Tag Archives: Lesbians and Gender

An act of conscience

There’s nothing like a guilty conscience to motivate you into activism. My decision, years before I came out as transgender, to “do something” about the ignorance and prejudice from lesbians and feminists towards the trans community in general, and trans women in particular, was largely motivated by a realisation of my own ignorance and prejudice.

A few years back, I lost a trans woman friend, a very good friend. She’s the one, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, that I met at my very first lesbian event, the one who quickly discovered the event had a “women born women only” policy, something neither she nor I had ever heard of or could quite comprehend.

I was totally on her side – too timid back then to protest very loudly but certainly confident enough to say in discussions “I don’t agree with this”. But some “older and wiser” lesbians took me to one side and painstakingly explained all the politics and issues that I had been unaware of, trying to convince me that my attitudes were naïve and problematic and unfeminist. They inferred I was “junior” in this space and should defer to them. I slowly lapsed into a long silence, in which I listened a lot and said very little on the subject.

What I was failing to tell anyone was that my seeking out lesbian spaces had come about as a result not of my sexual orientation (I had been out as bi for many years) but my need for a community where it was acceptable to be gender variant, where I could live outside of the prescribed gender roles of heteronormative society. All that prejudiced stuff people said about trans women – about male gaze, male energy, male behaviours, male socialisation – was uncomfortable to hear when I had long known my trans women friends showed far more typically female socialisation patterns than I. It was me that had that male gaze, male energy, male attitudes, male socialisation, and it shamed me, forced me deeper into the closet about my gender identity.

My friend never protested the trans exclusionary policy; like many trans women she was too busy surviving constant street harassment, stones thrown at her windows and the inherent unsafety of being a visible trans woman to be confident enough to argue with unaccepting and prejudiced people. But their lack of acceptance, the discovery that she was barred from yet another potentially supportive space and community, hurt her deeply.

We remained friends for a long time, and I watched her crumble, watched her PTSD worsen, watched her emotional wellbeing deteriorate. I started to question whether she had done the right thing – surely, if transition was right for her, she should be happy? I blamed her mental health on her transition, and refused to see the truth, which was that her mental health was a direct result of the oppressive and abusive way she was treated by the people around her. The lesbian feminist community, me included, had a hand in that oppression, and a shared responsibility for her poor mental health.

As a therapist, I understand there is a very clear correlation between mental wellbeing and social support, which is why on average LGBT folks have poorer mental health than cis/het folks, and why over time the mental health of LGB folks (with the B lagging sadly behind) has improved significantly alongside changes in societal attitudes.

How much easier, though, to place the illness as a symptom of the person themselves rather than place some responsibility on their social situation. How much easier to infantilise and pathologise trans women instead of standing in awe of their courage to be themselves in a hostile world.

The crunch came when I could no longer bear to hear her sorrow that she was so unaccepted, so unloved for who she was. I remembered, some time before, a prejudiced lesbian I knew saying “trans women are socialised as men, and like all men they expect us to look after their emotional needs”. These words started to influence my thinking. It was the ultimate get-out; I didn’t have to care about this human being because her neediness was not, after all, because society was being shit to her but because of her male sense of entitlement, her expectation, nay, demand, that I listen to her problems as if it was my job. As a good feminist it was my responsibility to be less caring.

I can honestly say without a shadow of doubt that my problem in this instance was not “caring too much” but understanding too little, but it’s a neat excuse for people with little empathy to lower their already low standards.

I pulled away from her, and we eventually lost touch. Despite my buying into a “tragic trans” narrative for her, the next time I saw her she was supremely happy – she had found love and built herself a more reliable community. She deserved love – now I look back, I see that she had looked after my emotional needs far better than I had looked after hers – she had been a good friend, she had cooked for me, given me a spare room to escape to through bad times, cuddled me when I was low, listened to my fears and worries and never once called me on my prejudices and mistaken beliefs about transgender people. In fact, I was the male-typical “what about me?” person in that relationship. She deserved a whole lot better.

I’ve never spoken about how much I let her down. It’s only now that I can see some people responding in similar ways to me that I fully understand the impact of my prejudice. I now also understand that I couldn’t bear to hear her sorrow because it was a foreshadowing of my own.

It’s a simple equation – trans people’s wellbeing depends on the full acceptance of wider society – non-acceptance is in and of itself the source of transgender oppression.

Advertisements

What does dysphoria mean to me?

