Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Transgender Studies

I am in love with a transgendered woman, and this fact has caused some issues in my life that might be of interest to anyone else who finds themselves in such a situation.

The real reason I’m writing this is because the relationship has ended in a spectacular ghosting, and I am not handling it as dispassionately as the situation requires. Writing helps me organize my thoughts so they do not go crashing into one another as they pinball around my skull. If this helps someone else it is a wonderful thing.

The love in question is of the complete investment kind; pride gambled and proposals made. The ghosting took my best friend and lover. These are problems with falling in love, and I am currently recommending against doing that with anyone of any gender, cis or trans.

1) You are gay

To the individual, like myself, who is a 0 or 1 on the Kinsey scale this is a bit of an interesting discovery. I think a male at the 5 or 6 end of the scale might have a more difficult discovery, that of being in love with a woman, to process, but I do not know how they would get there. People in the middle bisexual ground of the scale might be able to divide up each gendered interaction so as to avoid any big new discovery.

Yes there were people who called me “FAG” or acquaintances who drilled down on describing the moral repugnancy of homosexual interaction in the same sentence as asking me about that person who drove me around in that red infinity. There were also the changes in attitudes at work, and the dis-inclusion in events. These are not the stuff of an important personal discovery, but I do wish I had talked more about them when they happened so that I could have avoided some of the secret festering that gave these incidents any importance at all. They are not worth mentioning now except to state that they are not worth mentioning.

The fact that you are gay is probably not a factor in the interaction you have with your transgendered love one; although it might be. I do not have much breadth to my romantic experiences with transgendered women; there is just this woman with whom I fell in love (let’s call her Beatrice after Dante) and another woman with whom I went on one date. The single date woman took me back to her place and while we were sitting close on her couch offered to show me pictures of her on her (pre-transition) Mormon mission, and offered to show me pictures of herself on the boys’ basketball team in high school, and offered explanations about how the transgender “thing” was related to soft-core porn and a desire to cross-dress that got out of hand. My reticence to warm to the idea of realizing she was male baffled her.

Beatrice insisted that I was not gay to my face, but gleefully identified as “All of the Above” when asked by people whose opinions she valued where she fell on the LGBT spectrum; it only takes simple arithmetic to figure out what that meant she thought of me. This was a little dishonest, but it was probably due to her changing her mind about what she thought depending on the situation in which she was thinking it.

Since the moment I realized the ghosting was a permanent situation -and I avoided this realization- I have been trying to date. After a few dates, and some minor physical contact, it is common for a woman to want to know something about your previous love interests, and that latest one which still darkens your countenance like a cloud across the full moon when mentioned attracts a good bit of special attention. Reactions range from one end of a spectrum where a former flame, whom I was sure would never speak to me again when I dumped her for Beatrice, accused me of purposefully having Beatrice be transgender in order to hurt her; “That was so hurtful of you” and “That really creeps me out”. On the other end a new interest declared that “She knew that there was something different about me; that I was gay!” when I told her Beatrice was transgendered, and she then proceeded to put her tongue in my mouth to demonstrate how that excited her.

I have few lesbian acquaintances, and they tend to be a little more academic in deciphering the interactions of men with transgendered women, at least when they are dealing with men, or at the very least when they are dealing with me. Here is an example: “I tend to see transgendered people as homophobes who had to switch genders to become comfortable with their sexuality. That comes from my own academic training in queer and gender theory, is actually a position shared by a lot of lesbian feminists.” What this is saying is that I am gay and Beatrice actually hates me for it. Given the way I’ve been ghosted this might be surprisingly insightful.

Instead of creating some synthesis of the information that most people in my life: “do not believe a transsexual is a woman” and the fact that Beatrice was the woman I loved I attempted to simply ignore everything (including Beatrice) that suggested Beatrice was in a special class of women. I thought of her simply as possessed of exotic charms, and was all the more enthralled as a result. Perhaps a synthesis of information would have made it less awkward to be a non-homosexual gay male.

Interestingly my several gay male friends did not consider me gay. This brings me to the second important aspect of loving a transgendered woman.

