Okay, so, we all know that I'm a totally crochety curmudgeon, the kind of person who throws rocks at kissing teenagers and tells old people walking down the boardwalk hand-in-hand to get a room. I've spent years honing my crankster reputation and I'm afraid that I'm going to totally blow my cover with a single article here.
So I'm going to talk about this, and then we are never going to speak of it again, because I have a reputation to uphold here, people.
This morning I happened to be virtually perusing the closest major paper, the “Press Democrat,” when I encountered a story on the main page about some old people celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Now, I don't particularly care about wedding anniversaries unless they involve people I know personally and care about, and I totally fail to see how they are front page (even though 50 years is a long time).
But then I looked a bit closer, and I realized that this story was a little more complex. Ms. and Ms. Giles, you see, have a kind of amazing story, and it's one that may have started 50 years ago when they got married and pledged to stick together through thick and thin, sickness and health, and all that stuff.
In 1996, though, their marriage experienced a radical shift when Diane Giles came out as transsexual and started transitioning and taking hormone treatments, announcing to her colleagues at Santa Rosa Junior College that she was Diane, not Dick, and wanted to be referred to with female pronouns.
The local paper covered the story then because it was rather remarkable, both because of Diane's age and established marriage, and because she didn't do this the easy way. Slated for retirement in a year, she chose to come out at work even though it was a risk and even though it would attract attention. Some people responded very negatively to the idea of having a transsexual math teacher, while others got over it, and more importantly than that, they actively supported her or thanked her for being so open.
The 1996 article has some serious problems, like the repeated use of the wrong pronouns and a gawking aspect. As an illustration of how much has changed between 1996 and 2013 (at least for some newspapers), this week's article is sensitive, loving, and celebratory. Critically, Diane's pronouns are all correct and the article doesn't make a point of using her old name. This is an article about the love between two women and their marriage, not about how Diane is transgender.
As her wife Anne puts it in the piece:
“This (the gender switch) really isn't a big part of our lives any more,” Anne said. “Family, for us, is much more a part of our lives than being transsexual.”
Having a partner come out as trans can split or radically alter a relationship, for a lot of different reasons. Obviously sexual orientation is an issue in a lot of partnerships, and people may deal with feelings of stress, conflict, and other issues. Anne and Diane have stayed together ever since Diane came out, and they obviously love each other deeply, as evidenced by the photos accompanying the feature, which show two older women who know each other intimately and are delighted at the fact that they've been in each others' lives for 50 years.
It makes me want to tear up and make some cliché comment about how love is love, etc etc.
I'm not writing about this story to say that I think people have an obligation to stay with trans partners or anything like that; what I am writing about instead is the fact that love is a beautiful and complex and diverse thing. Anne describes herself as a “situational lesbian” as a result of her partnership and marriage, and she gets to the heart of something important here: for her, in her situation, and for her wife, the shifts in their marriage brought them closer together.
There are a lot of people out there who think couples like them shouldn't exist, who both deny that transsexual people exist and refuse to accept the fact that love can include two people of the same gender in a committed relationship. Those people have fought long and hard to erase such partnerships from society, and to make it harder for trans people to access treatment while also banning marriages like Anne and Diane's; the only reason they were legally married to begin with is because they were married before Diane's transition, allowing them to get a marriage license.
This story is awesome to me because of how much it reflects not just about their love and their 50 years of marriage, but society. The paper covered this as a human interest issue but not necessary as something to rubberneck at, and it brought them to the center of the story rather than pushing them into the background to focus on Diane's gender to the exclusion of everything else. This is a story about two women with amazing lives and stories to tell, and it's a story about love, and it's a story about how society does change, even when it feels like it's standing still.
Diane is among a courageous generation of transsexual women who came out and started transition in a decade when they were much less accepted than they are today. Her courage inspired other women, who wrote to tell her how much they appreciated her frankness and insistence on being respected as who she was even if she did live under an assigned male identity for 58 years. And the work of women like Diane made it easier for trans people today, just as our work in turn will pave the way for the next generation.
Happy anniversary, Anne and Diane. You two keep being awesome, okay?