Dillan DiGiovanni explores the idea that who you are now and who you love now does not define who you were or will be.
One of the gifts I’ve received from my gender transition is the ability to see how little we think of reality is truly real. It’s helped me understand why some people struggle with embracing more comprehensive sexuality, perhaps because they lack an intimacy with and acceptance of themselves.
People pass me on the street and, because I’m “passing” as male now, they have no idea about my past. I pump gas and the cashier says, “Have a great day, buddy.” Men pass me on the street and give me a nod when they didn’t before. When I walked into a yarn store while running an errand with a female friend recently, the women gave me funny looks and said, “You might want to go get some coffee, she’ll be a while.” I smiled, knowing why they said it and then I felt sad, because they felt the need to say it.
The people who misgender me most often are the ones who knew me in the past or who I eventually come out to. Somehow, the more people know, the more their focus goes to who I “was” and they call me the wrong pronoun. even if they didn’t know me then. Curious, eh?
Is perception, indeed, reality?
It’s part of why I don’t make assumptions about anything in anyone’s life. When I meet someone, I don’t assume anything about their past or present choices regarding relationships, nutrition, spirituality or work experience. In my coaching work, I’ve found these are the things that most people use as major identifiers or labels for themselves. I ask open-ended questions because it creates unlimited possibilities for people, limitless possibilities to match the real variety of experiences people have, but don’t necessarily share publicly. This lack of visibility often leads people to think they are alone in their experience—which is absolutely not the case.
Take sexual orientation, for example. I met a new friend recently and she seemed to be a very open-minded person. We were cleaning up after an event and her female-identified friend was hanging around waiting for us to finish. Some people would have assumed this person was a friend, but I considered that it was her romantic partner. When I asked, she seemed a little surprised but, to her credit, didn’t act like I was crazy to think that. I learned to think that way a few years ago, while talking to a woman who was married to a man. She said she identified as bisexual but people never knew that because she was married. “My marriage completely erased my bisexual identity,” she said. “People make assumptions about me based solely on what I’m doing right now.”
I was truly amazed at the time, but realized lately that I’ve had the same experience. People have made a lot of assumptions about my sexual orientation based on a few highly visible relationships in my recent past but, the truth is, I’ve dated as many men as I have women. And I’m actually attracted to people outside that binary and would consider dating anyone as long as that person was ready, willing and able to be a committed partner. It’s true that the complexity of my own gender identity and sexuality, in general, through the years made romantic relationships with some people easier and more difficult with others. The more people I coach, the more I learn how common this is. People share things in a confidential environment that they don’t in everyday life. Perhaps they feel safe because I’m open about my own identities. My deeper friendships reveal this, too. Specifically regarding sexuality, the totality of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, I can tell you that most people have inclinations they are afraid to act on or express more explicitly for fear of familial or societal rejection or reprisal. This is absolutely more common than it is rare, and the more often people speak up and share, the easier it becomes for everyone else.
Reflecting on all the people I’ve been drawn to, or who have been drawn to me, reveals how few of the relationships were ever about labels and identities. Like all relationships, it was about my comfort level with myself, that other person and that person’s comfort with me. It was about comfort first, compatibility second and then, the mutual capacity and intention for commitment. The relationships either worked or didn’t work not because of “what” I was or what he or she was but rather, what each of us was capable of accepting and fully embracing about ourselves and each other. All relationships are like that, and the best ones last because two (or more) people make this conscious choice to love another person fully and work through the challenges that come up when individuals commit to lasting partnership.
Even before my gender transition, I embodied a fairly consistent ambiguous sexual identity. It’s true that many cisgender, heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual women were attracted to me. But cisgender, heterosexual men were attracted to me, too. Because my memory often focuses on the longer-term relationships I’ve experienced, I read through my old journals recently and recalled many, long-forgotten individuals I encountered and “dated”. Post-transition, as I embody an increasingly more fluid sexuality, it leads me to wonder, how many of these people were truly cisgender and heterosexual, after all? How truly cisgender and heterosexual is anyone, really?
My personal and professional experience has convinced me of the complexity of identity, specifically regarding sexuality, and the sham and charade that most people believe about themselves and others. There is more happening beneath the surface in most peoples’ lives and perhaps in yours, as well. The extent to which we can explore and cherish our individual complexity allows us to provide that same experience for others.
Heading into the New Year, what intentions do you have to explore this a bit further in your own life?
Photo: A K Rockefeller/Flickr
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