You Need Help: Will You Grow Together or Grow Apart?

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Q: When me and my boyfriend met, he hadn’t come out as trans yet, and I was a baby queer (in her mid twenties) coming to terms with the fact that all these feelings towards other girls I experienced while growing up were actually romantic and sexual feelings rather than abnormal/irrelevant phases. A year later, he told me there was something we needed to talk about, so we sat down, and he told me that he wasn’t sure about his gender identity and that he felt like he might be more on the male side of the spectrum. He was worried what that would mean for me and us and I just told him that I appreciate his trust in me and that that wouldn’t be a problem at all, that I love him and that the first thing he should have on his mind is what this all means for him. It’s a few months later and I should be really happy for him. And I am! But I’m starting to feel kind of lost and scared and I don’t know if it has to do with the fact, that he is, of course, changing. And quite frankly I think I am scared of finding out that I am not interested in men after all. I tried to explain this to someone but it was met with transphobic remarks like, “But he still has a vagina, right, so where’s the problem?!” and it didn’t get much better from there on out.

I am also starting to feel unwelcome when I enter queer spaces. I am constantly met with “so you’re straight again, eh?!” and other phrases like that and I am sometimes feeling irrationally frustrated towards my partner, that everyone seems to navigate my sexual identity alongside his gender. I do know that I should direct my anger at the community, but I am mostly feeling shut out and scared when thinking about that. 

I am so lost. I feel like crying a lot lately and it gets harder to not let it show. Maybe you have an idea where to go from here — because I truly don’t. [Edited for length]


A:
You know that Ke$ha song, “We R Who We R”? Well, what I’m about to write has nothing to do with that song, really, but here’s the thing: We are who we are.

I don’t have a simple answer for you because there is no simple answer. I can tell from the way you write about your boyfriend that you were very much in love, that you still love him and care about him, and that you have a deep friendship. The question that is lurking, unstated, is this: Do you want to be in this relationship anymore?

It sounds like you were an amazing partner and friend to your boyfriend when he came out as trans. You made it clear that you still love him and would support him. I have no doubt you were being honest in that moment. Of course you were. You want to see your partner grow and be their best self in a healthy relationship. You are obviously still happy for him. But, now that time has passed and things have started to change in your relationship, you need to be honest again. He is being his most true self. Who is your most true self? Are you happy?

In the best case scenario, in a long term relationship, you and your love grow individually in ways that strengthen you as a couple. It’s not easy, but loving someone through changes in their self or the relationship is part of what defines a long-term partnership and makes it strong. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Even in the healthiest relationships, sometimes people grow in ways that pull them apart from each other.

As a bi/pan/queer person who has dated cis and trans men and women and is weddinged to a trans boi, I just want to take a moment to validate that the pushback you feel from the LGBTQ community is absolutely real. Some people will unfortunately make assumptions about your sexual orientation based on the gender of your partner which are: a) none of their damn business and b) hurtful and marginalizing. It absolutely disconnects you from your community when people either invalidate or refuse to recognize your queerness.

You have every right to be upset. As you are aware, it isn’t fair to put the blame for this on your partner. It sounds like he, too, no longer feels comfortable in queer spaces. He shouldn’t put that on you, either. It is terrifying to realize that you might be shut out of a community that’s supposed to be inclusive and welcoming because of who you love. A community that nurtured you and helped you become who you are today. It’s not OK. It’s deeply hurtful. It can be traumatizing.

No one else gets to dictate how you identify or whether you’re “queer enough.” Just as your boyfriend is identifying and being exactly who he is, you deserve to be exactly who you are. You can still identify however you prefer. You can be a lesbian who is in love with a man. You can identify as bisexual, pansexual or queer. You can decide you’re straight, after all. You can decide that you are attracted specifically to your partner, regardless of their gender. You can choose to have no label. Only you get to define yourself. If other people don’t like that or don’t get it, forget them.

“Forgetting them” is easier said than done, of course. The stress of your friends and community doing and saying hurtful things could be taking a toll on you and on your relationship. When you’re alone or in safe spaces where people are not judgmental, do you still feel “lost and scared” about your relationship? Does this anxiety come from the relationship itself or from how you’re being perceived and treated because of your relationship?

OK, so here’s where you need to be honest again. It’s possible you might realize that you’re not attracted to men, that you’re not into your partner any more because he’s a man. You can love your boyfriend but not be in love with him. You can be attracted to your boyfriend, but not be in love with him. You can be in love with him but not attracted to him. You can strongly identify as a lesbian and just not be open to dating men at all. It’s entirely possible that you are just not right for each other anymore.

It is also possible that the stress of your friends and community saying and doing hurtful things is taking its toll on you, and in turn, a toll on your relationship. Either way, it’s important that you really prioritize noticing how you’re feeling and where that’s coming from, so that you can be honest with yourself and your boyfriend.

Your boyfriend knows who he is and is making decisions in his life that fulfill him. It seems like you’re confused about what that means for you, who or what will fulfill you. Only you know the answer. Whether you decide to stay or to go, and whatever kind of relationship you decide you want with your local LGBT community, things are different now. It won’t be easy. Your heart will likely break at least a little either way, because staying with anyone in the long term means getting through changes together, and that’s always hard.

