Before this post can begin, some basics need to be established.
- Gender is not a choice. Neither is being transgender.
- Gender has no relationship whatsoever to sexual orientation. That’s a really, really difficult one to grasp for a lot of people, so please practice. It might help to back up and view bisexuality as a normal, real thing that happens on a normal, real spectrum- then separating sexual orientation from gender orientation in your head gets a lot easier. For the majority of us, it’s easy to be lazy about this concept until we’re confronted with people outside the commonly accepted gender norm. Or think of it as inside/outside: you have what goes on inside your body, like heartbeat and breath, and that has nothing to do with who you want to sleep with, right? It’s the same thing for trans people and applies to even more body parts.
- A person that is transgender has a real, medical condition wherein the brain is out of sync with the body. Gender dysphoria is the medically accurate replacement for the outdated and debunked term gender identity disorder – the asynchronicity may be locked in the brain, but it is not just in the transgender/non-gendered person’s head.
Why is a cisgender straight woman bringing this up? Because my partner of 11+ years dragged me out to California and then transitioned genders.
The preferred pronoun is “she.” The chosen name is “Marie,” a family name. Sometimes when explaining this new status to people I write Marie nee Mike, borrowing from the tradition of married women on Facebook who actually want contact with people they knew in high school.
This has probably been coming for years, decades maybe, all brewing in my until-now quiet partner’s soul, but it came to a head in December. A lot of close friends are reacting like the process just started – and maybe it did for them, but to us, the process is actually underway and much of it is already done. Marie is living as a woman now, 24/7. She’s seeing a therapist, as am I. And now, while she fields congratulations on being who she is, I’m fielding a bit more transphobia and a degree of homophobia that, as a heterosexual cisgender woman, I never previously expected to.
So while Marie has generously described me as “accepting” my honest answer to the entire situation is more complicated and far less saintly.
Let me be clear: I am absolutely fucking furious with her. A whole lot of male privilege and ignoring my more inconvenient feelings and opinions got us to where we are geographically and to some degree emotionally. She dragged me away from a support system it took me twelve years to build and refine. She took me away from immunotherapy that requires five years to complete, forcing me to start treatment over completely here, where I am surrounded by brand new terrifying allergens that are back to leaving me locked in a bedroom with an air filter and dust mask on more days than I care to mention. She dragged me away in the middle of significant advancements in my own career, despite more than one job offer that would have allowed us to live quite comfortably, for a massive lifestyle downgrade that costs three times in rent and offers less than half the space than for what we were paying a mortgage for. I like the people of San Francisco just fine, but I really dislike San Francisco as an overarching entity. It’s a high maintenance asshole that makes everything harder than it needs to be – and somehow, since living here, I am the one of us who has borne the brunt of the actual hardships. Marie’s job offers her massive amounts of support and perks – but it also caters mostly to single, usually male employees. For the most part, I am on my own – from dealing with creepy movers to navigating the city or finding friends that don’t see me as some extension of Marie (or assume that I want to know where the good schools are) it’s been me working stuff out on my own. Transitioning genders takes a degree of self-absorbed behavior to accomplish it; ultimately it’s a good, but it’s also put me in the position of carrying her mental health while watching my own rapidly degrade.
I am not pissed about Marie’s gender transition, although I am pissed off at the support I’ve had to forego while she does it, especially early on when she needed to keep her issues private and I was the sole bearer of the emotional pressure from her dysphoria. I do have some resentful feelings about being trapped by a lesbian in a really convoluted way that to some degree stems from aggressive sexual harassment from a few obnoxious individuals in the past. I know that is irrational and unfair. I am not gay. I have always refused to be called “wife” to avoid my identity being erased by my spouse – and yet here I am, having my own sexual orientation erased. But there’s not much I can do. Getting angry at someone for transitioning genders is about as useful as getting mad at the sky for raining – sure, you can, but it’s going to do fuck all to stop it.
So here I am on this train I can’t stop, with a serious illness that limits my options for leaving to less than a week at a time, and I’m in a city where I have no authentic support system as of yet. I love my wife, there is nothing to forgive when it comes to the gender transition, but she has fucked me over in a way so epic that the trust between us is pretty well damaged and it’s going to take a long time to repair.
I have to deal with these feelings in San Francisco, the place where my side of it is unwelcome and even invisible. In a city where politics, history, and sympathy align wholly with my spouse. Politics I myself have historically aligned with, even if I am seeing firsthand confirmation to my theories about male privilege hangovers.
To say that the outpouring of support for my partner has made me feel invisible and marginalized is something of an understatement. I had all sorts of people I trusted telling me I was wrong about my own senses and feelings about moving to this overpriced ego-inflated void, and it got me in a place I might have fit ten years ago but sure as hell do not belong in now – and I’m stuck here for the next five years.
