Recently trans guy Brayden Taylor stirred up a flurry of comments on Facebook by stating unequivocally that a lesbian cannot be a lesbian and date a trans man. Soon afterward he deleted his post, replacing it with the following statement:
“I'm deleting my last status do [sic] to the fact that its blowing up my phone ... I personally would NEVER be with someone who said they were a lesbian. Sorry if I offended anyone. I personally just don't understand how that works when in today's society, [a] ‘lesbian’ is a woman who dates women. I feel like when she does that and keeps the label she is telling society that she sees her partner as a woman. I do not know ANY women in my life that would be okay marrying a man or dating a man that tells everyone he is gay.”
Just as the Supreme Court’s decisions that a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and Proposition 8 should be struck down are celebrated by thousands with the widely repeated phrase “Love Is Love;” Taylor’s post is a stark reminder that even within the LGBT community, many people do not truly believe that all love is equal.
Taylor isn’t the first person to express this idea, nor is he the only trans person to believe it. In fact, for many trans men, the love of a lesbian is suspect compared to the love of a straight woman or a gay man. Likewise for many trans women, the love of a straight woman is suspect compared to the love of a straight man or a lesbian. And for many trans people of any gender or sexual orientation, the love of a bisexual (man or woman) is also suspect.
This is because trans people worry about being seen for who they are and being seen as “real.” They fear that some attractions and some love can only happen if the other person isn’t seeing them authentically. In other words, in the view of trans men like Taylor, a lesbian-identified woman would not be with a trans man if she actually saw him as a man.
As someone who has been in a relationship with the same woman for the last 22 years, this certainly is a question I have heard before. After all, my wife, Diane, not only continued to identify as a lesbian after my transition eight years ago, she continued to run the world’s largest lesbian publication for half a dozen years after I became a man.
While some lesbians certainly questioned her right to maintain her lesbian credentials and represent the lesbian community in the media, I fielded far more questions from other trans folk about Diane’s capacity to see and love me as a “real” man.
And over the years more trans people than cisgender people have questioned whether Diane’s insistence upon retaining her own identity is a slight to my manhood.
The questions I throw back at them are many: Is the partner of someone who goes through a gender transition required to alter their own self-identification? Is your sexual orientation truly determined by the shape of your partner’s genitalia? If so, where does that leave partners of trans people who haven’t undergone genital surgery? Or maybe it’s your partner’s gender identity or gender expression that determines how you should identify? What makes our right as trans people to self-identify sacrosanct, while our partners must have their identities determined for them based on particular attributes not about themselves, but about us?
If a straight woman is married to a man and that man transitions to a woman, then we seem to want to force them into a gay relationship and require them to identify as lesbians. Likewise, when — after nearly 15 years as part of a lesbian couple — I transitioned, people seemed to believe that Diane wass required to alter her identity, because, the theory goes, she could not remain a lesbian while continuing to be with me.
I find it almost offensive that this line of argument originates so frequently from trans individuals.
Trans people have often argued, almost vehemently, that it doesn’t matter what we look like physically, it doesn’t matter what other people think, it doesn’t matter what style of clothing we wear, it doesn’t matter if our voices have changed or if we’ve undergone surgery or if we started hormone treatment — the only thing that matters is how we identify.
Once I verbalize my gender identity, I expect to be taken at my word. If I say I’m a man, I expect you to accept that I am a man. I could be wearing a dress, I could look like Miss America, and if I say I’m really a man, then you are supposed to accept that I am.
So it’s almost incomprehensible to me that we as a community or that individuals who identify as trans would not use the same logic when it comes to other people’s identities. It is not our place to identify someone else as a lesbian or as a straight person or as a bisexual person. It is completely up to them to decide and verbalize what their sexual orientation is.
This double standard is offensive. We can’t demand the freedom of self-identification for ourselves and then not allow other people that same right.
Like everyone else, Diane has the right to choose her own identities and to proclaim, “This is who I am,” and be taken at her word.
I dislike when members of any minority take it upon themselves to police their communities and determine who has the right to belong. When I first came out as trans, I was offended by a listserv moderator who suggested that some people weren’t really trans men because they were too feminine. I’ve seen this kind of policing everywhere I’ve lived and especially on the Internet, where people are more unabashed in sharing their feelings.
So it would be bad enough if the lesbian community insisted upon strict qualifications for a lesbian identity. But when someone outside that community suggests that they have a better idea of what components are essential to that identity, it is even more offensive.
Speaking of identity and being kicked out of your identity for particular behaviors, I have to ask, Since when does dating a lesbian make you less of a man? Straight men love lesbians. They find lesbianism a huge turn-on. And pop-cultural depictions would have us believe that it actually makes someone more, not less, of a man if he can “turn” a lesbian. Indeed, such men are often glorified in popular culture for their masculinity as though somehow they must be even manlier to get a girl to switch teams. But apparently, if you’re trans man and you get a lesbian to switch teams, it simply confirms the artificiality of your manhood.