Yesterday, we hosted a wonderful webinar with The Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (APA Division 44), where a panel of psychologists and trainees across career phases discussed their experiences during the COVID-19 crisis. Our focus is on the experiences of gender and sexually diverse psychologists, as well as on service to LGBTQIA+ patients, but I hope this is useful to practitioners and servants from many different backgrounds. I had the privilege to moderate a panel of my distinguished colleagues. They shared how they are caring for themselves – from taking joy in their families to reinvigorating their mindfulness practices. They shared growth in their understanding of themselves and their role within their communities. Frustrations, they had too, and they shared limits in being able to care for patients, from barriers to providing telemedicine to rural and poverty-affected patients caught up in struggling with the unintended consequences of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders. We discussed feelings of being sidelined as behavioral health providers and teachers, in this crisis, recognizing advocacy opportunities this situation brings, and, together with our attendees and fellow Division members, we talked about how we can do more. Check it out!
Oh! Two more things. Besides making sure the community has access to and can process empirical science, and helping individuals and communities manage the major life changes and behavioral interventions COVID-19 has required, psychologists have been working together with our many siblings-in-arms to recognize, address, and minimize disparities in access to care and in who gets an opportunity to thrive during this challenging time. The hashtag is #EquityFlattensTheCurve, and you can follow this link to find out more.
And, finally, to everyone out there: whether you are on the front-lines of face-to-face crisis healthcare delivery, whether you have been able to implement telemedicine to continue to support others, whether you are doing some other kind of essential work, from home or from your regular place of work, or whether you are just helping your community by practicing social distancing and sheltering at home, or by everyday acts of love and kindness for your family and neighbors. You are loved. You are valued. No one may ever truly understand the sacrifices you are making, but you are heroes to us.
One of the things with which I really struggle, mostly quietly, is wanting desperately to have a baby. I mean, to bear a child. I love this life. I am so thankful daily to have been given all the opportunities and to have been able to see all the wonders I have seen so far, and each day adds new wonders to my hope chest. I find myself easily not bitter about most things. The one thing I find hard to embrace is never being able to bear a child. Of course, I want so desperately to be able to have that one thing I cannot have. And each day, I find ways to make it okay.
There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for these kids…they get me through a lot. So I find strength in all of them. All my families – the ones I was born into and the ones I found. I find strength in Teri’s arms*. I cradle Iago (those moments, at night, tucked in-between my two boys**, are so wonderful). Sometimes, I cry about it. More than just once in a while.
I also got used to the idea that it isn’t something people are going to understand. So many people – and I mean people who really, really love me – instantly, dismissively, remind me that I can adopt, that adopting is just the same. But it isn’t, really. Or worse, they tell me, of course, that isn’t possible***. Or worse yet, they tell me that I’m better off without kids. Maybe. I’m happy that there are people who find meaning in all kinds of things. And I’ve found so much meaning in so much. But I also feel that I am meant, amongst many other things, to be a mother. If being without a child is some kind of affluence, surely, I am meant to be poor.
A friend, who is a trans man, recently commented that he is sometimes accused of being selfish, because he bore a child before he transitioned. He responds, simply, that he wanted children, and he could do it, so he did. Childless women, and childless couples in general, are a political hot-button topic, too. People too easily make all kinds of incorrect inferences. So let’s just be clear. So many people who choose not to have children give back to society in so many ways. And some people who do choose to have children give little back to society, or sometimes even to their own kids. And not everyone (myself in particular) who is childless is childless by choice. I did not have the option that my friend did. To me, although I want desperately to have a child, I could not stand the thought of being a father to one – it is simply not a role I am meant to play. So, for me, the only real route to a child of my own blood was not something I wanted to pursue, and I don’t regret it, because I don’t think it was what was meant to be.
Then, one night, swathed in blankets and in the gentle sleeping noises Teri and Iago make****, I was up at night, crying. I do this, sometimes. Not a lot, but sometimes. Teri awoke, held me, comforted me, and wiped away my tears, asking me what was wrong. But this time, they weren’t very sad tears. I started to learn to see my plight in a different way. I have felt for some time – ever since I met him – that Teri is my Prince Charming. That our spirits were always looking for each other. They (we) knew each other instantly, after so much yearning, so much searching, and so much wandering in all the years we were apart. I am in turns very Christian in my sentimentality, and in turns very spiritual in a more general sense, but I believe unwaveringly that there is a deep structure to the universe, in which we are embedded, and that our lives have more meaning, more purpose, and more importance than just the interactions we have with the atoms in which we bathe. I guess I don’t really know if it’s true, but like Pi Patel in the Life of Pi, it colors the way I see the world, and to me, the world is far richer seen this way. So, to me, Teri’s spirit and mine were always meant to be together. We didn’t really have or need love at first sight, because our spirits loved each other long before we met – they were always made for loving each other. Loving Teri is not something I choose, but something I am. Teri was what I had always been looking for, even if I wouldn’t have known how to describe it, or known fully how to prepare myself to be ready for him, when he finally came.
