This is a post I’ve been putting off for quite some time. In the trans world it’s an emotionally loaded topic. Heck in the non-trans world it’s scarcely less so. But it’s also a really important factor in how and why my transition journey has proceeded in the way that it has. So, in the name of telling my full story, I’ve finally summoned up the courage to talk about my sexual orientation.
Throughout my life the concept of sexual orientation has been challenging for me. It was incredibly difficult to separate my sexual attractions from my inner gender struggles. I had a perfectly acceptable body for the purpose of gettin’ it on, but it didn’t feel like the right body. I was born and raised male. But if I closed my eyes and imagined a sexual encounter I always saw myself as a female. Then, when I opened my eyes… *sigh*. Eventually I learned ways to cope, but those were hardly simple and easily explainable – even to myself.
As a consequence my internal view of my own sexual orientation was impossibly tangled. In real life terms I conformed to the expected heterosexual norm. But if I secretly thought of myself as a woman, did that mean I was just as secretly a lesbian? That didn’t feel right either.
It especially didn’t feel right because, while I found plenty of girls attractive, I was also attracted to boys. I didn’t know much, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t a lesbian thing. I never acted on the male attraction – even when gay friends mistook my trans vibes for gay vibes and tried to put their moves on me. But I knew the desire was there.
You might think I would have just concluded that I was bisexual and left it there. But that was far from clear. I was haunted by doubts about what my feelings might be if I had been born a girl. Would I still find girls attractive in that case? Maybe I was only attracted to them because it was the only form of “boy/girl” relationship in which I was allowed to participate. Maybe I was confusing wanting to be a girl with wanting to be with a girl. Or maybe I only imagined I liked boys because being with a boy would make me feel more like a girl. Anytime I tried to think about it and analyze my feelings I just spun myself around in circles.
So there I was acting the part of a heterosexual male, but in secret all my sexual feelings were based on the notion that I was a female. And I liked to date women, but I secretly wanted to date men too. But in the latter case only if I could be a woman. So yeah… I was pretty sure whatever I was “straight,” “gay,” “lesbian,” and even “bisexual,” didn’t cover it.
Eventually I fell in love and got married. Before I proposed I confessed all the gender confusion I had going on inside my head, so that no secrets remained between us. It was my good fortune that Ellen (have I mentioned, she said it was okay to use her name instead of just calling her “E”?) didn’t seem remotely put off by this notion. At times she actually seemed happy about it. At the time I was too busy being grateful to notice that this might mean something significant.
Anyway, we started dating at age 19 and have remained monogamous and exclusive ever since. That certainly simplified the most practical problems around my still unresolved sexual orientation. I don’t want to get graphic about our love life, but let’s just say gender was a rather fluid concept in the bedroom. Again, I was too busy being grateful to notice that this might mean something significant.
When gender transition came along, my unresolved sexual orientation came along for the ride. I watched transitioning friends play out almost every possible scenario of the orientation spectrum. The frustrating aspect for me was that they all seemed so darn certain in comparison to me. They had an orientation they identified with before transition and another one (not always the same) after transition. I didn’t have one – not really – before or after. I expected my own “true” sexual orientation to “arrive” at some point, but I kept waiting… and waiting.
I went from describing myself as heterosexual to calling myself bisexual, but that still seemed a vastly oversimplifying word. Confining my orientation to terms like “hetero,” “homo,” and “bi,” felt like a three dimensional thing shoved into a two dimensional space. You might not think it should matter – after all I was in a monogamous relationship. But it mattered quite a lot to me.
Then there was the situation with Ellen. I may not have a clear sexual orientation, but surely she did. And when my body changed from one sex to the other, how could she remain interested? This became a persistent fear, even though Ellen kept insisting it wasn’t a problem for her. For a while I returned to the pattern of being too grateful to notice that this might mean something significant.
But I still wanted to understand myself. I was tired of being baffled by my own sexuality. Everything else in my life was finally making sense except this one thing. It agitated me like a pebble stuck in the bottom of an otherwise comfy shoe.
I asked a friend of mine who used to moderate a women’s bisexual support group for advice. She related her experience in coming to understand other bisexual women. These women started with just as much confusion about their sexuality as me. They never fit in the “hetero” or “homo” box. These weren’t trans women, but they were every bit as divorced from hetero and homo norms as I felt. In time, they figured out what worked for them personally and they were happy.
Based on that new understanding I decided to finally talk it out with Ellen. I wanted to know how she – as a heterosexual woman – could accept a partner who transitioned from male to female. Was she really a closeted lesbian all those years? Was she not truly as okay with my transition as she appeared? I needed her to understand my growing understanding of my own sexuality to make sure she was still alright with me.
So, after years and years of dancing around the topic, I decided to ask Ellen what she considered her own orientation to be, trying to figure out how my own sexuality could possibly compliment hers.
“I consider myself pan-sexual,” she replied, like it was no big deal. (The original conversation was verbal, but more recently she explained it like this in an e-mail which she permitted me to quote here):
In many ways I’m more comfortable with the term ‘pan-sexual’ because it is less limiting. Although there are many detailed definitions, my favorite would have to be, ‘The term pan-sexual generally is used for a person who does not classify their sexuality with a person’s sex, but their gender. They believe that there is a set difference between sex and gender – gender being the socially constructed condition of being male or female, and sex being the biological condition of male or female.‘
I was floored. I had been frantically trying to figure out my own sexuality all the while assuming hers was fixed and “standard.” Suddenly it hit me… If her sexuality had been so “standard,” our relationship would probably have never gotten off the ground.
I didn’t marry a heterosexual woman. In retrospect I’m not sure I could have done so. Too much pressure to be the “man” in her life that way, and if she wanted one of those I’d have long ago driven her off.
And I didn’t marry a lesbian, because until recently no one like that would have had me for more immediate reasons.
I married someone who, like me, was confused by the whole concept of sexual orientation. Who looked at the sureness of her peers on the topic with confusion and a bit of envy. I married someone who was trying to conform to expectations every bit as much as me. Part of the reason we found one another so compatible was because there was truly no pressure in our relationship to be one thing or the other. We could just … be.
Then there was the strangest part of our relationship of all… the monogamy. We’re both attracted to others – of both sexes. But we’ve never strayed and have no intention to do so. Whatever you might name our sexuality, “promiscuous” isn’t one of its attributes.
And so, I have come to find, the story of my orientation goes something like this: A girl in a boy’s body, met a girl in a girl’s body. They fell in love and got married. Things changed over the years, as things always must. But in the in the end nothing mattered more than their love and the family that love created. And one day they looked back on all their own prior confusion, and looked out at everyone else who still couldn’t understand why they stayed together, and they shared a laugh. They knew they loved one another, and none of the rest mattered anymore.