“Sexuality”, sang the Bard of Barking Sir William Bragg back in 1991, “Strong and Warm and Wild and Free”, ably backed up by my namesake the late Kirsty MacColl. Well that’s all well and good, but just what is this sexuality of which he sings? And more to the point, what does it mean for me?
It’s an awkward thing to write about, all the more so since the recent expansion of my readership list to include some family members and people who have known me since long before I outed myself as trans. But I feel like over the last few weeks and months I have come to a realisation about myself. And it’s a realisation that has in many ways surprised me, but in other ways is so flipping obvious I can’t believe it has taken me this long to realise it.
I think before I get into the meat of what I’m going to write about, I’m going to rewind back to 2014 to a post entitled “Who Do You Love?“, itself another music reference, this time to “Behind The Mask”. This was at a time when I was still at a very early stage in finally coming to terms with myself as a woman, and so the corollary of that was the relationship between sexuality and gender. It was really precipitated by an aborted attempt to come out to my old friend Pete, after which I had told my then counsellor that I suspected that he thought I was going to tell him I was gay or bi. Which lead me to the conclusion that the terms gay and straight assume that the person is cis; as I said at the time, was I a straight man or a gay woman, or something else? My feelings on the subject have moved on somewhat in the intervening three years.
I now take the view that the terms gay and straight apply to people who adhere to the gender binary, which I do. Gender history, whether trans or cis, shouldn’t be important in this. It is non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer people for whom the terminology of sexuality becomes inadequate. If someone is neither male nor female to begin with, how can their sexuality be defined as gay, straight, or bi? Pansexual? Omnisexual? Multisexual? I’m going to stop myself disappearing down that particular rabbit hole. Anyway, it is for people such as this that we now have the Q after the L the G the B and the T.
Back in 2014 I wrote about how, despite the fact that I didn’t find men attractive, I would love for men to find me attractive. I suppose I still feel that way, but my need for affirmation isn’t quite what it was before. It’s different anyway, in that I just love the simple affirmation of being addressed as “Madam” in a shop, or hearing an old man tell his grandson to “let that lady past” when he is blocking my route through a shop. That’s the affirmation I need. I can live without being catcalled and wolf-whistled, not that it’s much of a problem for me compared to many other women.
Something else that I wrote about in that old post was the fact that many trans women experience a “flip” in sexuality when they transition, or they begin to take hormones. In fact I have seen it for myself with my good friend Andrea, who recently had her first romantic relationship with a man – I’m not betraying a confidence writing that, she wrote about it herself on her own blog. In fact for a long time I thought it would happen to me. I wanted it to happen to me. The logic goes like this:
Since I was very young, I have known that I was in some way trans. Even when I didn’t know the terminology, I knew that I wanted to be a girl, to dress and present in a feminine manner, to do the things that girls do. So I have always thought of myself as at the very least being a latent trans person. However, because it took me until well into middle age to accept myself as actually being a woman, I have never thought of myself as gay. I never was attracted to men. I was exclusively attracted to women. And since I was to the outside world male, I was a straight man. I never thought any more about that. I might be a bit trans, but I’m not gay. Well not a gay man anyway.
Once I finally decided around two years ago now that transition was the path I had to take, I sort of assumed that I would eventually end up in a relationship with a man. If any of them would have me. Because I had been so focused on my gender identity for so many years, I had never really given any consideration to my sexual identity. I was, as far as I was concerned, heterosexual. So if I was straight and I was a woman, that means I am attracted to men, right? Right. Plus I felt that if I was going to be fully female, I needed to find a way to be both attracted and attractive to men, because otherwise I wouldn’t be fully embracing my female identity. This is of course utter nonsense, as if gay woman aren’t every bit as female as straight women. My mind was working in a strange way.
I tried. I genuinely tried to find men attractive. I looked at them. I sized them up. Blokes in the street, sports starts, actors, anyone, desperately looking for one that I could imagine snuggling up to on a couch. I didn’t find anyone. Certainly I can look at a man and know if he is attractive or not, if he has endearing qualities, and in fact some men can have quite compelling physical features. But not once in my 47 years have looked at any man on the planet and gone “Phwooar” or words to that effect.
Meanwhile, I was still looking at other women and finding them beautiful and fascinating and enchanting and everything that I was draw to. And so did I realise that it was my own gender to whom I was attracted? Of course not. I convinced myself that it was all to do with jealousy and role models. I was fascinated by certain women because I wanted to be like them, to have their lightness and beauty and I was jealous because I’m always going to be this rather large galoot of a woman. And at the same time I was worried that the only man who might be willing to take a chance on this galoot would be someone whom I just wouldn’t fancy. But considering I fancy neither Brad Pitt, George Clooney or David Beckham, that’s probably a safe bet.
My Road to Damascus occurred a few weeks ago and it’s down to Andrea that it happened. She had just crossed from the Friendzone into the Girlfriendzone, and had mentioned that she wasn’t sure how she would react kissing a man, however she was pleased to report that she enjoyed it immensely. My reactions to this were twofold. Firstly, I was happy for my friend. As any good friend would be. But the second reaction was just “Yuk!”. When someone who has been a close friend for a few years experiences that, it was somehow easier to imagine myself experiencing the same thing, and it was not a pleasant thought. In fact, the thought of becoming physically intimate with man was fairly stomach-churning. Almost in an instant, this idea that I might one day find myself a nice man and settle down (again) evaporated. I know that I just couldn’t be in that sort of relationship with a man. Which by a process of elimination means…
I am a woman. I am exclusively attracted to other women. There’s a word for that isn’t there? A word beginning with L. Really? Me? This is going to take some getting used to. I’m trying out the word for size and it sounds very very strange when I say it. In fact, for a few weeks after I thought it I couldn’t say it. Me? Gay? No, I’ve never thought I was gay in my life. Except that was when being gay meant being attracted to men. Now when it means being attracted to women it’s a different story.
It’s a term that I have been reluctant to use about myself. I thought no, this isn’t right. I can’t walk into a group of gay women and announce that I was one of them when six months ago I was living as a man with my wife. How can that be right? I didn’t have those experiences of finding myself attracted to the same gender in childhood, I didn’t have to deal with family, friends, denial, acceptance, discrimination, fear, coming out. How can I count myself as one of them when I don’t have that commonality of experience?
Then I realised I was talking bollocks. I was talking such bollocks that I was in danger of sounding like Germaine Greer saying why I can’t be a woman, and let’s face it, nobody wants to sound like that out-of-touch has-been. And anyway, if you’ve been reading this blog over the last year you will have seen plenty of me dealing with family, friends, denial, acceptance, discrimination, fear and coming out. Huge quantities of it. So I have earned my stripes, just in a different way from others. And that’s ok.
So three years and five months after I first admitted to myself and my counsellor that I was a transsexual woman, I am just about ready to make another declaration. It’s an odd feeling, because this is not something I have carried around with me waiting to finally burst out in a hurricane of self-awareness like the trans declaration was. This is more a case of if x and y then z. So I’ll say it now.
I am a lesbian.