I wish I could wave a wand and make your friends and queer spaces safe, but I have no magic spells to fix that. Systematically, yeah, we’re working on it. You’re always welcome here at Autostraddle. If that really is the issue, you need to have a real heart to heart with your boyfriend about how much the feeling of losing your community is affecting you. You need to be 100% honest with each other about how you are feeling if you want to grow together through this. Holding your feelings back will only lead to resentment later. Support each other in finding or creating new spaces that are affirming and inclusive. Create relationships with people who have experiences and relationships similar to yours, so you can support each other rather than feeling isolated. It hurts to break up with your community, but it might be necessary if that community has become toxic.

I also wish I could magically make your relationship perfect and not confusing. I wish I could do that for a lot of people. Dude, I’d be so rich if I could do that. I’d have an infomercial and a toll-free number and I would SAVE LIVES. Anyway, I can’t. And that’s not how relationships are, anyway. People are not perfect. People change. It’s possible that these changes are ones that you two will lean into together and eventually bring you closer together; it’s also possible you and your boyfriend are growing apart and need to break up. There’s a multitude of reasons why this might be. If that’s the case, it will hurt. But staying in a relationship that is not working any more is not fair to either of you. You both deserve to be happy and loved exactly as you are; only the two of you can figure out whether that’s more feasible in your relationship or out of it.

I have a feeling you already know the answer, though I don’t know what it is. Be honest and compassionate with yourself. Be honest and compassionate with your boyfriend. Good luck, friend.


Send your questions to youneedhelp [at] autostraddle [dot] com or submit a question via the ASK link on autostraddle.tumblr.com. Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.


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KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can preorder her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution today if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 175 articles for us.

70 Comments

  1. It always breaks my heart to hear of discrimination within the LGBTQ community – you’d think that they of all people would understand and make allowances for variations. As a bi/pan cis woman, I’ve actually been reluctant to seek out & connect with the LGBT community in my city; I see the potential benefits, but I’ve also heard enough tales of biphobia and transphobia (I date trans people) to leave me wary. I too wish we could wave a “Can’t we all just get along?” wand and fix it; everyone needs their safe space!

    • Totally understand why you’d be wary. I live in a medium-ish city and grew up in a rural area. Unlike the big queer cities (NYC, Philly, SF), it’s harder to find inclusive queer community here. Personally, I choose to engage with the LGBT community in my city anyway, hoping I am helping to change it from the inside out…maybe? It’s very white cis gay male-centered. So yeah, I feel you. I hope and pray that it is getting better. I’m sure of it, actually. In the meantime, thank goodness we have the internet.

      • I feel so sad to hear about non-inclusive lgbt communities! Maybe it’s proximity to the University of Illinois, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find a community that not only has been welcoming to me as a trans woman, but also to the many trans men I know as well. I know one couple in a similar situation to the original question, and they have been very well accepted.

        I have faced some rude comments from cis gay men, but that was early on when I was coming into queer spaces after living ostensibly as a cis straight male.

        I’m sorry acceptance has been difficult in other places.

  2. Love this article. Good luck to you anon, I really feel this. Thank you autostraddle for making a conscious(and not on paper only) effort to provide safe spaces for a variety of queer women, their lovers, and their partners. It is awful to hear of these phobias and discriminations within supposed safe spaces. In my own life, I’ve often found ‘safe spaces’ to be the place I felt most excluded, questioned, and simplified, especially when you come expecting welcome and respect for diversity.

    • So sorry you’ve had those experiences in supposed safe spaces. :/ It’s all too common. The good news is that all humans are not terrible, we can create our own damn spaces, and that ya’ll are welcome here with big open arms!

      Mwah!

  3. Transition is difficult on relationships, for sure. It can also reveal some hard truths.

    Through therapy and sharing/leaning on friends, I realized that my marriage of five years was essentially built on my ex wife and I settling for one another. It was extremely difficult to reconcile those feelings, and I still love her so much.

    It can be a struggle, but KaeLyn is right. You’ve got to be true to yourself. Giving yourself grace to feel your feelings is really hard, but so important. <3

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Devlin! It is so hard to be honest about where you are at when the love is still strong. Sometimes it can be worked through and you come out stronger on the other side. And sometimes it takes the most courage to walk away. :/ Hard stuff.

  4. I second the suggestion to find more people in your situation. Even though I’m cis, the local queer community that is mostly “gendery” people (trans, non-binary, etc) feels a lot safer to me than the more cis queer community now that my partner has come out as trans. Getting to know other people who were also dealing with gender feels, or were also dating people with gender feels, helped me understand my place in my partner’s transition without always talking to her about it, you know? It’s also just nice to be around people who “get” it! (I also live in a city though, so it wasn’t that hard for me to find, which is quite a luxury)

    Take care of yourself, and good luck figuring out all the tricky emotions <3

      • It’s kind of a mixed bag where I live/at my university. On the one hand, we have the mostly gay and lesbian community that is often dismissive, unsupportive, and unwilling to learn about non-binary and trans people and go the extra mile to include them. On the other hand, we have the radical queer genderqueer/trans community that believes that being gay is inherently transphobic because it “acknowledges binary gender” and that claims anyone who doesn’t identify as pansexual is backwards and cissexist. Both groups are often suspicious of butch-femme relationships, while local butch-femme groups are typically out of my age range and not all that active/involved with more modern issues.

        So basically, you either stay home or try to find a balance.

        • OMG…but I’m not shocked though, especially the butch-femme part. I’m someone who is relatively young and identifies as a femme lesbian in this day and age, which I guess is “outdated”. I feel like everything women do, without men or any male influence, inherently comes under more scrutiny.

          People wonder why I feel a slight resistance towards the Queer melting pot, outside of my general distaste of a word that labels me as strange.