It took me a long time to come to the decision to transition, even though I have been out at home and work as transgender for over a year. I spent a lot of time asking would transition be right for me, whether I am “trans enough”, feeling like I was in a no person’s land.

Last week I was finally sure of my way forward; I changed my name to Sam, change my title to “Mr”, came out to the world yet again, referred myself to the gender clinic. I feel better than I’ve felt in a very long time. But I realise that, while suffering from what is currently known as “gender dysphoria”, I’ve never really tried to explain to people what that means to me.

At its most basic, I simply cannot live with the category that society placed me in when I was born. Cis people feel more comfortable having a legal and social label that is related to their genitals, whereas this categorisation causes trans people great distress.

Does that mean I think I was “born with a male brain”? Er, not really. Humans have been designed by evolution to be uniquely adaptable; our brains develop as much after birth as before, meaning we can “download” our social and physical environment and adapt easily to the changing world we’re born into. We are not, contrary to popular belief, stuck with whatever our distant ancestors adapted to in terms of social roles.

But do I think something made me think of myself as male from the get-go? Yes I do, and that’s a whole different thing, because once you understand that a young trans person instinctively sees themselves as different to the sex assigned to them, you can start to understand what it is that makes them accumulate the social conditioning of the opposite sex. I naturally followed male cues, male instructions, male rules. I ignored female ones. I was effectively socialised male, particularly when I was young. I cared about guns and bullets and hated dolls not because of something innate and natural in me but because of the way society socialised me to fit the male role. If that didn’t happen, if we didn’t have a sense of self, for whatever reason, that filters and mediates the societal messages we get, well then I guess we’d all be walking gender stereotypes.

So what’s natural, and possibly innate, about me is simply the sense of self that initiated all this male socialisation. Fundamentally, and for reasons I do not fully know, I think of myself as a male and always have done.

I think it’s also important to note that people around me responded to my “boyishness”, and that reinforced it – so they weren’t just treating me as a girl, they were also treating me as a boyish person, and a gender non-conforming person. My socialisation was completely different than that of a cisgender girl.

Trans people’s socialisation is not straightforward

So when people say trans folk were socialised as their assigned sex, that’s just not true. I may have experienced some sexist treatment for being perceived (in some ways) as a girl, and considerably more cissexist treatment for being non-conforming, but I also experienced a lot of approval for my “masculine” traits and behaviours; I definitely absorbed the message “I am masculine and masculine is better” – I also developed ideas about femininity being more artificial and inferior. Of course it felt artificial to me because I wasn’t orientated that way, but now I can see that my own way of being, my own attitudes and behaviours were just as artificial, just as constructed, albeit constructed with a built-in notion of male superiority.

So, I hate it when folks say all people with vaginas have some sort of shared experience of womanhood that trans women never had. Trans women have a shared experience of womanhood that is a mystery to me – they have thought of themselves as female and absorbed the according social instructions.

I, on the other hand felt like an imposter, an infiltrator in girls’ and women’s spaces, and a lot of gender conforming girls and women shunned me for my “male energy”. I was an outsider; I fought long and hard to fit the category “woman” and I absolutely don’t believe I should have been shunned from it. Nor should I have had to spend so much of my life changing myself to try and conform to society’s ideas about what a woman should be. I understand and empathise with gender non-conforming folks assigned female at birth fighting to be accepted, included and recognised as women.

But being part of the lesbian community healed that wound for me – I was accepted as a woman, and my difference was embraced. I am glad I had that experience so that I know I am not choosing my current path for cisnormative or heteronormative reasons. But in order to reinforce that sense of belonging to the arbitrary category “women”, the lesbian community erases a deeper dialogue about transgender experiences.

I am what I say I am

As someone who has a fundamentally different socialisation experience from both cis men and cis women, but is forced to live in a world where cis people dominate the discourse and dictate the terms of our lives, I feel very strongly that only I can choose where best I fit in this false and imperfect system, and how best to deal with my situation. If I say that “I am a man” this does not mean I think I don’t have a vagina, it means that “I am a man” is the statement that best describes who I am in a world that has categorised everyone for the comfort of cisgender people. Equally, if it felt comfortable for me to do so, it would be just as valid for me to identify as a woman. Only I get to decide this, because only I am inside my own head and body.

