JJ Vincent hopes that one day, the stigma the surrounds dating transwomen will be a thing of the past.
6’2″. Red hair, just below her shoulders. Sparkling blue eyes, dimples (I’m a sucker for dimples). Fond of long denim skirts, knee-high brown boots, and tank tops. Loves Monty Python and knitting. Folded 1,000 cranes for her senior art exhibition. Used to be a corrections officer. Used to be in the Civil Air Patrol. Fond of dogs of all shapes and sizes. Owns more cookbooks than should be allowed. Her name is Elizabeth.
It used to be Edward.
Writer Janet Mock says:
“We, as a society, have not created a space for men to openly express their desire to be with trans women. Instead, we shame men who have this desire, from the boyfriends, cheaters and “chasers” to the “trade,” clients, and pornography admirers. We tell men to keep their attraction to trans women secret, to limit it to the internet, frame it as a passing fetish or transaction…..I’ve stood witness to many so-called scandals, mostly published on gossip blogs, where passing interactions with trans women spawn hundreds of headlines, particularly for a man with fame and social capital. Thousands of words have been dedicated to analyzing whether such and such famous man is now suspect, merely because he took a photo with a fan who happened to be a trans woman. This questioning has led many well-known men to adamantly defend their heterosexuality and has tarnished the reputation and careers of others.”
I got to experience first-hand what men, or at least some men, go through when they date transwomen. Beth is 10 years my senior, nearly a foot taller (more so in her heels), and considerably larger than I. We drew attention when we were out together. Some people who meet her only see the woman that she is. Some see the man that she lived as. Some don’t know what they are seeing and openly refer to her as “it” or “that”. In a strange chance encounter, we were with my partner’s mother and saw Beth across the store. J’s mother, in a stage whisper, said, “Look at that woman! She used to be a man.”
I got very accustomed to getting questions, intrusive, personal questions, mostly about her, sometimes about our sex life, that people seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to ask. “Is she, um, he, um, a he or a she?” “Does she still have a, you know, a ….” “Is Beth a…was Beth a….” “So how do you….” “So, is she your girlfriend in, like, a girlfriend way? Do you do that…stuff?” “Oh, she’s like those women on Springer.” “So you’re gay, and she’s a man, so you’re really with a man?”
No. I’m with a woman.
Beth was and is a local speaker and activist, and very open about herself. But sometimes, I just did not want to answer these questions. They were inappropriate. They would never have been asked of a more traditional-looking woman, much less of her partner. And polite refusal to answer was sometimes met with oh-you-must-be-so-embarrassed, come-on-you-can-tell-me, bless-your-heart sympathy. I never understood what the sympathy was for. I was not bothered by her. What were they being sympathetic about? And not answering could be worse than answering. Silence on my part was taken as shame, which the ruder people in our world took as an invitation to needle me by calling her “he”, when they knew full-well that Beth is a woman.
People would point and snicker in public. In some circles, it was presumed that she wore the pants in the relationship, that I was less of a man because of the woman I was with. She loved to have traditional niceties observed-open the door for her, wait for her to be seated, make sure that at a party, she had food,water, a seat, all of her needs met. This led to my being, if not ordered around, then treated as an inferior, somewhat servile person by some other men. I became aware that things I took as common courtesy looked “strange” in the visual context of our relationship.
Then there were the things that people you know think you don’t see and hear. Crude and insulting things about transpeople. Crude and insulting things about people who date them. Terribly sad things about transchildren, especially transgirls, and their parents. Social media exposed people’s ugly, dirty truths. The teenage daughter of one friend saw a picture of an event Beth was at and said, “Ewwww, there’s a man in a dress.” When I came up behind her, corrected her, and told her that it was a woman and my ex (we had broken up by then) girlfriend, she wrinkled her nose and said, quite loudly, “Gross! You…gross!” It’s a testament to the woman Beth is that when I told her about this, she just rolled her eyes and said, in the exasperated voice known to grown-ups everywhere, “Teenagers!”
There were discussions around me about what really makes a woman a woman. I was lectured about this by more than a few ciswomen. I got to listen to them tell me why Beth wasn’t really a woman or question me about her body and her process, while they called her she, asked after her well-being if I hadn’t brought her around for a while, and when she was around, treat her like one of the girls. Many of the men around me generally avoided us. They would greet her politely and then withdraw and watch us from the corners of their eyes, and my isolation from them increased. If having a male partner marked me as different, having a tranwoman as a girlfriend marked me as much too different.
But I was not ashamed. How could I be?
Beth, like any other woman, is more than her parts. She is her history, everything she has done and not done in her life. She is an artist, an origami master, a Mary Kay Consultant, a dog-and-bird-and-frog owner, a sister and an aunt, a geek, and can quote The Princess Bride at length. She loves chocolate and wine and possesses the twin powers of withering sarcasm and abundant snark. She cries at sappy movies and indulges in retail therapy. She’s also a transwoman, with experiences unique to a person who has seen the world from two sides of the gender spectrum.
In October of 2013, she married a woman who can match her wit for wit, with an equally strong will and capacity for love. In a flowing, strapless white dress and hand-made shawl, in front of a group of family and friends, the woman who was once someone’s husband became someone’s wife.
And her wife, a lesbian, is not ashamed.
Author’s note: Elizabeth has given me permission to use her name and picture in the article. Quotes from Janet Mock are used with her permission from her article, How Society Shames Men Dating Trans Women & How This Affects Our Lives.