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.