In reality, I remain genderqueer – a person with an identity too complex to insert into a neat binary, but the binary is here and I have to deal with it whether I want to or not. And believe me, the gender and sex binary mutilates me in ways no surgery ever could. If I choose to take hormones or have surgery to ease my distress, that should not be anybody’s business but my own. Nor should transition be seen as something so very huge – HRT and reconstructive surgery are routine things; what really feels huge to cis people is the challenging of sex assignment as the natural order of things.

And to be clear, I do not believe that giving children the burden of a legal and social status according to their genitalia is “the natural order of things” – it’s just a tradition we go along with without thinking.

There’s another side to this. My need to stand in my power as a masculine person and not duck the issue by pretending to be someone I’m not. It has been incredibly hard for me to admit my maleness, to accept that if there is a “male gaze” then like it or not, I have it. I have experienced huge amounts of shame and denial about this. I cannot say that I “want” to be a man, but I am finally ready to admit and take responsibility for how much of a man I am.

Many other cultures treat what we call transgender people as spiritual and important. Alternative perspectives in society can often be hugely positive if we don’t try and co-opt or erase each other. To me, we are all interrelated, all of us who transgress gender rules and norms. Not the same, but natural allies. We should be working together to dismantle all aspects of gendered oppression.

No-person’s land

TW: discussion of suicide

Please Note: The process of writing this blog post has shifted things for me dramatically. For the first time in months, I feel I know my way forward and am feeling quietly elated about this. It goes to show that sometimes, when we shine a light into the shadows it really pays off. Because of this, I decided to go ahead and publish the post, even if it does not reflect how I’m feeling right now. Thanks to all those who stuck by me while I went through this pain.


It’s probably not a secret that I have been struggling with suicidal thoughts. The news about Robin Williams, an icon from my childhood (long before the problematic Mrs Doubtfire, I hasten to add) hit me doubly hard because of this. I find myself asking questions that can’t be answered – Robin, what tipped you over from thinking about it to doing it? I feel sad that someone who meant so much to me growing up did not know his worth.

I see this meme flying around the internet and it resonates with me:

"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone. Robin Williams.

Let’s be clear, I’m not going to kill myself; this is not a threat, but sometimes it feels just as realistic (or unrealistic) as all my other options. I find myself stuck in a non-life, just keeping going and hoping things will make sense again one day soon.

When I was 18, and first thinking about my queerness, I saw the film Dead Poet’s Society in the cinema. To me, the film was about the impossibility of being different; in fact I would go further and say the film was implicitly about being queer. And it was about a world that would not make room for the queer kid. Where the queer kid kills himself.

The film speaks to a pain that is probably in most of us – just how different am I able to be before the world starts to push back against my difference and refuse to accommodate it?

For me, a lifelong struggle with being transgender is my difference. At that age I was secretly cross-dressing in my father’s old clothes, but I had no notion of the word transgender – I knew in my head I was more boy than girl, but not what that meant. Later, I would make some sort of sense of it with the word “lesbian” – by then a (relatively) socially acceptable term, but not the correct one – my sense of belonging to the lesbian community was about finding other “women like me” – it had little to do with my sexuality, and everything to do with my gender.

But there was such institutional stigma towards transgender folks in the lesbian community that my forward motion completely stalled. Four years ago I found myself meditating on an image of myself hanging onto a branch over a river, refusing to allow myself to be carried any further. I was stuck; I knew I was stuck, but I was terrified of the rapids ahead.

Oh, the irony that it was my partner, out of nowhere, who would come out as transgender ahead of me and make me look like I was jumping on some sort of bandwaggon! My initial fury at his audacity quickly transformed into a very belated admission: “But I’m transgender too!”

There, I’ve admitted it. And yet, I’m still hanging onto that branch, because every time I meditate, every time I get in touch with myself in therapy, my heart whispers the word “transition” to me. I’m not clear what “transition” means to me yet, or how it could be accomplished. Lana Wachowski called it going from invisible to visible; I call it becoming myself, letting myself truly be seen. And such a thing feels utterly impossible to me.

And so I continue my activism, hoping that one day I’ll make the world safe enough to allow me to really be me. Those that get ticked off with my “political” nature need to know this; I’m fighting for my survival, nothing less, because some days all ways forward seem impossible.

I’m still genderqueer; I identify, for want of more adequate words, as “masculine of centre” and male-socialised, but I am not entirely comfortable with calling myself “a man”. I find it impossible to face up to the artificial reality that society constructs; you are either one thing or another. If I am a “man”, then the affinity I feel with many trans women and lesbians becomes meaningless, because “woman” and “man” are presented to us as two mutually exclusive and oppositional groups.