I also recognized that I had little part in that moment when our spirits finally came together. Our meeting happened by chance. This is the story that’s in our StoryCorps recording, in my PFLAG speech, etc., etc., I guess, I can’t stop telling that story, and I probably never will. It was all chance strung from chance hanging from chance. I was always looking for Teri, but the most I can really claim for myself is that I was ready to jump into his arms when I finally found him.
What if this…is…the same? I had been grieving, all this time, and still struggle with, even now, my barrenness. But I found that Teri’s spirit was out there, and although it required years of faith and waiting, our spirits were always meant to be together, and now we are. What if the child I am supposed to mother is out there, too, in spirit? Maybe a spirit that hasn’t even been born yet. Or, maybe a spirit that is lost and alone, out there, desperately trying to find a way even now to us. It breaks my heart to think the spirit of my child is out there, struggling without us. That I cannot now comfort that pain or kiss away those tears. But a spirit that belongs with us, out there, seeking us out…. I know that my child is strong, and brave, born of the same courage from which Teri and I came. Like me, I don’t think my child is fearless, because I have been – am – so scared, so many times, but I know that my child has a spirit that perseveres, that is not stopped . Most of all, I know my child sees life as a gift, like we do, and that someday, when that moment comes, when our spirits can be together, just like I knew to leap to Teri with all my might, our child will know. And we’ll know, too.
And then, we’ll be together. And, much as I remember all the years before I found Teri, but they didn’t make sense – really make sense – until I met him, and he put them in context, I will understand why my path to motherhood has been so long and treacherous, and I will recognize that it was the perfect path, and the only path I am meant to follow.
For now (and, well, always), Iago is my baby. It’s a story for another time, but Iago, knew, too, and he was always meant to be with me.
* Teri supports me through this wonderfully. Recently, he’s talked more than once about wanting children, but I think we both recognize the depth of pain about this is something I really go through alone, inside myself.
** I’m crying, writing this blog. Teri made Iago move so he could hold me, but Iago went around Teri, got back up on the other couch, and climbed into my lap, so I have one arm typing from above him now, the other below.
*** Yes, I am quite cognizant of that fact, thank you.
**** Okay, they both snore sometimes, but at that moment, they were gentle.
This is a picture from last week (Valentine’s Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.
You may have heard of StoryCorps. They’ve been recording stories across America since 2003, archiving more than 50,000 of them in a little more than a decade. A few of their recordings get edited down professionally and published on NPR, and you’ve probably heard one of them at one point, or another (they’re online!). The rest of the time, they archive the digital recording at the Library of Congress, in their American Folklife Center. One cool thing about StoryCorps is that they try to oversample underrepresented stories. Last summer, they came to Grand Rapids, and they worked with OutPro, The Network, and others to help collect more LGBT voices. We recorded with them on August 16, 2014. This was kind of amazing timing, because just around that time, the Smithsonian’s LGBT collection plans were unveiled, and there has been talk about possibly creating duplicates of LGBT narratives, like ours, and also putting them in that collection, which is something that’s happened with StoryCorps recordings in other target areas.
This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there’s a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.
Technically, you can go listen to our story at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, right now, the unedited stories do not go online. However, the StoryCorps people provide a CD of the recording and permission to excerpt and publish that. I’ll have to admit it took me all the way until January to finally rip the CD onto my Macbook Pro and start editing it down in Audacity, and I just finally figured out how to do some channel mixing and compression on it, get it to a manageable size (the interview is 45 minutes long; this excerpt is only 10), and upload it somewhere so I can stream it from this blog.
The excerpt here focuses on the story of how Teri and I met (I know, sickeningly sweet) and fell in love, and how we find that our relationship allows us to strengthen each other in our passions for serving children, me with my roles at the Center for Autism and with the AACRC, and Teri as a facilitator of our LGBT Youth Group at The Network. In picking 10 minutes to share, I was challenged with what to admit. Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t keep the parts about LGBT advocacy, really, even though this is a huge part of our lives. I did save one part, where Teri came out to me, for the first time*, in words, about being trans himself, since back at that time, we were publicly lesbian identified (and not yet heteroqueer). I cut out a lot of me talking about my little autism kids, because, well, we have other videos on that topic (and once you get me started, I scarcely have the ability to stop). I really decided to focus on our love story. Why? Because it’s my favorite part of the interview. Because it’s the story that just gets better (and perhaps slightly more exaggerated) every time we’ve told it**.
