Tag Archive: labels


relax in my heartOk, perhaps not buy. I’m not that skint yet. ‘Who will have’ may be closer to the mark, in all its senses. I have been on the dating ‘market’ for around a year now, and I’ve got to admit that twelve months on, it isn’t getting any easier. I’ll be straight with you here – I am not looking for love again (too painful) or a long-term relationship (too expensive…and painful). Just, you know, a date. And whatever that might lead to. I’m not proud.

My problem is this. Whilst I find my own sexuality, body geography and gender identity perfectly easy to grasp, that certainly isn’t the way other people see things. In short, in my experience**: lesbians have found me attractive until they find out I identify as male (too much of a man). Straight women have treated me like a pet eunuch: a non-threatening man who they can giggle about periods with. But definitely not sleep with (not enough of a man). Gay men have found me attractive until they find I have my original plumbing (not enough of a man). Straight (or, in my experience, bi) men have found me attractive if they are allowed to pretend I’m not really a man. If I emphasise my gender identity, they bail (too much of a man). I have been turned down for numerous explicitly and implicitly gender-based reasons, and it’s starting to jar me off.

**Oh, and before anyone gets their underwear in a twist about my broad, sweeping and stereotypical generalisation of people into four categories, I am talking about my own experience, and yes, I am aware that they are broad, sweeping and stereotypical generalisations. This is a blog, not a gender seminar. And in truth, I’m not quite such a big old sl*g that I’ve been hit on by every facet of the beautiful gender kaleidoscope.

Perhaps I have shot myself in the foot, cut off my nose to spite my face, or chucked out the baby with the bathwater, by undergoing a physical transformation. I have a masculine build, no breasts, but I retain the genitalia I was born with, by choice. Arguably, I have created a physical self that is so different from the norm that people need to think hard about what they are seeing. And when people think hard, that tends to be where the trouble starts. I have been told that I have led to people questioning their own sexuality (hurrah for enlightenment, boo for me going home without a shag). I try to be candid with people about who and what I am, and this has led to some slightly awkward email dissections of “what’s what and where”, which probably aren’t the best prelude to a fabulous date. Maybe I should just ‘wing it’ and hope that the surprise factor doesn’t get me thrown out of the bedroom, or worse. As an aside, did you know that in some countries, the shock caused by finding out that someone is trans* is actually admissable as evidence in court in defending battery and murder. Nuts.

So what on earth to do? Honesty has always been my policy, and I can’t imagine doing things differently. Perhaps I should just worry less what potential partners think – after all, if I’m not their bag, baby, there’s not a lot I can do to convince them. I know that some folk deliberately seek out trans* men, but as a very ordinary chap, I’m loathe to become someone’s fetish. I’ve been advised to seek out partners amongst the ‘Queer Community’, which is all very well, but I live in rural Norfolk. Plus, I’m not entirely convinced that that’s the niche for me.

Labels are dangerous things, and I prefer to avoid them. If asked to describe my sexuality, I say ‘mostly gay’, which tends to elicit a smile, but is as close to the truth as I can find in a couple of words. I find women beautiful (well, most, anyway!) but I’m not really looking to get cosy with them, if you know what I mean. But who knows? Gender comes in many hues, as does personality and, well, everything, so I’d be silly to say I’d never date someone based on something so fluid.

Of course, I never really anticipated that I would be in this position. I had always rather pooh-poohed the problems of dating as a trans* person, because I was sat blithely in my long-term relationship. Well, karma came back to bite me there, and whilst my ex is now happily engaged to the person for whom she left me, I am, at the age of 42, clumsily single and singularly clueless.

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This is a question that my partner and I have been asked quite a few times now. Most people have asked with a degree of respect, others haven’t. One notably ex-friend asked my partner this in a message after she was told I was trans. It was the first thing she asked. Not ‘how are you both?’ or ‘is there anything I can do to support you?’, just ‘so, does that make you both straight now?’

