In therapy with my trans spouse all kinds of questions arose that were so fundamental they were almost impossible to answer.
For example: “If sex is not a big part of your lives anymore what’s the difference what gender your spouse is?” I found myself at a loss for words. All I could do was point out to the therapist, who was gay, that I was pretty sure if he and his partner weren’t having sex for whatever reason, he would not welcome his partner turning into a female any more than I did! He would still want to live with a male! He got it. I also had to explain that the possibility of sex had now disappeared because I could not imagine making love with a woman.
And then he asked me, “Would you consider having your sexual needs met outside the relationship?” to which I just laughed. I didn’t know one woman among my many women friends who would consider an arrangement like this. Why not? Because at our age sex has become less important, in general. Because this thing called “intimacy” is equally or even more important to many of us than sex. Because we don’t want to be married to a female, period. And yet, I could understand how a gay male might consider that a viable option.
I wasn’t being asked to defend myself but it felt like that at times and it didn’t feel fair to me. Why should I have to explain/defend my way of wanting a man, any more than my mate should have to defend him/her self for what s/he felt and wanted. Once we started deconstructing the relationship it became increasingly ridiculous. And frustrating; because I am a writer and writers can always find the right words. In this case, it all seemed ineffable. I can only describe what it all feels like.
When I was a teenager I wrote the question in my journal, “What is the difference between being female and being feminine?” This came after a male friend said to me, “Your problem is that you aren’t a girl, you’re a person.” At sixteen I was devastated. I wanted to be “a girl.” I didn’t fantasize about marriage, weddings, dresses, cakes, or honeymoons. If Kleinfeld existed, it existed in another universe (called Manhattan). What I did fantasize about was having a boyfriend.
It was “intimacy” that intrigued me the most. I wasn’t sure what intimacy meant, but it wasn’t sexual intimacy. (That came much, much later.) So why did the intimacy fantasy always involve a male, considering I didn’t have a sex drive? I couldn’t tell you. Just the same I had crushes on males and wanted one of my own. (Maybe that is the definition of a “sex drive” at that age. Who knows?) I mean, before I had a sex drive I had a drive towards males. At age nine I had a raging crush on Napoleon Solo from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” for example.
So what does it mean to want to be in a relationship with a male if it is not about sex? And isn’t this really the same question the therapist had asked?
I can’t verbalize why someone who looks like one gender but “appears” like the other gender is so mind bending. I can only say I believe our sexuality and gender are very deeply experienced. They inform almost every aspect of our being. Several dozen human languages even have gendered nouns. (And the same noun may not have the same gender in different languages!)
Who is this person I loved and married and lived with for thirty years? Can the body change and not the personality? Could I get used to looking at this new physical individual without feeling sadness and loss for the male person I was attracted to? Would I ever again want to touch and be touched by this person? I knew my husband didn’t exactly look like Napoleon Solo when we met and married, but he sure as hell didn’t look like Agent 99 (“Get Smart”) either!
You probably haven’t heard the term “secondary sex characteristics” since high school hygiene, or sex ed. But the truth is, they are very important when it comes to attraction. I can remember many years ago walking past a shop on Madison Avenue in New York City that sold shaving paraphernalia. The door was open and I got a whiff of after shave. It stopped me dead. I lingered. Looked in the window at all the male “stuff,” and realized that this was a little bit of a turn on. But why? Because it was a very masculine environment and I could feel it. I know straight men who say that a very feminine environment can turn them on as well. Any hint of the opposite sex can trigger this.
Of course, after-shave, the scent of a cigar, and traditional male clothing are not secondary sex characteristics. I mention them to make the point that it is not only the naked body, the genitals, that attract us to the opposite sex. Secondary sex characteristics like facial/body hair, muscles, voice are important. In my case my mate was developing female secondary sex characteristics. And it points to the answer to the question of why I want to live with a man whether we have sex or not: having “maleness” in my life makes me feel good. No explanations or apologizes are offered here. It is not about political correctness. And it is no more or less acceptable or ridiculous than a biological male wanting to be, or considering themselves to be female.