A lesbian friend of mine in San Francisco is in a long-term relationship with her partner, who was lesbian for 40 years but recently transitioned and now identifies as male.
Well, imagine the furor when the newly male-female couple tried to sign up for the local gay Valentine’s dance (benefitting PFLAG, no less).
Apparently, it’s a “lesbian only” dance (or at least “women only”), and men are not welcome.
The dance officials made it clear to my friend and her partner that they were to stay far away from an event they’d attended for years.
Yes, their own community broke up with them on Valentine’s Day.
My friend wrote about this on her blog, and asked if I’d repost it. It’s a good piece, and raises some interesting issues, so I’m glad to do so.
So much for inclusiveness.
My partner “A”, who is now passing with a beard these days, told me yesterday:
Hey, you know that Valentine’s day dance we’re planning on going to Saturday. Well, those words we’ve been dreading are right there on the flyer: “Women only.”
I kind of knew we’d eventually hit the “lesbian-only/women-only” wall, since now we’re no longer “two women” together. We’re one non-trans lesbian and one transgender male. (Actually, we’d hit the women-only wall before, but it was a bit different. I’ll tell you why in a minute.)
So A emailed the dance oragnizers, you know, just to be cool. It didn’t go so well.
The thing is, I understand wanting single-gendered spaces. I have nothing against them. Women’s space is awesome. Sometimes you just want to be in a place where you don’t have to deal with men. In fact, I was often the first person who gave the evil eye to the straight couple flaunting their heterosexuality at a gay bar. (Now I see things differently, but hindsight is like that.)
And men-only spaces? Right on. Men should have places where they don’t have to deal with females. As long as they’re not excluding us in board rooms or business, I’m good. More power to you, brothers.
The problem is that there is no neat category for folks who were born with Type-XX parts and a Type-XY brain (or vice-versa).
So A wrote a super polite email (see below) saying hey, he’s just transitioned and now has the physical appearance of the man he’s always been inside. But he’d like to go to the Valentine’s dance with his girlfriend, who, by the way, is still a lesbian (if it’s confusing for you think about how confusing it is for me). So would it be cool if he showed up with his lover for the Valentine’s Day dance?
The response in a word? No. You’re not welcome. Don’t come. But no worries because there are lots of welcoming places a lesbian/trans man couple can go instead, you know, with all those straight couples.
It felt a lot like we were being dumped by our own community, and being told, hey babe, you’ll be fine – there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
The thing is, while we can pass for a straight couple, we really aren’t one. And outside of our community, I’m not so sure how many places a transgender dude and a lesbian could feel safe. But that’s not even the point.
Oh, and did I mention that this women-only dance is a benefit for PFLAG, which used to stand for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays” but now, according to their mission statement, also includes bisexuals and people who are transgender. But I digress. I don’t like going to parties where I’m not welcomed.
I didn’t anticipate how that rejection would make me feel. It hurt. It hurt me. It hurt the man I love. Happy Valentine’s Day. Thanks PFLAG.
True, I could have gone solo. “A” even sweetly suggested I do so. But seriously. Would you? Would you attend a Valentine’s Day dance from which your spouse was banned?
I told you there was another time we were excluded. A company had advertised an all-women’s whale-watching tour. I asked if it would be cool if A came. They told me no, it would not be cool to bring your man. I was a bit bummed. But I was OK with it. You know the difference? It wasn’t a couples-kind of event. No one was saying, hey come to a romantic event, but please leave home that other person who no longer fits in our world.
It feels like when I was 32 and my dad invited me, but not my then live-in girlfriend, to his big birthday party. It hurt. I told him I loved him, and I respected where he came from, but I couldn’t come if my partner wasn’t invited too. He thought about it and called me the next day. He told me, honey, I want you to come, and your girlfriend is welcome too. I love you.
I remember crying because it took so much courage for him to do that. It took strength for him to stand up for me and let the love shine through.
We were family. We worked it out.
I don’t want to yell at these women. I’m not even mad at them. I know they’ve probably been through all the heartache I have and a lot more, feeling rejected, threatened, and frightened, for being who they were. I grew up in a homophobic world, too.
They said that us being there together would make women feel uncomfortable. So by being who we were, we were hurting them. It feels too familiar. How many times have we heard straight men saying they didn’t want gay men in the locker room, the barracks, or the NFL because it made them feel icky? Since when is someone’s discomfort with someone different a reason for excluding them? I seriously doubt they would feel physically threatened by my partner.
In retrospect, yes, we probably shouldn’t have asked at all. Maybe we should have just shown up (maybe we should still). But listen: I want all those women to have a safe place. I really do. They’re my sisters. And to think that our mere presence would harm them? Ouch. When your family pushes you out the door and says, sorry, we don’t want you, and your mere presence sickens us, that feels pretty terrible.
Yes, I’ll be fine, and we’ll be fine. We have plenty of amazing, wonderful friends of every stripe. But it still hurts.
I guess I was hoping that maybe, just maybe this family would open the doors just a little wider to let us in and celebrate together.
Not this time.
Below are the emails we exchanged, with names and headers stripped out (I left the rest as is).
My partner writes:
Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 3:33:40 PM
Subject: Annual Community and PWG Fundraiser for PFLAG
Hi — and —,
We have enjoyed your dances and want to come this saturday with my girlfriend (lesbian) who has very gracefully accepted my recent transition (F to M). Since the caption on your mailer starts out with “For Women Only” I am wondering if I would still be welcome?
Please advise as soon as possible because we planned to up with some of our friends there but won’t if my transgendered condition isn’t acceptable.
The dance writes back:
Date: Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 7:57 PM
Subject: Re: Annual Community and PWG Fundraiser for PFLAG
Hi — -
Congratulations on your transition!
Your question is a difficult one:
It’s a dance for women and the people attending expect to see women dancing with women. Whether the women are lesbian or straight or bi – they’re still women. If you identify with being a man – then you’re a man.
I’m sorry if it’s not the answer you were looking for – but there are so many opportunities for women and men to dance and play together. This dance is special and especially for women.
All our best,
Then I weigh in:
Date: Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 10:51 PM
Subject: Re: Annual Community and PWG Fundraiser for PFLAG
Cc: A and —
Hi – I came home to find out that we were no longer welcome in the lesbian world – at least at your dance. On the one hand I completely understand wanting a women-only space. (I’m assuming that there will be absolutely no men there at all. I’m also assuming that trans-women will be welcomed, as they are women.)
On the other hand, I’m broken-hearted. I’ve been in the lesbian world for 30 years and my partner has been in lesbian world for 40. We are part of this community. Or were. True, there are many chances for women and men to play together. (There are also many chances for women and women to play together.) But we– a lesbian and a trans man really don’t have many places to go and celebrate with our friends. I feel I’ve lost our community.
With a broken heart,