  5. I feel like communication is the key. Fear thrives in the unspoken. If your fear is that you’ll find out that you aren’t really attracted to men, maybe talk to your boyfriend about it. If you keep it inside, he might well sense it and assume the worst. Whereas if you talk about it, you’ll both be able to more accurately assess where you are in the relationship and where you want to be.

  6. I could have really used this a couple of years ago. I have had previous partners come out as trans, and while I loved and supported them, I discovered later I could not be with them in the same way. Being true to yourself is important.

    I take issue with the phrase, “you can be a lesbian who is in love with a man,” though. A lesbian is a woman who is attracted to women exclusively. Opening up that definition to include men actively harms lesbians. Lesbian should be shorthand for “not interested in men”. Plenty of lesbian women have to deal with unwanted attention from men who insist that lesbian is not exclusive romantic/sexual attraction toward women, and plenty of women insist that lesbianism is exclusionary and closed-minded for not including men. We work hard for our identities to be seen as legitimate, and it’s disheartening to see something like this on Autostraddle insisting that lesbians can include men in their romantic/sexual life.

    • Personally, I think everyone should be able to ID how they want to ID. Sexual behavior and sexual orientation are related, but they are not mutually exclusive. I have no idea how anon identifies, but she should be able to choose what feels true for her without anyone making judgements about her place in queer communities. In my opinion, the label (or refusal to adhere to a label) that a person chooses isn’t anyone else’s business. I’m not down for that kind of policing.

        • I think it’s disrespectful to want to identify in a way that is so harmful to the community when there so many other labels to choose from. Individuals can do what they want, but you would think they would want to value the identities of other people by not choosing them arbitrarily. It makes it where they have zero meaning.

          It shouldn’t have to be policed. I don’t think anyone wants to.

      • Obviously no one can stop anyone from IDing as a lesbian, and obviously dating a man doesn’t make any woman “less queer”, but I wrote about how people who are sexually and romantically attracted to men IDing as lesbian distorts how people view all lesbians. Lesbian women have unique experiences informed by their exclusive attraction to women. If lesbian doesn’t mean exclusive attraction to women, it doesn’t really mean anything.

        • It’s not the job of any one person to legitimatize an identity in how straight people view it. It’s not any lesbian’s fault that straight people don’t understand or respect their identities–that fault is with them, and it’s not on the lesbian to attempt to change their viewpoints.

          • I agree Beck. It’s no one’s job to legitimize their identities to straight people, but these identities do not exist in vacuums, and they have real consequences on how people live their lives. Lesbian women are also upset by women who are attracted to men claim the word lesbian (and other words such as “dyke”), especially since there are plenty of other terms that can include attraction to men and sexual fluidity.

        • I hear what you are saying, but I firmly believe that ID is personal and should be respected. If society can’t get their collective mind around sexual fluidity and the difference between attraction/behavior/identity, that’s their problem. That’s a cultural problem. I don’t believe it’s on the individual to conform to a certain ID to make other people feel validated or comfortable. Even if I, personally, felt uncomfortable with how someone identified (which is something I can admit to feeling from time-to-time), it’s never my place to tell someone else which words to use to describe themselves. And there is room at my queer table for them, no matter what.

          • Thanks, KaeLyn. For me, lesbianism is a preference, not an exclusive orientation. Many, many women who currently ID as lesbian have had meaningful sexual and/or romantic relationships with men in the past, and do not share these “unique experiences informed by their exclusive attraction to women.” Life is full of surprises, and coming out processes can be complicated.

          • Monae, being a lesbian has nothing to do with past relationships with men. Obviously the weight of compulsory heterosexuality affects us all differently in the coming out process, butanddo not believe I ever suggested that /past/ relationships with men exclude anyone from lesbian identity.

          • Lesbian isn’t a preference, and it is indeed an exclusive orientation. I don’t “prefer” women over men, I like women and I don’t like men. It’s the legit definition of lesbian. A gay woman. A woman who is not sexually attracted to men. Super simple. Whether you’re a gold star lesbian or not is beside the point. Appropriation of words/identities is some bullshit. Date boys? Then you’re not a lesbian/dyke and it’s pretty dickish to use those words for yourself. Such is life.

          • i actually think i’m with ariel here. to some degree, don’t Words Mean Things? i guess i’m not understanding why anybody would need to use the noun “lesbian” to describe themselves if they’re presently in love with and in a relationship with a man, when there are so many other words that would more accurately describe that person’s orientation. (you definitely don’t have to be a gold star or to have never dated men in order to ID as a lesbian though, obviously.) if a woman dating me insisted on identifying as straight, i’d feel kinda uncomfortable about that… and from everything i’ve heard in the world thus far, a lot of trans men feel similarly slighted/erased if the woman they’re in a relationship in identifies as a lesbian. it could suggest that the woman still sees her partner as not a “real man.” it’s a word with a really loaded history and i don’t know what’s being served by denying that word its own definition. i think it’s ridiculous to say that there’s no room at the queer table for bi/pan/fluid woman who are dating men – there absolutely is! – but i don’t understand the jump from “lesbian isn’t an accurate word describing who you are” to “no room at the queer table.” of course nobody can tell anybody else how to define themselves or identify and i hate language policing in general, but i don’t see how that applies here.

          • Well, in the context of the YNH piece, I’m saying that anon can talk to her boyfriend, be true to who she is, and decide if the label she is using still fits or does not. I suggested that she might still consider herself a lesbian (if she even currently ID’s that way) as one of many options, open to infinite possibility. With the underlying message that only she can decide what best fits her self and her relationship.

