As a queer trans man, internalized homophobia intersects with my trans status in complex and painful ways. Being trans put me on the defensive, all the indignities like lighter fluid on the fire of insecure manhood. It’s only now, years past transition, that I feel safe and strong enough to let go.
Accepting that I am bi/queer in terms of orientation has changed my life. I have stopped trying to seem straight–something I had no idea I’d been doing, but which nonetheless severely limited me. Suddenly people are reading me as queer again and it feels really good. I no longer police my body language or my vocal mannerisms. How heavy was the weight of the fear of seeming gay!
[Side note–I am still using the word bi but I’m identifying more and more with just queer. I am realizing that attraction to masculine genderqueer people is a major region of my sexual landscape, which makes “bi” just seem a bit off. While my attraction to men is still feeling kind of vague and confusing, my attraction to genderqueer people feels more fully formed. But I’m cool with either term.]
Wow do I have a lot of internalized homophobia going on. I’m shocked at how deep and how toxic it is. I guess I thought, having gone through so many queer identities, I’d be somehow immune–but of course not. I am now unpacking the special flavor of shame reserved for queer men in our society.
It is such a relief to embrace myself more fully, to be okay with my queer masculinity. I notice people reading me as gay, and people with big question marks over their heads as they try to figure out what letter of the alphabet soup to pin on me. I notice the way I talk differently with different people. I can be a gay boy with a bit of flare or a reliable straight bro–whatever. They’re both me, and neither is. I’m enjoying it.
A key piece of this for me is getting more and more comfortable with my trans body. I’ve recently been exploring sexual pleasure using my front hole. I admit to being a little freaked out just typing that–I have so much shame about that part of my body. Thanks a lot, cissexist, misogynist society.
When I first started exploring my masculinity, I went hardcore stone in the sense of not being touched. This allowed me to engage sexually, which was awesome. As I transitioned and my body changed, I got rid of my dildo and started using my attached dick. But I never started using my front hole, not even by myself, until like two days ago. That part of my body was off limits for about seven years. Seven years is a pretty long time.
Alma and I were talking about my fear and shame around enjoying that part of myself. She encouraged me to put the fear into the format, “I don’t want to _______, because if ________, then ________.” This is an exercise we learned for dealing with jealousy and insecurity around nonmonogamy. (Did I mentioned we’re poly now? We’re poly now. It’s been a fun and eventful summer, haha.) I took a deep breath, quieted my mind, and allowed an answer to unfold. My mind replied,
I don’t want to have sex using my front hole, because if we do that, and I like it, then I will be a faggot.
This thought shocked the hell out of me. Wow, ouch, how horrible. I didn’t even know that idea was in there.
In exposing these contortions to the light, I release them. I get freer and freer. There is no end to freedom.
Why don’t you ever talk about being bi on your blog? Alma asked me, half asleep in bed on a recent morning. It’s a good question.
I’ve come out four times. The first time I came out, at age 13, I came out as bisexual. Two years later, at 15, I came out as gay (my word at the time–never could get comfortable with the word lesbian). At 19, I came out as butch; at 21, I came out as a trans man. Well, I’m going for number 5, and I’m finding myself circling all the way back around again. I am bisexual.
This is something I’ve concluded recently. Part of what’s made this a tricky learning process for me is that I have extremely lopsided attractions. To get really specific here, I’d say I am bisexual and heteroromantic: I experience sexual attraction to both men and women, but romantic feelings only towards women.
My attraction to women feels fully developed, vibrant, definitive. I know, very clearly, whether I am attracted to a woman or not; and if I’m attracted to her today, I will probably be attracted to her tomorrow. I get crushes on women. I am madly in love with a woman.
My attraction to men feels vague, fleeting, more potential than realization. Feelings of attraction come and go, and I can be uncertain whether I’m attracted to a particular guy. If I’m attracted to a man this morning, I might feel differently this afternoon. When I feel a more stable attraction to a man, rather than feeling romantic-love-type feelings, it’s more like feelings of friendship and comradery with a slight sexual twist. Even if I were single, I don’t think I’d want to date or be in a relationship with a guy.
My attractions towards men remind me a little bit of what I’ve read about how some gray-asexual folks experience sexual attraction in general. I want to give a shout out to the ace community for doing so much groundwork in exploring and coming up with terminology for different types of attraction. I am allosexual, and I wouldn’t have the language to describe what I’m feeling without the asexual community. Asexual people of the internet, you are awesome!
I have felt these attractions, in this imbalanced pattern, since the onset of puberty. But they made no sense until after transition. I experimented with guys a little bit as a young teenager, but the experiences felt all wrong, because I was in a female role. As I realized that I had romantic feelings for girls but not boys, I figured I must be exclusively attracted to women. As I began exploring my gender, I concluded that my feelings towards men were a result of identifying with them–which is definitely part of it. The feelings are a longing to express sexuality with other men, as a man.