I would rather not be assigned a sex or a gender at all; I would rather not be labelled according to how I look or what’s between my legs, but I have had to accept that society is not going to change if even the most radical of feminists cannot see the problem with categorising people according to their genitals. I don’t feel it’s me that needs to change, but society; and that, my friends, is a somewhat Quixotic position to be taking.

In therapy, I talk about being in no-person’s land; a muddy world of barbed wire and shell-holes from the battle of the sexes. I’m sure there’s fertile earth under all this mud but there aren’t enough people standing their ground here to make this place viable – our very language erases the possibility of gender neutrality. Even if it’s where I belong, it often feels impossible to live in such a place – a land unrecognised, blasted into oblivion.

Transitioning (whatever that entails) means obliterating all that’s left of my cisgender privilege; living my life as a second class citizen, constantly having my legitimacy and sanity called into question. The subtle violence of that is, inevitably, going to take its toll on my mental health; it already is – will I cope, or will I crumble? The catch-22 is obvious: our mental well-being is intimately connected to our levels of social support – as trans people’s social support lessens, our mental health worsens, and it becomes increasingly easy to dismiss our situation as delusional or a mistake that is making us worse, which inevitably means people will become even less supportive of what we are doing, and our mental health will worsen further still . . .

Where I am now seems safer – the comfortable lie, I’m just a genderqueer “woman” and you may as well call me she (because let’s face it, I’ll be old before “they” catches on). You can imagine me as part of this overall group “women”, I can carry on enjoying social inclusion in the only world I know. It’s tempting, even though it’s a lie.

And then I think of Robin Williams again, and that quote above. What if I keep on trying to fit in with this cis-tem that mutilates me more than surgery ever could? What if I compromise myself over and over until it becomes unendurable? If I take the “safer” path, will everything seem okay until one day I snap spectacularly? Will I feel included, but ultimately alone?

I know what I need to do. I need to find the path of my transition, however peculiar that path might be, however lonely. I just don’t know if I have the courage to do it, or where it will take me.

How am I different from you?

How am I different from you?

This is a question Robin, my transitioning partner, is asked over and over by lesbian friends who identify as women, but have some experiences that echo his own. It is also a question we ask of each other, as our lesbian and transgender experiences have sometimes merged, and sometimes diverged. The points of similarity make a mockery of any binary, either/or notions. He may be happier as a “he” whilst I balance precariously as a genderqueer “they”, but our experiences align way more than they diverge.

A lot of lesbians have some elements of gender dysphoria – “I thought I was a boy when I was a child”, “I feel sick at the idea of wearing a dress”, “I hate my breasts and if I had to have them removed I would be glad” . . . but often the conclusion to any of these statements is, “but I still consider myself to be a woman”.

Recently, we were faced with the challenge of exploring why Robin is “more of a man” than a butch identifying lesbian friend. The conclusion we came to is that Robin, who has never been particularly “butch” himself is not “more of a man”, or at least he is not more masculine than this particular friend; if you were to imagine an over-simplified, linear scale from masculine to feminine, Robin would be somewhere near the middle, a little to the masculine of centre, and this friend would happily admit to being all the way over on the male side. In fact, it was clear that the extent of this friend’s masculinity is such that she does not need to alter herself whatsoever to be read as male in the ways that count for her, no matter what pronouns she uses. Her lived reality is congruent and makes sense, and she does not experience that painful dissonance between how she feels and how she is experienced.

This friend has experienced what many would call gender dysphoria, and has found a way to manage it that works for her. Fortunately, this friend is still open-minded enough to admit that how she experiences herself is related to her gender and not her sexuality. She also says that had her body, face and voice been less androgynous, she might well have needed to transition.

The implication of this is not that Robin’s claim on the terms “man” or male” is tenuous, but that there are many, many people with an equally valid claim that will not need to transition. For some, the risks, stigma and isolation associated with transition might outweigh the benefits. For some, living as a lesbian is as much a matter of gender as it is of sexuality, and identifying as a lesbian is more comfortable and (sadly) more socially acceptable than identifying as transgender. Equally depressingly, some lesbians would even say that it is more morally acceptable to be a lesbian than to be transgender.