I suppose that opens me up to criticism of bleaching away the queerness of our story, but in my defense, I think it is important to remind the world that even we, two trans people in a loosely heterosexual relationship – even we have love stories just like anyone else’s. So, it isn’t me preaching feminism. It isn’t me talking about the amazing future we have, when NT’s and NNST’s start building the world, hand in hand. It isn’t about the message of a day when we are equal in our lives, our loves, and our gifts. It’s just a love story. Hate it if you may, dear reader, but in hating love stories, must you not also find yourself hating love? And without love, what are we?
So, here it is:
I hope you like it!
* Yes, in the sound booth, girlfriend. It was not, however, the biggest shock in the world.
** I know, we tell it a lot. It’s become kind of legendary among my close friends.
This is a part two to last year’s Learning to be Loved*. Teri’s a part (intermittently) of a certain Facebook group for transgender people, which will remain unnamed, which I joined briefly last year and went running from, arms flailing and mouth screaming. And it’s a great example of how few safe spaces there are to have a constructive conversation about the sexuality of mono-amorous, relationship-oriented, yet proudly sexual trans people. There recently was a blow-up over there (I’ll check and see if Teri left the group again – yep, he did) related to who, how, and when a person could be attracted to a trans body (like mine). A blowup that did not include a productive conversation on this topic**.
No, sir, I plead not guilty
Even in our national spaces, like First Event, one struggles to find room for this conversation. I was able to sneak my way into some excellent seminars, led by trans men and about trans masculine sexuality***, and this was pretty great. I made some new friends, and I brought home something**** autographed for Teri (do go check out Mitch’s site, too, he’s so cool) to spark further discussion back home. A discussion about queering heterosexuality, alongside the conversation about what trans men can contribute to a desperately needed reboot of manhood.
Go buy this book, for serious
But, so, with my recent Mira Goes Het article, I focused on the relationship between our heteroqueer relationship and the heteropatriarchy. I want to return back to the ground of that even older post, and this question of the feminine body as an object of desire, and the extension to the situation in which that feminine body is a trans woman’s body, or, well, in this case, my body. Back in one of those panels, someone said something interesting, and noteworthy for its non-provocativeness. He said, basically, “You know, I date everyone except cis guys.” This was non-controversial … it basically extracted chuckles and knowing nods. And “Honey, I feel you, I dated a cis guy, once.” I did feel badly for the one cis gay guy present, but then again, he made a comment something along the lines of, “You know, if my partner has a vagina, I’m going to want to penetrate that” and… well, there are just no words.
Also at First Event. I don’t want to just make fun of him… well, maybe for that last bit. But how do we get to being sexual without the weirdness?
So then, on Facebook, this morning, there was this interaction Teri had with a fella who was attracted to trans women (specifically/exclusively). This person was attacked, fairly mercilessly, as one of those “tranny chasers.” The only space that was opened for anyone to be attracted to a trans woman was the absurdist reduction of “trans women and cis women are exactly the same” (I’ve seen trans women take, also, the polemical position that they wouldn’t consider any lesbian an ally unless they would openly pledge, ridiculously, that they would date any trans woman). Apparently, another trans guy (because Teri’s myDear Future Husband) chimed in and was open about his own attraction to trans women. That was “okay” because he was one of “us.” In contrast, the original poster (OP for you OG’s) was cisgender, and so he was… disgusting. A pervert. The difference between these statements, how they were perceived, and where they came from, was — is — worrisome to me.
Also on Facebook a friend posted an article about what lesbian-identified trans women (a class from which I’m increasingly the dearly departed) refer to as the “cotton ceiling” (namely, because I’m using my footnotes up too quickly today, and I feel bad when I get to ten asterisks, when cis lesbians accept trans women conceptually but reject them as potential partners for cis lesbians, either in the general sense of the dating scene, or the specific sense of dating them, themselves). I responded on Facebook that the biggest thing I could do to fight the cotton ceiling was to openly and authentically be in love with Teri – to be, in the public eye, the subject and object of love, and the object of physical desire*****.
