Staying Married Through a Gender Transition

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“Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t.”

By Evan Urquhart

Six years ago, Cassie and I met and began dating as lesbians. At the time, I didn’t know I was transgender. Then about two years ago, just nine months after we were married, I told her I thought I might want to transition and live as a man. It’s hard to overstate how difficult this was for us at first, but we stuck with one another and managed to preserve our marriage. I spoke with Cassie about staying together, and about being a lesbian (or maybe not) in a relationship with a trans man.

Think back to when I first told you I thought I might want to transition. What was your initial reaction?

When you first told me, I was surprised by how angry I was. I mean, you weren’t my first experience with a trans person. I’ve had a number of friends come out, and it’s never been hard to adjust. Plus, I was in the queer dorm at UMass, and many of the kids I lived with were trans. I always figured I was well prepared for the possibility of a romantic partner coming out. I didn’t know what I’d do, exactly, but I didn’t think I’d be angry. But when you told me, I don’t know … We were trying to get me pregnant at the time, and all I could think was that you were fucking up my adorable little lesbian life.

I wasn’t!

I know. It just felt like you were. I know that’s unfair, but it’s true. I was also angry at myself, because I wasn’t actually that surprised by the news. There was no way I could convince myself that it was just a passing thought. I knew it wasn’t. We’d talked about your gender in the past, and I told you I thought you had some issues to work out. We had so many conversations about how you thought every woman would want to be a man if they could, and I would tell you, no, I wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t believe me. It was frustrating, but I forgave it, because I sensed you had some internal issues to work out. But I guess what I thought (or maybe hoped) was that one day you’d recognize a sort of queerness in yourself and stop arguing with me about my own gender, not that you would go full-on with testosterone, surgery, changing your name, everything. Now I tell people I have a husband.

It’s been really tough. How do you think we’ve managed to stay together?

A lot of things. I think I was scared at first because I didn’t think I’d end up breaking up with you. We’re so compatible in so many ways. Part of me was afraid that your personality would change so much I’d not want to be with you, but I didn’t really think that I would leave.

You felt trapped?

Marriage is a trap. That’s a weird question.

Argh. My nonjudgmental leading questions don’t work on you—you’re on to me. What eventually made it OK, when at first it didn’t feel OK?

We talked a lot, all the time, about everything. Even when it was hard, we hashed things out rather than ignoring them. And should I talk about the open relationship? We opened things up, as we’d done before, but I think it was especially important in this case.

The release valve. Not feeling like you’d never be with a woman again. Being able to explore other relationships with other people without ending everything we had to do it.

Something like that.

Do you still consider yourself a lesbian?

Oh, geez. We’re jumping to that question now?

It seemed relevant.

Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t. Part of me thinks it’s wrong to consider myself a lesbian because if I do, and I remain in a relationship with a trans guy, or even admit attraction, on a certain level, to any other trans guys, I’m effectively invalidating their gender. That said, coming out to myself was such an important thing for me. It made so much about myself make sense, not just who I was attracted to but my personality and how I interacted with the world. It made me so much happier. I don’t want to let that go.

I always said I didn’t have the power to unilaterally change your orientation.

Right, but your transition did make me think about my sexuality in a different way. A number of different people that I’ve been attracted to, whether I dated them or not, were people I thought at the time were cis women who came out later as trans men. If it was really just you, well, you could be the exception. You could be grandfathered in. But I feel like it might say something about me—about the sort of people I like—that you’re not the only one.

I’ve always butted heads a little with the lesbian community, anyway. But at the same time I feel like that’s part of what it means to be a lesbian, to butt heads with the lesbian community. I once got into a fight with a girl who said I wasn’t a real lesbian because of what I was wearing. I got kicked off a lesbian forum for saying I thought you could still be a lesbian if you had enjoyed sex with a penis, even once. God forbid.

This reminds me, we’ve been talking about trans men, but what about trans women? Are you attracted to trans women? Have you ever been with a trans woman? Do you think you can be with trans women and still be a “real lesbian”?

Yeah, I’ve been attracted to and been with trans women. I know it’s a point of contention for some people, but I think that’s silly. At least for me, if I’m hanging out, flirting, feeling attraction and chemistry with someone, then there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy having sex with that person if I get the chance. I guess if you’re only attracted to genitals, that could be more limiting, depending on the specifics, but I feel like you’re probably having pretty boring sex. Maybe I’m wrong, and to each their own, but it’s not an issue for me. And I kind of suspect it would be less of an issue for other people than they think, but they just don’t want to think about it.

So, my being a trans man was more of a threat to your sexuality than your being attracted to a trans woman was.

Yeah. I’m really not worried at all about sometimes being attracted to trans women.

Talk about my physical changes, and how you feel about them.

Well, it’s better now that you’ve come out of the weird little hole you were in. You were spending all your time on Reddit or in the other room, alone, doing God knows what. You acted so weird at first, so totally in your head about things. You never wanted to have sex, and having a conversation with you was like pulling teeth. I was more annoyed with that than anything. The actual changes didn’t bother me as much as I’d feared. I guess they’ve been gradual enough it’s been easy to get used to. But then you’d do things like repeat the same phrase three times in a slightly deeper voice, and I just had no patience for it. I was finishing a master’s degree and dealing with infertility, and I didn’t have time for your issues.

And I’ve settled down now?

Definitely. We’re about back to normal, I’d say. I’ve settled, too. At this point I’m just kind of embarrassed by how I reacted early on. I think that once I just chilled out and accepted your transition as what was happening, and as a good thing for you, our relationship could just be what it was. No pressure. We started getting closer again, and you started relaxing. Plus, we had a friend at the time, a trans girl, who helped a lot.

Because she was very political.

She was very no-nonsense. She handed you a trans pride flag at the pride parade when you were still only partially out. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that happened. She also started using male pronouns for you and calling you Evan and told me to just get over it. And I did. Probably in part because I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think I was mean. But still, it helped.

So, how are things now for our relationship?

They’re really good. I mean, there are no guarantees. Changes are still happening, and I’m sure we’ll have some ups and downs in the future. I don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re connecting again, we’re having sex again, and sometimes when someone from your family forgets and uses your old name, I have a moment where I’m not even sure who they’re talking about. You’re just my Evan. It works.

And, how do you feel about your sexuality?

I think I still see myself as a lesbian in a lot of ways, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that, but I’ve been referring to myself as queer more often, and I like that as a compromise. I feel like that word fits me pretty well, and maybe I’ll ease into using it completely in the future. But right now I’m not completely over thinking of myself as a lesbian, especially since I’m still generally more attracted to women.

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