But what if it is ok to be either a lesbian or a trans man, or even to identify as lesbian and trans, and that the two things are connected, inter-related – not in a clunky “lesbians are confused trans men/ trans men are confused lesbians” way, but in a complex way, in that many lesbians are gender variant and gender dysphoric and for some this is so strong transitioning may be the most helpful thing to them in leading a fulfilled and happy life. Maybe some gender dysphoric lesbians have even found other ways of transitioning, keeping hold of their pronouns and their community, their medical needs perhaps not being quite as profound. And of course, there are also lesbians who take hormones and have surgery in secret, afraid of their community’s or society’s rejection.

What a different world it would be if we saw being transgender as a continuum rather than an either/or. Have we created another binary within a binary, where cis/trans has become as much of a dichotomy as man/woman? The reality is so much greyer than this, the borders we have created between man and woman, cis and trans, gay and straight are artificial, socially constructed barriers that many of us straddle in complicated ways. I sincerely believe the transgender community is a lot bigger than we realise, or at least that its boundaries are impossible to locate.

If transgender is what you are, rather than a process you go through, there are possibly many, many more transgender people in the world than will ever transition or identify as such. Medical transition may be a necessary and appropriate response to gender variance and dysphoria for some but not for others – but do we really need to argue about who is more valid, or could we not accept that people ultimately do what is right for them, and in doing what is right for them, their happiness will inflict less wounds on the people around them. In which case the act of transitioning or choosing not to transition does not mark us apart in any fundamental way, and we are all, perhaps, still members of the same community, with more in common than we have separating us.

This is about authenticity, not privilege

In the past year both my partner and I came out as transgender. He is transitioning, I’m not, but we’re both not so very far from each other in the gender multiverse. Somewhere in the “in-between” leaning towards maleness, but not all the way over. Even if he’s a he and I’m a they, even if I keep bits he doesn’t want, even if he gets bits I don’t want, this relationship is still effectively homo. Despite this we can feel our community slipping away from us, as people assume we’ve become a straight couple because they only believe in binaries, or as folks simply back away in shear incomprehension or disbelief.

Don’t get me wrong, we have many amazing, supportive friends. But I’m talking now about the wider community and the mainstream attitudes and practices within that community. For ten years I silenced myself over gender because the dominant lesbian narrative carefully constructs gender variance as an aspect of sexual orientation, and characterises being openly transgender as some sort of deluded cop-out.

Sometimes I too have my moments of “hey, have we just lost our minds???” but if so, why, in the face of all opposition, do I feel so grounded and so clear, like the only person in the theatre who has seen through a magic trick?

For many folks, though, this is way out of their reckoning, and deeply suspect. They have their own answers to what’s going on, the main one being that after a combined 40ish years of being lesbians and feminists, we just couldn’t hack it and want to acquire hetero and male privilege.

I never had a problem being out as a lesbian, but when I felt I needed to out myself as trans* at work, I cried every night for a week, agonising over whether I really needed to tell them or whether I should stay in the closet. They already knew my partner was transgender because I couldn’t very well hide the change of pronouns, but me too? That doesn’t fit so neatly; sounds a bit far-fetched. I know nobody’s going to be getting my pronouns right, I know few people will understand, so why should I bother sharing this intimate detail with the world?

Well, because I’m a counsellor and a writer and who I am and what I do pretty much relies on me being congruent and authentic. I can’t hide a huge part of who I am without becoming incongruent and false; the very opposite of what I need to be to do my work well.

The tears, in the end, were the agony of silence. When it was all out in the open, I felt ok, even if I knew I wasn’t always being fully understood. And now I’m out I can state with absolute certainty that saying you’re a lesbian is easier in any scenario than saying you’re transgender. Lesbians are 1 in 20, transgender folk are more like 1 in 1000 – and people just don’t get it.

What doesn’t fit someone’s experience or knowledge still attracts confident conclusions – conclusions about your mental health, about your not coping with being a lesbian or never having been a proper one, about what your sexuality really is, about your wanting to appear more “normal” or normative; your trying to gain privilege. They decide you’re trying to escape something or making drama or simply hell-bent on misery. Anything other than the simple reality that you went deeper into yourself and came nearer to the truth.

And then there are the members of your community who are involved in such deeply transphobic campaigning that your hands start to shake at the mention of their name. Others politely try to see both sides and remain neutral. They don’t really get how much the campaigning hurts or the damage it does. Suddenly you’re afraid to go to parties and gatherings and you realise the transphobes are more welcome in what you considered your own community than you are.