2) You are a perverted abomination

In high school a good friend came out to me, and we are still good friends. He will answer my awkward questions, and fill in the gaps I manage to create while stumbling them out with knowledge about me and what I might really mean. When I “came out” to him about my love for Beatrice he called me an abomination. “Perverse” he called me. These were the knee-jerk reactions, and he quickly began dialing them back; trying to re-frame them as a bad joke.

When a transgendered woman undergoes gender reassignment surgery they flay open her penis and sew it back together into a convoluted pretzel of penis bits that resembles a natural vagina. Watching a video, even a cartoon, of the procedure can be cringe-worthy for any man, but here is probably no group of individuals more sensitive to the unnaturalness of this procedure than men who like both their own penises and the penises on other men.

Other gay male friends would talk in hushed tones of how awful the genitals must be; as if the insight of people who thought vaginas in general were icky would tell me something new and devastating. Nobody ever got around to asking me how things worked or felt; I never got the chance to answer that there was just a wonderfully sensitive point of interaction between this woman that I loved and me, and that it was all beautiful and Beatrice. Yes, I realize how delusional that sounds, and I "just never mentioned" being in love with a post-op transgendered woman to many of my gay male friends or acquaintances.

The genitals are so important. If you fall in love with a transgender woman do not fool yourself into ignoring the status of her genitals; they are not central to her identity but ignoring the status just because you love her regardless is not adequate. The status of the genitals is so important that the transgendered woman who undergoes gender reassignment surgery puts her life at significant risk and endures tremendous pain to change that status. Beatrice and I started dating before her gender reassignment surgery. She returned from California and recovered in my bed while my daughters –as much as is possible for teenagers- helped to care for her.

I was told by non-romantically connected transgender acquaintances that no male could provide the validation needed for a transgendered woman’s acceptance of her own genitals. This revelation would come in the form of intricately detailed stories.  It is vitally important to have the input of other people when dating a transgender woman as talking about special issues with her will confuse the fact that she is "a woman - period" (yes I am aware of the twisted double entendre there), and that confusion will abort most meaningful dialog; especially critical conversations about subtle transgender identity issues.  "Passable" and genital adequacy are important identity issues that cannot just be dismissed with the waving of hands. 

Beatrice would talk of her desire for a female lover, and I would know that would make me obsolete. I could never share access to my genitals with her and say that hers were just as good and mean anything worthwhile by it. It was taking on a female “friend with benefits” (hours after securing a pledge of romantic and sexual fidelity from me) that started the clock on the last two weeks she would ever speak to me.  Most of what she had to tell me those two weeks concerned her complete and sudden unavailability, and my own insignificance.

This kind of sudden change is not just incidental to the problems a man faces when he falls in love with a transgendered woman, and it brings us to the next issue.

3. Abandonment and trauma issues.

I have presented the problems that I faced, but these are trivial compared with the trials a transgendered woman must endure. People would just slip around corners to avoid me when I walked through the Tooele Walmart with Beatrice, but when she was not there I was treated like an almost normal person, and almost wished I was still being avoided. The transgendered woman can expect to be abandoned by friends and family in addition to the annoying acquaintances who shop at the same time. Beatrice raised several children who –two because of the influence of the Mormon church- have not spoken to her in years; they have not spoken, their spouses have not spoken, the grandchildren have not spoken. There is a palpable loss that I could not comprehend those times I held her sobbing frame into the night those losses remembered themselves. AOD and AYD would receive unsolicited hugs the next time I saw them and wonder why I was tearing up just to see them.

The hurt inflicted on transgendered women by those they love (and by strangers, but whose sting hurts worse?) can result in PTSD. I have never met a transgendered woman who has not experienced profound and horrible hurt. Beatrice was comparatively lucky to have only experienced the truly heartbreaking treatment that she did, but the trauma associated with abandonment can result in PTSD symptoms. These include: Panic attacks related to unconscious triggers, Hyper-vigilance related to perceived threats, Emotional flashbacks, Vulnerability in social situations, Attraction to those who are unavailable, and Heightened emotional responses related to abandonment triggers, such as feeling slighted, criticized, or excluded. In severe cases PTSD can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, depression, self-depreciation, and even complete sleep deprivation with hallucinations and suicidal ideation.

These issues are not specific to transgendered women. Many non-veteran members of our society can exhibit them: Drug addicts, Childhood abuse survivors, and others. They are not issues that are best dealt with by ignoring or actively minimizing them, and they can spiral out of control into life-altering episodes if left unchecked.