The help and support I have been offered by well- meaning people has actually made my feelings of isolation worse.
I think the questions I have been asked have actually been the more invasive – and often, while not intended that way, the more shaming of the queries.
The following highlight the greatest hits that people ask/say to me. I am adding the (T) to label the ones I consider spectacularly transphobic. (M) I am added for inherently misogynistic. Do not assume something with an M label has only been asked by men. Women are often just as misogynistic, if not moreso, than men.
I tend to believe that no matter how rude the question, the best way to handle it is to answer directly. This is partly because I was that curious child who didn’t know better, and except in cases of obvious female social violence, even idiotic questions about my partner’s genitals come from a sincere place.
- Were there any warning signs? (T)
- Wait, are you even attracted to women?
- But if she still has her penis (I neither confirm nor deny that one) can’t you just fake it…? (M)
- It’s not like she’s really a woman… (T)
- OMG, what are you going to do????? (T)
- I had a friend who transitioned so I know what it’s like for you…
- Love conquers all…
- So you’re both chasing c—- now?
Question: Were there any warning signs?
Why it’s transphobic: It’s an internal gender change, not a bomb. “Warning” implies it’s a form of abuse. It is one of those situations where my feelings really aren’t relevant, one way or the other – it would be like me asking you to simply stop having a liver problem just because it makes me uncomfortable. I know people who would ask that – and they are certifiable, horrible people. That’s not me.
Transgenderism is not a sexual behavior that physically endangers me in any way – nor is it even a sexual behavior. Perhaps if I had been raised in a healthier, sex-positive environment I’d have no issues at all with my current situation. But really, you’re asking me about our sex life – and cross-dressing isn’t necessarily a kink; sometimes it’s naked pragmatism. Also, ew – none of your business! The Internet is for voyeuristic porn, my marriage is not.
Wait, are you even attracted to women?
This is usually asked by people close enough to me to know I am sex positive – and straight. Ultimately it’s a question about whether I’m still having sex with my spouse, but it is also about what label applies to me or whether I am locked in a sexless and/or loveless marriage.
I still identify personally as heterosexual, and the way my continued marriage now queers me socially really does unsettle me. When I walk in public and we hold hands, we get judgmental eyes on us that used to be neutral and welcoming. I am now always on the alert for possible misbehavior – usually from men of any background, but also from some women – and I am part of this now, and it is precarious and stressful. Not all of San Francisco is welcoming to the transgender, after all.
But here is the other problem – I fall on the high side of the sexual desire spectrum, and I am far less attracted to women than my partner is. After progressive abuse from childhood primarily at the instigation of women, being married to one is close to my definition of hell. There are a lot of complex reasons for that, but most of the time the body simply does not respond, and it did not even in cases earlier in my youth where the women interested in me were awesome people and I sincerely wanted to be interested back.
And this is where I’m going to lose a bunch of the righteous nodders, and I risk really upsetting my in-laws:
I’m beyond pissed at my partner. But I still love her, and I’d rather live with her somewhere I absolutely fucking hate (which I kind of do) than live somewhere without her. We make a good team, and unless she does something that disrupts my career path when we have other choices again, I probably will eventually get over my anger. Whether or not I remain sexual with her, however, is up in the air because I truly enjoy men of good quality and character in bed.
Our solution to the attraction/detraction issues comes down to two words that will unsettle people even more:
I’ve had polyamorous tendencies since I was 16, but I had a lot of social conditioning to shake off. Facing down this particular precipice at age 40 is far more daunting than it might have been in my 20s, but back then I had other issues to resolve and polyamory would have been far too much for me to handle. Anyone who labels this decision as Peter Pan syndrome at this point in my life really isn’t paying attention, or just has some serious bigotry issues to resolve.
But if she still has her penis (I neither confirm nor deny that one) can’t you just fake it…? (M)
This one I am labeling M for inherently misogynistic. Reducing female heterosexuality down to wanting a penis is as insulting and wildly inaccurate as it is reductive. I blame Sigmund Freud and his family line for bad sex, everywhere. I considered writing a long passage here about why I like sex with men, but I suspect that’s saved for a Summer Solstice essay. So let me snapshot it for you: it’s all about the person, and the energy (and male energy attracts me to a much greater degree ) not about the part. This is just as true for me in heterosexual sex as it is in my new slightly queered sex life.
It’s not like she’s really a woman… (T)
Yes she is a real woman, and you are an asshole. Medicine and psychology gets to define who is and isn’t really a woman – not a judge, not a jury, and sure as hell not the general public. We throw in a lot of artificial gender constructs and call them biology – but there are thousands of cultures to compare ourselves to that demonstrate clearly the utter bullshit behavioral gender constructs are.
