A has finally gotten a date for his first injection of testosterone. I wish I could be there with him, but I’ll be on a flight during the time of his appointment, excited and anxious to get home, to be able to follow every little shift in his voice, his face, his arms.
Although the time to get to this point has been much shorter than we thought it would be, the past few months have been full of the frustration of opening a box which contains a box which contains a box… I haven’t borne the tension very well. Winter, even under the best of circumstances, drains me of patience and enthusiasm – things that I would have needed an abundance of right now. Relationships are all about energy, about being each other’s fuel and fire. It’s far too easy to heap sand and water onto each other’s good spirits.
As time has crept forward, I have had the feeling that A’s dysphoria has become more pronounced. Maybe it’s only to do with the fact that he is more open about how he feels about his body, and about how other people perceive him, but I have sensed that he has been scrutinising himself with even sharper eyes than before, having difficulties relaxing and just, well, letting things be. Every so often, I find him staring at himself in the mirror, examining different parts of his body. I tell him that he looks beautiful, because he does. Eight times out of ten, he turns to me and says “I hope you’ll still feel like that once I start changing”. Sometimes there is silence; sometimes I tell him, honestly, that I will always think of him as beautiful, but both of us know that this answer is not quite enough.
We have talked a lot about sex, and about my fear of how our way of being intimate together will change. A says that he doesn’t have any near plans of having bottom surgery, because of the risks that this involves, and because of the long and painful process that it would be. I know that I should see this as a relief, but I don’t, because it means that there are still obstacles in the way of him taking the shape that he would feel comfortable with. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have sex in a body that doesn’t feel like your own. How it is even possible. And how much I want it to be possible, from a most selfish point of view, having the need to connect with him in that way.
The next phase of A’s transition is this: testosterone injections by the nurse every three weeks – then, after a while, this will be changed to a tri-monthly procedure. He will go and see the gender specialist for reviews every now and again, having his blood levels and blood pressure monitored, to see how his body is adjusting to the hormones. Not all FtM people begin with injections right away, some are offered, or recommended, to start with gel, or cream, or patches instead. A did have the choice to start with gel but, apart from being keen to see a change quickly (injections are supposedly more effective than gel in the beginning), he opted against the gel as there is a risk of it rubbing off on others who are in direct contact with his skin. I am grateful if I can be spared going through a form of passive transition – so far, I haven’t felt the urge to accentuate my masculinity more than the level that it’s at right now.
When I first started telling people about A’s gender identity, one of my best friends sent me a copy of The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2016). The book is a study of the body, both sexually and socially, how changes in the body affects the mind, and vice versa. Paralleled with Maggie Nelson’s description of how her own body goes through different stages of pregnancy, is the change that her partner Harry (addressed as “you” in the book) experiences when assuming a more masculine shape by taking testosterone, and having top surgery. Ms Nelson writes about how the outward perception of her and Harry changes, when people start regarding them as a straight couple.
You pass as a guy; I, as pregnant […] On the surface, it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more “male”, mine, more and more “female.” But that’s not how it felt on the inside. On the inside, we were two human animals undergoing transformations beside each other, bearing each other loose witness. (Nelson,103)
During the time that I was reading the book, A kept asking me what was happening in it, wanting to know if the couple were happy, and wondering what I thought about their relationship. He wanted to make sure that the book “ended well”. Having finished the book, and having thought a lot about it afterwards, I can’t say that it has a clear ending – it’s just not that kind of book. What cuts across all the pages, though, is the fierce love that the two people feel for each other, and how, even though the outside world might regard them as a stereotypical heterosexual couple, they make conscious choices to break with patriarchal patterns, in the way that they behave towards each other, and towards other people.
There are many passages that I take comfort from in the book. Like the acknowledgement of the arguments that Maggie and Harry have when Harry is feeling increasingly distressed with his body. How Maggie searches through literature to find evidence that even seemingly happy couples have had their struggles. I have done the same thing. I have raked the internet, looking for answers in other people’s narratives, reading about bisexual women who have supported their FtM partners, about straight women who have gone from having a husband to living with a wife, about FtM trans people who have come out of their relationships feeling hurt, as their lesbian partners have not been able to cope with their masculinity. None of these stories have filled me with hope, because they have not felt close enough to reflect my own story.
I just want you to feel free, I said in anger disguised as compassion, compassion disguised as anger.