So here is the presentation of the conundrum. Janet Mock has talked about this, too. We cannot extend a blanket statement that people attracted to trans women’s bodies are disgusting, without in turn, making an unacceptable but implicit statement that my body, too, is disgusting. And I’m here to tell you it isn’t (and if you don’t believe me, ask my boyfriend). My body is lovely, not because I’m “almost” as good as a “real” girl, but because I’m better than any other girl Teri’s ever going to find (because I’m the one, Mister). Friends (who are newer to trans people) sometimes say to me, “You looked hot the other night – is it okay if I say that?” And I tell them, of course it’s okay. I like to look hot – and my friends are benefitted by me with the right to appreciate it. And I’m desirable, not to everyone, but to the one that matters, not because I’m exactly the same as other women (because we’re not Barbie dolls … I don’t look like or have the experiences of an African woman, as much as a waitress recently thought I look like Pam Grier, or a woman from Uzbekistan, or any number of other women), but because of my unique value and desirability as a woman unlike any other. And if you pay any actual attention to actual women, that’s (not to speak for everyone — some women are asexual or aromantic) what we want.
I’m not in the business of telling other people to whom they should be attracted. I’m going to go on several limbs, and I don’t mean to offend out here, but I’m going to say what I see. We live in a world that is dominated by long-term, stable, mono-amorous romantic/sexual relationships. That’s the political battleground, for most of us. And yet we do not leverage actual trans people in romantically/sexually, long-term, stable, mono-amorous, satisfying relationships as a part of the war on the cotton ceiling – most of the people I know, Mock aside, who have much to say about this are way outside of this space. And this is crazypants. I’m not in the business of telling anyone to whom they should be attracted – not even Teri. But Teri is attracted to me. And I am attractive to him. I bestow on him the right to have me be the object of his desire, and I delight in his desire. And I deserve it.
I changed the tagline of my blog this year, to “Welcome to the Revolution.” So I might as well be clear about the revolution to which you’re welcome. There are lots of revolutions, actually, but with respect to being trans, I’m reminded of a comment Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about being feminist – she had to clarify that she’s a happy feminist, because of the dominant assumption that feminists aren’t happy. My revolution is that I’m a happy trans woman. A happy woman (because trans is a modifier, I am not anything other than a woman). Not just like cis women. Different, but not less. I’m happily in love. I’m happy to be the object of desire. I look good – sometimes I even look really hot (and even less frequently, I actually believe this about myself). And sometimes, I need to be told I shouldn’t wear that, because it doesn’t do anything for me. Or to stop obsessing about the scale.
If we want more trans people in happy, satisfying, romantically/sexually fulfilling relationships, this is the kind of revolution we need, and we need to get more of our stories out there (because I know Teri and I are not the only happy ones). We can’t solve the “cotton ceiling” or its heterosexual equivalent without actually including the stories of trans people in good relationships. And just like I play a unique role in being the trans woman who gains acceptance quickly and easily, and who doesn’t really seem to scare anyone, ours is one of those trans relationship that is the safe gateway to the idea that trans people are relationship material. So I’m going to welcome you to it, and help you understand that it … is wonderful. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said that we should all be feminists. She’s right. I’m going to add that we should all be happy.
** I admittedly read this conversation over Teri’s shoulder.
*** I was welcomed as having the stake as a significant other of a trans man. Actually welcomed. We need to learn how to actually be welcoming (without diluting our standards or intent) in the queer community.
**** I tend to lead with something like, “I’m in love with a trans guy, and it’s so amazing, we’re so happy together, and no relationship I’d been in before this one just made sense, like this one does” and this tends to go over well, and make me friends / establish me as the trans girl who rides in cars with trans boys. There is probably something about this whole still complex question, as we exit the butch/femme paradigm and move into this heteroqueer space, about this dual issue of whether we end up endorsing the patriarchy and how to come to terms with what the “safeness” sexually we have with our trans guys and bois, absent from interacting with cis guys, says about cis guys, says about the damage of masculinity, says about how to help guys achieve a rebirth of slick.
***** Reader, she means lust. She is the subject of physical desire, as well, but she is a femme and rarely admits it in public.
We’ve known for some time, that there is, if anything, more diversity of sexual orientation within the trans community than within our cisgender siblings. I’ve commented, before (there’s a little reprise of it in this Gays.com article I did) on how I had felt attraction to men, prior to transitioning, but trying to date gay men, as a man, had been a miserable disaster. I had accepted being a heterosexual man as the only sensible option available to me, but I knew that wasn’t right, either. When I finally became honest with myself, and started coming out, my attractions did trend right back to men. And then I met Teri. And all I knew was she held the door. Teri fit the bill – first as my Prince Charming who used she and her pronouns, and now just as my Prince Charming.
