The Secret to Staying Happily Married During and After a Gender Transition

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
June 19 2014 12:06 PM

The Secret to Staying Happily Married During and After a Gender Transition

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Book cover.

Talking to author couple Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall reveals how inseparable they’ve become over their 23 years together. Discussing their joint memoir Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders, about former park ranger Jacob’s transition eight years ago from female to male, they rushed to finish—or correct—the other’s sentences. Asking how many times they’d gotten married yielded a 20-minute response (four times as a lesbian couple, as marriage equality became available in different jurisdictions, once as man and wife). Told in alternating chapters, Queerly, which gets its name from an episode of The Simpsons, is packed with gender insights and plenty of drama, from Diane’s fear of losing her former job as editor-in-chief of lesbian magazine Curve if she was partnered with a man (she’s currently editor at large of the Advocate), to Craigslist hookups, foster parenting, and family tensions as they explore what the transition from Suzy to Jacob did—and didn’t—change, for both of them.

Rachel Kramer Bussel spoke with them about the book.

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Jacob, you didn’t transition until age 38 and hadn’t seriously considered it until a year or two before that. How did trans visibility affect your thoughts on transitioning?

Jacob: The people getting media attention at the time were just not people I identified with. They often said they always knew they weren’t a lesbian. A friend transitioned who’d always been a stone butch and was very masculine. That’s not me. I’m a metrosexual guy. I’m not going to have a six-pack or do the things required to be able to meet the American ideal of masculinity.

Diane, what made you so gung-ho about Jake’s transition?

Diane: Jake was very kind in the very beginning. He said, if you don’t want me to do this, I won’t do this. I remember the day that changed for him; he said something to the effect of even if we broke up he was going to do it. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for a couple hours, because it was very sad to have him say that.

But I’m a problem solver. I realized he’d been searching all his life for something, and this was it. I couldn’t wallow in my own emotions; I had to be there for him. It was important to me to be a good wife. We both felt it was going to be extra work to make sure we didn’t break up, because everybody told us we would.

Queer people said this?

Diane: Actually, lesbians were the worst to me. I kept hearing, “Jake’s gonna go gay. Jake’s queer, so he’s going to stay queer.” The fact that he wasn’t attracted to men at the time didn’t mean anything. [He now considers himself queer and occasionally attracted to men.] I kept trying to come up with solutions for how to work through all these [potential] roadblocks, and many of them we just never had.

What about your families?

Diane: My father, who I thought would be problematic, responded with, “Congratulations.”  

Jacob: When I first came out to my mom as a lesbian, she said, Are you sure you don’t just want to be a man? So I thought that maybe they’d be happy, but they responded negatively. It’s been a challenge. My dad thinks this is an insanity and that medical professionals are involved in that insanity. But he reached a point where he [could say], "You’re still my child and I love you."

What post-transition changes surprised you most?

Diane: Externally, there’s so much more safety. I don’t get catcalled on the street when I’m with him, but before, I would. Internally, with Jake there was a dulling of the edges. The whole concept of lesbian processing, where you talk for seven hours a night—I was starting to miss it. As a female couple, we’d been symbiotic and wonderfully codependent and communicative. Here I had somebody who just wasn’t available emotionally in the same way. Getting used to that was difficult.

Jacob: My emotions leveled out. I used to have peaks and valleys; now I have this middle ground. The emotions I do still have are often interpreted by Diane as anger. I don’t feel like I’m angry—I feel like I’m sad or upset or whatever—but apparently it now looks like anger. Now when Diane cries about something, sometimes I’ll think, Are you just putting this on? Are you trying to manipulate me?

Diane: And you never thought that before.

Jacob: No. I would be there with her. Now it seems so overblown.

Has the larger queer world become more accepting of couples like you?

Jacob: I feel like when I’m alone, or even when I’m with Diane, we’re just not visibly queer enough. We get asked, How can you be together? and How can you still consider yourself queer?

How do you feel when you get those questions?

Diane: I’m not offended, but I’m deeply saddened when people ask how we can consider ourselves queer. Those questions generally come from other LGBT people, not straight people. It’s them asking how dare I consider myself part of their world. I shouldn’t have to give that up just because Jake wanted to be true to who he is.

Jacob: There’s a lot of trans men who say, I would never be with a lesbian. If my wife insisted on continuing to be called a lesbian, she could not be with me because she doesn’t see me as a real man.

Diane: Other trans people get offended and think [because I call myself a lesbian-identified bisexual] I don’t respect Jake and don’t see him as a man. Or they just assume I’m out there on the weekend banging chicks. I certainly have Jake’s permission to be out there banging chicks, but that’s not what I’m doing. That’s not something I have to do to survive my marriage.

What can the broader LGBT community do to be more welcoming of trans people?

Diane: In the LGBT world, we can be very presumptuous. This may be karma. When I was younger and at a gay club, a male/female couple would come in and we’d wonder, Why are they here? If you’re two women together, you look visibly like a lesbian couple. It makes sense to people; they respect you. We have so many configurations around orientation and gender that make up LGBTQ. It would be wonderful if we could get people to recognize that.

What advice would you give to couples where one partner’s considering transitioning?

Diane: It was important for me for Jake to go to a therapist, because I can be your best friend and your lover, but there’s no way that I can even pretend to be 100 percent objective, because it affects me so dramatically. I think partners need that, too, because we have to spend so much time being supportive, but our whole world is changing dramatically. We say we transitioned because we did transition. Our relationship had to transition, our lives transitioned, so his gender change was just one part of it.

Jacob: People need to know that this is a grieving period. What’s hard is that for the trans person it’s this enormous, wonderful period of discovery and self-identity, but for the partner and everybody that loves them, it’s grieving. This person’s dead.

Diane: It’s hard to balance the new emergence of one person and the death of the other, even though they’re the same person.

Jacob: Growing up, the idea of a sex change was one day you’re this and the next day you’re that, and it’s complete. That certainly is not the reality of the experience.

Does the book have a message?

Diane: One is reminding people that marriage equality is about all people, including trans people. It greatly affects them because of the way the courts have treated our relationships in the past as fraudulent. We wanted to show that relationships can thrive and survive and that straight people have things to learn from us. None of this is necessarily easy-peasy, but I think it’s wonderfully worth it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the editor of Twice the Pleasure: Bisexual Women’s Erotica and many other anthologies. Follow her on Twitter.

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