Tokenized: So, Who’s the Woman in the Trans Relationship?
Submission by Sylvia Renee, TNG columnist
Gender (much like sex) can quickly become very sticky, messy, and satisfying when it is done in a way that feels right. At the same time, when it is done wrong, it is all you can do to keep yourself from counting ceiling tiles until it is finally over. Even though we should all know that sex and gender are separate categories, that does not mean that they aren’t intermingling like the pile of laundry on my floor.
One of my best friends recently had the realization that in her relationships with butch/androgynous/trans spectrum partners that there has periodically been an expectation that her own gender identity would compliment her partners. Despite what others may say based solely on her presentation, she is by no means a femme. As she looked deeper, she found hers was not an uncommon experience.
So this got me thinking: what has this dynamic been liker for my partner and I?
In a lot of ways our case is an exception. For starters, not many relationships can survive a transitioning partner. Additionally, my partner did not identify as a lesbian or even as bi-sexual before I started transitioning.
One of the first things that happened after I started being more true to myself is that she became considerably more feminine with me. It was never really stated in so many words but it was like she was competing with me to prove that she was still “the women” in our relationship. She was afraid of how people would see her when they saw us.
As we both became more comfortable with our genders, it quickly became apparent that that was one fight she was never going to win. While I brought my A-game honed through years of secretive study, what really ended the contest was the realization that she was playing the wrong game. When she had the space to choose her own gender rather than accept what had been handed down to her, she adopted a more androgynous/butch sense of style.
As we struggled to free ourselves from conventions of who should be doing what according to some nonsensical standard and started doing the things that fit out personalities we both became happier. I could be the cook and the one who kills spiders. The fact is that these contradictions, if they can even be called that, exist in all of us regardless of identify. It is just a question of whether or not we are willing to “run out of give-a-fuck” as a member of my chosen family would so eloquently put it. That is, just quite caring about ‘acting appropriately’ and start embracing all of those tangled and knotty bits.
For my own part, I never felt that she was an accessory to my gender identity. Maybe that was due to my own political commitments. Or, more likely, because I have enough trouble putting together an outfit without coordinating a whole other person into it. Besides, for as attractive as I find her she makes a poor substitute for shiny things that are much more easily attached to my body.
The really interesting stuff came when we started dating our (very butch) girlfriend. Whenever either of us were around our girlfriend, it seems like other people are more likely to read her as a woman. As if being in the presence of two people more easily identified as women were able to confer a degree of lesbian authenticity. “Oh that one is obviously a lesbian so that must be her girlfriend.” Or, if it is just the gf and I it is more to the tune of “… I am so confused about what is going on here.”
At a broader level, I would be willing to say that most people struggle with similar issues at some point in our lives – especially LGBTQIA people. With all of the cultural messages about what it really means to be a certain gender burrowing their way into us like a brain slug, it seems all but impossible to not feel some kind of guilt for feeling like there is some mutual agreement that has been broken. At the end of the day, no one is ever completely able to escape the cultural gendered expectations. All any of us can do is see them for what they are, accept the parts that we like and reject the parts that we dont and just try to not give a fuck.
In a totalizing system, there is no outside space of resistance, only the small moments that we are always fighting for within it. And it is so worth every second.
What about you? How have you navigated the minefield of interpersonal gender?
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