And so, suddenly, with Teri’s own newfound openness, I’m a straight person, again. Interestingly, it’s really hard, within the visible elements of the trans community, to find a trans man + trans woman couple. There were Arin Andrews and Katie Hill, for a hot minute, but at least as a couple, they didn’t last (this isn’t a criticism, they seem to both be doing very well, and to have remained close, and more power to them!). There are one or two stories like this one, about a trans couple having children. These stories tend to be transition-centric, and in the case of the Andrews/Hill relationship, transient. Really, our love is neither transition-centric nor transient. So I guess, we’re going to be defining and owning this space.
I had written, quite some time ago, about my insistence that people who bring gender and sexual diversity (the LGBTQIA+) should retain the term “queer.” I’m starting to come around on this idea, a lot – I have/do act as an ally for people who are different in many other ways. Autism being an obvious example, but at work, also, I’ve acted as an ally for someone on this very specific topic of respecting personal choices related to body modification. However, my queerness is not a moving target – I am still queer. In actuality, my sexual orientation was not a moving target, either. When I came out of the closet, I became honest about what I want and need in a companion. I am attracted, as it turns out, to men and bois*. And Teri fit in this category from the beginning, and he still does, today.
Here, I make a distinction with some of my friends. There is a tendency of sexually fluid people (whether bisexually identified or not), interestingly, to impose the assumption of their experience on other people – for instance, by saying something like, “It’s the heart that matters, the plumbing will take care of itself.” It’s not always so simple, for all of us. Of course it’s the heart that matters, but we don’t all experience our attraction in an “I’m attracted to the person” kind of way – that’s one sexual orientation amongst many. So it’s not all about the plumbing (in the sense of the stories that spend all their time talking “sex change” surgeries), but the physical/chemical attraction is also not always irrelevant. My situation, also, I suppose, is a little different than Tina’s situation (as Alice sees it) on L Word. I am taking no easy road out of anything (although, arguably, when I tell the car dealer I can’t make a decision, because “I have to go home and ask my boyfriend for advice,” I may be treading some fine line).
Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that’s right.
In our case, in any event, the conversation was a gradual shift in tone. I had jokingly called Teri, “sir,” many times before, when I was very happy being “her” girlfriend. And “Mister.” I had, at one point, had a conversation something like, “Would you want me to call you my wife, when we get married someday? It doesn’t seem quite right. But I would, if that’s what you want.” (Whereas, there is no ambiguity that I want to be a bride/wife). At that time, Teri had said, “I’ll be your husband and your wife.” Interestingly, later, a variant of this conversation happened at work, for him, also – “Would you prefer that I call you ‘he’? I feel so badly calling you ‘she,’ like it doesn’t really fit you, and I want to respect who you are.” In truth, all this time***, I was not “gunning” for any one answer. I love Teri. I’m content – was content, am content, will be content – to be terisexual. Who knows how the introduction of something like testosterone would affect our relationship? But Teri was here to watch me make the jump to clean-burning estrogen, and that was surprisingly uneventful. It might make our love even better. It might pose a hurdle here or there****. All eminently manageable.
That part, actually, is easy. And thus she writes many paragraphs about it. The part that she has been avoiding, thus far, dear reader, is the hard part. As a butch/femme couple, we already had to start having a dialog about heteropatriarchy and the dangers of our queer relationship emulating all its flaws, and acting to strengthen it (making us accomplices). I have had to, before any discussion of pronoun preferences surfaced, confront things like my feeling wholly inadequate as a partner if I do not provide a fresh, hot, home cooked meal at least once a day. How quickly I feel responsible for doing his laundry and cleaning up after him. The tang of annoyance I get at also being the primary economic agent of the household, on top of “taking care of” Teri and Iago. Of how, suddenly, I am dealing with heretofore unexperienced impulses in me, to defer to Teri’s judgment and to want him at the head of my table, to take my place at his side, to chose my actions in a way pleasing to him. And scoffing at the idea that he may be able to weigh in on aesthetic matters.
Reader, I am still a feminist. And I seek to be as radical as she comes. But, although I was never any political lesbian, there was a sort of safety in being a lesbian, much in the sense of pride one feels when buying fair trade, organic coffee – as if our relationship came stamped with some “No Proceeds Went to Support The Patriarchy” badge. The truth, though, is that butchness and masculinity, themselves, bear far more overlap than we generally care to admit, and in truth, a great many butch/femme relationships do function as accomplices to oppression under the patriarchy. If anything, a trans-hetero relationship bears that risk and then some. This statement, that our marriage would, surreally, now be back to a union between one man and one woman, seems to raise the bar, or heighten my awareness of the risk. Suddenly, one goes to get one’s fair trade, organic coffee, in a big SUV*****, replete with guard grilles over the headlights (in case the driver should need to run over the proletariat on the way to Starbucks, no cosmetic damage would be incurred).
