It seems for trans women, that more often was with another woman in a 'heterosexual' relationship (all of my significant relationships for example), but it could be all ranges of things. Those relationships have to change if they're to survive – it’s common for a newly outed trans woman’s wife to express that she’s not a lesbian. That’s fair, maybe she’s not.
For trans men and women who identified as gay or lesbian before transitioning, too, their partner might not be able to reconcile their own sexual orientation with the transition. On The L Word Jenny tells Max (whom she had been dating prior to transition), “you identify as a straight man. So there's the mismatch, because you want me to be your straight girlfriend to your straight guy. And I identify as a lesbian, who likes to fuck girls. And you're not a girl.” Sometimes, too, the relationship does survive, but not sexually or romantically.
Part of what’s going on here is that gender identity and sexual orientation are related. For me, I tried the possibility that I might be a gay man – I got as far as kissing one or two guys, but it was mostly a handful of first dates, and I never felt like I was more in the wrong place. I tried the possibility that I was a bisexual man, too, but that didn’t really solve anything. The bisexual part might be true, but the man part wasn’t. It’s something cisgendered people may not have considered – your sexual orientation may be gay or straight, but it’s pretty important that you’re saying you’re a gay man or a lesbian woman, and you know very well they’re not the same.
I’ve heard varying estimates (whose sources seem somewhat dubious), but many transitioning people do 'switch' their objects of attraction. Although our sex hormones do not create our sexual orientation, they do seem to have a subtle bias, and many report that, when they start hormone therapy, they notice this shift (to being 'straight').
That was not the case for me. Prior to openly admitting that I was transgender, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about being a woman, sometimes with women, and sometimes with men. I occasionally, and with less success, fantasized about being a man submitting to a woman. Embarrassing to admit, I had to do things like imagine being a woman while being intimate with partners, sometimes, for it to do anything for me.
Pretty much the day I first came out, I noticed suddenly, however, that all my fantasies involved being with men, something fierce – it was like my attraction to women had just disappeared, and this was long before hormones. A lot of that has persisted – when I see pretty women, I find myself naturally drawn much more to how they do their make-up (I’m quite envious of everyone who can do better eyeliner than I can), their clothing and accessory choices and whether that’d look good on me, and any sense of lust really dropped out of how I see pretty women. My fantasy life and experience stayed like this for almost six months solid, and I was pretty sure I was on my way to being a straight girl.
On the other hand, this transition business is complex, challenging both logistically and emotionally. I was not looking for a relationship, and instead, I was just merely enjoying visions of how I might identify sexually in a year or two. Honestly, in deciding to transition, I was quite open to the idea (although I didn’t really believe it) that all of humanity would find me sexually repulsive forevermore, and I could go solo the rest of the way through if I really needed to. I had to be ready to lose anything and everything, because transitioning was really a last resort to me.
And then… and then, one night, I was out en femme. I went to a queer-friendly place that my transgender friends frequent. A group was outside talking, and a woman held the door for me and smiled. And I caught her eyes. Oh. I wanted her immediately, and later she admitted to the same. I engineered for her and her friends to come talk to my friends. It took a little encouragement. I batted my eyelashes. We had fun. We added each other on Facebook. A bald man who, it turns out, lives around the corner and is a swinger, came by and messily tried to pick up one of the lesbians in the group, and I ran interference.
We had a fun night, altogether, one where I came home dancing and singing in my kitchen at three in the morning. And everything had changed. Suddenly I was dreaming of being with women again. I continued on Facebook with the woman I’d met. To be honest, I was partially being friendly, although I felt something more. A month in I realized I hadn’t thought of being with a man in a month, and I realized when it had started. We started dating. Oh. My. God!
Let me just say that, for me anyway, being a woman with a lesbian-identified woman, especially a butch one, is so nothing like being a 'man' with a straight woman. Without getting into specifics, it takes 'creativity' sexually, this early in transitioning. And yet sex has never felt more natural, and I’ve never been in such a passionate relationship. It took some learning. We did not U-Haul. We are still together. She came with me to my first endocrinology appointment, and I want her as much on estrogen as I did before. And she accepts me. Even without make-up. Sometimes I think she only sees the woman, and I am sore amazed.
I still think I’m somewhat sexually fluid (I’m not very gender fluid… there really is no workable option other than femininity for me). For the time being, if pressed, I identify as bisexual, even though, almost four decades in, I haven’t been with any men, and I quite honestly probably never will. I could be totally into the right guy, although when I wake up next to my girlfriend, sometimes, I wonder if I already found her.
You might think I was going a little over the top with the idea that I might be sexually repulsive to everyone. Truth is, I’m kind of lucky – even this early in transition, I look halfway decent in the right dress, and my features actually look pretty feminine with just a little make-up. And girl clothes come pretty naturally to me.
But I do know some amazing people, far farther in transition, who are nice enough to look at themselves, and they say things like: “I meet people once in a while, go out on a date or two, and when I tell them I’m trans, they’re gone.” I meet people who succeeded with every other aspect of their transition, get to be themselves every day, and yet rue their loneliness.
I guess my point isn’t so much for you to go out and date a trans person, although I’m so thankful someone took a chance on me. But these people I know, they have a lot to offer, and my own experience gives me hope that maybe, there is room for us to find the loves of our lives, even, if sometimes, I feel like God played a little bit of a practical joke between my legs, you know? In any event, at least I got the right heart.
Mira Charlotte Krishnan is a psychologist and freelance blogger. She writes about transgender issues, inclusivity, feminism, and helping the queer community take its rightful place in the broader world, including the professional / business world.
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