So there you have it. I feel it’s important for me to share this here because there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be bi. Until recently, I never considered identifying as bi because to me the term suggested strong, close-to-equal attraction to men and women. But I now see this is untrue, and in fact many bisexuals experience lopsided attraction. I was partly inspired to claim the label of bisexual by that essay by Charles M. Blow on his sexual development and imbalanced interest in men and women [content note for child sexual abuse].
I don’t like the prefix “bi”–there are more than two genders, and I definitely experience attraction towards genderqueer people. But of course, homosexual and heterosexual, gay and straight have the exact same problem–they are all based on a gender binary. I feel like bisexual gets unfairly blamed, when really this is an issue with our whole concept of sexual orientation, and I see that as an example of biphobia. So despite these flaws, I’m using bisexual because it’s widely recognized and because I can no longer claim that the definition does not accommodate me.
“Bisexual” seems to have this strange problem where a huge proportion of people who could be described as bi reject the term. This seems to be a special case; I don’t see large numbers of people who could be described as straight or gay rejecting those words. I respect each person’s self-definition–your sexual orientation is whatever you say it is–but I think the larger pattern here is biphobia, plain and simple. I want to do my tiny part to help change that.
Alma and I have been sharing a process of discovery as we both continue to grow into our queer identities. We’ve carved out a “monogamish” arrangement (to use Dan Savage’s excellent term) to allow me to explore this side of my sexuality. Specifically, I’m curious about fooling around with another trans guy. This is meaningful to me both as an expression of my attraction to men, and as part of my ongoing process of learning to love my trans body and envision myself as a sexually embodied human being.
At this point, this isn’t something I feel any need to actively pursue. It may or may not ever happen. But it always feels good to get a little more honest.
Will LGBT people always need to come out? This question reverberated in my mind as I reflected on the steady pace of progress on LGBT issues in the US in recent years. Like so many issues that affect our community, I see a big difference between LGB on the one hand and T on the other.
Alma and I were recently discussing the amazing shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage we’ve seen just in the last decade. We made friends through youth activism, a lot of it centered around marriage equality. Every legislative session, we swarmed the state capitol, asking our representatives to vote “No” on proposed DOMAs and “Yes” on domestic partnership bills. We thought we would see marriage equality in our lifetimes–but we didn’t think it would arrive so soon, or so decisively.
This year, marriage equality came to our state. I shed a few tears watching the first same-sex marriages performed in my county, a ceremony in English, Spanish and Hebrew. What will it be like for kids who grow up in a marriage equality world?
The gap between my generation and my parents’ is massive. When they were growing up, coming out young meant one’s early twenties. In contrast, many people my age (mid-twenties) came out in high school or even middle school. Realizing you’re gay at 25 seems surprisingly late to me. No disrespect meant to those who come out later in life; it’s just a cultural norm. The point is that in some spheres, “early” and “late” have completely shifted in just a couple of decades.
This means that “coming out” for young LGB folks can have a completely different meaning from earlier times. For example, my mom, who is in her fifties, sensed she was a lesbian from a young age. But she had no words and no role models. She married my dad, and ended up coming out in her late thirties. For her, “coming out” meant letting go of a false self she’d presented to the world for many years. Of course, many in her generation came out at a younger age and never entered a different-sex marriage, such as my step-mom. Still, the phrase “coming out of the closet” surely suggest a sojourn in a narrow place of hiding, shame, and restriction.
But what is coming out for the person who is able to say “I’m gay” (or whatever) at age 14? Many of these people will move smoothly from childhood to adolescence to adulthood without ever presenting a false straight self. They will have their first kiss, first date, and first marriage with a person they are actually attracted to.
So I wonder whether in the next generation, “coming out” will have the same resonance for LGB people. More and more individuals may have the chance to simply “come in” to their selves, without no detainment in the closet.
But what about trans people? Acceptance and awareness of our lives are on the rise, too. The Time piece on Laverne Cox seems to suggest a new level of mainstream affirmation. Yet it seems certain that for the foreseeable future, trans people will always have to come out.
Ascribing sexual orientation to a child is different than ascribing gender. I think more parents will be willing to wait and see who their child loves. But how many will be willing to wait and see who their child is?
I am not advocating gender-neutral childhoods. Many of us wish we’d had the chance to grow up as a boy or girl–why deny that to others? The fact is that for the vast majority, sex assignment works.
So there may be no getting around it. In cultures that have a deep and wise appreciation of gender variance, trans kids may be sensed by the community, and may not need to come out. But in this country, I believe we will always need to announce ourselves. We will do it younger and younger, til many come out as children and young teens. We will do it to greater and greater acceptance, til rejection by one’s family becomes rare. But I do not think there will come a day when being trans doesn’t come as a surprise. Maybe someday they’ll have a test to diagnose us, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. They’ll probably try to exterminate us if they do.
Because the shackles of assigned gender will always confine us, we will always know the narrow place of the closet, even if we only know it for a few youthful years. Because no one is going to find our genders for us, we will always walk a crooked path, a path that forever remains less traveled. We are rare birds. Twenty-five years from now, trans kids may be less different–but we will always be different.
That’s my guess, anyway. What do you think? Feel free to speculate about identities I did not address.