I’ve discovered the hard way that what I thought was an inclusive community is often just a bunch of people who want to hang out with folks as similar to them as possible, and in that respect they are really no more enlightened than a bunch of cis-het white dudes. Their cool extra weapon for marginalisation is attaching spurious privilege to you in any way they can, so they can feel righteous rather than guilty about shunning you. Or they simply say you should go hang out with other people like you.

But there aren’t too many out people like me, although I’m touched by the number of lesbian friends who have affirmed how my story resonates with their experience. There are even fewer out transmen. It’s lonely here, because for all I have good friends I really do fear I’m losing my community. Permaculture tells us growth happens on the margins, but still the margins are a precarious place to be.

I’m not going to pretend to be what I’m not in order to fit the mainstream lesbian narrative. I’m strong enough to stand apart, and I am indeed privileged to have the inner resources and the circle of support to do this. But it does hurt to be in a “community” that goes to such great lengths to organise groups and events that only cater for the majority, and leaves trans* people (among others) uncertain of their welcome or certain of their exclusion.

Them and us – the pitting of lesbians against transwomen by the gender normative majority

So, I’m in a Facebook discussion about the Indigo Girls’ decision to speak out against Michfest’s  “Womyn born Womyn only” policy, and somebody says something that makes me think “aha, now I get where all this stupidity towards trans women comes from”. One commenter, in support of IG’s non-transphobic position, pointed out that once upon a time lesbians were excluded from women’s space because they were not seen as “proper women” either – they were seen as “too much like men”.

Is there an “it’s either them or us” thing going on here? Because many lesbians show visible differences from straight women that we generally associate with gender. If we acknowledge gender is significant, some lesbians can then be marginalised by cis/het women for their gender difference.

So, is the only real option to make gender irrelevant, and count only “biological sex”? And of course pretend biological sex is some essential and binary thing that is not in itself partly socially constructed.

But in doing this many gender variant lesbians are forced by their own community into an uncomfortable closet. I know, because I was one of them, but I’m not alone. Since I started my blog, many lesbians have approached me and admitted they have differences that are not to do with their sexuality, but their gender. My partner felt this so strongly he decided to transition, but many more of us occupy the complicated borderlands, experiencing a difference that goes unnamed and unacknowledged, or just gets lumped in with our sexuality as if it’s the same thing.

So when Julie Bindel confidently claims that her gender non-conformity as a child turned out to mean she was a lesbian and oh, horror, if she was young today someone might “mistake” it for a gender issue and allow a child to transition, I think that whole construction needs a bit of unpicking. Her assumptions are numerous:

Assumption #1: It is preferable to be a lesbian than trans.

Assumption #2: There is no difference between a female-assigned child who says “I want to marry a princess” or who says “I want to be a prince” – gender identity is not allowed to be a thing in its own right.

Assumption #3: Kids are not self-aware and we should dismiss what they think about themselves and control their choices about their identities and bodies. We should coercively maintain the sex binary by insisting they adhere to the label they were assigned at birth, even if the child themselves persistently voices a different wish.

Assumption #4: All gender non-conforming children are the same and therefore if one child expresses a need to transition that is validated, this will be imposed on all GNC kids

Assumption #5: something in the biology of being a lesbian makes some lesbians inexplicably immune to the usually pervasive childhood gender messages (but we’re not allowed to call it a gender difference).

Of course, these are all just ways of making meaning and there is no perfect truth, much as we want there to be some objective reality we can measure the world by. We want there to be this consistent, essential category called “woman” and more to the point, given our history of extra marginalisation and oppression as lesbians, we don’t want it defined in a way that excludes us. Perhaps in the back of many lesbian minds is the lurking notion – “We have no choice but to marginalise trans people, it is an act of self-preservation”. So what if we are carving up our own identities in order to make ourselves fit this equally constructed notion of womanhood?

An alternative? Simple – no matter how “masculine” those with female bodies are, they still experience oppression based on any perception of their female sex or gender, plus additional marginalisation for their transgression of gender norms and therefore, they should be allowed under the protective umbrella of feminism, however they identify. And no matter what the history of trans women, they still experience oppression based on any perception of their female sex or gender, plus additional marginalisation for their transgression of gender norms, and therefore, they should be allowed under the protective umbrella of feminism. And while both of these groups should be self-aware of any male or masculine power or privilege they may have possessed or co-opted, this should not be used as an excuse by others to marginalise them further than they are already marginalised.

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.