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.

2 comments so far

  1. Quinnae Moongazer on

    I must say in the brief time you’ve been blogging you’ve been tremendously insightful. I’m not often moved to comment on blogs this frequently but…

    >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.

    That’s something that particularly resonated with me. I felt very much the same way, and in retrospect it’s become even clearer to me that this is what I was experiencing. In my case, however, I was struggling hard to fit into certain male stereotypes. In the heady years before I had even the vaguest notion that being a transsexual woman was possible- and despite my utter fascination with any sort of ‘sex change’ that appeared on TV or in commercials, or in games- I was just struggling to fit the round peg of my emotions in the square hole of societally defined manhood.

    In the course of that I was teased for having a crush on nearly every girl in school. ::smirks:: But I realised, much as you did, that I didn’t want to date them. I wanted to be them. I wasn’t allowed to think- as I did of some of my female peers- ‘she has a great fashion sense, perhaps I should shop for clothes like that!’ That had to get shoehorned into “I must fancy her!” Same with the teachers, whom I admired and wanted to be. That was verboten for a young man, thus I forced myself to think and feel that it was attraction and naught else.

    As to the rest of your post, I find your thoughts on the matter to be interesting. I identify as a lesbian as well, largely to be intelligible to others. But after a lot of introspection and the reading of some of the more radical works of other trans and queer people I’ve started to realise that there’s rather a lot more to sexuality than ‘gay, straight, and bi’.

    As I talk to more and more people I’ve started to realise none of these labels fits *perfectly* and sexuality can be a great deal more individuated and fluid. You say your sexuality might have been less nuanced if you weren’t trans and that’s certainly possible; being trans tends to give one a front row seat for a crash course in things not being what they appear, and on the fluidity of gender identity. With that invariably comes a very deep and intimate exploration of what one’s sexuality is and what it means. Even if one solidly identifies as a man or a woman, within that particular binary, it’s rather hard to ignore everything one is bound to have learned on a difficult journey that made plain to you the matrix of gender and sexual identity.

    But of course plenty of cis people and other sectors of the transgender community are discovering this too. In this day and age it’s become safer to explore and safer to express preferences based on one’s own feelings rather than societal expectations.

    >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.

    Indeed. I think this stems from the fact that to a lay person, a transgender person is just an extremely gay individual (a very butch lesbian, or a flamboyant drag queen). That’s how some people I’ve encountered thought of it. “So you’re a transvestite?” being an annoying question asked in complete, if irksome, innocence.

    They figure that being a transsexual person (especially a trans woman) is a very transgressive expression of homosexuality. So they think cis gay men and women have standing to talk about this stuff.

    It is certainly problematic in the sense that it’s cis people who may know very little about us telling other cis people what to think of us. We’re silenced enough as it is, and a huge chunk of our problems comes from people buying into those stereotypes about us, believing what they see on television and so forth. But on the flip side of that, explaining this stuff properly isn’t at all easy.

    *I’m* still learning new things every day, new perspectives and new ideas, and while I get them I know that to someone like my father it might as well be written in ancient Greek. So it presents one with a dilemma: do you simplify things absurdly to ‘speak in their language’ and do a little bit of educating (hopefully) or do you delve into the vicissitudes of gender studies in the name of treating the topic with the proper dignity?

    I’ve tried to find the middle ground myself.

    Anyhow, thanks again for another thought provoking post!

    • Nebulous Persona on

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my first few posts. I hope that I manage to keep up quality too. In fact, it’d be nice if I just manage to keep up with posting. We’ll see…

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