Genderless Love: A Look at How Trans and Gender-Variant Couples Navigate Love, Relationships, and Their Own Identities
It’s time to continue our discussion on sexual and gender identity. Last time the focus was on how gender identity impacts sexual identities. I explored my own journey of my gender transition from female to male and how my sexual orientation has been impacted by my transition. Today’s blog post was prompted by a panel on gender-variant and trans couples called “Transcending Love”. This panel had three very different queer relationships which consisted of a married genderfluid person and trans man, a married non-binary poly couple, and a relationship consisting of two trans women. The couples discussed many topics including identity, navigating relationships while being trans, and sexuality.
Before diving into the intriguing conversations and answers the panelists discussed, I would like to briefly describe each of the panelists and the identities they labeled themselves as. For the purposes of privacy and confidentiality, I will only use the first letters of their names in this post.
B: A trans man who started transitioning five years ago. He is married to panelist K and they describe themselves as being in a queer relationship. B identified as a lesbian woman prior to transitioning and now identifies as a straight trans man.
K: A genderfluid person who uses mostly she/her pronouns, but sometimes they/them pronouns as well. Prior to her relationship with B, she identified as a lesbian woman. K still identifies as a lesbian, but her experience with gender has changed since marrying B and has become more fluid.
I: A non-binary person married to their partner, F, another non-binary person. These two are in a polyamorous relationship, meaning they date and/or have sexual relationships outside of their primary relationship with each other.
R: A trans woman who transitioned twenty-two years ago. R was married to a heterosexual woman prior to her transition. Her relationship ended when she started her transition. R found herself dating men and started to identify as a straight trans woman. Recently, her sexuality has become more fluid and she is moving towards a pansexual identity. Currently she is in a relationship with her partner, A.
A: A trans woman who began her transition a year ago. A has been attracted to men and identified as a straight woman until dating her partner, R. Now she doesn’t cling to a label for her sexual identity.
The panel opened with a short discussion on trans relationships in the media. We watched a clip from the documentary with Katie Couric on “Gender Revolution” by National Geographic. The clip featured a couple in England; one woman was a transgender woman, the other was cisgender (meaning a person whose gender identity matches the one assigned to them at birth). The couple stayed together during the trans woman’s transition and they are still happily married. The cisgender woman identifies as a heterosexual woman and wants others to know that you can be in a relationship that contradicts your sexual identity. She states, “The fact that my partner is now a woman doesn’t change my sexual orientation. I’m not attracted to women and I’ll never date another woman.” The panelists agreed with the video’s message and the moderator stated, “It’s the person, not the gender. Gender is not the end-all be-all of relationships.”
The first discussion topic brought to the panelists was about labels and how their identities have changed over time. I noticed in the panelists’ introductions of themselves that all of them identified as one identity at one time, and then changed labels as they got older and dated more people. Like myself, a few found their sexual orientation had changed after transitioning.
Moderator: I tell people, it’s Identity and MYdentity, not YOURdentity.
I: Identities are like a project for me. I never have one that always encompasses the other. I focus on whatever I want to work on. Today it’s sexuality, tomorrow it’s gender.
K: It was strange for me, identifying as a lesbian and then being attracted to a man. I met B after he transitioned. We had to work a lot with each other about respect. He used to get upset with me that I still identified as a lesbian even though I was with him. I told him that his identities are important to him, and mine are important to me. He needed to respect my identity as he does his own. It wasn’t about self-growth but couple growth. Since then I have become more fluid with my label. If I was going to be stuck on a word [lesbian] I would lose the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
B: I had to learn: What she identifies as does not affect what I identify as.
R: When I transitioned, I transitioned on an attraction level as well. I went from a straight man to a straight woman to a pansexual woman. Sometimes labels don’t always fit.
A: It’s discomforting when others try to put a label on you. They feel they have a label that fits you better than the labels you choose for yourself. I don’t have to follow a binary. Love doesn’t follow a binary. I’m not defining it. If I love you, I love YOU.
“The fact that my partner is now a woman doesn’t change my sexual orientation.”
With all of this talk about identity, B and K were asked what it was like for them to be coded as a straight couple, meaning that when they are in public, most people assume they are a heterosexual cisgender couple.
B: It’s not a stressor for me. We hang out with other trans couples. We feel like what strangers see doesn’t matter.
K: It’s happened before. One time we went to Missie B’s and some rude drunk guy made comments like “What are you guys even doing here?”, as if we didn’t belong. In the end, we just let it go and ignored him.
The next discussion question was on relationships and how dating while transgender/gender variant worked.
A: When dating, I found myself drawn to other trans people. Cis people don’t understand the struggles trans people go through. There are a good amount of trans people who date trans people for this reason.
I: Relationships are about good communication and companionship. My partner and I use allyship, rather than relationship to describe what we have. Being poly, F and I date while we’re married. We are very open when it comes to dating. We have different needs we want to fill and we are able to do so through different people.
“Love doesn’t have a gender. If you love someone, you’re willing to do what it takes to make it work.”
The panelists were then asked when is the best time to discuss their gender identity with a new partner.
R: I just get it out right away. I’ve tried all the dating websites, like OkCupid. I’m just up front with it. You get a lot of people who fetishize you when you’re up front, but it’s pretty easy to weed them out.
A: I think after one to two dates is appropriate. I like the people to get to know me first. I hope that they will like me enough to not leave just because of my gender identity.
I: I’m not a gambler. I like a safe bet. If I put my identities out there for everyone to see, I know that the people talking to me are already okay with them.
Finally, the panel started discussing sexuality and how gender identity affects their sex lives.
I: I’ve never been hung up on genital arrangement. Sex toys exist. Sex with different people is sex with different people.
K: Have a conversation with your partner about what you’re comfortable with. Parts are parts. How you get there is how you get there.
I: I like to use the metaphor of dishes when it comes to communicating what you want from sex. Everyone has their own idea of where the dishes should go in the kitchen. Sometimes you agree with others, sometimes they’re like, “No way, I would never put my dishes there.” Then you have a conversation about where you like the dishes, where they like them to go, why you like them in certain places, and where you can compromise to put them. Everyone has their own ideas about it and you have to figure it out with each person.
B: I think this is a great metaphor. When I first started dating K, it took us a while to figure this out. We were both used to dating lesbian women. Lesbian sex is different from sex with a trans man. I had a lot of dysphoria about my chest prior to top surgery. We had to have some discussion on…where the dishes had to go. Afterwards, sex became great.”
I: It’s about respecting people. I’ve been misgendered in sexual situations before, and that’s the line for me. That’s it, it’s over.
The panelists shared their closing statements and everyone went their separate ways. There were so many important themes discussed and the panel was helpful to so many of the gender variant members of the audience. What they had to say was also important for all types of relationships. What it comes down to is that love is love. It doesn’t always make sense and it doesn’t always correlate with labels and identities. If you love someone, you should not let something like gender keep you from having an authentic and beautiful relationship. I also saw how complicated and fluid identity can be. It’s okay if you identify as one label and then switch years, a month, or even a day later. Identities can be fluid. People can be fluid. What is important is to love yourself and love others.
-Killian Derusha, TPG Intern and MSW Student