Coming Out is Forever

My wife and I had a conversation the other day revolving around her transition. She mentioned that she’d written a journal wherein she realizes she’ll be coming out forever–a feeling which I as a bi/pan person can understand, since I’m also always coming out. In our discussion, and in her journal, she brushed on the pressures of ‘fitting in,’ of ‘passing‘ as cisgender.

I paused the conversation there, because I wanted to check in with her. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t trying to conform to something that wasn’t her, that she wasn’t trying to fit into a mold with an ever-changing, ever-moving target of cisgender ‘femininity’ just because it has ‘cisgender’ attached to it. I wanted to make sure she felt free to be herself.

And I wanted to mention an article I’d read: The Null HypotheCis. This article points out that our society tends to treat ‘cisgender/cissexual’ as the null, the standard, the thing against which we test.

After all, surely if we’re going to risk so much, put so much at stake, in such a monumental “decision”, we should approach it carefully, and make sure to be certain, right? Shouldn’t we be looking for proof that we’re trans before gambling our whole lives on that being the case?

Well, maybe… if proof of being trans was even really something possible, beyond the simple proof of subjectively experiencing your identity and gender as such. But more importantly: we never ask ourselves for “proof” that we’re cis.

And yet–identifying as cisgender is (as the article points out) every bit as much of a subjective thing as is identifying as transgender. (And perhaps that’s part of the discomfort of transgender identities–that such persons make us call our cis selves into question, make us think about how subjective our identities really are.) I brought it up to her because I know how easy it is to buy into that narrative of the societally structured null hypothesis, that ‘straight’ is null and LGB is the question.

As a bisexual woman married to someone who didn’t come out of the closet as MtF until well after we were married, I lived with ‘heterosexual couple privilege’ for years. And I still do, in some ways, since we’re still in the very beginning stages of Eren coming out at work and making legal marker changes.

And yet–both Eren and I live with stigma every day. Both of us are eternally coming out. And sometimes, it’s exhausting and hard and emotionally draining. Sometimes people expect us to be the educational battering rams to knock down their uneducated peers’ views.

But worse? Bisexual people experience higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation than lesbian and gay folks, and transgender people have an even higher suicide rate. In a world where we’re constantly either erased or that it will kill you for existing, is it any wonder that our two groups experience such high rates of depression and suicide? No, it isn’t.

Eren and I worry more about her external safety and my internal safety. We worry about someone ‘finding out’ she’s transgender and deciding to hurt or kill her for that. A world that makes a punchline out of her existence means her existence is in itself dangerous and a challenge to the system. We worry about my internal safety as I am currently the one teetering most precariously on that depression slope. We worry that in 49 states (including ours), ‘trans panic’ is still a ‘defense’ for killing a transgender person.

So what can we do? We can recognize that transmisogyny hurts all of us:

Transmisogyny not only names the oppression trans women face as both trans people and as women, but it is also an enormously valuable concept for understanding what motivates violence in a patriarchal culture. It is both a specific descriptor and a larger framework for understanding much more about how gender works in our society. In fact, I would argue that the simultaneous hatred of both transness and femininity — transmisogyny — is at the root of much, perhaps even most, of the anti-queer violence in our world.

Let me be very clear: I in no way wish to take away from the specificity of the term transmisogyny and the experience of the world, unique to trans women and nonbinary transfeminine people, that it describes. I am emphatically not arguing that people who are not trans women or otherwise transfeminine directly experience transmisogyny. Rather, I believe that transmisogyny is such a strong (and often subconscious) influencer of attackers’ thoughts and actions that it underlies many of the ways in which people of all genders are disciplined and punished over perceived gender and sexual transgressions.

In other words, while transmisogyny is primarily aimed at trans women and transfeminine people, and it is experienced solely by them in ways that should be discussed without mention of other groups, its prevalence in the world is so widespread that it also happens to “spill over” into violence against others.

Combining this with The Null HypotheCis idea, we can see why so many people are threatened by transgressions against boundaries thought to be objective but actually subjective. And we can see that these shouldn’t actually be seen as threats but as freedoms for all of us, ways to break the bonds that those ‘objective’ boundaries have held us in. If we can break free from a reliance on supposedly objective understandings of gender and turn our gazes to subjective understandings, perhaps we can break free of the violence against queer people of all stripes–particularly transgender women of color–and perhaps we can begin to see visibility and a reduction in suicide rates amongst bi and trans groups.

And maybe–maybe then, coming out won’t be quite so exhausting.

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Observation Bits

I want to write more–I always do–but pain and fatigue have kept me from doing much of anything this week, including attending a friend’s wedding. So instead, I’m posting some brief observations–things that I may at a later point delve into deeper, but for now will just comment on lightly.

