Trans woman love
In the early 1990s when I was heavily involved with Gender Mosaic, I’d get occasional unexpected visits from members going through a trans crisis. They told me that they loved their wives and their kids, but occasional episodes of crossdressing were no longer enough to keep their life in balance. They realized their identity ran much deeper than their clothes, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the facade.
I wished I had some comfort to give them, but I could see no way out of a dilemma that was sure to cause someone serious pain. Trans lives are full of wrecked marriages and bitter feelings, some of which could have been avoided had not we been forced in the past to make compromises we couldn’t keep.
I say forced because the gender gatekeepers of that era kept many of us from our true path. In the early 90s I too would have plunged myself into such a situation. I was infatuated with a woman at the time and obliged as I was to live as a man, I thought I should make the best of it. No matter how uncomfortable I was in my own skin, I kept pounding that square peg into the round hole determined to make it fit. I was deeply attracted to this woman and we were good together and I too was ready to subsume my trans life to her cisgender one.
Fortunately for me, it never happened. Knowing I was trans made her fearful. I can’t blame her. We were on opposite sides of the same gender fence. She didn’t think she could live with my being trans while I was terrified of having my identity subsumed by a cisgender lifestyle. The only difference was I was willing to make a go of it; she was not.
She was the last woman for whom I would have made that sacrifice. After that my relationships with women became more fraught. I realized they often liked me for the things I didn’t like about myself. No matter how much I told them about being trans, my living as a male dictated what expectations they had of me. They were prepared to tolerate a bit of discreet crossdressing as long as I behaved as a regular male otherwise.
I was tired of it. It was easier being alone. To paraphrase country musician Miranda Lambert, I’d given up on love, ’cause love’d given up on me.
During this time I had a good friend with whom I’d often share drinks and dinner. Sharon had struggled long and hard to live as a woman but was now ready for her next challenge: finding love. She had never been in a loving relationship and felt the lack keenly. She didn’t much care if her lover was male or female as long as they were honest and true. This is a challenge for most people and more so for trans folks, and Sharon had lost all confidence in it ever happening. In an article for Notes from the Underground (v. 5 n. 3 pg. 7), she wrote, “I cannot be loved intimately in an emotional and sexual way because my gender identity makes me unacceptable to most people.”
Although a pessimist myself, I couldn’t accept that no one would find my kind and generous friend lovable. Sharon backed up her statement by grouping people into categories and why they found, or would find, her gender identity unacceptable. She supposed, for example, that a lesbian would find her suitable only under two conditions, “that I have had SRS [sex reassignment surgery] and that my vagina is functionally and aesthetically correct and that she does not feel that my having been born male negates my claim that I am a woman.”
Her argument wasn’t wrong for the most part, especially in 1993, but it also reduced people and their complex sexualities to categories, and ignored the many people who reside at the interstices of these groups. Our chances at love have increased if only because many people now refuse to be categorized.
Unfortunately, trans women’s experiences with men don’t seem to have improved much since 1993. Sharon likened it to being “used sexually much like an inflatable doll or a Penthouse magazine.” This brought to mind a recent article I read by Kiley May in the Huffington Post.
Although Ms May is now in a relationship, she summarizes the dilemma of many trans women. There are online apps that allow guys to connect with us, but most meetings take place furtively. Cisgender men are always asking for discretion and secrecy. “What will it take for trans-attracted guys to overcome their unfounded shame and thirst for discretion?” the article sub-head asks.
Ms Riley suggests that it stems from “internalized stigma, transphobia and homophobia”, but as serious as these things are they are just symptoms of a pervasive patriarchy that oppresses most of the world’s population. Heterosexual cisgender men can be such cowards. If they think something will endanger their privileged spot in the patriarchy – like falling for a trans woman, for example – they don’t dare challenge it. No stand by your woman for these guys. The old boys club keeps them meekly in line.
The trans woman love landscape is littered with wrecked marriages, alienated children and unworthy cisgender boyfriends who are best kicked to the curb. A young trans woman friend of mine who found love with a trans man told me this was the solution, and maybe she was right. It sometimes seems like we’re the only ones who understand and respect each other.
Perhaps the true measure of how well trans people are accepted in society is, paradoxically, how readily we are accepted in our intimate relationships.