            Absolutely your identity can change when your partner transitions. Or it may not. Not everyone feels comfortable calling themselves queer. A person who is not attracted to men, generally, might feel weird about ID-ing as bi. Of course, her boyfriend certainly may not be comfortable dating a lesbian. Maybe it turns out she doesn’t want to date men and/or he doesn’t want to date lesbians. That could be the truth of it all. Or maybe queer is a better identity for her now, as I also suggest could be true. I really don’t know.

            We also don’t know specifically how he identifies either. There are trans masculine people who still ID as lesbians–Leslie Feinberg, for example. There’s a lot in play here and my advice in the YNH response is that anon has to figure out what is most true for her. Some of the negativity she’s getting from friends and her wider community seems to be around people assuming how she identifies or trying to assign an identity to her.

            So in the context of this YNH peice, I think it is exactly this kind of identity politics policing that is creating the environment that feels so stifling. She should think about these things and be honest about where her position and privilege is in all of it. But she doesn’t have to be or not be anything.

          • So glad to see a respectful discussion about this. In theory I like the idea of people being able to choose their own identity and not policing the way people chose to do that. But like Riese said… don’t words mean things?
            I absolutely want to be part of a community and at a table that includes Bi/Pan/queer women, but when a woman in a relationship with a man uses the word lesbian, I feel like my ‘word’ has been stolen. If I can’t use the word lesbian to communicate that I have zero interest in being romantic and/or sexual with men-identified persons in the present or future then what word can I use? What nutshell term is can succinctly communicate my intentions to others without having to run into a long spiel about who I do and don’t want to date/fuck?

            This was my big beef with Romy in The Real L Word. I couldn’t care less that she dated Dusty, and I didn’t think that meant she wasn’t queer enough to be on the show… Amen to diverse queer visibility! but episode after episode when she was saying she was in love with him she kept referring to herself as a lesbian. All I could think about was all the sleazy cis-men watching the show who would have evidence that having a woman say she’s a lesbian doesn’t mean they should stop hitting on her. As a femme who had a lot of trouble in my younger days convincing people I was gay, I felt like her use of ‘lesbian’ really undermined my identity as an only-attracted-to-women lesbian.

            all that said though, nothing is black and white and I agree with the support said that this OP should take time to reflect on her identity and not let others define it by her partners gender. ahhhh the grey areas of life!

        • Thank you! I understand that identity can be very complicated, but I personally find the use of “lesbian” by women who know that they are also attracted to men to be appropriation. As a lesbian, I really wish that women who are not lesbian (and especially those who are actively having sex with or in relationships with men) not use to the word to describe themselves. It really distresses me that when I voice this opinion in queer spaces, I’m almost always shouted down.

        • Ariel, you keep using the plural “men” in describing the lesbian-with-a-single-out-of-left-field-exception’s attraction. That suggests that you do not understand the situation being described. The lesbians in question are not attracted to “men.” They are attracted to a man, and hundreds of women, and do not wish to completely erase their identity based on attraction to one person.

    • I feel the need to chime in here and share my experiences. I identify as a lesbian and came out 14 years ago never having been with a man before figuring out my identity. At 23, I had an interesting chemistry with a guy friend and decided to experiment, I kinda freaked because it didn’t fit my identity but neither did bi. It was short lived as I expected and I don’t think I was sexually attracted to him. A few years later I unexpectedly fell in love with a friend who happened to be a man. It was not a dalliance like before and I was very attracted to him and really liked the sexual part of our relationship. I grappled with my identity and what shape our relationship would take but I then ended up in a different state and we hit a deal breaker and ended it. It was really difficult to discover I had these very intense feelings for him and then try to integrate it into my identity. Did this mean I was no longer a lesbian? Did this mean I was bi even though I didn’t feel attracted to any other men or foresee any future relationships with men? Could someone be attracted to only one person of a gender they didn’t identify as being attracted to? Where does that put me in the greater scheme of things? Would I need to explain this past relationship to future girlfriends? I still don’t know the answers to these but I identify as a lesbian and that is for me to decide if I need to explain anything beyond that. Bisexual would imply I am attracted to men and I’m not. Pansexual is too inclusive for my identity and doesn’t fit my intention to date self identified lesbians. Queer kinda works in retrospect since I have dated women who are intersex (having complex identities because of it) and a woman who transitioned to male months after we were together. My identity doesn’t discredit the feelings I had for my guy friend and doesn’t have to for the original poster for her now boyfriend. Our identities are fluid and can change with circumstances. It helps others to know what our identities are but that doesn’t mean anyone can judge or label us. We also get to choose when we feel like educating others or when we aren’t in the mood or when it isn’t worth it.

      • Thanks for sharing your personal experience navigating these questions. There is certainly not one right answer. I genuinely believe attraction is on a huge, multi-faceted spectrum and can change over time. Language, too, can change and expand or contract to mean different things.

        I do think I’m being swayed by the convo in this thread, by Ariel and Riese and others, that strongly identifying as a lesbian dating a dude is likely problematic. It might be offensive to some lesbians and, more importantly, to anon’s boyfriend. Then again, I really also strongly feel like it’s not my place to decide for her or to assume what is in her heart. I just feel like it’s not all that helpful to push people into an identity. A lot of folks start as “straight girls who are just attracted to this one girl this one time” and some remain straight-identified and go on to never date women again. Some go full lez or bi. So…I dunno. I don’t have the answers.

