Oh, sorry, haven’t I mentioned it before? No, it hasn’t a lot to do with gender I suppose. But this is one of those really niggly bits of the loss and attachment equation that I have yet to get my head around. It isn’t just friends and observers of trans* people who wonder about our sexuality when we transition, and it is admittedly confusing. Stuff yourself with hormones and you can’t be surprised if you feel a bit different. I don’t actually think it’s changed me a lot, apart from shunting my sex drive into a siding. I was never attracted in the slightest by another man, and I don’t believe that it was an aversion due to my feeling an outsider in the gender game. I just was never gay. But I was reflecting with my psychiatrist at Charing Cross before Christmas, that my acute need to have a girlfriend in my teens was as much the freedom to identify with female company as it was a directly sexual urge. I do know that I just felt safe to be with a girl, and less safe not to. My relationship with women must always have held that sense of safety in being me with them that was so different from feeling an outsider among men.
So what now? I have already admitted that the person who made me feel most a woman post-transition, was a man. That woke me up to the possibility that intimacy with a man was no longer out of the question, and it wasn’t just losing an aversion. What if I was actually loved by a man? Well, I may never know! A lesbian friend pointed out that I am not exactly presenting as a lesbian myself either, rather as a very ordinary, if slightly elegant, middle-aged woman. And yet (though maybe it is just experience over a lifetime) it is the way women love that still comforts me most.
Which brings me back to attachment and its relation to attraction.
Do people really only form real attachments so they can have sex? It certainly is very bonding, and I guess when you have had sex with the same person maybe more than five thousand times, and can’t remember more than one or two times when it wasn’t a wonderful and lovely thing to share, you must be pretty firmly bonded. But I guess it is just as true that if another person isn’t attractive, or ceases to be so, then it isn’t as obvious to have sex and bond. But lots of things make people unattractive, from illness to behaviour to age. Oh, and switching their gender presentation. So is sexual attraction the electromagnetism of attachment? Switch it off and everything falls apart?
What really happens to attachment, and what have you lost? A sex partner? Or a real partner with whom you bonded through sex? What were you attached to – just the attractive part? And was the attachment dependent on sexual bonding?
This has quite floored me, because for all my letting-go ruminations in a previous blog (to be continued) I am still searching for one good reason to wave 32 very good years of partnership goodbye. Does sexual intimacy have to depend on a binary idea? Or can attraction be learned (if you want to, of course), and just as being old and wrinkly or impotent need not stop people loving each other – and being wonderfully comforting and intimate – can late transition be a process of learning wonderful and loving things over again? (Simply because the other person is valued, even lovely in their own right?)
Maybe it is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees, because we have been conditioned, and have conditioned ourselves to see the obvious. My attitude to life has increasingly become one of ‘why not?’. It has always been the way I work, but even more now, the way I think about self-expression. I really did think that partnership and intimacy could survive, that new things could be learned and that things that felt nice to do before, since they would be done the same way and feel the same, could go on being done. But I guess I was looking at the wood. (Look, I’m sorry, if that’s a double entendre for you, if so, just think ‘forest’! – or is that just as bad?)
Looking back on the past ten months and my complete loss of any intimacy, let alone anything remotely sexual, I can’t help realising what a proportionately small part sex actually played. I don’t think it helped me go to work, drive safely, fix the house or mow the grass, or enjoy a night out for a meal or a film. I miss both intimacy and partnership. The complete absence of intimacy is desperately hard for me; it’s like sensory deprivation and at times is a torture. The company can be filled in, and I have enjoyed the company of lovely friends since living alone. I am free to spontaneously change plans, see who I like and when, entertain and be entertained, and be with women without fear of it looking like an affair. But in the end, that 32 years of daily communication, reassuring and being reassured, being welcomed and welcoming, listening and being heard, ended abruptly just because I would never have been chosen as a sexual partner as a woman, feels bewildering and nonsensical. To me. I don’t miss it, I miss us.
The eyes have it
It is a real irony that people say what lovely eyes I have. They like the way I do my make-up, but they say my eyes show who I am, and are feminine. But they really are the same eyes. I don’t do anything different with them! I seem to remember that it was my eyes that were attractive in the beginning, long before I took any clothes off. And I can’t help thinking that a lot of the way I have always been, as a partner, as a lover, even as a parent, was always a part and expression of what I am seen to be now. So some essence of Andie the woman was part of being attractive. Certainly I was different in many ways, a bit unusual. But so long as it was a different kind of man, that was OK.
So I am still stumped. How can I ever be attractive enough to generate the kind of bonding that might create partnership and attachment? Because I haven’t a clue. Everything I believed has been undermined by experience. I gave everything, and suddenly nothing was good enough. When I say ‘bewildered’, that is what I mean. It feels like arriving, but finding yourself alone in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to get you out. Not even a map.
Sex? It doesn’t just mean fucking, to me; it means expressing love through affection, intimacy, touch, arousal and the greatest tenderness with the greatest vulnerability. Will I ever experience that again, if the element of attraction has gone forever, even with someone I knew so well for so long? And will I ever know real attachment again? Or is attachment itself a bad thing? Is partnership something else, that I have never really understood, that is a lesser thing than I thought?
Somehow I lost everything, and I don’t even know if I am allowed to expect even a shadow of what I had ever again. I just didn’t realise that I needed a wholly unambiguous gender identity in order to have that kind of personal value.
So here we are. Sex? Partnership? Commitment? I am bewildered, though of course to you it might just all be so obvious you wonder why I even think these things …