My boyfriend is trans.
That’s right, he was assigned "girl" at birth. If you met him today, and you didn’t know that, wow, gee whiz, this is the guy Cait is writing about, you’d have absolutely no clue. This is a problem and a gift.
Let’s start with the positive. Jae is my soul mate. I know that is perhaps the corniest thing that you’ve read thus far today. Go with it. When we met, I was in the process of emerging from a crappy breakup and, as I often did, sleeping around to get some distance from my pain. I’ve been in good relationships and I’ve been in bad ones, and I’ve done some deep digging. For years, I had been waiting to meet the person who I could get down with for the adventure called life.
Jae is that person. Sweet! Win! In addition to our mutual love of the outdoors, long conversations about spiritual enlightenment, yoga, hot chocolate, and vegan, hippie-ass pizza, Jae and I connect on queerness.
Yes, queerness — even though we look like a hetero couple.
Backreel the tape. I’ve been attracted to both boys and girls as long as I can remember. When I was 5, my best friend Hannah and I kissed on the bus. She proceeded to deny the event to a group of our friends, and I distinctly remember the differentness of how I felt, the crushed shock. I came out as “gay” when I was 18, and two out of my three major relationships were with women. Here was the problem; I was and am very much attracted to men. I dated men. I slept with men. Men are great. But this attraction has caveats. For me, there are two issues at play, the first of which is that many cis men have deeply inquired into my sex life with women and my identity as queer in a way that feels voyeuristic and creepy.
But the second, bigger issue is the people in my life who have clearly (or passive- aggressively, take your pick) wished that I would just pick a nice boy. No, no one ever said that. But the implication, the feeling was there; it felt like dating women was a phase that I would outgrow. Unlike that of my fantastic and fabulously gay sister, who was unquestionably and only attracted to women since she hit puberty, my queerness was more elusive. I am a feminine lady who really likes the color pink and mascara as a concept. I also have hairy armpits. In my grad school class cohort, which is overwhelmingly straight, I feel like my queerness sticks out like a sore thumb. It is subtle but present and a big deal in my life. It is not going away.
So when I met Jae, a man who appreciates and understands my queerness in the best of ways, it was pretty fucking thrilling. And then it set in: we look hella straight. We do. Here we are, the queer kids on the block, this T-injecting, vagina/manvag — that’s the word we use for one of his parts — loving couple, looking straight. Yo, what’s up.
But we’re not straight. I’m not straight. It’s important to me that you know.
When I began telling people about how I met Jae, how amazing our connection is, it felt incredibly awkward not to disclose his trans status. I didn’t want to out him unnecessarily. But here’s the thing: I value honesty. More than honesty, I value transparency. At 15, I vowed to live with as much transparency as possible, and here was that vow, a personal crusade of truth up against trans outing rules and regs.
(And hey, side note: As a queer lady, I have had the good fortune to know many a trans person in my day. I’ve messed up and I’ve also done some good things, like promoting medical research and advocacy for trans rights in my school. Hell, I might even do my doctoral thesis working with trans people. I care about this group of people, and I did before I met Jae.)
The moral of the story is that I know it is wrong to out someone. To disclose a trans person’s status or even imply that a person may be trans can put people at risk and also be insanely uncomfortable. I know. I’ve done it. Like I said, I’ve messed up. Big.
But with Jae, it is different. For my own queer identity, it feels important to me that the people I love know about his status. Know that I am not living a normative, hetero life that fails to honor my history and my way of swimming through this fabulous world. (And hey, there’s nothing wrong with heteros. I’m just not one.)
One of the things I like most about Jae is his ability to listen and think beyond a binary. While many transfolk feel that the trans person and the trans person alone should disclose his/her/their identity, Jae is OK with me outing him. Being trans is a part of him, he says, and it’s a part of what I am attracted to in him. Why should he pretend to be a cis man? Why should we pass as straight?
I told everyone immediately. I glowed. I beamed. I still have that annoying in-love-person radiance. And it’s awesome, and I don’t think it’s going away.
Better yet, my parents and family loved him. I feel closer and more connected to my family while living in my truth, and I think they are just pumped to see me happy with a genuinely kind and loving person. Perhaps they weren’t so bad, after all.
I recently spoke with one of my best friends, a trans woman, who is in fact the person who set me up with Jae. When I disclosed to her that my family and friends knew about Jae’s status, that this is what worked for us, I could hear her shock over the phone. Perhaps judgment. “If it works for you and Jae...” She trailed off.
I felt the tone. And I got it: the “trans person only outs his/her/their-self” code that is meant for safety, for autonomy, for empowerment, I had broken that code. I break it almost daily. I am mega breaking that code by writing this essay.
But here’s the thing. I am a person in a relationship with a trans man. In my experience, relationships consist of two people, and both people are equally important. Everyone’s needs must be met for the ship to sail. And I need to go through life with as much transparency as possible. I do not want to fly under the cover of hetero privilege, lovely as that can initially be. Ultimately, taking privilege that is not mine feels icky, repressive, and generally not what I am about. Rather, raising my voice as a queer woman who stands allied to the trans population feels authentic.
That is who I am. Hella queer, in love, and fucking psyched to swim through the world with a trans man.
CAITLYN ELIZABETH is a body-positive yoga teacher and graduate student living in Boston. She loves sunshine, chocolate, and pink pants.