Saturday, September 24, 2011

Trans-on-Trans Relationships: Perks and Bennies Galore!

I think it's high time I posted something positive on this blog.  And I can't think of anything more positive going on in my life than my relationship with Mr. Laplain. 

A huge part of what makes me feel so satisfied in our relationship is the fact that we are both trans.  Funny how cissexism works; I honestly had never considered this kind of relationship for myself until I met him... I had scarcely even heard of such a thing, except in an "urban legend" sort of way... as in: "OMG wouldn't it be like so weeeeeeeeird/cool/strange if an MTF and FTM hooked up!  Like... that would be all kinds of reality tv LOL!"

I knew intellectually that this sort of union must have happened before, but in my personal experience trans women and trans men hung out on a strictly platonic basis... that is if  they were even speaking to each other at all.

So I came to the relationship with Mr. Laplain with alot of boneheaded transphobic ideas about trans men's bodies and lives at first (OMG what do you guys look like down there? I mean... does it work? Can i see it? etc...) .  He didn't seem to have nearly as many hang ups as I did, but I wasn't his first trans woman either.

But I got over my transphobic discomfort PDQ.  If nothing else in life I attempt to practice what I preach, and I am always preaching how obnoxious  it is for people to obsess over my trans-gendered body as if it is sooooo very different from Basic Human Physiology.   (No it's not thanks. It's not anything that couldn't happen to you if you were willing to take the appropriate hormonal and surgical regimen.  If you're really that curious.... get your own!!)

So after purging all the WOW ITS A REAL LIVE TRANNIE DUDE cooties of  internalized cissexism,  all that was left over was ....relief.  Relief that here was somebody who i didn't have to explain the whole trans thing to.  Somebody who would respect my physical boundaries and triggers without question, without having to explain or negotiate why I wasn't ready to go further without having to hear some obnoxious affirmation of how "nothing will make me think less of you as a woman" blah blah, as if that is the only reason I'm ever shy about anything.  

And he automatically knows not to do these things not because he knows so many trans people and learned from trial and error, not because he prefers the company of trans women because they are so much more xyz than real women, not because his sibling/cousin/bestfriend/parent used to be a __fill in the blank here__ so he feels especially sensitive to all things trans, but because he already understands being trans from the jump, thanks!! 

Meaning, he understands transness from his own personal experience rather than from his observing my life  and/or others' lives from some sympathetic but cis-privileged pedastal on high. 

For the first time in my life I felt like I could stand on equal footing with a man in a romantic relationship and not feel shame, self-consciousness, the crushing weight of my trans history as baggage.  I no longer felt the tug of anxiety that he would eventually get tired of the "whole trans thing" and leave.  (Well of course he can leave me, but he can't leave trans.  Oh what a concept!  To be vulnerable purely on the merits and faults of one's own personality, rather than on one's being a stigmatized freak!!!)

So over the last few years of our relationship here are some things I've observed from a trans on trans perspective.

Equal Footing : I can't emphasize the importance of this one enough.   Mr Laplain is white, I am black.  We both struggle with physical and neurological disabilities that at times seem to compete with each other's limitations in a spiteful way.  He grew up very poor, I grew up middle class and our arguments about money especially reflect that.  But all of these areas of experiential disconnect pale in comparison to our shared understanding of what it's like to grow up in this country as trans, what it's like navigating an openly and viciously cissexist society. 

We had both dated primarily cis partners beforehand (I had exclusively dated cis) and together we often  say how much easier it is to talk to each other about things, to just BE around each other, without feeling like we have to apologize for or otherwise explain ourselves around the whole trans aspect of our lives.  It is a remarkable relief.

For me, this is the first time I've ever felt I was in a relationship where I was not at a significant social and legal disadvantage to my partner. 

Meeting Each Other's Family:  The idea of having to tell or if to tell or how to tell my partner's family and close friends was always a huge obstacle for me in relationships.  There seemed to be no way to "protect" my partner and thus not expose him to potential ridicule, ostracism, rejection... all those lovely things that go hand in hand with being trans or being near somebody who is.   There is no OMG would his parents freak if they knew about me?  There is no The folks at his job can never find out!!  There is no worry that he'll be forced to choose between his best friends and me once they know the truth... the horrible horrible truth.

The funny thing is, we haven't evem officially told each other's families about each other's being trans yet!!   Specifically because the dire implications aren't a factor in this relationship, we've been able to approach it on a "needs to know" basis.  And so far, very few people have needed to know.   It's amazing to have this level of mutual respect for privacy as well as for openness in regards to being trans.

For me, I know my mother will know immediately upon meeting Mr. Laplain (she hasn't met him in person yet).  She has out of this world gaydar and T-dar, she claims from having worked in radiology for 30 years, whatever that means.  She is already suspicious of his voice ("he sounds like a short guy, Janie... how tall is he??")  But she is much too proper and ladylike to ask him outright.   One of these days when I finally take him back home with me, she will look him up and down, shake his hand politely and then discreetly summon me into another room to ask the question.  I'll say, yes of course he's trans, and she'll blush and stammer "oh, I see" and that will be the end of it.

