In my head I’m still a lesbian

When my partner came out as a trans* man, I had not expected so many eyes to be on me and my identity. I want to support my partner, I believe in him and I accept who he is . . . but wait, does this mean I now have to be redefined myself? Because I’m not quite sure I want any man (sorry dearest) to define who I am. Not that he’s asking me to, but other eyes are on me for sure.

The thing people don’t seem to get is that he hasn’t really changed. He’s always been a man, so why do I have to change now, just because he’s acknowledging it more openly? The reality is, the lesbian community is full of all kinds of genderqueerness and trans-masculinity, and it always has been. That’s why I feel comfortable here, and lesbian has been the word I’ve used to describe myself, a word that more or less comfortably fits me. If I was looking for a partner tomorrow, I would be looking in the lesbian community, and I would be continuing to fight to make this, my community, more trans-inclusive, queer friendly and acknowledging of the complexity of gender. Maybe lesbian is not the right word for me, but it’s been around me for a long time, like my own name, and it fits me in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes less so; it speaks to the kind of person I am, not just my relationship choices.

When my partner came out, we had to lay a lot of stuff on the line. It was painful. I had to make it pretty clear what I am and am not up for – I’m not prepared to pretend to be part of a straightforward cis heterosexual couple; I cannot squash my own queerness to assist in his passing. Hard as it was, I had to say I could not live stealth, and that he would have to face the fact that my queer presence in his life was always going to make it more difficult for him to pass. He did not ask me to do any of those things, but knowing what was ahead of us, it needed to be spelled out.

Last week we went to a straight wedding, and my partner wore a suit and tie – he looked so beautiful, so very comfortable in this second skin. I had pangs of guilt – maybe if I’d worn a dress, rather than trousers, jacket and a shirt, we would not have drawn attention. But as it was, we only drew good attention; we stood out, but we’re so happy and comfortable in our queerness it did not seem to matter, and people accepted his pronouns without a blink.

Thank heaven my partner chooses me along with the complication that go with my own queerness. He was very clear that for himself being stealth is not the way he wants to go. He’s also never identified with a differentiated “butch/femme” dynamic in his relationships, so why would he suddenly start now? Like me, my partner has always been attracted to genderqueer people, and the reality is there is no huge gap between his identity and mine; it’s not a simple binary – him over there in the boy camp and me over here in the girl camp. Our relationship will continue to be more homo than hetero.

And I can say all this and still be sure he’s a man. It’s me that’s the ambiguous variable in this equation, and there are no easy labels for me anymore.

I’m changing too, and realising my queerness has more to do with gender than sexuality, but I still feel gay – sometimes I feel like a lesbian, sometimes I feel more like a gay man. I can’t tolerate my queerness being invisibilised by people who think I became straight overnight, such as the person who emailed me saying I need to leave a lesbian group because of my partner’s transition, or the others who are saying that my partner is transitioning in order to conform to heteronormativity. Just because he and I now express different gender identities, we did not overnight become some epitome of straightforward, binary categorisation.

I remain lesbian-identified; if others want to describe me as bisexual or pansexual, I don’t object to those labels but they are not labels I chose for myself. And I cannot accept anybody trying to police my identity, any more than I accept people policing trans* identities.

I do fully accept that I am in a relationship with a man. I will not do anything to undermine my partner’s identity or suggest he’s any less of a man than other men. We don’t define ourselves in relation to each other; our identities stand on their own.

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11 thoughts on “In my head I’m still a lesbian

  1. Chronically Femme

    Thank you for sharing your experience. If you identify as a lesbian, then nobody has the right to tell you otherwise. Identity is personal and it is not black and white. I identify as a lesbian, but probably more so as queer and even genderqueer. As a femme I feel that I live outside the gender binary. I am attracted to butch women and trans* men. When I first realised that I was attracted to trans* individuals and I heard myself say to my girlfriend, “he is so hot” it sounded odd, I had never said that statement and meant it before. I questioned whether I could still call myself a lesbian, if that is how I felt. Categories of sexual identity are social constructs and I can choose whatever feels right and I can interpret them and perform them in any way that I choose.

    Reply
  2. Eric Bagai

    Exactly!
    When I came out as a cross dresser . . . nothing changed. I was still a man and always had been. Not gay, though I have loved some men. Not a transvestite except at some gatherings with some friends. Never alienated from my born body or desired to change it. I simply wear the clothing and perform the rituals of the goddess while I inhabit her. This happens primarily when making love to my wife, and neither of us are playing a role or pretending to be other than ourselves; we are ourselves, and we love each other. What we look like in public is not confusing to others except when they have an idea of how a cross dresser and his wife should look or behave.

    Reply
  3. Eric Bagai

    Exactly.

    Labels do very little other than distinguish one badly-fitting category from another. They can be politically useful, but are rarely humanly useful. How you experience yourself and your relationship to others is a unique category with its own bounds and territories. It is simply _you_. You are the measure of it; it is not the measure of you. So anyone else’s use of a label to describe you, even when it’s the same label you use, cannot be accurate. Only you are you.

    Yet we must use language to describe ourselves and each other. So, be gentle and flexible in your choice of words, and use the terms the other person prefers, and make as few assumptions as possible about what they mean or imply. And when in doubt, ask.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Reblogging: In my head I’m still a lesbian | doubleinvert

  5. Clare Flourish

    If you are not “lesbian” it is because the word we use does not embrace all the people we might want to embrace in it. Words are secondary, people are what matter, and anyone who wants to exclude you from queer space is the loser.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Whoever we are, we have power and we have privilege | A Feminist Challenging Transphobia

  7. Sophie Horrocks

    In my experience, having your sexuality questioned comes part and parcel with dating a trans* person. I’m definetely lesbian identified, as is my girlfriend, yet those in the lesbian community struggle much more with my ‘lesbianess’ than they do with her ‘femaleness.’ I don’t ever feel ‘straighter’ for dating a trans* woman who’s early on in her transition – anyone I date I’m wired to treat like a woman, so no I couldn’t date a cis man or trans man. Though I’ll agree it must be harder if you’re dating that person before they started transitioning. Fortunately my girlfriend’s friends haven’t batted an eyelid in terms of her sexuality or mine which is very helpful!

    Reply
    1. Sandy Hope Post author

      I’m still mulling over labels . . . I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a lesbian if I made a habit of dating trans men though! And I hate when cis lesbians call into question the lesbianness of trans women and their partners.

      Reply

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