It is always weird to get calls from people who call my spouse by her legal name. Then I have to think in my head, “Purposely misgender her to this person, because they possibly do not know.” Usually this is the case with doctors and the like, since we live in one of the states that doesn’t have workplace protections for transgender individuals. She’s not ‘out’ to her work yet because of this, and so we haven’t done legal name-change things yet.

One of the ways I know my spouse has a fantastic partner: if I say something on here that worries said partner, she comes to me and asks me about it. I am so incredibly grateful that we both have someone who communicates so well in our lives–that is key to successful polyamory, and is one of the markers of her beautiful personality.

Being in chronic pain/fatigue has me questioning my symptoms. I have ideas about what may be going on, that perhaps there’s something with A Name here–but I don’t know if that’s a wish to have a Named Thing so it’s easier to talk about, to tell doctors and family and friends about. On the one hand, it would suck to have a Named Thing, because no one really wants that. But on the other hand, it would really…help, if all of these things were part of a Named Thing. Ferrett Steinmetz has a fantastic essay about this.

I wish I had a better way to wrap this all up, but given that it’s a loose collection of observations, perhaps a loose wrap-up is okay. I will do better next week. Also, I am looking into moving into a domain soon, which may involve a bit of bumpiness as I transition my site–I’ll keep you all updated.

Marriage Equality

I woke up this morning, sleepily made my way to my computer, turned on Orange Is The New Black (I’m behind the rest of the nation in my Netflix viewing), and started browsing Facebook while I ate breakfast and took my pills. And then I had to stop everything, because I read that SCOTUS passed marriage equality.

Found on Believe Out Loud's Facebook page
Found on Believe Out Loud’s Facebook page

And I started crying.

I’m so happy.

I’ve been married for a decade now, so it may not seem like such a huge deal personally. But when Eren came out to me, one of our first worries was whether we’d be one of the couples forcibly divorced. We didn’t live in California, but we’d heard of such horror stories from other states–one spouse coming out as transgender, the State not liking that, and boom: divorced.

During this fight for marriage equality, we’ve never lived in a state where our marriage, post-coming-out, was legal. It’s been a strange sort of limbo. On the one hand, we’ve enjoyed the privileges of what has appeared to the State as a heterosexual union. On the other, we never knew–until now–whether that union might be suddenly severed against our will. It seemed unlikely to happen, but stranger things have happened, and even an ‘unlikely’ care is still a care added to the pile.

There are still worries. Our state–our land–still does not have full workplace protections for LGBTQIA persons. We still do not have full public accommodations and housing protections for LGBTQIA persons, we still have a youth homelessness issue for young LGBTQIA persons whose parents/guardians are intolerant. We still have a huge suicide issue, particularly for bisexual and transgender persons, and we still must work toward equality particularly for transgender women of color. We’re still fighting for the right to pee in peace, to express and identify as we please and as we are.

But today–we have the right to show our love, to stop worrying about being forcibly divorced, to visit our spouses in hospitals, to adopt one another’s children, to have children together, to share insurance, and all the other benefits granted to the married. Today is a good day.

Caitlyn Jenner and My Wife

Reactions to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition have spanned the predictably horrible to questioning misogyny and sexism in America/the world to talking about the difficulties transgender women of color face to a response from Laverne Cox pointing out that beauty isn’t the marker of womanity.

These reactions have also led to people–friends and family–calling and hitting up my various inboxes with questions about my wife’s transition, how we’re doing, whether supporting MtF transition upholds patriarchal/kyriarchal standards of beauty/power/oppression over women overall, asking about my wife’s genitalia, wanting to discuss Caitlyn’s transition and interviews and photo spreads, wanting to talk about/sympathize about people being rude about transgender individuals, and so on.

Amongst my seminary pals, I’m a known gender theorist. Amongst all my friends and family, my wife and I are out about her transition and our orientations. We’re open books, and generally we don’t mind being asked questions. In ‘peace times’–when there’s a ‘lull’ in transgender news reporting (when there’s not been a famous person to recently come out as transgender), I might get one or two people across a few months’ time who talk with me about transgender issues. But when someone famous comes out as transgender, everyone wants to light up my world.

It can be a little overwhelming for this introvert.

I have to wonder, from my perspective, how Caitlyn’s friends and family are doing. My wife and I–we have an interesting dynamic. There aren’t a whole lot of people who experience gender transition during marriage, and of those, there aren’t a whole lot who wind up staying together throughout the whole thing (for a variety of reasons).

Wife and I are obviously together. E and I love one another very much. Sometimes it’s weird, though.

We’re in our 30s, but she’s going through puberty again. I don’t mean the physical kind–although of course with her hormones, there’s that, too–but there’s an emotional puberty/adolescence. She gets to experience life as a girl in a way she couldn’t when she was younger. She’s having some of the experiences she should’ve been having when she was 12, 13, 14, 15 years old. I support her through it, but sometimes there’s a little bit of oddness to it. Sometimes I find myself thinking, I’m married to a 30-something teen-aged girl. How did that happen again? 

