My partner, K, and I have been together for 2 and a half years. When we first met I would have identified myself as a dyke, and on some days I still claim that title. But now, as I see myself more and more as a trans identified person, I thought it might be good and necessary to ask her a few questions. I was curious about some particular aspects of how she is dealing with this transition, and I wanted to give her the space to speak and air any joys or concerns.
I met K at the wildly popular grocery store chain by which I am currently employed. She was one of the people who trained me. That isn’t to say she was my supervisor–but rather one of the best worker bees this particular grocer has ever had. So she was one of the lucky ones who got to train the new assholes. And luckily, I was one of those assholes.
K was quiet and mysterious. She was direct and kind. She had curly hair that flirted with me when she wasn’t looking and wore chunky glasses that couldn’t hide how hot she was.* I liked her immediately. I loved her, I would say, right from the start, but as I was in a relationship with someone else, my heart hid that love. It didn’t do a very good job. I uncovered it on the beach of Lake Michigan as we looked out at the water and hoped. I found this love in between the pages of poetry we read to each other, underneath blueberries at breakfast in her studio apartment, and through stolen glances we shot one and other over rows of apples and in the frigid walk-in freezer.
K has been my unwavering support during this time of discovery and uncertainty. She has allowed me the safe space to be myself, and has given me the encouragement to believe that I can do this, that I can be the support I need, that I can rely on myself. So, I asked K a few questions, and she was gracious enough to answer. Below you will find those answers unedited and in her own voice:
1. How do you identify your gender?
As female. My expression of “femaleness” has varied stylistically over the years: one part riot grrl to one part soft butch, plus a fair measure of art school androgyny-loving queer. I’ve now settled into a less effortful, more genuinely myself expression of my gender—a sort-of crunchy femininity with fitted clothes that flatter my body, but without the hyped-up, high-maintenance performative femininity of “high femmes.”
2. What are you most looking forward to from my top surgery?
I’m looking forward to what I perceive as your coming into greater alignment with yourself.
I’ve known you through many manifestations of ‘you.’ I remember the ‘you’ that diligently maintained her shaved legs and underarms, and who was, at the outset of our relationship, maybe a little intimidated at the prospect of being with an unshaven femme. I remember a you who would brag about how nice her tits looked in a snug T-shirt (and though this observation was absolutely spot-on, it never quite “rung true” as being how you really felt about yourself or your body, and seemed to me instead like you were feeling out the territory—perhaps trying to get me to reveal my own attachment to something you felt ambivalent about, or maybe—through my corroboration—learn to love them yourself).**
I’m looking forward to observing a new ease in you after top surgery. I think you’ll start to experience being in the world as generally more pleasurable and less stressful. I like to imagine that all the days will feel more like this one: an early spring; the first chance after the cold season to stretch your legs out before you at a sidewalk cafe—hands behind your head—and feel the sweet kiss of the sun on your body.
3. What are your concerns for surgery?
Well, the logistics: the challenge of navigating new cities, neighborhoods and public transit systems can always be, to a certain degree, stressful—add to this the importance of arriving on time for surgical appointments in the least agitated state possible…yeah. But having identified this before finding ourselves in the heat of the situation, I think we’re in good position to combat it. We’re flying into Cleveland days early, anyway, so there will be plenty of time to get acclimated.
My other primary concerns are about family stuff: my dad lives in Northeast Ohio and has generously invited us to spend a week with him post-surgery while you recover. So while he’s totally great and being really respectful of the whole situation, there still exists the interesting circumstance of our having to deal with this really private thing around him and his girlfriend, who we don’t know very well.
I don’t have any real concerns about the surgery itself. In the first place, it’s not terribly complicated, but moreover, you’re in good health, your surgeon and his staff are competent, likable, and among the best at what they do, and I know in my gut that it’s gonna go smoothly.
The hardest part will be helping you to relax—but then again, I guess that’s my specialty 😉
4. What do you enjoy about having a trans-identified partner?
You are the first trans-identified partner I’ve had! (Though I wonder if some of the folks I’ve dated in years past, if pointedly questioned about their gender identities now—in the context of the growing cultural awareness/acceptance of trans people—wouldn’t claim a more nuanced gender…)
I like it. I’ve always embraced the “full spectrum” –type label with regard to my sexual orientation, having had intimate contact of some sort with straight, bi, and gay men, and straight, bi, and gay women. I have always been attracted to queerness.
I am not coming from a place of having ever really privileged the body over the person, and am fluid enough in my appreciation of aspects of both men’s and women’s bodies (to say nothing of “masculine” and “feminine” character traits) that, to me, a (read = the right) trans person seems poised to be just this perfectly dreamy fusion of some of the best offerings from the two distinct sexes.
So lucky me.
Plus, I think it’s really important not to see the world (or people) in black and white, so if I’m with someone who understands complexity on such a deeply personal level, the odds are greater that they will be able to see and be sensitive to all the variegated shades of myself.
5. What challenges do you face as the partner of a trans individual?
This remains to be seen. While understanding your name change to have something to do with gender, the majority of our friends, while supportive, are not yet privvy to the whole conversation. There are so many subtleties—a male-contoured chest, but female pronouns?
I think your trans-ness might be largely overlooked (by people who know us) and not commented upon, in which case things will remain laregly unchanged for both of us. If, in the future, we do start asking people to use different pronouns and effectively “think” of us differently, I’m sure it will be unprecendentedly challenging for everyone involved—not ‘cause they don’t love you and won’t want to do what makes you most comfortable, but just because, well—old habits die hard, and it’s a lot of brain re-wiring to do.
6. How does having a trans-identified partner affect your own identitiy in the queer community?
While this is difficult to answer in that—at present—I don’t really feel connected to a queer community at all, I think that if people somehow started reading us as a straight couple I would find it mildly troubling. I mean, I’m sure it already happens sometimes and I don’t even know it—so no harm, no foul—but geez, to be thought of as so persistently common—I guess it just offends my vainly colorful ideas about myself. 😉
The queer community we left in Chicago was exceptionally progressive—all the dykes I know will be cool about it (as they’ve been gracious all along about accepting my self-labeling as “queer” regardless of the genders of people I’ve been involved with along the way). Furthermore, I’m secure enough in my own identity to be unmoved by anyone who might dare to insinuate that I’m somehow a “traitor” to the lesbian cause or perpetuating heteronormativity. I won’t say, “they can suck it,” but will instead compassionatley observe that they are deeply and sadly out of touch.
And to sum up, a quick note from Eli:
I wanted to add some links here for resources for the partners, no matter their identity, of trans individuals. Forgive me if some of these sources overlap, but I do like to be thorough. 😉
–Partners of FTM: A Live Journal community for, well, obviously.
-Hudson’s Guide links for SOFFAs of FTMs
-Maddox’s post on resources for allies of FTMs
–TNET, the trans arm of PFLAG (and find PFLAG’s support guide for trans allies here.)
-Michigan State University has a good resource list here for FTMs and their allies
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
*She is still all these things.
**Christ, she’s fucking insightful too.