I identify as a man. How can I tell my partner and family?

I am 26 and have been in a relationship with a woman for four years, but I have not disclosed to her that I am a gender-identified man; I am biologically female. My parents had trouble enough accepting my sexuality, but from a young age I had a deeper fear of telling them that I didn't think I was in the right body. The first time I tried to, they declared I was going through a "phase", which they attributed to my sexuality.

I believe that I should be myself, but I do not know how to go about telling my family and friends how I feel; and I also don't want to push my fiercely gay partner away with the revelation.

Even with the best possible approach, there will always be the danger of upsetting people, especially those who do not understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender. But I hope you find the courage to disclose this important truth, even though there will be risks. Reassure people that you care about them and are loth to inflict pain or confusion, but then describe the anguish you have experienced through being unable to share your real self.

Some may become angry or distraught, fail to validate your feelings, or even try to dissuade you from your gender identity. But be firm. One of the most difficult problems for people around you will be that your disclosure will make them question their own roles in your life - they may think "If you're really male, what does that make me?" You deserve to be appreciated for who you are and, over time, most people in your life will learn to do just that.

• Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

• You are invited to respond to next week's main problem. If you would like fellow readers to respond to a dilemma of yours, send us an outline of the situation of around 150 words. For advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns. We regret that only letters that are published will be answered.

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