She’s experimenting with clothing, flirting, doing her hair. Her body is changing, and she’s surveying those changes, mapping herself anew all the time. She’s excited by those changes, bounding up to me to show me, eyes lit up, her voice calling out, “Look! Look!”

I’m so glad for her. I’m so proud of her, for sticking it out, for going through the tough stuff she’s had to go through–facing her fears about coming out to family and friends, about coming out to me, about her own awkwardness with her body. I’m happy to be able to provide a safe space for her, to be her confidante, to hold her hand through this all and to push and guide where appropriate.

This has been years in the making, just as it has been for Caitlyn Jenner. The journey continues, the process continues. I hope that the Jenners/Kardashians are prepared for ‘teen girl mode,’ too. I hope that all who transition can find a safe, supportive environment in which to do so.

How I came to polyamory

I came to polyamory more slowly than I probably should have.

In undergrad, I took a Philosophy of Love course with my eventual spouse. Even before that course, I’d rejected the idea that there was only one true soul mate for each of us–because the world is large, because time is infinite (what if my true soul mate had been born in the 1500s? how screwed [or not] would I be?! and what about that poor sod?!), because there are so many ways to be happy with so many people…–and she had, too, for about the same reasons.

During the course, we talked, off and on, about what it would mean if she and I were to commit to one another forever, and whether we thought we’d always be monogamous and monamorous. We both agreed that we thought the idea unlikely, because neither of us could imagine one person fulfilling all our needs forever–because we would grow, because our selves would change, because of all those wonderful people out there.

Neither of us had ever heard of polyamory nor been really introduced to the concept of open marriages.

We got engaged anyway, happy that we were in agreement here and knowing that we’d always talk about these things whether such ever manifested in our lives.

Shortly after our engagement (or perhaps shortly before–I don’t remember the exact sequence), the chaplain fellow at my school took myself and another Theology-major classmate on a trip to visit the seminary from which she’d graduated. On the way there, she asked us very casually what we thought of ‘polyamory.’

I’d never heard the term, and I doubt my classmate had, either. I don’t remember what my classmate said in response. I remember thinking, Poly – many, amory – love, so that must mean many loves…. And then I said something like, “Well…it would take some pretty special people to be able to work out the jealousy factor, but I don’t see anything wrong with the idea.”

I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went. In hindsight, I can see how I should have put together the word ‘polyamory’ with the concept my now-spouse and I had been discussing. I didn’t. Not for a couple of years anyway.

It wasn’t until after my spouse and I married (which was a full year after graduation, and that conversation had occurred during the January of my junior year) that I began to put that word together with our concept. And that happened because I met someone.

I wasn’t actively looking, and neither was my spouse. We were very happy with one another. But I did meet someone, and we talked and talked. He was funny and smart and kinky. I was in the beginning stages of exploring kink (and still am in a lot of ways, because I’m always exploring). And eventually, feelings developed.

So I talked about it with my spouse, and things developed, and though the relationship didn’t last long, it was fun and good.

There were a few more short-term partners and potential partners before I settled into another relationship. Around the same time, my spouse had also met someone. Both relationships lasted for a while–mine for three years, hers on and off for two–before we each found ourselves with only one another again.

There’s been a lot of ironing out of things for us–jealousy, rules, negotiations. At first, there were rules about talking about all partners, to help mitigate jealousy. But after a while we found less jealousy happening and more happiness for one another’s happiness (later we would learn the term ‘compersion’). We started out discussing every online flirtation, every online sexual encounter. Now we discuss those that seem more lasting, more likely to leave some sort of deep imprint, more likely to become real life sexual encounters.

Now, she has a long-distance long-term partner, and flirtations with others. Now, my long-term boyfriend/partner (who started out long-distance) lives with us, and I have another long-term, long-distance lover and a long-term, long-distance Dom. There have been some wrinkles to iron out with each of these–her partner wanting to tell me how to deal with my spouse’s depression issues, my boyfriend wanting me to commit to one penis policy, my lover and my Dom conflicting with one another in the beginning. But there have been so many more joys–my Dom guiding my explorations of Domminess with my lover; my lover and my spouse and my boyfriend and I gaming together; my spouse’s partner (my metamour–a new term I picked up recently) sending my spouse a gift card to buy feminine shoes to help with her transition and recommending excellent Indian recipes; my spouse and lover getting along so well that there’s at least slight attraction between them; my spouse and my boyfriend both kissing me at the same time on New Year’s.

I am so glad we listened to ourselves and explored together.

Previously posted on my FetLife profile.