Evolution and biology has also given us a whole variety of occurrences that make it dead clear that yes, gender variance is real, natural, and valid. There are women born with clitorises that are extended beyond their labial folds, giving them essentially a small penis. They are still really women. There are women who must have breasts removed, have only small breasts, or who have them artificially enhanced. They are still real women. There are women born sterile. They are still real women. There are women who must have their uteruses removed. They are still real women. There are perfectly healthy children born with traits of both sexes and hormone balances that reflect this natural state – and in a culture where we insist on choosing even though it’s not vital to stay alive, it’s vital because we have an invasive view of one another that demands alignment because so few of us know how to treat one another with genuine kindness, the real intent behind equality. If something happens in utero that gives the brain that almost insignificant sync as female but somehow gives the body that just too high shot of testosterone that makes a boy’s body…it’s a real woman, and one who goes through a damned hard and long initiation period. Yes, people who identify as neither gender are also real and valid – although we need to change our cultural oxygenation to something nonbinary to really get it.
OMG, what are you going to do????? (T)
When someone asks me this, it’s a person that clearly thinks there is a Right Thing to Do in this situation. That particular right thing, in that person’s mind, is most likely divorce and departure. The implication is that unless I do that specific Right Thing I bear shame and blame for enduring such “indignities.” On a practical level, this means I must be Principled and once again forego treatment for an illness that is in fact life threatening because – oh the tragedy- transgender! On a personal level, it ignores that I have a real relationship with this person where we have met one another’s needs for over a decade. There has been no violence. There has been no dishonesty. There has been no infidelity (there may be a Q & A explaining how that works in polyamorous relationship because more people = more ways to fuck up.)
The reality is there is nothing to do. I’m not going to spike my partner’s drinks with steroids. I’m not going to pack my bags and ditch. I’m going to keep slowly and steadily working on building my own support system, and work on our marriage and the things about our partnership we still enjoy. Martyrdom only hurts the martyr, especially in this cause.
Love conquers all…
Oh fuck you. That is an unbelievably judgmental, self-righteous thing to say.
I know this couple where they both transitioned…
So what? I’m supposed to follow their example when I don’t have gender dysphoria?
So you’re both chasing dick now? (M, T)
That is NOT why a person changes genders. Despite English having a word for everything, we have somehow reduced sex to interchangeable to gender – the internal, kinesthetic sense of body – with sex, the external, partner seeking sense of desire. These are two ENTIRELY different things. I don’t identify as bisexual or particularly heteroflexible, so it’s not an experience I can speak to. But as a woman who likes men, my heterosexuality does not revolve around the penis. It embraces – rather than revolving around – the man I agree to partner in some way. Gender binary being part of the oxygen of our culture makes it extremely difficult to solidify and explain this. Marie’s transition happened because she felt wrong in her own body – not because she wanted to experience someone else’s body in a different way.
I had a friend who transitioned so I know what it’s like for you…
Oh no you fucking don’t. You don’t know what it’s like to be up until 3 am with your partner in tears because she looked in the mirror and didn’t feel pretty. You don’t know what it’s like to have to take time out of an already long and difficult health day to go to Target and pick out dresses for her to ease her distress. You don’t know what it’s like to have to deal with an unexpected testosterone spike, and then deal with your partner screaming at you because the other partner in your life is embodied male and she fears you’re going to leave her for him. You don’t know what it’s like to come home from the first evening out that has you feeling good in months, only to find a partner in tears. You don’t know what it’s like to have to constantly stop and think about some new annoying behavior – like leaving nail polish everywhere – and connecting it to its earlier masculine expression, as you trace how this is at the core the same person. You don’t know what it’s like to reach out to touch the familiar texture of hair on a man’s chest to instead find a woman’s breasts and light stubble instead. OK, if you’ve ever raised a teenage girl that trusted you enough to talk to you about her daily life, you might know SOME of what it’s like with the moods and excitement. But having friends that are transgender, even those that have transitioned while you know them, is not the same as living with a long-term romantic partner that has transitioned genders. I wasn’t even aware of how much I was a focal point in our relationship – my style, my body, my own appearance – until her need to change became the focal point. It’s an ego bruise I can learn from, but it’s still a bruise.
These are my honest feelings about my situation. I am facing down more personal insecurity than I ever had before, and feeling pretty helpless about what’s going on. Too much honesty, and I am transphobic. Too much silence, and I disappear. I have a long history of landing in situations I don’t want, and this is simply the latest. All I can do is what I always do – either dissolve into the dissociative fugue state that served me pretty well through high school and part of college, or dance with it. Right now I’m dancing, but I am really getting tired. (Kindly avoid diagnosing me or saying what I need to do to “solve my problems” as you see fit. I already have two professionals far more qualified than you to handle that.)