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A lurking fear … of what?

  • Posted on May 14, 2012 at 9:46 am

Disclaimer. I would like this post to be read as a question mark rather than just a personal statement, and certainly not as a personal challenge to anyone, because it is important to so many people who undergo gender transition as part of a family. It is not a statement of right or wrong, it is an exploration.

So, I come out as transgender.

‘No! For goodness sake, I’m not gay!’

By which I mean, really, please understand that this is about gender, not sexual orientation. It’s about what I am, and it doesn’t change what I do. Am I so assertive only because it confuses things? I like to think so.

‘Well, are you a lesbian then?!’

Er, yes, I think that’s a good description, but I prefer the adjective to the noun.

The funny thing is, gender dysphoria still makes you question your orientation, how it might change, and compare it with people you’ve never really had to identify with before. Suddenly, instead of being a hetero male, I’m in another minority that might not wholeheartedly welcome my membership! I’m OK with that, actually, but it does something to other people. Being associated with me, then, does two things to other people. ‘I have a friend/husband/father/colleague who is a trans lesbian woman!’ Fame – or complication. So what does that make you? I am the daughter/friend/wife/colleague of … Oh dear. You didn’t ask for that, did you? And I am sorry – neither did I.

This thought-piece is not about what has been lost. We all lose something when gender comes into question, because we hung a lot of washing on that line. This is about what is not lost. This is about the person who has the gender dysphoria, who always had it but mostly hidden. And mine isn’t hidden any more.

It’s about that thought: Oh my goodness! What do I make you?

I would like to question whether I make you anything at all, other than someone who understand, loves, cares, empathises, stands by and so on. You are only what you willingly make yourself.


Alex Drummond, in her book Grrl Alex, recounts a conference speaker asking if members of the audience would be happy to read Gay Times openly on the train. We are not homophobic, are we? Not at all. But there is a hiccup in there for many of us. We describe the feeling as ‘being misunderstood’, not as being homophobic, heaven forbid!

So what is the fear? ‘I don’t dislike it, it’s just not me!’

Is that all? I wonder whether there is a fear, and a secondary fear too. Richard Beard in Becoming Drusilla (recommended reading!) records a sensation of ‘transphobia-phobia’, interpreting his discomfort of being with Dru (in her transitioning phase) in the presence of people who might be less than friendly. Yes, we are afraid of having to show we are unafraid to people who are afraid. People who are afraid, I suggest, that happy LGBT people undermine not just social order, but personal security in being ‘normal’.

‘What if I get too happy being with gay/lesbian/trans people and I feel too comfortable? Does that mean … that I might not be straight??! What will people think of me? What will I think of myself?’

Personally, I think it is vitally important that we come to understand exactly why we have any discomforts. Is it that we feel ‘unselfed’ by misidentification as something other people don’t always like? Or that we become a proxy target? Perhaps those discomforts are nothing more than our insecurities.

What I make you

I hope this isn’t an unfair thought experiment, but try it anyway, and don’t blame me if you don’t altogether like it. It’s about understanding, not about making decisions.

Disclaimer. Again, this is meant for people in relationships everywhere, struggling with this experience. Swap the genders round – it’s the same story.

You are lying in the dark with your lover. Their hand is gentle, and you trust it. The hand treats you with respect and with tenderness. It explores, it reassures, it loves. It feels safe. It feels good. Very good. And it is just as it has happened a thousand, ten thousand, times, catching you in all moods, interpreting you.

You are lying in the dark with your lover … you drift off to sleep, you awake. Their hand is … there, at rest. The sun has risen; you turn. And you see in your lover that something has changed.

Not their love, not their intent or respect. Not their eyes and the look in them when they meet yours. Not their hand. Not their tender kiss; not their tongue. These are all the same.

Your lover, you know (you may not see), has changed their gender.

This, you realise, is the hand of a woman. These are the eyes of a woman, the kiss and tongue of a woman. And their hand is … there. As it has thousands of times before. Respecting, loving, even worshiping … you.

What does this make you? Why does it give such discomfort? What is the fear? Do you feel drawn into a strange world from which you’ve always felt safe? And from all those ‘other people like this’ that you are being made to feel one of? Are you just afraid of being misidentified? When you lay there in the dark, before the sun rose, what was in your mind, or either of your hearts? Why was it so important, in this situation, your lover’s gender?

Here we are not looking at the procreative possibilities, they may be long past. No, we are talking about the expression of love. If the touch is not different, nor the intent, the love – what is the fear? What causes the tinge of distaste, and the – well – inappropriateness? What was it you liked, there in the dark? What is it really that you don’t like, in the risen sun?

(I like to end as I began:)

‘No! For goodness sake, I’m not a lesbian!’

By which you mean, really – what?

That accepting what is offered changes your sexual orientation? That it changes what you can and cannot do as an expression of human love? That it changes what you are?

And what is it, that you think changes you? The hand? Or you?


I only mean to encourage a deeper probing of why we are so unsettled by gender, and why, I suspect, homophobia (even heterophobia) and transphobia can lurk in every one of us. None of us changes anyone else without them being changed by their own fears and insecurities, not ours. Given how we have all been educated in the meaning of gender, it is quite understandable. And it is strong; strong enough to block the love intended or given in intimate spaces, often over many years. But that does not make it the only possible response, when we allow ourselves to reinterpret gender for a better fit. For all of us, it’s not about trying harder, it’s about letting go.