The two weeks of disjoint imperative panic that lead to the ghosting was not the first severe episode of past trauma induced behavior. When Beatrice was recovering in my house I offered to let her stay there as long as she wanted, and I told her that I hoped she would want to long after she was fully recovered. I did not realize that such an offer would cause severe panic. She almost immediately HAD to leave; she had no coherent reason and attempted actions like lifting heavy suitcases because she perceived the threat of popping stitches and bleeding out on my floor as less dangerous than staying with the man who loved her. Conversations dashed down logical dead ends just to get somehow from whatever was being said to the end that was needed to escape the threat. If not for the medication and pain I do not think she would have ever come back into my life; the current ghosting was done with a sober mind, and though it appeared no less panicked, there is no mediating externality to turn her around.


If you fall in love with a transgendered woman you may need to find out about her triggers, and discover ways of responding to them that may be outside of your experience set.  

I’ve used up too many electrons on just three issues. There are more, but so few will even read this far.

In places the bitterness of my feelings about the breakup have washed over you with my words. I did write this in part to look at those feelings. I have learned to house the impossible hope of her return with the imperative that I just move on to some imagined goal. Neither is based in reason, but if I don’t tie them to a bit of virtual paper they crash about in my head and make a mess of things.

This essay is not designed as a dispassionate analysis of all the things that lead to the breakup. Rest assured that I contributed mightily to the end, but this is my essay, and I did not want to write that stuff down here.  There is also the confusion of an on and off relationship.  The whole thing is messy the way love is when it hits reality; at least the way it hits the reality of my life. I’ve got all the crap in my head though, and I’ve played it back till the anxiety and self-recriminations burn it onto my more random thoughts.

I don’t think loving a transgendered woman is any harder or more doomed than loving a genetic girl, but all love is probably doomed. Loving Beatrice was more than easy. There are specific issues though, and I hope, if you are in love, you can avoid some of the situational specific landmines I stepped on.

And if you can’t, well, I told you so.


Anonymous said...

That is so sad. Love should be worth what it costs. What was the proposal you mention? Marriage?


adult onset atheist said...

Hi Liz;
It would be more sad if it was not so frustrating, which I suppose means it will be very sad as soon as the itching dies down.

The proposal was supposed to be a finely crafted series of unthreatening choices. I had worked logistics out with AYD who graduates from HS in a couple days. I actually only asked Beatrice if I could propose because I did not want to frighten her off again. Then the details of the proposed commitment were to be implemented gradually. We were going to offer Beatrice a place to set up an office in the house, and ask her to move in for as much of the week as she was comfortable with; letting her know she could live there all the time as soon as she wanted. I was offering her a “hand fast” so that she would be my wife for only a year, and she could see a way out of it before considering anything more permanent.

I screwed up everything. I suppose that is sad enough to call the whole thing sad.


Jo Ellen Petrichor said...

As a Transwoman myself, one trip to the Tooele Wal-Mart left me with emotional scars. The snickering, the pointing, the running to get a friend to look; Yes Tooele Wal-Mart has "Eveyday Low Prices" and every day low people!
I hope both you and Beatrice find happiness...Isle 7, just past auto parts.

adult onset atheist said...

Thank you Jo Ellen. Tooele is not the most welcoming of communities. When AYD was in the 6th grade members of the local branch of the predominant religion were carpooling a dozen of her classmates into SLC to protest some "Gay Agenda" item. We were just trying to remember what it was; I thought it was the pride parade and she thought it was marriage equality.

I hope Beatrice finds robust happiness though it looks like I must dismantle my dreams of happiness with her to find some of my own.

Anonymous said...

So much pain and hurt and difficulty, and then to have it all just blow up in two weeks! Was it worth it?

adult onset atheist said...

Was “it” worth it? The relationship? This post just talks about some of the negative issues associated with openly dating a transgendered woman. It does nothing to explain the connection between two people that reaches down into the lizard brain to conjure up love. Love evolved as the necessary glue that facilitated the bonding which eventually became the foundation for our species. This means love drove the specifics of the evolution of reason. How can we then stand back and effectively use reason to create some metric of worth for an interaction driven by love?

