#lovewins Friday exploded in an Internet rainbow. Every mainstream media title had its report, and the world cheer that came with it drowned for a while the dissenting voices. Rainbow backgrounds flooded Facebook faces, flags waved and people celebrated. I celebrated, and shared my feelings because after many months of debate, the US Supreme Court by a fairly narrow margin, voted to ensure equal marriage rights to all couples, regardless of gender, in all states. It really did feel like a moment in history, when rainbow fireworks shot into a dark sky to be seen unavoidably worldwide. The message wasn’t…
OK, so there’s a lot going on in my life still. My partner and I are stepping into another phase of not so much coming out, as realising that disclosure is a complicated package. Disclosure in this case is unwrapping the fact that we are a same-sex couple from two different countries and back-cultures, of very different age, where one of us is transsexual, a matter requiring explanation in its own right. That’s difficult when I am unfamiliar with German websites that tell a clear and factual account of what trans anything or everything means. I wouldn’t want to introduce any confusion over cross-dressing and drag and how I am. I even need still to explain to people in English that half the trans spectrum is what you do and half is what you are.
My crash course in learning German from the rudiments of 30 years ago will not equip me in time to hold that meaningful sensitive conversation with the other family …
The bigger problem may actually be our age difference. We have to acknowledge our own anxieties about the distant future, because the raw numbers are unavoidable, and temper them with ‘now’, and ‘love’ and ‘kindness’. It is an interesting perspective in its own right, because I suspect we both eschew the standard expectation of ‘meet in your twenties, marry and live happily ever after’. We both start from base-points different from this, we both look at our pasts and wonder why it took so long to get where we are, and want to do or achieve so much more. What we have now in each other is much more than falling in love, and we want to do something with it, not have to worry about decades ahead, nor have to explain our unusual combination as partners. We must use our time well, and make these the best years of our lives, because they are dynamic and good.
Whatever parts of our unusual partnership cause others concern (lesbian, intellectual, mixed-age, mixed-nationality, transsexual etc.) we should have no requirement to make anyone else feel comfortable with it. This theme has run through a lot of my blog narrative from the start. I have been very open in order to avoid misunderstanding, to inform, and to head off opinionated gossip. I have been an education, and now together, we are being an education. Bugger ‘what’ we are in any aspect – we have a deep respect and love for each other, and a great ease in living together. That in itself is more than many have. But whether it’s my ‘Midas touch’ description, or last week’s disingenuous interjection in the theatre, we are always among people who would prefer us to conform to their ideals, even if they say we are not problematic.
Which brings me back to the ‘think abut the children’ phrase that gets trotted out as some kind of moral protectionism, when all it is in fact is a human shield against adult prejudice and fixity. Whether the concern is about gender or sexuality, it matters for all those transgender and transsexual children whose status is at last being understood, and all those children who are educated and informed enough to know that being born non-heterosexual is not immoral. Gender and sexuality are not acquired and are non-contagious. People who are non-cis-heteronormative are not a movement or a lobby and we do not undermine society. And yet we are compared to nuclear weapons, blamed for earthquakes, and for violence in society through undermining the moral fabric. We are not actually liked for being the way we were born, because we challenge cultural ideals.
We are not the children our parents thought we were, so often. They, who were once children too, acquired an idea of what would make them ‘successful’ and applauded parents, and we may disappoint them. If we are very young, we place them in an awkward position with other parents and with their own parents and friends. If we are adult, we challenge their expectations of being proud parents, or perhaps grandparents. The core message to all of us is that we must listen to children and not assume we are right and they are too young to know. Further, that by impressing our negative views on them about sexuality and gender being a lifestyle choice, we are suppressing the truth and risk making them repressed as individuals. Children need no protection against same-sex couples, nor against transgender people. They need to know, so that they don’t repeat the same prejudice and fear, and are free to find their authentic selves. Only by doing so can they grow up as whole people, without the struggles that I and my partner are still facing as mature adults in family, peer circles and society at large.
Congratulations! You’re the subject of my blog this week! 12,000 page reads a month; that means you’re almost famous! But don’t worry; sorry, what’s your name? (Just so I don’t get it wrong.)
Things you wished you could have said. Or I could have just said ‘hakuna matata’. We were sitting in the interval at The Lion King in London. Yes, sharing a little affection, but not so totally engrossed, if you understand. It was a celebration day out for being together six months and for having moved in completely together at last. A kiss didn’t seem amiss in the circumstances.
