Terms and Conditions: When A Cis Woman Dates A Trans Man
Maureen’s post about living a double life (queer by day, straight-assumed by night) and Sylvia Renee’s question “how have you navigated the minefield of interpersonal gender?” got me thinking about my own relationship with gender and the closet. Namely, I’m not in the closet and don’t want to be, but these days it’s oddly hard for me to avoid — not because I face bigoted parents or discrimination at work; nothing like that. The problem, such as it is, is that I’m a cisgender girl dating a transgender boy.
Clearly my problem is a rather minor one, particularly compared to those my person and other transpeople face daily. But it does present an awkward situation I haven’t yet untangled. It comes down to the intractable issue of Titles. What do we call each other? The paucity of terms is a problem lots of couples of all gender combinations face. An older unmarried straight couple I know lament that their options are limited to the sexless “partner” and the geriatric “companion.” But for queer people it can feel like a choice between being in the closet or out.
The gender-neutral options look bleak. Even if “partner” weren’t too marital for my taste, it calls to mind lawyers and business partners. (Google-image “partner” and you’ll find a slew of stock images of suit-jacketed arms shaking hands.) “Special friend” is too revolting to merit further discussion. “Significant other” isn’t the worst, but it doesn’t really have a place outside advice columns. It’s a little stilted for dropping into conversation: “Oh, I’m just having dinner with my significant other.”
Boyfriend and girlfriend would be simplest, of course, but neither of us is crazy about being a boyfriend or girlfriend, respectively. We’re both committed to having a queer relationship; that is, one we make from scratch, considering our individual desires and needs, rather than what I think of as ticky-tacky relationships: they all look just the same.
BF and GF (especially GF) feel, as my person points out, prescriptive. Visions of Rory Gilmore dance in my head. And with all gender-specific terms (beau? lover boy? gentleman caller?) there’s the invisibility problem. I casually mention my boyfriend and suddenly I’m straight. Is that so terrible? Well, it makes me feel like I’m hiding my queerness — like I’m retreating into the closet. Even someone who meets me in a queer context might well assume from that word that I’m in a straight relationship. The people I meet in the rest of my life almost certainly will. “Boyfriend” and its ilk also elide part of his identity. He wants people to respect his gender (by using the right pronouns and so forth), but his ultimate goal isn’t for everyone to think he’s a cis boy. For many of the same reasons I want to be recognized as queer, to know that my identity and experiences aren’t buried beneath a heap of assumptions, he usually wants to be recognized as genderqueer. But it feels absurd—and absurdly insistent on my queerness—to talk about “my trans boyfriend,” or “my boyfriend, who’s trans,” or whatever other cumbersome construction I could invent.
I find myself avoiding mentioning him to people who don’t know the whole story, simply because I don’t know what to call him. I speak cryptically to avoid choosing a title. Once I begged off drinks with my coworkers because I was “meeting someone.” It was fine the first time I said it, but it sounded more and more evasive as I had to repeat it. Who was this “someone,” my colleagues’ looks demanded, and why was I being so fishy about him or her?
Privately, as you’ve probably gathered, he’s my “person,” and I’m his. The word feels good—malleable, comfortable. I use it here because I have the rare opportunity to explain myself. Would it were so simple with the rest of the world. Think there’s a chance in hell I can introduce the term casually, like it’s already in circulation and you’re just not hip enough to have heard it yet? I fear this could only end like “fetch,” with Regina George screaming at me, “Stop trying to make ‘person’ happen! It’s not going to happen!”
So, what do you think?
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