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By Erin Ryan Fitzgerald
A lot of stories about notable trans people usually have one line about how their supportive partners stayed by their sides. Sometimes it's one quick line about how the couple parted ways, but either way, it's not very illuminating.
When my partner came out as a trans woman, I sometimes wondered, "Am I the only one who finds this so fucking hard?!" All of my conflicted feelings just wrapped up into a sticky guilt ball that sat in the pit of my gut, right next to my baby.
In November of 2009, Evan* and I decided to get pregnant. It didn't take long -- in fact it was pretty instantaneous. And in February of 2010, Evan came out as transgender. Our child was born that August. In one year, I got pregnant with my boyfriend and I gave birth with my girlfriend.
For me, supporting my partner was a lot trickier than those famous people interviews let on. First, as my partner was sliding on down the spectrum of socially constructed gender, I was a becoming a full on female mammal. Not all women experience pregnancy that way, but I reveled in being a baby-making, milk-producing, female warrior. I got into making my nest, quite literally when it was time for our home birth. I let those new hormones flood my mind and make all my decisions for me, even if it meant my beloved bike riding was suddenly The World's Most Dangerous Activity and required a family-wide ban. I resisted verbalizing all the essentialist "My fertile uterus connects me to ALL THE WOMEN" feelings that I was feeling, but I still loved those feelings. Hell, I felt a connection with the mama squirrels in the park. It was quite a contradiction to how my partner was experiencing what it means to be a woman. This made for some strained conversations about our quickly changing lives, each of us not wanting to seem unsupportive of the other, but neither of us being able to fully understand where the other was coming from.
Second, as my partner delved into the world of femme beauty standards, with all its extremes, I was desperately trying to tune them out. As much as I loved carrying my child, I still had the voice of Family Guy's awful Peter Griffin telling a pregnant character, "Wow, you must have had a great body before it went all fun-house mirror on you." (Why did I ever watch that show?!) It was super hard for me to feel attractive while pregnant, not like it was ever easy. To cope, I found empowerment in eschewing a whole bunch of beauty “ideals” that I found personally harmful, which my partner was now excitedly experimenting with. She wasn't interested in attempting to achieving absolutely all the beauty standards, but it was still difficult to be around hot pants and hair products, while my ass expanded and my hair frizzed out of control (OK, so harmful and currently unobtainable).
Furthermore, since she wasn't interested in looking like a total pageant queen, that evil little voice in my head planted there by years of gender socializing, particularly my teen years, kept making biting remarks about how Evan wasn't really a woman. I mean, c'mon, her legs weren't even shaved! (As if mine are.) It took all I had to suppress my gender policing, which didn't always work. Sometimes I was pretty shitty about the clothes my partner wore being "too slutty," or her hair not looking "cute enough." Several times I actually Mean Girl laughed when she held up pants at the thrift store, snarking, “Honey, you’re not a size two, go further down the rack.” What the fuck? It was really hard to not box Evan in with all the gender crap I had internalized. And when I failed, it was pretty sad.
My partner is also a touring radical folk musician, with fans and all. So coming out as transgender was a public act. She was admirably fierce about it, but this is a weird world we live in for "social" interactions.
When my partner announced she was a trans woman on Facebook, her website, and newsletter, it wasn't just her fans and our friends that read it, but my extended family, old friends from high school I never talked to, and the family I was nannying for.
I'm an extremely private person about certain things, so everyone knowing my bedroom business kind of killed me. I didn't know how to navigate it, either.
Again, since no one really talks about just how conflicted one can feel when their partner transitions, I really didn't know just how much space was OK for me to take up in this situation. I didn't need a Pride Parade for Partners, but maybe a discussion group?
And normally, Evan and I are great communicators, but because of all of the baggage dredged up, even our well-practiced touchy-feely communication skills couldn't help sort all this out.
I had also become a bit accustomed to all that straight passing privilege I benefitted from. Sometimes passing is infuriating, but the fact is that I'm safer when people think I'm straight.
And then there's the other stuff, like when bosses or people I only interact with once a year, say something horribly heterosexist. I can choose whether or not I will take issue with it, or let an ally handle it, because these people don't know that their statements directly affect my identity. They don't know that they're challenging me, so they don't expect/demand a personal response. Choosing when I defend myself frees up some time, let me tell you.
But get this. I spent some time at the beginning of our relationship, when it was clear to me that this love of ours was a big deal, questioning what it meant for me to be in one of those "Could this last forever?" relationships with a man. Part of me felt like I just didn't want to be with a man, even though Evan was the most amazing person I'd ever met. Kind of messed up, I know.
But fast-forward several years, and here I was again, questioning what my partner's gender meant for assumptions people made about my sexuality. Ugh.
There were plenty of exciting positives to having a trans partner, of course. While some may want to picket my house for damning my child to a life of gender confusion, I saw my partner's transition and gender presentation as a way to solidify our plans to raise our child as free from gender stereotypes as possible.
We didn't find out the sex of the baby in utero, but I knew he was male. I just did. Both Evan and I were still in denial about it, though.
It was terrifying to think of raising a boy. The other edge of Patriarchy's sword is that masculinity is valued over femininity, even if it's seen in girls. Allowing a girl to play sports, and climb trees, and other bullshit "boy things" is empowering! Allowing a boy to wear tutus and pink shoes is humiliating! Never mind encouraging a boy to try out tutus and pink shoes.
No one who posts a Facebook picture of their girl wearing a rugby jersey will probably have to deal with a national discussion about whether or not her parents are setting her up to be bullied, right? Right?! We hoped for a girl, because it seemed like people were just more accepting of gender neutrality for girls (not that raising a girl is easy-peasy).
Were we skilled enough and strong enough to resist societal pressures for raising boys?! No, probably not. But now, regardless of the baby's sex and gender, he would have two parents who showed that gender is something that he can make decisions about, and that it doesn't matter when it comes to love.
Also, with two hyper femmes in the house, it's a serious possibility that if we had a girl, we would just full on femme her up, just like her mommy and ima (Hebrew for mom).
At least with a boy, other people gave us clothes and toys marketed to boys, allowing us to focus on the femme. That's not exactly gender neutrality, but have you been to children’s clothing and toy stores?! Gender neutrality is not a popular retail theme.
But after Evan and I worked through all our gender baggage, (or at lease a whole bunch of it) and made a commitment to continually work through the rest, I just have more reasons to love her.
I could go all-out gushy on how loving and supportive she is, and smart and talented, and a fantastic parent. But I will say that watching Evan throw up a big middle finger to the gender binary has been inspiring. There are so many things I want to give a big middle finger to, and I'm lucky that my partner showed me it can be done, and should.
Seriously, sometimes I can be a total pushover and obsessed with the world's expectations of me. I'm lucky that I get a daily reminder to just chill out on all that, and instead focus on being happy. And so does our child.
*Just so there's no confusion, Evan chose to stick with the name her parents gave her.