        And this is why I identify primarily as queer. It’s culturally accepted in the circles I run with and it’s damn easier.

    • i have been involved in and loved being a part of the lesbian community for almost ten years. i have zero attraction to men. my wife is a lesbian. she loves the lesbian community and the camaraderie of being a queer woman. lesbian wasn’t just a word that described the gender/sexual configuration of our relationship, it meant so much more.

      over the past couple of years, i have been in the process of transitioning to alleviate pain caused by living in my physical body. my wife has been nothing but supportive. while i’m not necessarily sure i see myself as a “man,” with each passing month i’m increasingly aware that “man” is how i am beginning to appear to other people. the queer visibility that we have always had is disappearing. we are both incredibly sad about this.

      for me, lesbian isn’t just an orientation or a sexual preference, it’s a way of being with someone. the way that my wife holds me tenderly, the way we “process” everything, our cats on our wedding invitations, our political views, how our bodies move together when we make love. having whiskers doesn’t change those things. a hormone doesn’t erase the years of socialization i’ve had being perceived as a woman in a misogynist culture, nor does it erase the experiences and nurturing i’ve had coming of age in a lesbian community. my wife and i are very much the same people that we were before and our relationship is very much the same. we still aren’t sure if we’re married in the state in which we live, because we got our license during a brief window of time when it was legal. having a deeper voice doesn’t change that.

      i believe that most of identity is performative. it seems like a lot of the arguments here against this person still calling herself a lesbian after staying with someone who transitions have to do with people worrying that the word lesbian will get watered down, that it won’t send the same signal. but this desire to send a certain signal is performance – if the audience (society, especially men) weren’t an issue, it wouldn’t be important to send those signals. for this reason, i think it’s necessary to use good judgement with when and where we perform these identities. in private, around people close to me, or when it’s necessary in a discussion, i self-identify as lesbian because that is true to me and my life experience. but i would never identify myself that way in a situation where doing so would cause harm to lesbians or women in general. (for example, i wouldn’t call myself a lesbian in a public situation where doing so would downplay or distort lesbian women’s voices or message.)

      i’m not sure if i’m coming across the way i really want to, or if i’m explaining myself the right way. basically what i’m saying is that it doesn’t make sense to say that an entire lifetime of experiences and relationships can be invalidated by one outlying experience. my wife is not attracted to men. she loves me because of the person that i am. calling us suddenly straight doesn’t accurately describe our relationship or our sex life. i know that many other trans people don’t feel this way or feel like their partner continuing to identify as lesbian is invalidating of their identity, but i don’t. i feel like it’s the word that fits us best, even if it doesn’t fit perfectly.

  7. One thing to remember is this: it might feel like breaking up with your boyfriend is what it takes to get your community to see you as queer or lesbian or however you identify. It might feel like breaking up is the simplest way to get your identity legitimized by the people around you who you care about. But:

    You won’t forget the way that the broader community treated you. They broke your trust & are not acting ethically by refusing to let you self-identify.

    If you are single again & your community does treat you like you are “queer enough” again, that will probably make you feel worse, rather than better. Because it means that, again, their perception of your identity trumps your right to self-identify, and if that costs you a relationship you value, it will make you pissed off, rather than relieved.

    Also, people with this BS attitude about what constitutes being queer enough may well not believe you are “really” queer enough, ever, based on having dated a man before. Unfortunately. Even if you go on to date people with other identities. Because they refuse to let you self-identify! It is the worst.

    Basically what I am saying is that you can’t change your relationship with the queer community around you by changing who you date. It just doesn’t work like that.

    (& I want to hold space here for the idea that in lots of cases, we want to automatically affirm the queerness of queer identified women dating trans men, but do not affirm the queerness of queer identified women dating cis men. Since trans men are men, our understanding of this should be the same – which is that we should affirm that queer identified people/women are queer if they say they are, damn it.)

    • I think sometimes close friends can be well-meaning and just eff it up and they can be gently educated and talked to. Like, really good friends who are just being jerk faces without meaning to be, where the friendship is meaningful to you. It may take time to work on the friendship once trust has been broken, but it’s not impossible.

      But it may not be possible to talk to these friends about what is going on and it is ok to seek out other people to talk to, ideally people in similar life situations.

      I agree with you, though, that repeat offenders, casual friends who just say hurtful things without thinking, and communities that are transphobic or exclusionary don’t deserve time or patience. Walk away.

      • ^ this. I give my very best friends almost unlimited passes when it comes to effing it up. Because I eff it up too, sometimes, and I know that when they do they feel as bad as I do when I do it. But I am also a person who doesn’t feel an emotional cost when it comes to the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) education of people I love. I rarely detail the kinds of things I move past, navigate around and educate through because I don’t want anyone to mistake what I would personally do for a thing they’re required to do.

        I comment this only because it’s my lead in to compliment you, KaeLyn, on your gentle advice both in your posts and in your comments. It feels like you think of all us internet people as the friends you don’t mind gently educating. You are a spectacular human.

    • There is definitely a space for this. This is a real and valid thing, and really, any time you stop being attracted to your partner, that’s valid. That’s real. It’s a “good enough”* reason to end your relationship.

      That said, this space exists. Do not expect it to be a comfortable space. It will not be. It is a very shitty feeling to be on the other end of that conversation. It feels shitty when someone breaks up with you because you’ve come to a better understanding of yourself. That said, I can imagine that it’s also pretty shitty to be the one on the “I am no longer attracted to you” end of the conversation too, despite my lack of experience with that end. Don’t minimize the pain of that space, just understand that it’s shitty and unfair and just generally sucks**. It’s also for the best.

