We’re pleased to have gained permission to republish this article by which originally was written for Lesbian and Gay News Website which subsequently closed. Liz spoke to Jo Bartosch.
Swimming helps clear Liz’s mind, it’s one of the things she does when she wants to relax – and to forget. Now in her mid-twenties, Liz was just out of her teens when she met and fell in love with K. By the end of the relationship Liz was left grieving for the woman she had known – she recalls that K already had plans for ‘top surgery’, the next part of her transition.
“I had already checked-out but I did not know how to leave… being together as she planned her transition was stressful – I was expected to smile my way through it all.”
Liz met K in an online community for lesbian and bi women; it turned out they lived in the same area and the pair immediately hit it off. But less than two years later Liz found herself isolated from friends and hiding the truth from her family; she was forced to carry her doubts about K’s transition alone.
Liz didn’t think much of it at the time when a few months into the relationship K began to drop hints about wanting to be male.
“She made a throwaway comment which I believed to be a joke at the time because she was on her period. Something along the lines of, ‘I’d really love to wave a magic wand and be a guy. At least their bodies don’t suck.’ I didn’t see anything weird in that. I used to have the same wish when I was younger.
“I’d gone through a period of time where I rejected the reality of myself growing into a woman during puberty, and up until I was 16 I’d gone as far as fabricating a male alter-ego, including a new name. So in the beginning, I thought that this was normal, that we all (almost all women, almost all lesbians) felt that way at one point and I shrugged it off.”
But the comments about being uncomfortable in her body didn’t stop; 18 months into the relationship K started identifying as trans.
K and Liz weren’t living together, but they used to telephone each other before bed. One night K called and announced her decision to transition.
“It was short: K was informing me; letting me know. She told me that nothing would change because she had always been this person, and that she was just going to be even more authentic from now on. She told me about the process, and what changes she wanted for her body and for us. She had already picked a name she asked me to use. I, of course, agreed.
“K sent me links to FtM Tumblr blogs talking about how great they felt after their mastectomies, and she told me she would do it tomorrow if she could. She had obviously done her research for some time. I asked her if she was sure, and she told me she was. She’d been planning this with her therapist for a while, unbeknownst to me.
“Then she told me she loved me and asked me if I thought that I would still love her after. I was, by that point, feeling completely overwhelmed. I told her that we’d figure this out. I wasn’t ready to entertain a break-up over something that sounded, from what she said, so inconsequential. I already felt uncomfortable, but I figured that would pass. I just needed to grow accustomed to the idea.
“After we hung up, I remember staring into space for a bit before I started crying. For all her reassurances that nothing would change I still felt like I had just lost something I couldn’t really describe. And I knew that I had lost the right to call her by the name I had known her as. I didn’t really sleep that night, my mind running in circles and coming up with question after question.”
Liz isn’t sure whether K really thought of herself as a man.
“When she first broached the topic, she seemed very aware of the fact that she was female, and it felt more like she was rebelling against her female body rather than it being about a male/masculine identity. K wasn’t butch and had never acted particularly masculine, either. Further down the path of transition, though, she started telling me that she finally found herself, and that everything up to that point had been a fake version of herself. I think that at that point, she really came to believe that she had been, so to speak, born into the wrong body and her real self was that of a man.”
Liz felt like she had nowhere to turn, and that she was wrong for feeling so distressed. Coming out to her parents had been tough for Liz and so she kept the news about K’s transition from them.
“I lied to them a lot during that time, and they did not know that I was having issues in my relationship. I did not want to give them any ammunition against my relationship or sexuality. I think I just wasn’t ready to give up the lesbian label I had fought them so hard for. It was a very lonely time.”
Transwidows are one of the most marginalised groups – reduced to props in their partners’ new identities, their feelings and desires are missing from the popular narrative. For those who are lesbian there is an additional pressure – most of the groups which were founded to support people in same sex relationships now aggressively perpetuate trans ideology. When Liz confided to her local LGBT women’s group that she was struggling to accept K’s new identity, she was made to feel ashamed.
“I got chastised and was told she was going through something so very difficult that none of us could understand. I felt like I had definitely said something wrong, and it stopped me from reaching out to them when I couldn’t cope with the transition any longer.”
After her experience within the LGBT group, Liz didn’t feel like she could be open with her friends about her doubts.
“I was afraid of being the bad guy, of being called a bigot or worse. I had already said too much and people had not been happy about it. How I, for instance, kept slipping up about her name and pronouns.”
Liz says it was expected that they would stay together through K’s transition:
“I never felt like she, or anyone, was asking me for my opinion or for what I wanted. It was always just the unspoken agreement: if I really loved her, I would of course stand by her. In the beginning, I was optimistic despite feeling uneasy about the pace of things.
“She asked me to use her new name and pronouns. Her family sat me down one day because we were supposed to talk about how we could all do our best to support her through this process.
