From Venus to Mars: Boyfriend in Trans*it

New circumstances make it important to note that this piece was written in January 2014.

In astronomy, “look-back time” refers to the amount of time by which we look back when viewing a distant galaxy. One day I say this as my boyfriend pulls up ballerina pictures from kindergarten. “I have never been a girl,” he says, looking at a picture, “But there I am.” Long brown pigtails and a gap-toothed smile, clad in a little tutu, his arm leaning on a bar. There he is, already a star. He, I realize, looks back at himself through many, many lifetimes.

A year ago, at age 27, my boyfriend decided to begin his female-to-male transition. It took almost a year of therapist appointments and doctor visits before he was allowed to begin hormone therapy. Now, every two weeks he injects himself in the thigh with a thick needle and a clear syringe of testosterone. He records his changes in weekly Youtube videos, as updates to family and friends, and as offerings to anyone considering the same transition. Even now, despite his wishes and extensive hormone therapy, he does not always “pass” as male. I am, therefore, a queer female dating a straight man who was assigned female at birth. Depending on the person we encounter, I am perceived as either a straight woman or the lesbian partner of, as he’s been called, “a butch.” This has brought up feelings and questions for both of us.

Questions like: Am I disregarding his straight identity if I hold onto my queer one? Am I dating a man or a transman? Or…both? The truth is, I am still trying to figure all this out. Most important, though, is learning how to interact sensitively with a partner whose body I love, who has dealt with years of shame and body dysphoria, and who thus hates parts of himself. This is what I want to know: Am I still honoring his gender if I love all of him — even the parts of himself he tries to excise?

“I am trying to be more positive about my transition,” he says three months into testosterone shots, when he is pissed off that he is still getting his period, “It’s hard, you know. Sometimes I get mad that this doesn’t happen on its own.”

“You are in transit now,” I want to tell him, “You are still connecting your stars.”

Privately, I call his muscle growth and changing voice his impatient celebrations. He wants these changes so fervently that, again and again, I am surprised. His desire to have a different body reminds me that I can love him and support him, but I will never fully understand him. Instead, sometimes I just cry. Is it because I love him as he is? Yes (emphatically). Is it because I am also attracted to women, and he is trying to no longer have the body of one? …Maybe. That’s not really it, though.

The partners of trans men know this, that we do not relate to our partner as female, either in conversations or in bed. My feelings of sadness are deeper and wider than any changes to his surface. Witnessing change is hard. Witnessing someone you love so fervently wanting what’s beyond, not what is now, is painful. It goes against all of the fledgling Buddhist tenets in me. The magnitude of change is often felt in what has not yet occurred. He is a galaxy and – up here and down there – these are the black holes of his body before surgery. I have hardly seen him underneath his sports bra. This means we are rarely together naked. Sometimes this makes me sad. Yet sometimes I too find myself imagining what it will be like to have him lie on top of me, bare-chested and flat. He talks about how much better he will feel after top surgery: happier, more confident. That is what I want for my partner.

As he tosses away another empty bottle of testosterone, nicely nicknamed “T,” I try to hold all these changes in my hands. Like new pronouns or the names of planets on my tongue, time rotated slowly before these differences came easily. He is a single star turned constellation; I am watching him change shape.

No matter how much he feels his body is not the right one, it has created the person I love, someone who has struggled inwardly and is now changing outwardly. How, then, can I not also love the breasts that he despises, the pelvic bone that is shaped like mine, the voice that he only likes in the morning because, as he says, it’s deepest then? Yes, there is still the cliched feminine outside of him, the eyelashes and the love handles, the small hands and the soft skin. Yet more and more, the man he is comes out, in energy and hair gel, broadening shoulders, cool shoes, that slight swag. I love the masculine and feminine in me through loving the all of him. This feeling is both complicated and complemented by the deep respect I have for how he feels – no, for who he is. My stomach drops when a barista hands us drinks, saying, “There you are, ladies,” or when my mom asks what “she” would like for lunch. Hearing him identified as female feels so false.

“How does that make you feel?” I ask.

“It makes me feel like I’m not a person,” he says, “Every time it happens, it’s like a crime against my humanity.”

Change is scary, even when we say we want it. He likes to call this his “second puberty,” but we both know it is so much more. His changes are more aptly called alignments. I am watching him become more of who he has always been. This is what I must remember when I feel mean and selfish for wanting him to stay the same. Yet more than anything, I want him. Therefore, I want who he will become. With this wanting comes the celebration and the sadness, the inner, outer growth, the deeper learning, and the surface change. Love, I have realized, is the moon and the sun together. It encompasses the space around us and the galaxies of our bodies, those within us and beyond us.

Every day I sit in space and watch his changing shape. He left Venus long ago and is soaring now towards Mars.

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  1. Your partner is lucky to have love like yours. I think gender identity and roles are opening or expanding due to the brave trans communities, but also find that such openings created by each individual must endure a narrowing to do it. What I mean is, to identify so strongly with the body, forces certain exclusion and inclusions. If a man in a woman’s body wants to transition he has to determine the female body as inferior to him still. As not him. And then he determines what is masculine, largely based on the established norm. This isn’t quite opening roles but trading them, albeit more suitable to the man making the transition into his “right” body. I personally do not like being boxed in or labeled. I was born in a female body and I identify with it as my vehicle but the gender identity and roles enforced by outer societies and patriarchal religions are not supportive of my idea of what being female truly is. I am not about “bodies”. I am about “soul” or “spirit” and whatever body the human ends up in doesn’t matter to me. We love who we love. It is not confined or defined by convention. That being said, anyone who chooses to go through transition doesn’t not do so on a whim. I fully support and encourage the search for self-acceptance.
    Your story was moving and I loved your analogy to the stars and alignment. Peace and love to you and your partner.

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