      *”I no longer wish to continue this relationship” is a good enough reason to end a relationship. I’m of the opinion that there aren’t “good” and “bad” reasons to end relationship–simply wanting them to end is enough. Some reasons hurt less than others, true, but that’s where you exercise judgement on what you tell the other person.

      **Which is not to say that you suck for no longer being attracted to your partner. It’s the circumstances that suck.

    • I think so! And I think the man in that situation would be much happier with a partner who likes men than a partner who doesn’t like men? Being with someone who isn’t fundamentally attracted to your gender identity can feel pretty crummy, as any queer woman who has been involved with a straight girl can attest

    • Absolutely. Regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, there are plenty of people in the world that any given person is not attracted to. As a bi/queer person, I am certainly not attracted to all people. In fact, I am not attracted to the vast majority of people. So, that is 100% ok. If you are not attracted to men, it certainly makes sense you wouldn’t be attracted to a men.

    • Absolutely yes. That is your absolute freedom. As a transman, I would never want to trap someone into a relationship that they were no longer feeling comfortable in. Would I feel hurt if someone I had been with for a while just one day said, “You’re a man, and I tried, but I’m just not attracted to you like that.” — yes. Would I ask myself, if she loved me at some point, couldn’t she continue to love me just as a person, and not care about my gender? Probably, but that’s just something that comes with the territory, I think. Either way, even if it hurts (both parties, probably) it is okay for someone to not be attracted to their partner anymore.

  8. It seems to me that too often the beginning of a transition is the ending of a relationship. There is just one thing I would definitively add to what has been said: please keep talking to each other.

    Me and my ex girlfriend have survived so much shit together because -initially- we always talked about everything. Then she moved to another town for work and said she needed some space (and frankly so did I). We stopped talking, stopped being honest and the rest is history. Horrible break-up.

    This is however, not a plea to keep you two together. If you keep talking, keep being honest and in the process discover you actually have grown apart, that’s just fine. And most importantly, you’ll both know it is so.

    I wish you both the best of luck! And whenever you feel sad, think of baby hedgehogs taking a bath.

  9. I believe that ” gender identity” is performative….that is, what your emotions are, how you want to be loved, how you want to be present in the world…..the privileges of that gender in society.
    When we use the word “male” or “female” to describe the gender we id as, everyone starts making assumptions about “who we are” and those assumptions are based on the social stereotypes of those words, which is without any knowledge of the individual!! And that is true for the word “lesbian” or “straight” or any label…..Labels are insufficient to define a human being, or judge them, de facto. Only personal communication with a person is a valid basis of knowing anyone,….you or me or anyone.
    My ex lover is transitioning. Taking T and has planned top surgery to present as male. I still love, use the name “TJ”. When we were together, TJ identified as “two spirit. The impression I had of TJ emotionally was “soft butch” and I formed a sweet loving connection on that basis. In my mind and heart, I was being loved as a woman by another different type of woman, and it was the most wonderful love of my life.
    I would identify TJ as a softbutch lesbian, but TJ identifies as male and is transitioning. I am not attracted to cis males at all. We made love as females. TJ is getting hairy. TJ’s voice is getting deep. TJ is going to have breasts removed. We still have lunch occasionally and talk. TJ is a doctoral student in art education focusing on transgender artists and their lives.
    We were lovers for about 4 years.
    Only communicating ….especially in real time, and especially face to face,….should be the basis of forming an evaluation of a person.

    • But if your partner strongly identifies as being a specific gender, wouldn’t it be disrespectful to ignore that or dismiss the importance of that aspect of their identity? If someone considers themself to be a man and asks others to see them as a man, I think that ignoring their gender would be hurtful. Its like when (other) white people say “I don’t see race; we’re all just people.” Do you ever hear that and not roll your eyes?

      The notion that knowing that someone’s labels isn’t enough to know who they are as a person is a straw man argument. Of course that’s not enough to really understand someone- that takes years. But that doesn’t mean that someone’s identity/the way they label themself is irrelevant.

      • There is no disrespect in my post. TJ are still best friends. I am not attracted by labels, but rather by the traits I emotionally connect with. You can identify as whatever label you wish….. and I will still love or not love you based on the emotional connection that I feel for you……. not what the social construct of what your chosen identity label is! And there is no disrespect in hearts connecting.

        • Yes love is love, and love is about how two people connect emotionally and I’m not arguing with that. And labels are not enough to determine whether you connect with someone emotionally. No one is arguing with that. I have many people in my life that I love of many genders. But the argument that there is no disrespect in your relationship might be more convincing if you didn’t describe him as a woman despite the fact that he’s a man. You don’t get to pick his gender based on what you feel his emotional attributes are.
          TJ is a man. He’s a man because he says he’s a man and he feels like he’s a man. If I had to choose between either believing his interpretation of his gender and someone else’s, I would defer to him. Always. For anyone. I would feel transphobic if I didn’t. I’m tempted to repeat this about twenty more times, but I will try to restrain myself.
          Also, TJ is a man.

  10. Oof, do I have ALL the feelings about this.

    This was me a year ago. We’ve broken up since now, which was really hard, but I think I can see all the complicated parts of this a lot more clearly now.

    I think there are three main parts to this:

    (1) The “how do I deal with my identity/my place in the queer community” question
    (2) The “will I be attracted to you” question
    (3) The what does he need from you as a partner question

    For me, #1 was not all that hard. I quickly decided that queer was a label that felt like the right, flexible, fit. I was a little worried about new people in my life/strangers seeing me as straight, but also I felt secure in looking visibly queer and felt confident that the most important people would get to know the full spectrum of my identity in time.