So I don't really understand your question.

AshleyBrit said...

Thanks do much for sharing this piece of your life : ) what a range of emotions you have survived! I am the Mom of a transgender and am very grateful to you for this insight. Of course there is discrimination, particularly in the of now this is not a very public situation for us (one of the worst kept secrets I'm sure!) Your words can help me, my child and family, also those who are in our lives in various roles : ) love and strength to all involved in your story! < 3

AshleyBrit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adult onset atheist said...

I am very glad my words helped someone Ashley! Written words stay fresh in the ears of the reader for a long time, and I am very glad these words are fresh and poignant in your ears. As months of the ghosting go by the words sound more hollow in my own life, and I wish I could push the whole relationship back into the closet where things like this relationship of mine are often stored.

AshleyBrit said...

What an interesting choice of words...feelings need not be closeted, hopefully the sharing and support you receive will help to heal you and others. Of course there may be some opposition, bit you are strong and confident! You have a great track record, you have survived (yes, some damage-but survived) 100% of your life!

adult onset atheist said...

My situation is a little different than yours, and the permanence of your bond to the transgendered person in your life makes the feelings much more dear than I can afford for feelings for someone who is not part of my life now. Perhaps "closeted" is the wrong choice of words since they denote continued storage of the feelings. I really need to convert them to memories, and let them fade with age.

Anonymous said...

I bet you two are back together by now!

-Jim C.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. At the end of last year a good friend of mine killed herself. She was a beautiful soul in the body of a transgendered woman. She had gone through so much and was just reaching out to date men but was depressed about having her Y chromosome attributes "Coming Through". I think that was the last straw. I would give anything to hug her again and tell her that I love her. Here is the last note she left for us and asked us to share.

These are going to be my final words. I can't stand to live another day, so I'm committing suicide. The reason why I've decided to do this is because I'm transgender. For those of you that unsure of what that means, it means that even though I was born in a male body, I am and have always been female. I've known I was female for as far back as I can remember. This caused me to become severely depressed from a very young age. From a very young age I was told that people like me are freaks and abominations, that we are sick in the head and society hates us. This made me hate who I was. I tried so hard to be just like everyone else but this isn't something you can change.

It wasn't until I was 20 that I found out I wasn't alone. I had hope that I would finally be able to live as and love who I am. I finally came out as transgender and began transitioning. For the first time in my life I could say I was genuinely happy. Despite this huge change in my life I never completely got over the depression being trans caused me. Everywhere I'd turn I'd see the hated that society had for us. I had already been poisoned by a society that didn't understand us and, even worse, didn't want to even try. I saw the pain it caused to people like me and going though this same hurt myself it has just become to much for me to take anymore. I wanted so much to help those going though what I had to because nobody should ever have to feel that they hate their life so much that they want to end it all just so they won't have to experience another moment of this sadness. I'm not the first to feel this way and sadly I know I won't be the last.

I'm writing all of this because I've need my story to be shared. I don't want to be just another number of a tragic statistic. People need to know that I'm not just another face of someone they never met. I was alive. I have a family and friends that I love very much and I'm so sorry to them for the hurt this will cause them. I loved being around those that I love. I loved listening to music and singing. I loved going out to eat with friends and enjoying good food. I was a real person. I still want to help people and I believe I still can. Please share my final words. I believe my last words can help make the change that society needs to make so that one day there will be no others like me. Please help make this change because trans people are everywhere. You may never know who you're hurting until it's too late. Please help fix society.

Ashley Hallstrom

adult onset atheist said...

I am sorry for your loss, and I apologize for your comment getting caught in my moderation limbo for comments on older posts. I had heard about Ashley's suicide, and felt a deep personal fear when I did. I did not know that her "passability" was a significant factor in her suicide, or maybe I blocked it out of the little I did know.

About thirty years ago a very good friend of mine committed suicide. I still long to give her a hug and tell her that I love her, but it is not the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning anymore, and when I think of it my tears do not burn my cheeks with shame and regret anymore. Don't be scared as the memories fade; you will be left with a feeling that is polished by time till it catches light and breaks out every color it is made of. I would love to show you mine.

I did write a bit about my experience with suicide. Maybe it is just because I know all the people in the post, but my face still flushes when I read it.