transition from the start, should not obscure that their relationship also goes through tough times. For instance, Arley smiles a lot more because they feel Adam would feel guilty if he saw them upset. It is common for trans individuals to have self-deprecating feelings of being a burden and/or being unlovable, so partners often take the role of maintaining normalcy.
Arley reflects that, for them, the hardest part has been the realisation that they can’t connect with old friends and family as much as they used to. “A large part of my life and the conversations I have with Adam I can’t share with others because they are far too personal”, they say, “I feel I am being fake with people when I see them. I am constantly putting up this facade”. Feeling a distance to old and new friends can sometimes bring worries that they are isolating themselves, since they feel peers cannot understand and share experiences with Arley anymore. As a result their friendship group has been reduced to a select number of true and loyal friends.
“There is so much about me they can’t see or know. I have evolved in so many areas”, they say of distant friends. Little things like not being able to relate to their peers on banal conversations accentuates the gap between Arley and others. “I just have a lot less tolerance for bullshit”, they say.
Another factor than contributes to the widening gap between trans individual’s partners and cis people is the way partners become spokespeople for their significant others. Arley mentions that their relationship with Adam began framed around the thought that they could be his main supporter, although now it can take a lot of energy out of them.
“I have created this image of me [that I am happy to always speak for Adam], but now people have the impression they can ask me anything; they ask me questions they don’t dare to ask Adam.”
In their opinion (and yours truly’s too), Arley being the subject of deeply personal questioning comes down to ingrained social transphobia and as a recourse for people to satisfy their curiosity. “They feel OK to ask me anything because I am not trans”, Arley explains. It became problematic for Arley to respond to questions and remarks after realising that, once the person got the answer, they would never call Adam or Arley to check up on them nor offer their support. In a way, it felt like people asked not because they cared, but because they felt they wanted to know how a trans body works. There is a whole other world to bodily changes such as emotional turmoil, finding issues when being ID’ed, changing a passport, and finding work that only partners really see.
“We don’t talk enough about mental health. There is still so much baggage of emotional turmoil.”
As a result, no matter how much both Arley and Adam feel privileged and safe in their relationship, Arley explains that people no longer make an effort to ask about their mental well-being, and consequently often feels ignored in the transition.
“Hardly anybody asks me ‘How are you?’ anymore. It makes me so aware that mental health is not something we discuss. People think that if I’m okay with the body then everything else is fine! This is obviously not true because when you come out as trans, that’s not the end of story, there is just so much more that happens to us.”
The beauty of relationships like Arley’s and Adam, is that if anything it has brought them closer. Both agree that even in the lowest and most difficult moments there is not a second of doubt, and Arley is the happiest they have ever been in a relationship.
When speaking about trans rights and trans issues it is almost inevitable to bring up feminism. Arley tells me that in their relationship with Adam they have questioned their own feminism. Being with Adam has helped them fully embrace their pan identity, but also has brought up many questions on how they display their gender. They say that often they feel they are adapting more stereotypically feminine traits in opposition to Adam’s masculinity, and as such learnt lessons during university have become even more ambiguous.
Regardless of the struggles that Arley and Adam have been through, both agree that their relationship has been the greatest gift to each other. For Arley, the happiest moment to date was Adam’s first T dose. “It was a step of you moving in the direction you want to go” they told him, “it was a moment of ‘this is it’. Sitting in that park, in Euston, and it being a lovely day.” Arley always tells me how beautiful it is to be a part of such a critical moment in someone’s life. “To be given this much trust is a gift”, they argue. “It is a present”.
I asked them what advice they would give to their younger self. Reflecting back to when they began dating Adam, Arley believes they would say “Ignore what others say about this relationship, just have fun. Our relationship is so different that it doesn’t matter.” On advice to people in similar situations, Arley insists on building and appreciating the trust that they’ve been given.
“Don’t take it too seriously. Just enjoy it, we can all get caught up sometimes. Always be grateful for whatever they tell you. It is a beautiful thing to be given so much trust.”
Arley and Adam are the type of couple that you would dream of being. They are both in the same wavelength and you can almost see them reading each other’s thoughts. Although Adam’s transition may have put them in the spotlight among family and friends, they are just a normal couple, in love, in the diverse sea that is London.
“Aren’t you lucky?”
Authors Note: It has been a privilege to work side by side with Adam and Arley in this series. To be part of such a beautiful story is, indeed, a gift. To them I say thank you, and until the next one. If you want to take part of Portraits of Us, write me in the contact box below!