I have no idea what his mother will say about me.  But considering she raised him as an ardent feminist and anti-racist PFLAG mom who demands respect for all people, I'm sure I can manage whatever well meaning stumbles may happen along the way.   After all she eventually accepted him as her son... Why not me as a daughter in law?

Dealing with Doctors/Hospitals/Administrators:  Having a partner who understands the documentary pitfalls of being trans, knows how to anticipate when to speak up about being trans and when to keep quiet about it, having that person on your team to serve as proactive backup for when some schmuck inevitably tries to out you on some form or to some department in a thoughtless way....  I can't tell you how much it helps.   Whenever things like this would happen in front of my cis friends or partners all I could feel is embarrassment, shame, exposure...  Even when my friends were 100000% sympathetic and ready to advocate for me whenever some asshat demanded to see proof of ID or a letter from my surgeon or shrink for something completely unrelated to my gender, I couldn't help but rather they weren't around to witness my humiliation .    But having Mr. Laplain on my side, and me on his... I know we're together in this.  I know he is fighting the system for his own protection every bit as much as mine, and vice versa.

Legal Marriage:  This is the freakiest thing of all.  We are eligible to be married under any circumstances, whether or not the laws of whatever state we live in respect our trans status.  I mean seriously, what could they say.  We were eligible from birth but not now?  On what basis could they legally object?  We would be very interested to see if they'd even try to stop us.

This one is especially close to my heart because my first marriage to a cis man was not legal.  The end of that relationship found me on the street and homeless with nothing but what I could carry, and no matter how often he had claimed me as his wife on his taxes, no matter how many places we were known as a married couple, no matter after six years of cohabitation, forcing me out of our home with nothing was perfectly legal when it suited him.  I had vowed never even to consider marrying anyone else ever again... why in the world would I ever enter into a situation where my partner had ALL the legal rights and I had none of them?

Of course I never considered marrying a trans man.

The reason Mr. Laplain and I  haven't  legally married however is tied to his disability. Right now he is the middle of switching from State Disability to Federal Disability.  Our getting married would not only have disrupted this long arduous process, it would likely have rendered him unable to receive medical coverage whatsoever, if  these agencies were allowed to consider my income.  He has, unfortunately, a very expensive and chronic illness that requires spendy medications and frequent visits with specialists and hospital stays.  There is no way I could afford to pay for his treatment AND support us both in a gainful way, even with the best insurance.  There is also the question of my own chronic medical needs and how I'd like one day to address them.  Not being married has been the only way for us to afford being together... ironically.

But the point is.. we could do it.  At any time.  And no state or federal law would  dare stop us!  (mind you this only applies because we were assigned as legal "opposites" from birth.. this isn't an advantage of us both being trans so much as taking advantage of a cissexist loophole).

I'm sure theres alot more here and I may come back later and fill in more.  It was important for me to at least get this out there in print. It's something I've been saying offline for quite some time, and certainly something I've yet to see online.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Born As" is Cissexist BS, Rant 2

If you missed my first Rant please click here

Rant 2:  Legal Names and Former Legal Names.

Just a bit of background before I begin.   Ive been looking for new employment ever since a few weeks after getting a huge promotion at my old job; I had realized that I had been promoted under sketchy circumstances.  As the months wore on I became more and more convinced that my working relationship with my boss was toxic, abusive, and flat out unbearable.

In August  I gave 4 weeks notice on a wing and a prayer. The gamble paid off as  I was only recently offered a position with another company I had applied  with much earlier in the summer.   This new job begins next week.

(An aside, this is why I've been so long in posting.  My energies have been nearly completely consumed in securing gainful new employment!)

Part of the "final preparations" for coming on board with the new company includes a background check.  Specifically, this check require new hires to list any and all former legal names we were ever known by.

This is almost ALWAYS a risky proposition for all us post-transition trans women.  It is particularly vexing for those of us who are DECADES post transition.  At one point does one finally get to STOP answering to the identity our well-meaning but totally ill-informed parents chose for us at birth?

The individual risk of real consequence to me here is minimal.  I live in Seattle, a city which explicitly protects gender identity in EEOC laws.  I've already been offered the position and if it were suddenly rescinded my new employers would have to prove to me they did so for reasons other than my legally changed gender status.  No employer, large or small, wants to incur the legal costs of defending themselves against EEOC violations if they can avoid it, not even in employment-at-will states such as Washington.

This new employer is HUGE... mind you.  So huge that the HR department conducting this check is nowhere near the actual location where I will be working.  The chances of "overlap" between persons who will learn my full legal history into my office is minimal and this is a small comfort.

That said, that's not the frigging point!! I just don't understand why I must be continuously associated with, and consequently OUTED by, a name I haven't used legally for nearly 15 years now? At one point does it finally end.