‘Excuse me ladies, but can you cut it out?’ came from behind, followed by the usual ‘I’ve got nothing against it personally, I don’t have a problem with it’ (of course not), ‘but there are two nine year old girls here.’
We were both quite taken aback. I’ve had direct abuse and objection both as trans, and as a woman, and I guess I hadn’t expected, after everything I’ve been through, objection to being openly lesbian. Surely times have moved on? What annoyed me most was not being able to have the conversation – like ‘maybe your daughter or her friend will come out as lesbian when they’re older, and need to know it’s normal?’, or: ’But you do have a problem with “it”, don’t you? Why is that?’. I really don’t understand why love and affection between women is immediately perceived by some as some display of kinky sex, or perversion, especially when media, films and the Internet are sexualised in so many less tasteful ways. Who needs protecting from two women kissing, when kissing between different-sex people is everywhere and OK?
God knows what he would have said if I had replied: ‘It’s OK, I used to be a man!’
The show was absolutely brilliant. The lionesses triumphed over evil, and well, it was ‘pride on stage’, wasn’t it! But that little interjection tainted our day a bit, and made us think. We had just watched a street performer in union jack underpants give a suggestive performance constructed around his unique ability to be sandwiched between two beds of nails whilst a beefy man from his audience stood on top of him. What about the children?!
Love between people of the same sex (or gender) is probably encoded before birth, according to familial-trait research published last November, so if anything, we are an education in the way things are, and by being open, others will know that it is natural and OK to love someone of the same sex and/or gender.
This same point was made in a mainstream news article this week by a lesbian teacher – or rather a teacher who is lesbian. She learned that hiding her sexuality was not just an invitation to gossip among colleagues and students, but had led to direct discrimination resulting in loss of a job, when she refused to effectively renounce her sexuality. (She was asked directly to behave ‘less lesbian’, despite being of the very femme variety.) Her realisation, while helping to make a documentary, was to understand that being open was an education and an enabler to colleagues and students alike: it is OK to be LGBT.
Today an article circulated about a town in Baltimore, where the local residents have written to a woman who had a rainbow-coloured display in her garden (yard) saying that it was too gay: ‘this is a Christian area and there are children’. I am still unclear about the children argument: are these people worried about corruption? Or that LGBT natures are contagious? Or that we are perverted, predatory even? This latter ‘fear’ lies behind the US ‘bathroom bills’ and gender-policing of loos. The result last week was a cis woman in the US suing a company for being roughly ejected from a ladies’ loos by a security man (yes, in the ladies’ loos) because she looked too masculine or butch.
No good can come from this objection to LGBT people being open.
Why do we have ‘closets’ at all? Why do LGBT people live in them? If your minority identity is race, you can’t hide it, you have to live with it (and any prejudice) and suffer with it, forcing society ultimately to come to terms with racial diversity. Sexual diversity has found greater acceptance, but unlike race, people can still say ‘be what you like so long as you do it in private’, as if being LGBTQIA… is shameful. It is not! Consequently, trans people top the league in attempted and successful suicide rates. People dare not ‘come out’ for fear of livelihoods, loss of family, social status, even their lives.
Closer to home, I know that I may be acceptable in appearance, but that I am nonetheless noticeably different. I cannot pretend not to have trans history, and therefore there are times (such as ‘meet the parents’) where I need it to be known that I am trans and that it’s OK. Also, I have no intention of avoiding holding hands or kissing as a lesbian woman, just to save upsetting someone else who would not be upset by a hetero couple doing the same.
One morning we were saying goodbye on our ways to work, with a hug and a kiss on the street corner. A young woman came by, murmured her approval, then turned back and smiled and said how sweet we were. Now that’s nice; that’s kind; that’s real.
This weekend, amid a little chaos over furniture non-delivery – jobsworth delivery drivers who sat on a double yellow outside my flat, talking to me on the phone for ten minutes over not being allowed to unload on a double yellow – my partner moved her remaining belongings into our flat. Not a lot changed, other than a final underlining of how we live happily together. Life is very normal, and in Brighton, lesbian couples are common enough for us never to even think about it, and never to get so much as a sideways glance. Last weekend was spent travelling with a concert band, where I played three concerts and she took photos and carried kit. I think we are the first lesbian couple openly associated with the band, and we had a big double bed (comfortable and fun).