“It was never a question of, ‘If you are comfortable with this’ that day but rather a ‘and this is what we all are going to have to do’. Her mother told me ‘We are all in this together’. No-one asked me how I felt about it, and I thought it was inappropriate to make it about me.”
K’s decision to identify as a man had ramifications for everyone around her. Liz was expected to change her identity to complement K.
“Within weeks of her telling me about her plans, we had our first fight. For her, it was clear that she’d always been straight because she was only into women. And, almost in passing, she said that she didn’t think it was such a big deal if I was straight or bisexual after all.
“I got really mad at her for that because it had taken me so much time and pain and disapproval from my own family until I could even say, ‘I’m gay’ without feeling myself burn with shame. I felt really sad, too. I had come to see myself as a lesbian after years of searching for an explanation of everything I was feeling and felt like I was losing some part of my ‘own identity’ even though she hadn’t even changed anything yet. She was mad because this meant I wasn’t accepting her as the real man she felt she was within.
“In the end, I just stopped referring to my own sexual orientation at all. I figured it was easier to just stay with her and keep my mouth shut.”
What added to Liz’s intense isolation, was that “everyone else seemed so happy” about K’s new identity.
“Her parents in particular. Her mother was ecstatic to talk about ‘her son and his girlfriend’ to friends and family. She never boasted about us when we were still, for all intents and purposes, a lesbian couple.”
This still impacts on how Liz talks about herself today:
“To this day, if I’m in an LGBT setting, I don’t mention that my ex was trans identified. I don’t want to go through this again with endless discussions where people try to tell me that I must be pansexual or at the very least bisexual.
“A friend of K’s actually told me I was just in denial about being bisexual/pan. This insecurity stayed with me for a long time, and I wasn’t sure of myself for quite a while, always second-guessing myself. What if I just wanted to be a lesbian but was lying to myself? It was as if this one relationship suddenly changed everything that had been true about myself and continues to be true – that I have never in my life felt attraction to any man/male. Whatever my ex-girlfriend might identify as, I met her as a woman, and she’s female.”
Once K made the decision to transition, she changed her dress, name and mannerisms immediately.
“Even before taking T, she became more aggressive towards me. I often felt like she was trying to emulate some kind of macho-persona that, in her mind, would give her new identity more credibility.”
It quickly became clear to Liz that if she questioned any aspect of K’s new identity, there would be a fight, so she shrank back into silence.
“She started retconning a lot of her life’s history. The way she told it, it sounded like I had always just met and fallen in love with a guy who just happened to look a bit different from other guys. The fact that we met in a wlw [women loving women] community? Almost forgotten, a small inconvenience. It felt like we had lived different lives for those one-and-a-half years we were together without her being trans.
“It is a very lonely experience to be the only one to remember a relationship while the other seems to remember a different reality altogether… I know this is cliché but it really felt like the girl I knew, in part at least, had died, and I was the only one left to remember her. Actually, the only one that wanted to remember her. Everyone else was busy celebrating her new identity as him.”
Liz recalls how K tried being “one of the boys”.
“Some of her guy friends started making jokes about us that were very sexist, as if I was the little housewife for her, and also about us in bed, too. I had a huge falling out with one of her male friends because of that. She often just laughed along and kept telling me it was just all in good fun. I felt humiliated and betrayed.”
But it was not just when they were in company that K put Liz down to bolster her masculine image and assuage her insecurity.
“She started making disparaging comments about the female body which were, I believe, mostly aimed at her own body.”
Liz admits it had a “devastating” impact on her self-esteem.
“I began feeling insecure in my physical appearance, and I couldn’t connect with her physically at all anymore because I did not know how to express my sexuality in a way that wasn’t, at its core, an open appreciation of all things female.
“It was further complicated because her sex drive was heightened by the T and she started pressuring me into things and afterwards got mad at me for it, because she was mad she’d liked ‘it’ and she felt like it all made her ‘less of a man’ and ‘more of a woman’. It was all about her by now.
“Seeing her look and talk about her female body with so much hate and disdain, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of her must have seen mine in a similar way. I felt conflicted. I was still very much a lesbian but at the same time, I was almost disgusted by it.”
By now, Liz’s attraction to K was “dwindling away” but K was “caught up in her own whirlwind of transition.”
“It seemed like my opinion didn’t really matter to her at all and she started downplaying whatever I was saying half the time, not taking me seriously, talking down to me. Eventually, I realised that I needed to get away from the relationship. I felt like I was broken, and I was beginning to get scared that I might not be fixable.”
Liz regrets not being “mature or experienced enough” at the time to have questioned K more about her decision. But ultimately, Liz reflects that the end of the relationship allowed her to begin to take pride in who she is once more.
“No relationship experience with another woman has ever made me feel this way. While I cried over the end of the relationship, I didn’t really argue or fight for it. A part of me was relieved. At least, I had tried.”