A reader writes: “I have been an out Lesbian for 24 years (I’m 44) and recently met and fell in love with a Trans guy. For obvious reasons, this was a little confusing at the start, and I am still curious about my changing ‘identity’ (which appears to have become a little more fluid and harder to define than previously!).
“What are your thoughts on Lesbians dating Trans men? Should we still even care about labeling ourselves? How do I (or do you think I should) raise this stuff with my straight friends?”
I think it’s fine for anyone to date anyone, including lesbians dating trans men. What I have found to be one of the biggest problems for anyone dating a trans person is that the person then starts questioning his or her own sexual orientation. This can be a huge challenge for people whose identity is strongly tied to their sexual orientation.
This is not a specifically lesbian-related phenomenon, although this is where I have seen it most, and I believe that this is because so many trans men have come out of the lesbian community. I have had straight women question whether or not dating a trans man made them a lesbian (of course not), and I have had straight men question whether or not dating a trans woman made them a gay man (of course not).
I have had lesbians worry that they are now straight because they are dating a trans man, and gay men worry that they are now straight because they are dating a trans woman (or even a trans man!).
All of this is fairly common in my experience, which is why I devoted a chapter to it in Just Add Hormones called “What Does That Make Me?” In this case, what it makes you is a lesbian dating a trans man. Or it could make you a bisexual woman dating a trans man, or a queer woman dating a trans man, or even a straight woman dating a trans man.
I don’t mean to make light of this. It’s a serious concern for many people, particularly those with marginalized sexual orientations, because their identity has become very tied in to their orientation as a result of that marginalization.
But even straight people become concerned about this. Because straight is the default sexual orientation, straight people don’t even realize how much their identity is tied into their orientation. They don’t have to realize it, because in most cases, the culture is living their sexual orientation right along with them, so they are not impacted on an everyday basis in any way – until they fall for a trans person. Then they sometimes go through the same “identity crisis” that you are going through right now.
None of it is necessary, but that doesn’t make it any less confusing or concerning for the person experiencing it. As I’ve said before, “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “straight,” and even “queer” are all just labels for attractions. They are not the attractions themselves. And it would be much easier for everyone if people didn’t form their identities around their attractions. But again, that happens particularly to people whose attractions are marginalized, so I’m not criticizing anyone. It’s just the way it is.
I personally believe that you can retain your lesbian identity, if it is important to you, separate from your attraction to this man. However, you can also run into some difficulties, including:
> Your lesbian friends feeling as if you’ve “betrayed” them or left the fold, which sometimes results in you (and your partner) being excluded from groups and activities at which you were formerly welcome.
> Your partner questioning why you would still consider yourself a lesbian when you are dating a man, and him being hurt by an assumption that you see him as female or not “fully” a man.
> Your straight friends (and the rest of the world) seeing you and treating you as a straight couple, which could include straight friends who say, “Well, you’ve finally come around. I knew you just needed to meet the right guy,” and refusing to continue to see you as a lesbian.
> Your straight friends seeing your partner as a “masculine” or “butch” lesbian instead of a man.
These are the problems that labels can bring about. They are legitimate concerns based upon the world in which we currently live. Some people will say that I’m making too big of a deal out of this, but I have seen this come up time and time again over the past sixteen years, and I have seen relationships fail because of these pressures.
We can say, ideally, that we don’t care what other people think, but when (if) your lesbian friends turn their backs, and when it becomes apparent that the world sees you as straight, and when you and your boyfriend argue over who sees you as what and what label you should give your relationship, the pressure can become overwhelming.
I sound kind of negative, but that’s because I would prefer that you go into this with your eyes open and have none of this happen than to have you go into it without thinking about it and have all this stuff smack you in the face. Forewarned is forearmed.
Now, back to your original questions:
My thoughts on lesbians dating trans men is that it can be done, it has been done, and many successful and happy relationships have resulted. If you intend to retain an out lesbian label and identity, which is fine, in my opinion, you and your partner need to have some serious discussions about how this will impact both of you, including how he feels about dating an out lesbian.
Should we still even care about labeling ourselves? No. Do we? Yes. And because we do, those discussions with your partner, with your lesbian friends, and even with your straight friends might need to happen. And you might have to brace yourself for any negative results and learn to live with them. If you are in love with this man, that’s what matters.
With regard to your straight friends, I say that you tell them you met this great guy and you’ve fallen in love with him. You are as surprised as anyone, because you’ve never been with a man before, but sometimes things just happen, and you hope they like him as much as you do. You can assure them that you’re still a lesbian, but right now, you are a lesbian who is in love with a guy. How can that be? Well, life is strange sometimes.
Now, everything that I have said above is based on an assumption, and that assumption is that your boyfriend identifies as a man or as a trans man. I have made that assumption because you call him a trans man, but I don’t know him and I have no idea how he feels about any of this. So the first conversation you need to have is with him.
Does he live in the world as a man, as a trans man, or as something else? Does he see himself as a straight man, a bisexual man, a queer man? What are his labels? How will his labels and your labels work together or impact each other? Does he want you to out him as trans to your friends? Does he want to out himself as trans to your friends? Does he see your relationship as a straight relationship, a queer relationship, or something else? How does he visualize the two of you out in the world and behind closed doors? Are you both on the same page with regard to how you see this relationship?
This is an important conversation to have, because the implications are far-reaching. It might seem very technical and unromantic to dissect each other and the relationship like this, but it can make for much more comfortable situations and a healthier relationship later on. You don’t have to sit him down and grill him. You just need to talk and keep talking on an ongoing basis.
Communication in any relationship is essential, and I think we would have more successful relationships overall if we communicated more frequently and more openly. It’s sometimes hard to start the conversation, but once it gets going, it can be extremely valuable throughout the life of your relationship.
I wish you the best of luck. Readers, what thoughts do you have?