By Jennifer Miracle
As someone who identifies as queer and is the partner of a person who identifies as trans*, I often feel that I have a common bond with both bisexual and trans* people. In my opinion, it’s the thing that sets us both apart from those who identify as strictly gay, lesbian or straight. It is that we are not necessarily focused strictly on what’s in a person’s pants. At the very least, we don’t let it be a determining factor as to whether we are attracted to a person the way that so many gay, lesbian and straight people have a tendency to do.
My experience has been that most people who do not identify as bisexual or queer are very rigid about what it is to which they are attracted. Gay men are generally not shy about voicing their aversion to vaginas, and consequently can sometimes seemingly reduce a woman to her parts. Likewise, lesbians have also been known to be pretty vocal about either their distaste specifically for the penis or more generally their resentment of, the patriarchal society in which we live, and project that onto the male body. Because heterosexuality is the most socially accepted sexual orientation – “the default,” if you will – it seems straight people rarely feel the need to overtly express their attraction or even their aversion to the opposite sex. In my experience, people – particularly straight people – tend to assume everyone is straight until they perceive a reason to think otherwise. Generally, it is only when their straight identity is questioned that they – particularly homophobic people – are quick to clarify.
However, my bisexual and queer friends tend to have a different perspective. So often I’ve heard bisexual and queer people say something along the lines of, “I’m attracted to the person, not their gender or their body parts.” I’ve said it myself. However, as an older – and I like to think wiser – version of myself, I think it more accurate to say, “I’m attracted to the person…and their gender…and their body parts.”
While gay and lesbian people cross the binary with same-sex relationships in a lot of ways, there’s still an ironic perpetuation of the binary that inadvertently occurs based on our tendency to limit ourselves to only one gender, particularly if we further limit ourselves to only cisgender people. Although I did not identify as bisexual, I had a very bisexual relationship pattern early on in my life until 2001, when I made a very conscious decision that I was done with men. Done. And I very consciously dismissed men as an option when it came to dating. Likewise, even gay and lesbian people have a tendency, when trying to read someone’s sexual identity, to only think in terms of gay or straight and often do not even consider the possibility that someone might be attracted to more than one gender. On the other hand, bisexual and queer people generally take a more pluralistic approach to sexual orientation that sets us apart from a lot of gay, lesbian and straight people.
Similarly, while I have certainly seen and known a number of trans* people who ironically perpetuate the gender binary in the very process of bucking it, my experience has also been that many trans* people are also much more open to people whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation do not necessarily fit neatly into a box, or even people whose labels are not necessarily consistent with their behaviors or current relationships.
For example, at the time that I began dating my fiancé, who identifies as a trans guy, I had been identifying as a lesbian, dating only cisgender women for at least ten years. However, when I found myself attracted to him – a male-identified person – I did not shut my attraction down because I was a lesbian making him, by default, out of the question. Rather, I explored the feelings I was having for him, opened my mind to being with a male-identified person who didn’t necessarily fit my understanding of “malebodied” and fell in love with the person…his gender…and his body parts. Admittedly, this fucked with my identity a bit, which leads me to his openness in terms of not forcing me into a box – nor out of my own box.
Based on my interactions with a number of trans* men on a professional level, I presumed – and in some cases assumed – a lot of things about how to interact, both personally and intimately with him. Some were right on, however, others were not at all. Almost immediately, I became uncomfortable with my label of “lesbian” as, in my mind, I clearly was no longer only attracted to women. To continue to identify as lesbian somehow felt disrespectful to his masculinity; yet, at the same time, I wasn’t completely ready to let go of that label and definitely had not identified one that seemed to fit better. However, as someone who never subscribed to labels himself, he expressed to me “You can be a lesbian and be with me. Doesn’t bother me at all.” See, the important part to him was not about what I called myself, but how I felt about him. Only then did it become clear to me that labels are for other people…not for ourselves.
Having connected early on in his transition journey, despite my own dissonance in exploring his body, he had a level of comfort and oneness with his coexisting, yet ever-changing masculine and feminine features that I would think most cisgender people would struggle with reconciling, even conceptually. Despite never really identifying as bisexual, early on in my life, my relationship pattern could certainly be described as such. Perhaps this is why, rather than my dissonance causing discomfort or a challenge for me in terms of our developing relationship, it actually compelled me to broaden my understanding of gender and the body and the relationship between the two. Indeed, having the honor of witnessing and experiencing his physical transition has completely dismantled my previous understanding of sex and gender and caused me to think about it in ways I could never have previously imagined.
Likewise, as someone who has never really fit the rigid gender norms that we as a society seem to be so comfortable with and even cling to, my fiancé continues to challenge my own paradigms and we stretch each other’s understanding of identities and the intersection and relationship between them. Of course, one can never know for certain; however, I feel pretty confident in saying that I don’t think my understanding of sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and, as a result, people in general would have ever been so elaborate or complex had I restricted myself to one box by only acknowledging my attraction to one gender or the other. Likewise, I would imagine that the lives of trans* people would not be so rich and meaningful, had they restricted themselves to the box they were assigned.
Jennifer is a public speaker, educator, and consultant about all things gender and sexuality related. Her current mission is to Make Our Private Parts Private.