Teri and several of our trans guy friends were at an excellent in-between-the-holidays party we threw for the trans community here. We had a really great discussion (because I’m that trans girl who likes to ride in cars with trans boys… and call them by their last names, okay, basically, I am One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male Driven Comedy) about how trans men are reticent to be called men. Sometimes, we all agreed, because their identities are actually non-binary. Sometimes, I argued, because they are afraid of taking their stand within manhood, and being able to embrace the good and fight the bad from within. Because, as men, they lack Gloria Steinems to whom they can unabashedly look up. It occurred to me that, whereas I have a cloud of inspirational women (most of them cis, but many trans also) around me, as role models and inspirations, when I asked Teri, or other trans men, who their role models were, I got … weighty silence. In those cases, I argued, they are indeed binary, and ought, indeed, call themselves men, but they are scared to take up arms and fight within manhood against the patriarchy (I commented, later, because this is what our pillow talk is like, that “man” is the traditional form of reference for adults who use he and him pronouns, and if trans men reject the title, we all need them to do more talking about why and what their choice means).
I also took Teri to task, several days later, because he said, “I wouldn’t ever want to be the breadwinner.” I pointed out that this seemed overly convenient, since I had no similar choice in our life together. He explained what he meant by the comment, and I understand where he’s coming from. In essence, he doesn’t want to force our relationship into a “traditional” configuration. I don’t want that, either. The truth is that, even if Teri could support us financially, I rather like being out changing the world, both for kids with autism and for the LGBTQIA+ community. I also don’t want Teri (or any man, cis or trans), pushed into not being allowed any emotions or into having to be stoic in the face of all odds. I don’t want Teri forced into a job he hates just to keep me in a lifestyle (whereas I love the job that keeps us in our lifestyle right now).
But…I suppose, to whatever extent I have a right, in the binary, to influence what kind of man Teri becomes (or manhood generally), don’t let’s have trans men become the sort of men whose manhood is living in their mom’s basement, because the internet is free, playing Call of Duty all day, and asking me to evaluate them and say they have autism and are thus disabled (okay, so that might hit a particular nerve for me). Manhood, in the traditional binary sense, and the masculinity it accompanies, is bound up in the idea of agency. And I fear for young trans men / boys – some of the ones around me seem not to develop this sense of agency (as seen in many good men, and better yet, in most feminist women). Who want a manhood that involves a wide variety of women solving all their problems for them. So I challenged Teri, in essence, to view his manhood not only in terms of the privileges it affords him, but in terms of the responsibility that comes with that privilege. His blog post represents a way station in that process.
The challenge reflects back on me, too. I’m going to have to learn to be a straight girl, without selling out the movement. I’m going to have to learn how to love my man but remain tall, fierce, and proud, loving my womanhood. To figure out what femininity means, inside the binary, and all my desires to “give” myself to him, in a way that does not destroy my selfhood. I’m going to have to learn to support Teri’s development of a holistic, sustainable, beautiful manhood, without ever asking him to “man up.” This is going to be really interesting. It’s the first day of 2015, a whole new year, and I think I’m up to this challenge.
* Reader, I snuck this gag into my About Mira, page, but please be forewarned, I am so bowled over by the delicious titling of this piece about my middle namesake, that I cannot stop making reference to it.
** I openly admit (and Teri tolerates) that I find trans men, generally, quite hot – this is in no way meant to be any kind of incentivization to Teri to transition (or not transition).
*** Okay, you know I’m a little impish. There were many conversations, like, “Can I call you a dude?” “What about saying you’re my fella?” Accompanied by endearing, but annoying, Mira-isms.
**** One does not know, for instance, how one feels about facial hair. But one is willing to give this idea a try, because one’s partner wants some. There may need to be a Mira Embraces Lumbersexuality blog post, soon.
***** Reader, I just leased a Prius C. Although, Teri… wants a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. and goddess help my ecofeminist soul, but I find this idea disturbingly sexy.
Some artwork representing the dissonance many trans people feel between who they know they are and how they are seen by the world
Warning, this post is a bit of a blast from the past – I wrote this back in April, for Gays.com. Those of you who freelance know, sometimes, your posts get held in queue for the “right” time for an editor to publish them. This one finally dropped before Thanksgiving, and I never got around to posting it here. It’s interesting to read my mindset seven months ago (here on miracharlotte.com or elsewhere). Seven months on, I don’t just have “hope that there is room for us to find the love of our lives” – I know that I have, in fact, found just that. It’s funny, too, to think about being wound up about things like appearing feminine, or being out and about in public, which I now take, if not for granted, as like laws of the universe which I no longer question.