Telling people I am transgender does seem to make them think that suddenly my sexuality is up for discussion. A lot of assumptions are made, based often on very old-fashioned ways of recognising and categorising gender and sexuality. Let’s face it, cisgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or none of the above. So can transgender people. In the same way that this world really needs to come to terms with the fact that gender is not a binary, there has to be recognition that sexuality itself is not a neat package that can be easily labelled, and never changes.

Let’s rewind a little to look at my life. I grew up assuming I was heterosexual. I had no reason to think otherwise, and if I’m honest, I did not see myself in any sort of sexual context, so I went with the flow. I briefly came out as a lesbian in my late teens, after a couple of crushes on girls, then popped myself back in the closet because I was so afraid of being different that that seemed the best option. I slept with men, and married a man, but identified as bisexual, as that was the easiest way for me to acknowledge my continued feelings for women as well as being married. At 30, newly single, I came out as a lesbian (again!). I eschewed all ideas of men being attractive, and enjoyed living as a lover of women. I met my beautiful partner, fell hopelessly in love, and there I remain.

So that all rather begs the question, am I a straight man? Absolutely not. Yes, I am emotionally and sexually attracted to women, and am in a long-term relationship with a woman, but I refuse to identify as straight. I am transitioning because I feel far more masculine than feminine. I love and embrace the changes that testosterone, and identifying as a male have brought. I am the happiest I have ever been, but I cannot and will not be shoehorned into a category that does not fit. Straight-identified men, by my definition, are predominantly only attracted to women.

Long before I started taking male hormones, I realised that my previous understanding of both gender and sexuality had been blown out of the water. In order to identify as ‘straight’, I would have to accept very narrow definitions of gender. As someone who has come to realise that gender is fluid, the idea of being ‘straight’ becomes rather ridiculous. Because I cannot base my emotional and sexual attachments on Society’s definition of ‘man’ or woman’. It’s a real cliche these days to say ‘oh, I’m attracted to the person, not the gender’, but surely that should be the case for all of us? I find many women sexy and beautiful, I find many men sexy and beautiful, I find many transmen and transwomen sexy and beautiful. I find many people who don’t identify in any particular gender category sexy and beautiful. And that’s not the making-me-terribly-horny testosterone speaking – this has been my feeling for a long time, but as usual, I felt I had to conform to the ‘best fit’ I could find in my situation.

So how DO I identify sexually? I identify as queer. This is a word previously used pejoratively towards LGBT people, but now many of us use it as an umbrella term for those accepting of fluidity in both gender and sexuality. Which suits me very well, thank you!

What about my lesbian partner? I’ve asked her to contribute to this post, as it wouldn’t be fair to try and speak on her behalf. From a personal point of view, I know that she identifies very strongly as lesbian, so for me to make a song and dance about being ‘The Man’ in our relationship, forcing us both into new stereotypical roles would kill our love in a very short time. Over to Willemina:

1              How and when did you first identify as lesbian?

I didn’t know the word lesbian or that I was a lesbian, but I can remember from about the age of 8 or 9 having feelings which were different. Looking back on experiences and feelings I can remember clearly, it was obvious but I didn’t know then. When I was 12, I had my first crush (that I can remember) but I didn’t tell anybody. I tried to be a ‘normal’ teenager and I never told anybody, not even my close friends, about my feelings and thoughts. I ‘came out’ in dribs and drabs. To some friends when I was 19, and then to my parents. It felt good to come out. Finally everything made sense. I know that Mark gets exasperated with me because I forever have the worry that I am not a proper lesbian, or that I am not lesbian enough. This is how I feel but I know in my heart of hearts it isn’t true.

2          What do you think of the popular question “How do you know you’re a lesbian if you’ve never been with a man?”

I find this type of question offensive and intrusive. Nobody has to take a test. Nobody has the right to ask me this question. I can’t remember ever asking anybody how do they know if they are straight. I just know I am a lesbian. Why do I need to have sex with a biological man? I don’t worry about who knows better than me because only I know me best. I don’t have to have sex to know what my sexuality is because it’s how I feel about people, not a list of people I’ve had sex with.

