Stealth Stories: On being “out” as a lesbian
In my “real life”, I make no secret of being in a same-sex relationship, but being seen as an “out lesbian” has added nuances when you have a history like mine.
“Are you out?” might seem like a reasonable question to ask a lesbian, but if you ask of me, it is somewhat lacking in specificity. I can’t answer that by saying, “About what? Being a lesbian, or …?”. Of course, it’s easy enough to answer by saying “I’m not very in-your-face. When it comes to being out, I tend to talk about things when they naturally come up. If I’m invited to something where people bring their partners, I’m going to bring mine.” Awkward question averted and no lies told. (That said, as the above shows, asking people “Are you out?” is pretty crass, so I would recommend that people try to be a bit more specific if they want to ask questions like this.)
One of the other things that happens sometimes, is that people assume that if someone is on the LGBTQ spectrum, they know about everyone else on the spectrum, which is insane. I’ve seen people ask panels of cissexual gays and lesbians about trans issues, and watched the blank looks. Once in a blue moon, I get put in that situation myself, which is weird as heck. They’re asking me about trans issues because I’m a lesbian, with no idea about my past history. But that’s okay; after saying that I am no expert in the topic (misleading, but true because being a transsexual woman does not make you an expert on the topic), I’m happy to talk about things I’ve read, like Whipping Girl.
In fact, even though it’s inappropriate, the fact that people do assume that being a lesbian makes me qualified to speak on all LGBTQ issues is in some ways useful. No one sees it as unusual if someone they see as lesbian speaks out about these kinds of issues. So, it may be being seen as a lesbian lets me be less guarded about trans issues than I might otherwise be. (Possibly though, if I weren’t seen as a lesbian, I’d be seen as a feminist, and I’d feel just as able to be seen as a trans ally.)
I’ve also occasionally been asked to talk about what it was like coming out as a lesbian, where people expect the classic tale of how hard it was to come to terms with, tell parents, etc. And I’m sure it is hard for many people out there to come out as gay or lesbian, but when you’ve transitioned, you’ve had to tell parents, coworkers, etc. that you’re going to change your sex, and really, when you’ve done that, telling people you’re in love with someone of the same sex is pretty small potatoes. It’s hard for me not to trivialize it.
I’m also okay trying to explain how my sexuality is not easily fitted into a neat little box. Internally, I don’t fully identify as lesbian, bisexual, or asexual. I’m uncomfortable with the label lesbian, because it implies I’m attracted to women, when in reality I’m not really especially lustfully attracted to anyone (other people sexualizing each other in everyday life creeps me out, in fact). But not being strongly driven by sexual attraction does not mean that I experience no sexual attraction at all, or that I have no sex drive, which makes me consider the label asexual misleading.
But for all that I will freely talk about, I don’t get to talk about how my past factors into things. My sexuality probably would have been less nuanced if I hadn’t had to deal with being a transsexual woman. I’m sure there are important developments that take place in people’s teenage years that I missed out on. In my teens, when boys my age were looking lustfully at girls, I was looking at them wistfully; I didn’t want to date them, I wanted to be them. (Girls my age were no doubt doing things too, but I missed out on all that as well.)
On the positive side, neither labels nor history needs to matter much. I’ve always believed that when the right person comes along, you’ll fall in love, and certainly that’s what happened with me.