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Gender Identity: An Interview with Ellie

By Jefferson Crowe, Psy.D. CLE Denver

Ellie is a student at College Living Experience who identifies as a transgender woman. She was comfortable with me using her real name. Ellie is on track to graduate with her Bachelor’s degree from Metro State University this semester, and was generous to take a few minutes away from her academic workload to describe the impact of gender identity on relationship dynamics. The following are not direct quotes, but paraphrased representations of her insights and thoughts:

On feeling respected by peers:Ellie at CLE Denver discusses gender identity

I feel respected by peers when they address me by my preferred name and use my preferred pronouns. I know that this may make people uncomfortable at first, but their willingness to prioritize my dignity over their comfort is meaningful to me.

On the path to womanhood:

Nobody is born a woman. Most women start out as girls, some women start out as boys, but no mother has ever given birth to a fully-grown woman. Becoming a woman is a unique journey for each individual, highlighted by growth, maturity, insecurity, doubt, and enlightenment.

On the experience of being a woman:

People sometimes give dirty looks when I walk by, and friends sometimes focus on my physical appearance due the changes I am undergoing. In a sense this makes me smile, because it validates my experience as a woman. This objectification is something all women endure, so while it is disrespectful, it also makes me feel accepted.

On changes in her relationship with her partner, who identifies as a cisgender woman:

I guess my partner now identifies as “demisexual,” because her love is based on a deep emotional and romantic connection to me, regardless of gender identity. There has also been a shift in the roles we take within the relationship. When I identified as male, I sought more control in the relationship and was more emotionally distant. Since I began transitioning, our partnership has become more egalitarian.

On the social construct of sexual orientation:

A year ago, my partner and I were seen as a heterosexual couple. Now, we are a lesbian couple. I am comfortable identifying as lesbian, but what has really changed about our relationship that requires this redefinition?

On maintaining a close relationship with her mother:

I think it was hardest for my mother to watch me change my body. I struggled most when I doubted her love for me at times when she was judgmental or questioning of this process. Our relationship has gone through several adjustments, but she is more supportive of me than ever. On my last birthday, she sent me a card addressed “to my daughter.” That meant a lot to me.

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Whether it is a friendship or something more, reciprocity is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. What is social reciprocity? As the name implies, reciprocity consists of a back and forth. In a social context, reciprocity can be described as an exchange of gestures, which can be verbal or nonverbal, where each person mirrors a response from the other.

Social reciprocity can be seen in everyday interactions, beginning with a simple, “Hello, how are you?” You can answer, “Fine,” and leave it at that – but a better, and more reciprocal, response would be, “I’m fine, how are you?” This give-and-take shows interest in the other person and openness to continuing the exchange. Reciprocity can be seen in more complex interactions as well, such as picking out a birthday present. All sorts of factors are taken into account, from how well do you know this person and his or her likes and interests, to how much is it appropriate to spend based on past interactions and how much they may have spent on you? Social reciprocity is all about balance.

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