Sexuality can be a wonderfully hard thing to define. On the surface it can appear pretty clear-cut: some people like boys, some people like girls. But others like both, sometimes at once. There are those who don’t like it at all: asexuals develop strong romantic and platonic attachments, but don’t feel a need to do the deed. By the same token, aromantics don’t develop romantic attachments, but may or may not enjoy sex and form strong friendships and platonic relationships. Demisexuals only feel aroused by those with which they have a strong emotional bond. And pansexuals are simply attracted to people in general, biological sex, gender or gender identity notwithstanding.
As a western society, we are discovering more and more every day what Pacific Island and Native American cultures have known for centuries: sexuality is gloriously multifaceted, and the more you stop and think about it, the more unique and wonderful permutations you’re likely to discover. Unfortunately, this means that figuring out where your personal boundaries of attraction lie can be difficult. It doesn’t just end at who you’re attracted to. The how can be just as important.
For reference, I’m a lesbian. I think penises are gross. As a transgender woman, I’ve lived with an unwanted cock for long enough that the thought of actually doing anything with one that belongs to another person causes my insides to shrivel in on themselves. Granted, occasionally I’ll see a pretty guy who makes my jaw drop (hello, Neville Staple,) and Indiana Jones will always hold a special place in my heart, but the only people that have made me bite my lip and melt at the knees have been women.
Fortunately, despite a state of affairs that recently led to the election of tangerine Mussolini and our own Federal government’s disdain for the LGBTI community, we live in a fairly progressive society. I can canoodle with my girlfriend in a pub and not be leered at or burned at the stake, and casually mentioning the fact that my partner is female at work has never elicited anything more noteworthy than a raised eyebrow.
But sometimes, though I rarely volunteer it myself, someone notices or hears that I’m transgender. And then things get complicated.
For starters, there are the questions. It’s human nature to be curious about sex, but trans girls are interrogated with a bluntness that’s frankly shocking. If we’ve been through surgery, we’re asked how our new equipment works and looks, if we can feel anything, or whether we regret having surgery at all. And if we haven’t gone that far yet? It seems to be common practice in comment sections and forums across the internet to question the sexuality of straight men who sleep with trans girls, and those of us who prefer female partners attract much the same scrutiny. A woman I attended a writer’s workshop with once rhapsodised about what it might be like to have a trans girlfriend:
‘That’s basically all I want: a woman with a cock.’
She was probably joking. I’ll never be sure. And disclaimer: there are transgender women who never have surgery and enjoy penetration in all its forms, which doesn’t make them any less feminine. There is a thriving fetish community devoted to it. But that isn’t me, and I certainly didn’t find it funny. I, and many other trans women, can’t stomach the thought of having sex in a male body. Though things are better now (and my sex life is quite satisfactory, thank you very much,) the thought of penetration makes me physically sick. But the implication, in that offhand remark, in the sly grins and tweets of internet trolls, is that there’s an overwhelming stereotype when it comes to transgender girls of any sexuality: if a girl has an extra piece of equipment, she’s expected to use it. 4chan has a lot to answer for.
However, when considered outside of the bedroom, all of a sudden that fascination becomes violent loathing. Even after my transition had progressed enough that I could pass without comment amongst all but one elderly gentleman who’d worked in Thailand for over four decades, I was petrified at the thought of entering the dating pool: if I met someone I liked, would she still feel the same way after I told her about my unwanted guest? Would she like me because of it (a situation that gives me nightmares), or would I suddenly find myself waylaid and beaten to death on the side of a road somewhere for being a freak? There’s a reason why I’m scared of international travel: transgender people are at horrible risk of being assaulted, raped and murdered across the world, not to mention the social crucifixions that take place. Look at North Carolina’s bathroom laws, there to protect the populace at large from rapacious transgender people, when in actual fact we just want to pee in peace and are far more likely to get our heads stoved in by some righteous redneck than commit any crimes ourselves. No, I’d much rather stay in my progressive little bubble where no one’s going to scream at me to hoist my skirt because my shoulders are a little broad.
Add my sexuality on top of this, and what do you get? I become the poster child for every transgender fantasy and conservative fear out there, a deviant who seduces women away from men and fucks them using their own precious phallus. Because in the end, it’s all about that stubby little length of muscle: I emasculate just by existing. In short, to the fuckheads who see me as a freak of nature, to the Bernardis and Christansens and Westboros and every man who has ever hurt or killed someone like me because of a momentary ‘gay panic,’ I’m a betrayal. Because how else can I possibly be contextualised?
Over the course of my transition, I’ve heard a lot of strange and disturbing comments and assumptions, some of which I’ve told you, some of which I’d rather forget. But the one that sticks in my mind is an offhand comment made by a friend, totally without malice, confused and trying to be reasonable, when I told them that I was a woman who liked other women trapped in a man’s body:
‘But… you like girls, don’t you? So what’s the problem?’
It was a sentiment I heard echoed everywhere, for a while. Others commented that they would have rathered I’d come out as gender-fluid, a la Eddie Izzard, or gay. It makes a perverse sort of sense. After all, if I identified as a woman and was interested in men and everything attached, then by swapping my genitalia around I was just making sure that the pieces of the puzzle fit together all neat-like.
But if I was both transgender and a lesbian? A natural cock and a fondness for ladies? Their implication, their argument, was once again unmistakable: ‘transgender and lesbian’ translated into ‘heterosexual male with severe issues.’ To say it was confronting was an understatement.
I got around all of this by understanding one very important thing. Well, mostly. I also moved states and started hormone replacement therapy under my own steam. But the impetus for that was realising that who I slept with, who I wanted to fall in love with, was no one’s goddamn business but my own. What mattered was what my realisation, that I was a lesbian, did for me. The very fact that I was attracted to women as a woman was one of the very first things that helped me to realise that I was transgender, and set me on the path to becoming the person that I am today. Yes, I’m still scared to get on a plane, and yes, I still fret about being outed, but in the three years since I met my partner and let her sweep me off my feet, I feel more myself, more alive, more feminine, then I ever have in my entire life.
Why should I care what a few insecure trolls think? I know exactly who I am, and what I want. That’s all that ever mattered.
Image: Mayur Gala
Callie Doyle-Scott was born in Tasmania in 1990, but has since travelled around Australia: she currently resides in Canberra. A graduate of RMIT University’s Creative Writing program in 2013, she never quite lost the study bug: her speciality is culinary history, specifically that of Victorian England and Japan throughout the ages, though she loves to research old folktales in her spare time. Callie started writing stories when she was ten (her first being about a cave that could turn people into animals,) and was first published in Dickson College’s CLIO History Journal with two articles on Renaissance heroines Caterina Sforza and Lucrezia Borgia. While studying, she went on to found and edit Verity La’s Out of Limbo project (an online archive devoted to the coming-out stories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex individuals,) and participate in Bryce Courtney’s final writing masterclass in 2012. Since then, she has written articles for the Verity La and Writer’s Bloc webjournals, and hopes to establish a wider portfolio over the coming months. She is currently working to finish the draft of her first novel, a gastronomic fantasy entitled Soup for the Moon, in the hopes of approaching a publisher by the end of the year.
This piece has been published with the support of the ACT Government.
Marvellous writing – wonderful voice. Callie brings so much clarity and warmth to these memoir pieces.
Thank you for writing this Callie, a brave and important contribution that will help spread peace, understanding and acceptance.
A very interesting and brave essay, and all the best for a happy life ahead in the future.