Dating and relationships is a really complicated business for transgender people, especially transsexual people who decide to transition. We’re all over the map – many of us found a long-term relationship or even a marital partner before coming out as trans, and sometimes (but not always), those relationships work out.
It seems for trans women, that more often was with another woman in a ‘heterosexual’ relationship (all of my significant relationships for example), but it could be all ranges of things. Those relationships have to change if they’re to survive – it’s common for a newly outed trans woman’s wife to express that she’s not a lesbian. That’s fair, maybe she’s not. For trans men and women who identified as gay or lesbian before transitioning, too, their partner might not be able to reconcile their own sexual orientation with the transition. On The L WordJenny tells Max (whom she had been dating prior to transition), “you identify as a straight man. So there’s the mismatch, because you want me to be your straight girlfriend to your straight guy. And I identify as a lesbian, who likes to fuck girls. And you’re not a girl.” Sometimes, too, the relationship does survive, but not sexually or romantically.
I’ve said before that I really haven’t been fooling anyone with the sad drag show that has been my male life. At support group the topic of coming out on social media came up – I’ve always been out here, obviously, and on Facebook. That’s because I resisted joining Facebook for the longest time, and my erstwhile male identity never was on FB. Twitter is a different story – I have a fairly mature presence there, with a lot more followers than anywhere else. So, it’s actually important to me, and I have given a little thought to coming out on Twitter. I joked at group that I would say, “I’m transgender. I’m sorry for my sad impersonation of a man. I know it’s embarrassing, it won’t happen again.” That actually pretty much sums it up – if you follow me on Twitter* you’ll probably actually see that tweet in a few months. It’s probably funnier to me than anyone – it probably won’t be how I finally break into Huffington Post’s Funniest Tweets by Women weekly column. Sigh.
I’m kind of a walking stereotype, which I’ve also said before. I like heels (but not embarrassingly high, and those chunky low heel pumps from Coach are being discounted, hmmm…). I like skirts and dresses (but not too short). I like makeup (but not too much eye shadow, it looks garish on me). I’m not even full time and I have two designer purses (Saffiano is way nicer than I expected it to be, incidentally). I drink cosmos and drink every kind of martini but an actual, normal martini. I listen to girly music. And cry along at the sad songs. Kind of a lot. I still dream of being Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice (the original, not the one with zombies, although in a pinch I’m open to negotiation). I’m flirty, often just because it’s fun, and I understand the concept of a flirty hemline.
The one place where I’m not exactly a walking stereotype is the continuing ambiguity of my sexual orientation. I do find it incredibly liberating to say I’m not really sexually/romantically attracted to very feminine women, although I like them a lot as friends, and I enjoy looking at how they dress and do their makeup, and I try to learn some tricks from them, because I’m pretty moderately feminine myself. That pretending went away immediately when I came out the first time. I want to be a beautiful woman (and the emotionally unstable one, but let’s not get into that trope) far more than I want to be with one. And I always nod along silently when women say they’re not that into guys based on their looks. Preach it, sisters. I was never really attracted to what I was “supposed” to be attracted to. I am attracted to masculinity, though. At least in relatively small to moderate doses, I find it achingly beautiful. I don’t want to be it. I never have, and this is a big part of why my attempt at masculinity is so sad (on a particularly butch day in my en homme form** I’m probably roughly Ellen DeGeneres). But the gap teeth and the goofy smiles and the bravado, I find it all amazingly cute. So I say masculinity, whatever. I’m attracted to my girlfriend’s masculinity. Or butchness. Or agency. Or whatever. It’s so much hotter to me than girly girlness.
I adore how she can wear the same couple of shirts she cycles through day after day without any self-consciousness, while I try to remember the last outfits the people I’ll see today saw me in, to avoid the mortification that they’ll see me in the same outfit again (I’ve been a little bit less like this in my en homme form, recently, because it’s just getting harder and harder to put on a male mask, even a kind of a sad one, day after day, but before transition for some time, I was pretty much like this already). I love that she doesn’t consider matters such as whether her underwear matches her clothes. That her clothes are pretty much not getting ironed unless I do it. That she went to a “bro party” because her friend considers her one of the guys (and I get to tease her and pretend to suspect that there were strippers involved). That she lets me say I’m attracted to her masculinity (I usually say butchness, but I have said it that way) and isn’t threatened by it.
