That's Mr. NM, and Mr. NM is trans. Mr. NM was born genetically female but since the Fall of 2009 has been in the process of transitioning to a male body. Several big changes have already happened, and there are many smaller changes yet to come. But what I most wanna talk about is how this has changed our relationship and, by extension, me.
During our first 4 years together, Mr. NM and I were actually a lesbian couple. So all those formative relationship years, where we were getting to know each other and beginning to plan our future together, we were two women. The person I knew was a woman, and the future I envisioned was with a woman. Even though I've historically identified as bisexual or queer, being in a 4-year relationship with a woman had a way of shifting my identity towards the lesbian side of the spectrum. That's what people saw when we walked down the street, so for all intents and purposes, that's what we were.
Cut to early 2009, when Mr. NM "came out" to me as transgender. I had a flurry of feelings and went through many different and wildly varying reactions in that first month. There are several things I'd change about that time if I could do it all over again, but I try not to be too hard on myself for what that process looked like. I have trans friends and I've worked with trans clients, but I think things are different when they touch you personally and when they'll change your life so drastically. It really only took that first month before Mr. NM and I again felt really solid as a couple. That's not to say we haven't had gender-related issues we've had to work through since then, but after that first month it was pretty clear that we were both committed to the relationship come hell or high water.
People say to me all the time, "This must be so hard for you." And sometimes it is hard, but maybe not for the reasons that people might think. Truly the hardest part for me is a loss of identity. Since I was young I have strongly identified with being non-heterosexual. Yes, I was attracted to men. But I was attracted to women also. And the sole defining factor of my attraction is generally someone's personality. Mr. NM's personality hasn't changed, so he really feels like the same person to me. It's not the changes in him that have been difficult; it's the changes in other people that are really tough for me.
More and more frequently people are reading us as a heterosexual couple when we walk down the street. And let me just say for the record - the world feels so different as a heterosexual couple.
Yes, we live in San Francisco where some of those differences are washed away in the culture. But even in San Francisco there are times when I meet someone who is LGBT-identified and when I talk to them about my partner without the pronoun "she," I no longer have the benefit of that feeling of... family. That connection that comes when you realize you share something important in common with someone else. That's a big loss that I notice quite frequently.
When we venture outside this happy urban oasis, what I notice is how it feels to live a life where people aren't watching you all the time. We walk down the street and people don't even notice us, which you'd think would be a good thing. And it is, don't get me wrong. But I'm realizing the extent to which being in a lesbian relationship necessarily made me feel different and special and strong. I learned to be ready to defend my relationship at a moment's notice, or to shrug off nasty comments, or to walk by gaping strangers with my head held high. And now... well... now I don't need that strength as often, and I don't feel that specialness as much. That's a big loss, and it's something I'm working to recover in other ways.
Just as I have been patient and as understanding as possible with Mr. NM's transition, so he has been wonderfully patient and understanding of the transition this has meant for me. That's one of the reasons I know that our marriage will be a successful one, because we have already come so far and dealt with so much. Together. As a couple. As a formerly-lesbian-now-kinda-heterosexual couple. :-)
Has anyone else dealt with a world-rocking change during the course of your relationship?