My gorgeous, awesome, amazing civil partner, someone I always secretly knew was a man, has finally announced it to the world. We have been on a bizarrely parallel trajectory, and finally in the last year, individually and together, we have worked out a lot of stuff about ourselves.
So I can stop freaking out about the fact that for the five years we’ve been together, I’ve often used the pronoun “he” in my head when thinking about my partner. I can quit wondering about the weird and unusual ways gender plays out in our relationship. But what makes him more of a man than me, well that’s a puzzle. Because I’m the one with the classic trans* back story, and yet I (currently) have no strong desire to transition. I feel as if I’ve been happily assimilated into a woman’s world – I may be the fox in the sheep-fold, but I like it here, and I’ve worked hard to adapt. In a way, I’m the one that’s already transitioned, MTF.
I don’t have the dysphoria my partner does, but I keep wanting to vie with him about my own manhood – “I like DIY and rock music, you watch foreign films, sing like Julie Andrews and cry at the drop of a hat – what makes you the man?” But you can overthink these things, because if you knew my partner, I mean really knew him, then his gender is obvious. And it has nothing to do with clothes or behaviour or even how he felt as a child. This is him, right now. His reality. Only really narrow minds would say they know better or deny him his identity. Nor does his story have to map onto some classic trans* narrative. He’s a man, that’s it. He’s a man because he knows he is, and he’s a man because I know he is. And how well he ever passes or how “manly” strangers judge him to be has absolutely nothing to do with his identity. Neither do any warped, essentialist theories about how the biology of vagina ownership is your ultimate destiny.
My partner agonises about it all – what if he had been born in another century, he wouldn’t have been able to make this choice, the choice to medically transition. Well, if he’d been born 200 years ago in Europe he would have bound and passed, it’s that simple. There’s no way he would have ever lived as a woman. If he’d been born among First Nation peoples any time in the last 1000 years he would have been celebrated as two-spirit and folks would have embraced exactly who he is without a problem. In this century, living as a lesbian was a comfortable in-between, but it was still living as a woman, still an identity based on sexual orientation rather than gender. And the dysphoria just doesn’t go away. It causes too much pain.
The other agony is being a “traitor to the sisterhood”. One transphobic feminist narrative is that trans* men are trying to appropriate male privilege, but it’s a delusional idea – being trans* is such a spectacular loss of privilege that the losses would massively outweigh the gains if the “choice” was purely an academic one. But it’s not really choice at all; it’s destiny. It’s about finding a way to live authentically in the world, that’s all. Passionate as we both are about feminism, it cannot dictate such a personal trajectory.
And besides, understanding and embracing the infinite variation of trans* stories is what will help us really nail our understanding of gender. We need people like my partner to be strong, to be out, loud and proud, so that we can learn a little bit more about how gender really works. And we need them to stay within feminism, because it’s incredibly important that we all work together on figuring this stuff out. We’re in the dark ages, and trans* folks have the torches – let’s stop blowing them out and just see where they’re heading.