    #2 was harder. I had been somewhat attracted to guys in the past, but that felt very minimal in comparison to women at the time he came out as trans. But I was more attracted to him pre-transition than anyone I’d ever been in my life, and transition was gradual, so maybe it would be okay? (Turns out, almost a year later, I’m still very attracted to him, even though I’m not in love with him anymore.)

    #3 was the hardest. It turned out that he broke up with me because he maybe needed me to want him as a man, not just as a person, but the bigger thing was that I so committed/in love/ determined to fight through this and that felt like a lot of pressure/commitment for him to deal with on top of/while dealing with the hugeness of his transition.

    But your relationship is not mine. I think it really comes down to what each of you need in your relationship, apart from the rest of the world. Does it feel like a queer relationship, if that’s what you both want? Does the way you each label yourself feel good/honoring/validating to the other person? Are you able to have healthy friendships outside of your relationship? In what ways are you putting pressure on the other person? (I’d also echo what’s been said about finding more trans/genderqueer friends—it seriously helps to see other healthy examples that either of you can relate to!)

    Breaking up can also be healthy—it made me realize SO many things I wasn’t able to see about myself since I had been so focused on my partner’s transition—including the fact that I was genderqueer and hadn’t felt the space to explore that.

    I’m also totally willing to talk more about this if you want to message me!

  11. Interestingly enough, my partner and I are sometimes a little concerned about coming at this issue from the opposite direction- as our relationship has recently gone from being “conventionally” heterosexual to queer owing to starting my transition, there have been concerns that it somehow won’t be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the LGBT community. For example, when I asked her if she wanted to go with me to an LGBT self-defense clinic that’s being put on by a local chapter of PFLAG, she wasn’t sure that she would be “allowed” in. I had to reassure her that being in a lesbian relationship with a trans woman definitely put her under the queer umbrella*, and that no one would question it if she wanted to identify that way.

    Fortunately, it seems like the local communities are super-inclusive (probably because we’re in an otherwise fairly conservative area, and so there’s incentive to band together), but still, I do worry about that sometimes.

    *Ironically, given that she identified as at least somewhat bisexual when we met, and had since high school, she arguably had a stronger claim to being “queer” than I did, as I figured out I was trans only in the last year or so. However, the point still remains even if that hadn’t been the case.

    • Thanks for sharing! I’m so glad you have a wonderful and inclusive queer community!

      Ironically, I do thing that “small town queers” are sometimes more open because there’s more a need to support each other. That was my experience growing up and going to school in rural areas, too.

      Now that I’m in a city, I see a lot more fracturing between the L, G, B, Q, and/or T. Trans and GNC spaces seem to be the most inclusive, in general, around my parts. There is no B or Q space and the rest are dominated by L and G folks who are in their own world.

  12. This speaks to me so hard. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 4 years and he transitioned after about the first 6 months of our relationship. So, thankfully, I’d say we’ve survived most of the transition hump.

    I love him and I’m extremely happy to be with him, however it has affected the way that I feel about my own identity. I’m fairly femme, so looking femme and being in a relationship with a man gets me read as straight 99% of the time. Right now we have a group of queer friends that we’ve known since before his transition, so I do feel like I can be myself around the people that matter.

    However, I worry for the future. He’s stealth (i.e. not readily open about being trans) so if/when we move to a new place, I worry that I won’t be able to make friends in a new queer community. I don’t know how to balance my queer identity with the fact that he actively identifies as not-queer.

    He feels like being trans isn’t a huge part of his identity and people don’t need to know it. However I feel like the fact that I’m in a relationship with a trans partner is a big part of my identity (it has shaped a lot of the way that I feel about myself, such as healing some of the negative opinions that I had about men due to past traumas). This is a big disconnect. I can’t reveal what I think has been a formative part of my life to new friends, because that would disrespect his right to be stealth.

    Anyway, I think there’s no easy answers to these questions for any of us. As always, I think communication is the only way to get through these things. If you communicate well and both partners are attentive to each others needs, I feel confident that these issues will be resolved in time.

    • Communication is definitely key. Thanks for sharing your advice and experience!

      I think for cis queer women dating trans men, we can experience a kind of erasure that is similar to bi erasure. I’m also bi, so this isn’t a new thing to me, but it might be to anyone who has only dated women in the past. In general, when a bi woman dates a man, people assume she is straight. That’s just how it is and it sucks.

      I think it’s 100% OK to be out about being queer/bi/whatever, which you can do without outing your partner. I sometimes feel tempted to do this when people “get it wrong” about my sexual orientation, but if I did, what would I be saying? That my partner is less of a man because he is trans? Would I act like this is he was cis? Probably not. I would probably say, “Actually, I’m queer/bi,” not “Actually, my partner is cis.” So unless it comes up naturally, I don’t out my partner. He also doesn’t care it people know, so if it comes up naturally, I can say so, but not in the context of my identity.

      For me, specifically, this is less of an issue because my partner is A) not stealth and b) genderfluid and boi-lesbian identified. But it can still come up because he uses primarily he/him pronouns and people make assumptions. It is pretty much the same BS as when I’ve dated cis straight men.

      No easy answers, for sure. As you say, talking about it and processing it and being honest is important.

