I Used To Be A Lesbian. Now I'm A Happily Married Man


A story about a lesbian who is now a transgender man. (Photo: Courtesy of the subject)

Diane and I first met at Idaho Gay Pride in 1990 when we were 22. We were lesbians. Actually, I wasn’t just a lesbian—I was a lesbian feminist with separatist tendencies. I believed that patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality were keeping women down. I hadn’t heard of trans men, and I couldn’t imagine wanting to be a man.

As lesbian activists and journalists, Diane and I were in the public eye as lesbians. We moved to San Francisco and became role models in the lesbian community. We cofounded a national lesbian magazine, Girlfriends, and were interviewed by news outlets about lesbian rights and same-sex marriage, a pet cause of ours for many years. We were so entrenched in the queer world that we barely even knew a straight person.

So, you’re probably wondering how I ended up as a transgender man. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. I had found a home in the lesbian world, where I identified with other butches who wore men’s clothes and dated femmes like Diane. I still hadn’t noticed the bread crumbs I’d been leaving myself all my life.

In fact, it took another decade before I finally realized I was trans. When a girl wears “boy’s clothes” and wants to hang out with the boys, she gets called a tomboy and her exploration of masculinity is seen as perfectly normal, maybe even laudable. If she continues this behavior into her teens, she starts being labeled a lesbian, which makes sense if she’s attracted to women. I was, so I just assumed I was a lesbian. Truthfully, though, I always felt like something was a bit off.

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Funny enough, having such a supportive and accepting partner also made it hard for me to find my truth. Diane has always seen the real me and loves the geeky nerd/farm boy that I am, both now and as a butch lesbian. I felt seen and embraced, so there wasn’t that dichotomy between who I was and who I wanted to be—until I took my clothes off or saw my reflection in the mirror and realized how feminine my exterior was.

In my late 30s, Bitch magazine asked me to review a handful of anthologies by transgender men. Within these were stories of late bloomers, former lesbians, and current feminists. That was the turning point when I finally recognized myself as trans and began to understand how different I was from other butch lesbians. I realized that lesbians, including butch lesbians, have no issue with their femaleness. They may have masculine gender expressions or identities, but they don’t dislike their female bodies (at least no more than other women). All the pieces came together for me, and I finally realized why I had always felt so different from other lesbians and other women. It was simple: I was a man.

Ten years ago, I finally had the courage to tell myself (and Diane) that I wanted to be a man. Diane saw it coming, and she supported immediate action to resolve my gender dysphoria. She got me to a therapist within a week. She supported my medical transition—my physically becoming a man. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for her, or that it was what she wanted.

That first year, Diane cried at night when she thought I was asleep. She sobbed in the car while I was having my first surgery. At that point, she was editor-in-chief of Curve, the nation’s largest lesbian magazine, and she asked her boss if she needed to quit her position. She loved me enough to risk losing her job, her friends, and even her own sexual identity (the moment I began my transition, people questioned her right to continue identifying as a lesbian). Bottom line: Diane loved me enough to lose me. It was like I died and a new person was born in my place—a person whom she accepted with open arms.

Before I started testosterone therapy, I was the kind of feminist who believed that differences between the sexes where almost entirely due to the variances in how our culture raises boys versus how we raise girls. I’d been raised on a farm by parents who both derided femininity and encouraged me to be as masculine as I wanted to be. I wore jeans and T-shirts and had short hair. In the 1970s, I went door-to-door with my mom in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (yes, I am that old). In college, I embraced a butchy lesbian persona, took women’s studies classes, and wrote papers on topics like the rhetoric of lesbian music. I was quite certain I would be the same person after transitioning.

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Instead, Diane and I were both shocked at how quickly I changed on testosterone. Of course, there were physical changes: redistribution of fat, thickening of my vocal cords, development of musculature without working out, and hair growing absolutely everywhere (except on my head, where it began thinning and receding). Testosterone also thickens your skin (literally). It feels like being sheathed head to toe in an extra layer. It has dulled my senses, given me rougher, thicker skin, and what Diane likes to call “man hands.” My touch is no longer light and delicate; instead of brushing Diane’s hair out of her eyes, I’m more likely to accidentally smack her in the face.

And now for the most unexpected part: The dulling of my senses carried over to my emotions as well. For me this was mostly a relief. I’d always felt too sensitive, too emotionally battered by the world. Testosterone gave me emotional distance. But I’ve also begun to realize how being removed from my emotions has impacted my empathy negatively. It used to be that if we had an argument and Diane cried, I would invariably end up crying too. Now when Diane cries, I feel so removed from her emotional experience that I have literally caught myself wondering if she’s just trying to pull at my heartstrings to get me to agree with her. It’s a strange, illogical transition and one I have to combat.

Not all of my emotional landscape is flat. When I feel passionate, or worked up, or pumped full of adrenaline, it now comes out looking a lot like anger. It’s weird. I rarely have emotional peaks and valleys, but when I experience a peak of any kind, it always seems to come across as anger. When Diane and I have a disagreement, I might feel like I’m just reiterating my point, but Diane will ask me why I’m getting so angry. It’s always a surprise. I no longer know what I’m feeling or how to describe it, but I swear it’s not anger.

When we were young we used to engage in a lot of “processing,” or sitting around talking for hours about our feelings. I no longer have the patience for that; I don’t feel like I have enough emotional depth to inform a 60-minute conversation. We had to find new ways to communicate, and Diane has had to turn to friends to have those hours-long talks about life and love and family instead.

Trans people are becoming more visible and accepted. Personally, being seen as a guy wherever I go is worth the costs it took to get here. It’s worth having communication problems with my wife, it’s worth the higher risk of premature death, and (though I hate it) it’s even worth being seen as a potential predator by women I pass on the street at night.

For Diane, the costs have been even higher. She lost a wife and gained all the baggage that comes with havingher identity suddenly thrown into its own transition. And yet she frequently reassures me that it’s been worth it. It’s been worth it to see me comfortable in my own skin, to see me happy, and to save our marriage. Not a lot of women would stay or could stay, but she did. Our love is pretty rare, and I love her more today than I did 25 years ago.

By Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Jacob Anderson-Minshall is a freelance writer who coauthored the memoir Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders with his copilot, Diane Anderson-Minshall.

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