3              Is being lesbian more than just sexual preference to you?

Yes. I don’t know what it is, but my whole experience and feelings and emotions are lesbian. It’s not just about sexual preference, although that is at the core, but along with that come other aspects. I love being out and proud and feeling a part of a large community who share something. Lesbians approach life at a different angle. Yes, that’s a sweeping generalization but I feel it is 99% true, in my experience.

4          Are you concerned that people will see you as straight as Mark transitions?

Honestly – yes. I can’t understand why people would suddenly assume I am straight. Society is still in a place where that is seen as the ‘norm’. And most of the time, it isn’t. We are still a willingly blind society/culture. Open your eyes and see that everybody is different and live their lives different and nothing is ever what it may seem. I am not, and have never been and never will be, straight. That is not me. It will make me angry, upset and feel like shit if people see me as straight but this is due to a number of insecurities I have about myself. I know that I place a large importance on how people see me and how I come across at any time. I am a highly insecure person, and unfortunately this is an aspect which I am finding difficult to come to terms with. This is something I will definitely be working through with my therapist ;p

5              Have your feelings towards Mark changed due to his transition?

I honestly and truly don’t know. I feel our relationship has shifted in a good way as Mark emotionally and physically transitions. With more than 6 years together, we are constantly evolving and changing. Together. Neither he nor I are the same people from when we first met. And that applies to everybody in the world. People are not stagnant beings. I love him more every day, and I love the way he is changing. It’s like watching a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. At first, I was confused and scared and had absolutely no idea how I was going to be with him and cope with the transition. It has initiated many discussions and thoughts I haven’t had before and, at first, didn’t know how to deal with. We just keep talking and talking and I am now embracing my new feelings and ideas, and I am actually happy with that. When it is just me and Mark, I feel safe and happy. When we are with people who we know and who understand, I feel safe and happy. When we have to deal with the larger world, I feel insecure and sad and confused. However, I have never had those feelings when I think of Mark, or when I am with Mark. With him, I am truly, truly happy. But when his transitioning started, this happiness did not happen overnight. Like I said, I had to work and am still working through things.

6          How are you coping as Mark’s body becomes more masculine?

He looks better. He knows this and I freely tell him this. He just looks, and moves, right. And he definitely still does it for me. His body is becoming more masculine, but differently. I can’t put my finger on it. I guess I do have a thing for sporty, muscular types, and I’m getting that from Mark. It’s odd seeing his body developing muscle and becoming streamlined without making daily trips to the gym! Although I’m not into biological men, I am actually enjoying the changes to Mark’s body. He is now exuding confidence in his body and I find that sexy.

7          Do you ever see yourself becoming the wife to his husband?

No, because I don’t wish to conform to stereotypes or what society expects of me. I became Mark’s civil partner because I wanted to declare my undying love for him in front of the most important people in my life. I wanted them to share a tiny fraction of the joy I feel inside by being with Mark. I wanted to make a very public statement, because I have felt sidelined for a lot of my life. I think because of how I present myself due to my insecurities, I rarely get taken seriously. I tend to make light of things. I therefore felt that having the civil partnership would solidify our relationship in other people’s eyes.

8          Does Mark’s transition make you straight?

Here are the facts: Yes, I am in love with him. Yes, I am in a relationship with him. But no, that doesn’t make me a straight woman. I am a lesbian and that doesn’t change.

I found this website which might be helpful… http://www.forge-forward.org/handouts/Transpositioned.html

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We are who we are – she a lesbian, me a queer transman, and for us, that works. We have to work hard, and talk harder, and re-learn each other’s bodies and responses, but ultimately I believe that when you can be honest with someone, and your tummy still goes funny when you see them, all is good.