And yet, outside our world there is continued turbulence over the validity of same-sex love, and of the authenticity of my gender as a trans woman. This weekend so much has rumbled on over Caitlyn Jenner and much transphobia in the press and media. Defence, support, criticism, much-noted privilege of wealth and fame, and a deal of dismissal and even hate. Someone publicly transitioning (inevitable for any well-known or celebrity figure anyway) has stirred all the same feelings about gender dysphoria by people apparently quite ignorant of genetics, chromosomal variance, intersex and meaning of gender.
Again and again, gender dysphoria is dismissed, belittled as a preference, labelled as selfish, described as a transgression or a sinful attitude, and people like me who speak out are subversives in society. It seems I am part of a trans activist movement set to undermine society and the natural order. Not far out along the spokes of my social wheel there is discomfort and rejection, either of me as transsexual, or of my relationship as lesbian.
I played table tennis in the sun today in a public park, with my partner and a girl friend. We had a picnic and great fun relaxing the rules of table tennis. We took pictures of each other as we played, and looking back at them at home, I was filled with a sense of deep happiness. The natural girl in the picture was me; my partner was wearing one of my dresses; all three of us looked really happy. This time last year I was waiting for final surgery, and this year I am happy. Last year I was tail-ending gender dysphoria, and this year I feel complete. My sense of self is so different from my previous life that I have no doubts whatsoever about this course of transition. I feel resolved, and I feel I finally understand all my previous feelings about non-belonging in the world.
And yet public comment on the validity of trans identities remains so negative. I am a freak, I am misguided, feminists still say that because I never started a period in an awkward place, never got hassled by a man, never had my boobs gawped at or had those teenage years of sex and confusion, and never suffered reduced earnings for being a woman, that I am not a woman. Well, some of those things I have known, and quite a few women have never had periods, let alone embarrassing moments. At root are fixed thoughts and a determination not to understand, frequently with origins in religious teaching. The result is not objectivity but subjective insults and demeaning in a way reminiscent of racism. And because we seek explanations for our different sense of gender, follow the science or the sociology, we are told that we are making male and female gender essential, biological, immutable. (If we do not seek explanations, we are told it is merely personal and unfounded preference.)
I have anxieties about my widening social context, as it reaches beyond Brighton and even England, because here I do have the privilege of an accepting society, and have received very little to the contrary in the last two years. I know people discuss me as an example, and that not all want to understand, but at least it doesn’t rub off as rudeness. We still have a long way to go until people like me are considered unworthy of comment or remark, and people like me and my partner are not regarded in some way as undermining the natural order of things.
I have told the story of my own religious teenage years to my partner in recent times, and it seems a very distorted and unnatural view now. It wasn’t just prudish, it was obstructive, and led to a life of hidden self-hatred and guilt. Not just a few years, to be got over like so many teenage anxieties, but decades that affected me, my family, my marriage, and friends. I feel I could have been so much more. And why? Because of the power that religion holds in the mind and in this society. If ever anything held privilege, it is organised religion. I consider it a bogus privilege, held together by fear (what if there is a god after all who cares about my sense of self, and what might they do to me if I don’t truly believe these teachings? Best play on the safe side.)
People like me become a hate-object at worst, and an outsider at best, as a result of this thinking, even though those same religious teachings all seem also to promote love of fellow-creatures. And it is time we recognised the origins of hate of people like me. I am not to be distrusted, I am not subversive, and I am no threat to anyone. And yet there are places I could go where I most certainly would be an outcast, even in danger.
Meanwhile, I shall be happy, because I know that I am more authentic than those whose thoughts are grounded in manufactured and unexamined ideas past their sell-by date.
Being trans or having a trans partner, especially if you are the one to whom a trans partner comes out, is a huge disruption to life. It is life-changing to everyone involved, and where intimacy is affected, it can be immensely hurtful. It changes relationships because the expectations change, and whilst the trans person has come to realise there is no going back except to compromise – perhaps to hang on to a relationship – the partner really does not want to come to terms with changing the activities sustaining the relationship. Many life-changing events are more accepted and adapted to, because there is honour in braving the circumstances. There is no honour bestowed by society or friends in adapting a loving relationship to gender transition, not because the partner is mean or unloving, but because as a member of normative society, the partner is not equipped to move beyond gender perceptions.