  13. Kaelyn, I find it curious that you are deconstructing social labels by supporting new labels. Don’t you realize that it is the inherent “labeling” that is the true issue. That labels take the place of feelings in forming love….which was the whole meaning of my original post on this thread….You have your label ….I have my label…..we connect nonetheless ….not on the basis of same labels, but on the basis of emotional and mental connection.
    That was my point earlier about how TJ and I connected and each of us still have different “labels”.
    Labels do not have the flexibility of a connection between two human hearts.

    • I don’t think we are in disagreement, Sarah. Labels can help us find other like us, to build community. They can also be limiting by putting culturally enforced definitions on attraction and behavior. And of course humans don’t work like that. Life and love is complicated.

      I strongly advocate that people should choose their own words that describe themselves, or choose not to use a label at all, and that is their personal business. I think you and I agree on this point.

      • Kaelyn, I am glad that we are in agreement in this area. I think our views are so much more inclusive of possibilities for loving relationships , than following the “dogma” of a label that disregards the individual emotional differences of those who choose that label.

  14. Thank you KaeLyn and commenters! I really needed to read all of this. I have identified as bi and I am in an open relationship with a man, but I struggle with feeling like I might not be interested in being with any men at all anymore (and maybe haven’t for a while), but I do love him and we are good together. I sort of have this idea that because I identify as bi that I can’t not be with men. There’s more recursive thinking there that now that I’m typing I realize I should really write out for myself to untangle, but reading this:

    “You can love your boyfriend but not be in love with him. You can be attracted to your boyfriend, but not be in love with him. You can be in love with him but not attracted to him. You can strongly identify as a lesbian and just not be open to dating men at all. It’s entirely possible that you are just not right for each other anymore.”

    was so meaningful and helpful.

  15. Reading through these comments crystallised a question that I realised had been troubling me for a while now. Although it is a deviation from the original question, I would be grateful to hear any opinions. It’s clear that using terms like ‘lesbian’ or ‘dyke’ when one is not exclusively attracted to women is widely (and I’d say very justly) considered inappropriate. What are people’s feelings about bisexual women using other terms and cultural referents that cluster around lesbian identities? Butch, femme, U-Hauling, dapperness, jokes about processing… There’s such a strange liminal feeling that comes with bisexuality, and certainly a feeling of borrowing cultural signifiers that seem to belong more authentically to others (which is why the word ‘queer’ makes me feel much warmer and cosier). Anyway, yeah, I just wondered what people thought. Are there lines? Where are they? Can a bi woman make use of these signifiers with a sense of ownership; will she be seen as appropriative?

  16. I am experiencing all of these feelings right now.

    My partner came out as trans about a year into our relationship. He started testosterone just over a year ago. Once the initial sex drive boost was over and his masculine characteristics began developing I lost my sexual attraction to him. Every time we attempted sex or talked about sex I was overcome with anxiety and guilt and fear and everything negative.

    There is so so much more to this than I can describe in a comment and there are so many levels to the heartbreak. We broke up amicably yesterday and I feel lost but sadly relieved. I’m glad I can share my feelings here, a least a little bit.

    • I think there is an idea floating around that sexuality is all about emotional bonding and that, especially for women, if we love you, we will be attracted to you. And I am not denying that there is an emotional component to relationships and to attraction. But I think that it’s a gross over-simplification to reduce all sexuality to a love-induced response. Who hasn’t been attracted to someone before they loved that person? It’s just a willfull, ideological denial of reality to expect all lust to come from love and all love to lead to lust. We all know that isn’t true.

      I know that for me, I am physically averse to the smell, taste, and feel of testosterone, and though there are males who I love and value and want in my life as friends or family, I don’t want to get their hormones all over me. I’m a lesbian, I’m not attracted to anyone with a bunch of T in their system, and I can’t understand why anyone would think that they were owed someone else’s attraction. That’s a horrible way to treat someone you love– to expect them to owe you their lust.

      I realize that not everyone has this same experience. Many people claim they can’t even sense hormones or pheromones that way. But some of us can. I suspect more of us do than realize we do. My body is hypersensitive to lots of things other people aren’t, which has its pros and cons, but what I’m saying is: whatever you are feeling, it might or might not be all about your love or affection or respect or caring for a person, there is a biological component to sexuality as well.

      I completely understand the heartbreak of sexual relationships changing as one or both partners changes or grows more deeply into her/him self. I have been there. It’s painful as hell.

      But I don’t think guilt is really what we owe each other, and feeling bad about ourselves does not prove how much we love the other person, either. I think to really honor each other we need to celebrate who each of us is, and support each other in finding the amazing wonderfulness in each of our unique positions in life.

      Just as there is a place for people who are fluid, there is a place for people who are fixed. It’s no one’s failing, and we should truly love each other as we are and as we become, not looking for reasons to apply blame and shame and guilt and feelings of failure, but always looking for what is wonderful and necessary about the ways each of us is as and how that contributes to the collective, because I think all these ways of being do have value.

      And if in the course of a relationship with someone, their love enables you to realize and feel able to become more true to who you really are, they have given you a gift. I think this goes both ways. It can feel like a betrayal when that person doesn’t continue in the same relationship with you after you make changes, but making changes like that can also feel like a betrayal to someone who knows themselves and stays the same and is able to disclose that from the start. Again, not saying anyone is wrong. But we expand each other’s horizons in different ways and it’s all a good thing, a gift we offer, and something to be grateful for even when it doesn’t end the way we hoped for when we started.

      It is extremely hard not to take this stuff personally with a lover or partner. But it’s better to look at each other as good and necessary without all that ego harshness.

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