What should I call myself?

"I was sad to lose my visible gay girl identity. But I'd fallen in love too. We fit together."



So. In a nutshell, I don't know what to call myself. I don't mean, how do I describe myself to other people because, largely I don't feel the need to share who I really am with acquaintances and people I work with. I don't mean what do I put on forms, although it's a minor inconvenience to not have a word at my fingertips ready for the sexuality box. What I mean is, I don't know who I am.


It's like the old feminist point about....well, I have no word for what my mother in the 1960s, called down there, as in, dry yourself properly down there. She did teach me the anatomical name, vagina, but - tellingly - not labia or clitoris. I digress a tad, but the point is that if you have no words to talk about something then you can't even form any thoughts about it, you can't explore it. Just as we might say, there are a dozen Inuit words for different types of snow, enabling sophisticated discussion about the crucial topic of the weather and what you can and should be doing, whereas in English we only have snow, sleet, rain. It just doesn't matter that much to us, whereas for the Inuit it can be life or death. 


But what I have no words for is my soul, my inner identity, who I am deep down inside.


I'm in my 60s. Growing up, going to an old fashioned all girls school, I didn't hear or read anything about gay women. I was vaguely aware that some men were gay, but it didn't seem relevant to my own life. There was the odd comment about a PE teacher. But it was a shock to my system in the 1980s, as a feminist, to go to a women's centre and gradually realise that a lot of the women in dungarees might be lesbians.


Reading feminist texts lifted a corner of the blanket of silence about gay women. I protested against Clause 28, passionately believing that all human beings have the right to be themselves, to just be. But it was an academic exercise for me, a matter of mind not heart. I'd stopped going to the women's centre quite early on when they discussed - in front of me - at what age they would refuse my son entry as he was male. How idiotic, I thought. Don't we want more men to grow up as feminists? Which he now is, incidentally. So I didn't get to make relationships with any of the lesbians. Nor did they seem interested in talking to me, either, so the error was on both sides really.


Fast forward another 20 years. Another campaign about Section 28, still passionate about injustice. But now, I'm in my second marriage, which is dead on its feet. Going through the motions of daily life. And I become aware that I am falling in love with a woman, that years ago I was attracted to her but did nothing as I was in a relationship. But now, it's all so very different. There seems no reason any more to stay and try to persevere with a relationship that isn't doing me any good. And it hits me like a lightning bolt. Things fall into place. That's why I've always wanted androgynous men, why we've long joked that we're two androgynous people bucking society's gender stereotypes. Me, stomping around in my Doc Marten's with short spiky purple hair. And, maybe that's why I've never understood what all the fuss is about sex. Is that it? is my response to what is supposed to be mindblowingly awesome.


So I abandoned my family life to move in with a woman. Looking back, my son at 21 and my daughter at 18, still needed me, still needed a mother. But in my pain and hurt from what my ex husband had done, I was only seeing myself. And I thought, they are adults now. I have to acknowledge the wrong done there.


There followed five years of wild living, two relationships - neither positive for me - trying out the scene and clubs (in my 40s!), going to LGBT groups (as they were then). Coming out for me wasn't in any way a trauma. I embraced it. It made my life make sense. It was who I really was. And I'd been an outsider all my life, so being a proud part of a minority was my comfort zone. I was old enough to not care what other people thought of me. If they had a problem with it, so be it. Their loss, not mine. I lost a place in a village community and a church. But gained my true identity, and a new community.
So why do I now feel almost as though I don't quite have the right to be reading DIVA? 


Well, my second relationship with a woman was over. I'd extricated myself from a person who used me financially and stole from my daughter, and really only was thinking about herself. I was determined to take some time on my own, not fall into something else straight away. Then along came M. He fell in love with me, kept asking me out for lunch. Eventually, I went for lunch. And he told me he straight away that he is trans. Now, if you met him, you might struggle to believe this. He's also in his 60s, bald, has a Van Dyke beard and moustache to cover his mouth which he's embarrassed by, has a huge frame with massive shoulder arm and chest muscles, and a hairy body. He loves cars, and Formula 1. He needed some educating in liberal values, and isn't interested in being part of a trans group or meeting other trans people. In short, he looks like a man and we look like a heterosexual couple. 


I was sad to lose my visible gay girl identity. But I'd fallen in love too. We fit together.


Fast forward another decade or so. We've been together 13 years. No-one knows my partner is trans, apart from two people in his family, and they never talk about it. I think they are under the impression that it's gone away. As if. We look like a straight couple. I can't tell anyone we're not, because M is a fiercely private and proud person.


Over the years, we've talked, of course, about him transitioning. But above all he wouldn't want to look like a freak, as he puts it. He doesn't feel the need to wear women's clothes. But then, to be fair, nor do I. I'm still in jeans and Docs most of the time. He's lost all his beautiful long ringlets that he loved when he still had hair. He doesn't want to wear make up. Again, nor do I, so why should he? There's no earthly reason why trans women should, if they don't want to. He wouldn't be able to lose his broad masculine looking shoulders. So he would be looked at all the time, and for someone so private, that would be torture. He hates having male bits. Sometimes he shaves his chest and legs.


But he doesn't think he'd feel any better if he went the whole hog. Not to mention the cost and difficulty of getting the hormones - which he would like to do. Even now, to get the hormones you have to live as a woman first. And by that, they mean, live as the sort of woman that they deem appropriate, not the sort of woman that I am. Am I not a woman? For sure, I am. M has twice tried to transition. Both times, he's walked away from the process, because it was so rigid and wanted to force him to be pretend to be someone he's not. I only wish I'd known him then, as I'd have loved to debate with them and advocate on his behalf. I suppose, in essence, he feels it's too late for him now. And yes, he does know that people older than him do transition. But still, for him, he feels it is too late. 


So what am I? A gay girl, because my partner is a woman who is attracted to women? Bisexual because I've had relationships with men and women? I don't feel bi, I'm not attracted to men at all. But I don't seem like a gay woman, and I can't say that openly. LGBTQI because we're neither of us straight or straightforward? But gosh what a mouthful, and a constant explanation to the world we live in, and then I'd be outing M who really, really doesn't want anyone to know he's trans.


Any ideas, anyone?



Only reading DIVA online? You're missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It's pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.


divadigital.co.uk // divadirect.co.uk


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