She’s got some issues that we’re working through, too, to be sure, and I’m still kind of holding on to see how those get worked out. But. I’m kind of in love with her. Okay, when I say kind of, I mean my heart’s skipped a lot of beats recently. I want to build a nest for her and not let her do any of the decorating (she’s been trying to convince me recently that her choices are not terrible, and I’m observing the evidence, but so far, #No). Okay, I’ve already begun reminding her that diamonds are the Taurus birthstone and educating her about the importance of truly conflict-free, ethical trade diamonds. Soon I’m sure I’ll start dropping hints*** about my ring size (7.5) and setting preferences (something simple and elegant, probably white gold, just one stone, nothing ostentatious). Okay, I’m a little embarrassed that I actually typed all that “out loud.” And haven’t deleted it (and in fact saved the strikeout text for a much less embarrassing admission in the next paragraph and neither this nor the really embarrassing thing I say in the footnotes).
Yeah. So, erm something like this with a didn’t-leave-a-shorty-armless diamond, please? What… not subtle enough to put a picture of an engagement ring in the middle of a blog post? Can I at least work out some click-through arrangement? Or should I just be really embarrassed at blatantly inserting a picture of an engagement ring in this post?
In terms of defining my sexuality, I’m really not bisexual-going-on-lesbian in the pansexual kind of sense (being bisexual means a whole lot of things, and covers a really wide range of experiences and orientations, incidentally). I really like a slice of mildly to moderately masculine/butch people. The rest, I feel, is actually *gasp* sort of like how those creepy sexologists describe feminine sexuality – I’m kind of attracted to everything pretty. I don’t foresee myself being with a hairy, dirty-white-cap wearing football superfan, and I don’t really want anyone who thinks his biceps are prettier than I am. But… a sensitive guy with strong arms and a gentle smile? A dog and a pickup truckPrius Subaru-with-a-manual-transmission-so-I-can-borrow-it-in-snowstorms-and-continue-to-drive-pretty-but-impractical-convertibles? Swoon. I know. Stereotype. Total Reece Witherspoon movie moment. And I’m sure if I were not in love, and if he came along, Reece will steal him from me anyway, probably by talking him into teaching her how to drive a manual transmission. Hands meet on the shifter. Happy ending by the two hour mark, and time left over to buy new pink Prada pumps that I would never be able to pull off. Sigh.
Oh my god, oh my god you guys…
I write all of this in support of a really cool story that came up on my timeline recently about a cis/het woman who fell for a trans man. I loved that article.
Seriously, this was such a beautiful piece, it really made me cry
My situation is quite a bit different, but my experience of sexuality is very similar – there’s some level at which masculinity is kind of a separate entity from maleness (particularly karyotype maleness, since I do consider the gentleman in the story to be male). It would be ideal to call it something other than masculinity to avoid policing anyone else’s gender expression. But whatever, you know intuitively, most of you, what I’m talking about. Whether the objects of our affection are cis men, trans men, or butch women, she and I are both attracted to masculinity or whatever else you want to call it. I haven’t met her, but I suspect like me, it might just her heart swoon. It might make her want to preen and do her hair just right. Maybe it makes her want to twirl around so her boyfriend can appreciate her dress. I kind of get that, because I’m enjoying the same with my girlfriend. It is, in essence, the “deep in the binary” feminine experience of romance and desire, and it’s really just like the straight experience of feminine desire, just queerer. It’s what I’m going through to learn how to finally feel attraction without compromise. And it’s an important milestone on the way to being loved and loving, in a romantic sense, again, without the hangups and compromises and unspoken components all this had when I was pretending to be a man.
And let’s not get into a hierarchy discussion of how it’s less queer than more gender or tradition non-conforming relationships, this is a love story, not the Olympics. Everybody should win their own prize.
* For safety reasons, I’m not linking my Twitter account here, until I come out on Twitter. I’m not trying to hide anything, but this blogging publicly with my full intended name en femme when I’m not full time yet is kind of uncharted territory, and I’m making this up as I go.
** I plan to be full time (Mira forevermore) around August. Can’t come a day too soon.
*** Here’s another thing… So in Michigan I can legally marry her, right now and probably for the next year or so, and it would probably “stick” later, even if I were caught wearing a cute dress, and I am for sure not going to be caught dead at my own wedding in a tuxedo. I really want to legally be a bride, though, and I may sound awfully impulsive, but there’s no way I’m getting married within a year … a small, intimate Indian wedding is 300 people and only one elephant. So I’d need to gay marry her, even if that were to happen. Erm. Support marriage equality.