In spite of all the indicators that this won't amount to much in the longrun, I still feel I need to be ready to play the same games I had to play back when I was teenager growing up in the early 90's.  The "Oh I'm sorry did you think I was a boy? How weird of you!"  Game.   
I had to play this game alot in situations where my legal name preceded me or was unavoidable.  For instance at the DMV.   Saddled then with my father's name, an obviously masculine name with the definitely masculine Jr attached.... I had been forced to accept a Male designation on my first license.  Even getting the license in the first place was a study in institutionalized homophobia and transphobia.  But that's another story. A couple of years later and fully in transition, I had worked up the courage to try and change that M to an F, even if I had to keep that awful Jr. name.
One day I walked right up to the doddery old white man working the DMV branch and the farthest end of town where nobody would ever know me I could find and I gave an oscar worthy performance for all its subtlety and nonchalance: 

"Excuse me, Sir... I need to fix something on my license.  I realize I was named after my Dad and all, but..."  pointing to the Sex: M on my license, my eyes batting for all they were worth.

I was so RELIEVED that he didn't miss a beat.  " OH nooooo.  I'm so sorry about that Young Lady... I can imagine how that happened tho.  Junior, eh?"

"Yep... They reeeeeally wanted a boy! LOL  I think it took them a few years to finally give up on that one..."

"You poor thing.  Not a big deal, darlin', mistakes happen."

"Oh good. I brought my birth certificate with me just in case."  I really had. And I was bluffing my ass off since it listed me as Male in all fucking caps, not exactly persuasive evidence.

"That won't be necessary, hon, I can see you really are a girl."
And that was that!  I had broken State Law perhaps,  but in doing so I had made my life ALOT easier.

But Oh that fucking NAME still worked to undo every scrap of progress I made.

Keep in mind even at this time my so-called "passability" was far from a given.  My youth, feminine voice, and lack of significant facial hair made it so I passed most of the time, but by no means 100 percent of the time.   It appears I just happened to find and "fool" (gawd how I hate that phrase) the right person in that DMV on that particular day.  Any other day it was pretty much hit and miss; it was another few years before people completely stopped staring and pointing and wondering at me in public. Until this point I was constantly braced for the possibility of confrontation, especially when mention of my birth name was unavoidable.

I wasn't able to change my name legally for years after this point, but I began to build an official gender history of "F" from that point on.  About half the time I could get away with saying "I was named after my dad, long story" as if there were nothing more to the story.  But eventually the seeds of doubt were planted and would begin to flower... leading to my inevitable being outed.

This means that in dealing with potential employers, bank workers, loan officers who might otherwise have taken me for just another female were it not for the huge fucking hint my former legal name gave them up front I was (and sometimes still am) constantly dancing around "the question."  

An example:  Getting my very first bank account was an unnecessary ordeal what with the bank teller calling me Sir the entire time.  He did this clearly out of spite because up until the point I had to show him my ID he had been extremely courteous and even flirtatious.   While filling out the necessary forms at his desk, he flat out refused to consider my using anything except my FULL legal name on all fields, including the cursed Jr. title.... as if to spite me.  

"I'm sorry SIR, but we are legally obligated to go by what's on your driver's license. I'm sure you understand..." the sneer in his voice was almost visible.

Then when filling out the Sex in his ID I was finally able to call his bluff.  "If you insist, SIR, on going faithfully by what's on  my license then you will notice that there is an F in the Sex field.  Please change it.  NOW."

The look on his face was of outrage and total surprise, as if I had just pulled some master chess move he couldn't counter.  He VERY bitchily complied at this point and typed F into the field.  But you could see the wheels turning in his head the whole time, trying desperately to figure out how to challenge this, how to expose me to the world.  ALL FOR DARING TO OPEN A CHECKING ACCOUNT!

Keep also in mind this exchange happened in full view of all patrons of the bank, who appeared to be very amused by the show.

Keep also in mind that because of my legal name, even after I finally legally changed it, I was all but unemployable in my home state thanks to the almighty background check.  It wasn't until I was 30 fucking years old, when I first moved to Seattle, that I was able to find and KEEP my first real life day job.   In an actual office. With *gasp* normal everyday people for an actual living wage!!  I had triple majored in college, graduated with two separate BA degrees, and dropped out of my Master's program a few credits shy of completion.  I was more than qualified to work, is my point.  But the hostility I found in the job market was overwhelming....  the gender incongruity of my former legal name being a HUGE factor in attracting said hositlity.

So yeah... I have a HUGE effing problem with being forced to list my former name under any circumstance. It has never served me except as an obstacle.  I mean why bother changing it legally when its always going to show up as an alias anyway?   While I am very grateful that Seattle happens not to care one way or another.. I am very angry that I feel confined to living and working here.  

Dont' get me wrong I love Seattle, it's home, I don't wish to leave it.  But I shouldn't feel I have little choice in the matter just because I prefer to keep my past in the past while the world and it's institutions demand I remain accountable to legal and social decisions made for me, about me,  but never BY me. 

How is this acceptable in a free country I ask thee?