Many transsexual people who undergo any degree of clinical intervention and are given a new lease of life in their identity freedom, go through a degree of re-examination of their sexuality. You have breasts? Who do you want to squeeze them? You have a new flat and hairy chest? Whose fingers do you want running through them? You have a vagina? How do you want to use it? We experience a certain sexuality fluidity at least for a short period of questioning. It doesn’t feel strange to do so, let alone wrong or immoral. It really is quite natural. But what it brings home to most if not all of us, is that love and trust come first. No relationship is worth anything without that. Preference finds itself. So thinking of ourselves as lesbian in place of at least a nod towards heterosexuality before, is not problematic. So sexuality per se is not ‘a thing’ to us; we just find it without fear. It is confusing, however, to realise that for ex-partners sexuality was ‘a thing’ and not open to adaptation. Love and trust did not come first, before preservation of sexuality. Is sexuality immutable? I wonder still, even though I know what my preference is. What I do know is that my gender identity is.
So whilst the media persist in connecting sex and gender, and as long as religion connects sex and sin, society will always have those who are unable to move out of the whole nexus of an established concept of normality within which people like me are making a subversive choice. Post transition people in particular will always have this unique experience of seeing both sides of sexuality and gender, from which we can derive a much more balanced attitude towards being a person.
I missed three weeks writing this blog. Just being in other places, or too busy with life really. And not having sufficient reason to write something meaningful. In the meantime I’ve been nursing a sprained ankle back to strength, clearing out a lot of clutter and being more creative about space with and for my partner. I’m liking the whole idea of restarting shared life and not being the only one to make decisions about home-making. In fact I’m liking it so much, that all that happened last year is seeming like a very long time ago indeed.
Doing this as a grown adult rather than a twenties person is quite different. We know much more what to do, and why. We can make decisions, even think slightly radical thoughts about use of space and things owned too long. We can do things we’ve done before, and things we haven’t tried yet. It’s up to us. I like this freedom, to disagree, consider, agree, act. Freedom; a few years ago I was looking for freedom to be myself by changing, and at the time a lot of what I ended up being freed from felt a lot like other people’s decisions.
Freedom is a funny old thing, that we all want, and then find one person’s freedom restricts another’s. We then get tangled in words like ‘compromise’ and ‘expectations’. Our recent UK elections gave us a sense of pride in political freedom, to vote for whoever we liked. It’s a free country. Except that two-thirds of us who are entitled to vote did not get a representative government at all. I still regularly see social media posts from people who don’t feel free to be themselves, or, if they want to express themselves, realise that being free in one way means being rejected in another, bringing instead, restrictions.
I’m free now from a whole load of things I carried all my life. I’m even free of the system that enabled me to become finally free. And yet my obligations include a job too far from home, not exactly doing what I love, and not as rewarding as I’d like. I want to be free to learn something new and use it to benefit other people, not just earn money. In this respect I am not free. Earning is an obligation that cannot be paused. Hey ho. The answer, again, is for me to work out for myself, to do what matters most to me. I think I am in another kind of transition phase, from disruption back into gradual change, and getting used to walking instead of running obstacle courses. I’m walking, quietly.
It might seem I am walking away from some things. Where am I on Facebook, or Twitter? Very quiet. Meeting less frequently with other trans* people, and contributing less to online conversations, or even trans*-related blogging. I am even thinking about letting this blog drift off into poetry, and writing about writing instead. Why not? In some ways I really am going quietly, slipping back into a steady life, where I am happily loving and living and making a new social life. I don’t need to say anything much any more; my learning is different. I was invited last week to read my poetry at a local literary gathering in Brighton, and chose a set that had really nothing much to do with my recent transition. The theme was ‘place and permission’, reflecting on various things, from clearing a deceased relative’s house to observing life as a flat-dweller, to places with memories that stay with you, where you can’t really ever go again.
Did I go quietly, when I left my comfortable existence? No; not really. I was angry and noisy and preserving my dignity all at the same time. But I have gained a sense of belonging, to places and to people, that are some new, some just changed. This is still happening, so the poetry evening was followed the next day by a trip with a band I play with, for an extended weekend of outdoor concerts in Kent. It’s something I’ve often done, but this time I was going with my partner, for who it was a new and unknown experience. It was lovely, really lovely (apart from the weather not being as warm and quiet as it might). And of course we were a couple. Just quietly there with people I’ve known for ten years, but as the only trans* person in the band and now as the only lesbian couple too. It’s very reassuring to be accepted with question or explanation.
Apart from the ff parts, and sitting right in front of the timpani, it all went quietly.