Don’t you get it yet? you yelled back. I will never feel as free as you do, I will never feel as at home in the world, I will never feel as at home in my own skin. That’s just the way it is, and always will be […]
We knew something, maybe everything, was about to give. We just hoped it wouldn’t be us. (Nelson, 38-39)
Over a glass of cider, I expressed my frustration about not not knowing where to look in order to find stories that match with A’s and mine. My friend, the one who sent me The Argonauts, reminded me that there will never be a story that word for word, will resonate with my own version of living with a transman. I have to create it myself. We have to create it, Alvar and I, one doctor’s appointment at a time, from one conversation, or argument, or evening of laughing ourselves ridiculous, to the next.
In “Experiences of female partners of masculine identifying trans Persons”, a study by Liesl Theron and Kate L. Collier (2013), eight cisgendered women in South Africa are interviewed about their relationships with masculine identifying trans people. Claire, one of the interviewees, a self-identified “dyke”, states that being (regarded as) straight is to be “invisible”: “Nobody looks at you. Nobody pays any attention to you. You’re completely invisible.” (Theron & Collier, 4). Personally, I think that one of my greatest fears is exactly this: dissolving into the seamlessness of conformity. I believe that it’s something that troubles many people in “minority groups”, who are fighting for recognition and equal rights, all the while claiming difference and otherness as a mark of identity. The question which has been raised by LGB people in countries where same-sex marriages have been legalised, is whether the “queer lifestyle” is under threat. Queer, in this case, seems to have less to do with sexuality, and more to do with leading a non-normative life, which inadvertently has been the case for most LGBTQI+ people in countries where they have been treated as criminals. Whenever I say “my transbund-to-be”, I feel proud, every bit as proud as I did when I used the term “girlfriend”. It’s a word which expresses the queer transformation that A’s and my relationship is going through, it describes both our past and our future. At the same time, though, it is a vulnerable word, so I don’t use it with everyone that I speak to. The word is a portal to all the fears and hopes that exist in A’s and my world and, more often than not, I feel the need to protect that sphere, rather than have it questioned or criticised.
Initially, A and I meant for this blog to be a step-by-step account of his transition, with me supporting him in any way that I can. As time has gone by, I have felt a gap between A’s journey and mine; while A has had a clear direction which he has wanted to go in, building up his confidence, exercising, buying new clothes, making visible his masculinity, I have felt more and more detached from myself. So much of my everyday life has revolved around my lesbian identity – my place in the community, my activism, my writing. Since it became clear that I no longer am in a “lesbian” relationship, I have had the sensation of being nothing but A’s sidekick, that my former autonomy has been changed into an identity entirely dependent on someone else’s. Recently, I have realised that in order to be able to give A the support that he needs, I have to make sure that I am anchored in my own identity first. Rather than trying to fit into a political category, I have focused on other things that are part of me, myself, this body and consciousness that I read the maps of the world with. I have started playing the piano, and taken up Spanish classes. I have also been giving myself the space to write whatever I want to write, whether it is letters to friends, or fairy-tales, or nonsensical sentences that make me smile.
“We will always be a queer couple” A tells me sometimes. “Even when people start seeing me as a cisgendered man, we will never be conventional in that way.”
Maggie Nelson questions the expression “same-sex” when it comes to relationships, as she points out: “I don’t know many – if any – queers who think of their desire’s main feature as being ‘same-sex’”. (31). She then puts her finger on the feminist aspect of what I have felt to be the biggest difference between having relationships with women, and with men: “Whatever sameness I have noted in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. Rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy.” (31). I can definitely relate to this. However, as I have commented on before, this shared understanding can sometimes feel excluding, because there are situations where the line between those who are supposed to know the downsides of patriarchy, and those who benefit from the system, is far too harsh. Increasingly, I have started to appreciate the company of people who live over, in-between, or beyond, gender binaries. People in whose company there is no need to analyse behaviour in terms of gender, because there are other aspects of the person that are more interesting; a person can wear high heels and have a moustache and the only thing we end up talking about is what their cat looks like when it is sleeping.
This is a long text. I have tried to make sense of what is happening in A’s and my life right now. Why it has been so difficult for me to write before, with fear washing over me sometimes, stealing my words.
If you have stumbled upon this page searching for a story that is exactly like yours, then this is not it. Nevertheless, I hope you will keep reading. Together, we can make each other visible.
Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. London: Melville House UK, 2016.
Collier, Kate L., Theron, Liesl. “Experiences of female partners of masculine identifying trans
persons”. Cult Health Sex. Cape Town, 2013.