Compersion

Another new piece on Patreon today. Hope you dig it. Here’s an excerpt:

Who wants to be the person who tells the person you love most in the world not to leap?

Who wants to live with a person who hasn’t leapt when they wanted to?

I refuse to accept emotions that make me smaller, make my experience in the world more petty, to buy hook line and sinker the idea that any desire my spouse has for another person is by default an insult to me or disrespectful to our relationship.

I want the world to be bigger, to be more generous, to realize desire and love are not goddamned pie and we will not run out. People are not less special because you share them with others. People are more beautiful the more they are loved.

And my wife, you know? She was put in this world to be adored. I have no interest in hating anyone who wants to love and admire her too.

Read the whole thing here.

Speaking of Poly…

I just wrote a new piece for Patreon. It begins:

We recently changed our status on Facebook from ‘married’ to ‘in an open relationship’. We’re sure people want to ask but no one has yet. We’ve been kind of laying bets on who is going to ask what first.

. . .

Mostly we heard a lot of “you can’t become poly because your marriage is in crisis” and we heard that having one monogamous and one non monogamous person was impossible. Both wrong. If you want to be CNM, you can do it no matter your circumstances. We delayed our decision because of that kind of advice.  

. . .

The best description of being a CNM couple is that it’s like being part of a well loved band. We work great as a unit and people love us as that unit but sometimes, someone needs to do a solo project or a side project with other musicians. 

and it ends:

 

So that’s that. More stories to come, when I feel like telling them.

Poly Workshop at Wisconsin LGBTQ Conference

Hello all! I’ll be talking about polyamory and non monogamy at this year’s Wisconsin LGBTQ Summit. I haven’t done one of these before but it seems like a good time.

It’s not up on the website yet, but here’s the description:

Poly 101

Polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous relationships have never been uncommon in queer community, but they are starting to be more widely understood and practiced. Come learn some of the basics of what it means to be poly, hear answers to some of the most pressing questions about jealousy, commitment, and making love less like pie.

Monogamous, single, ace, queer, trans, poly, NM… everybody is welcome.

February 24th in Milwaukee.

Here’s a good article if you want to educate yourself a little before then.

Eve Review

There have been a few reviews of And Then There Was Eve, but this one, in particular, by Reggie Peralta, gets it right when it says:

Crowl, on the other hand, portrays Eve as remarkably well-adjusted after being so coldly rejected by her wife in what is a surprising but welcome departure from most transgender dramas. Whereas most such movies zero in on problems directly arising from their characters’ struggles to transition, Eve is unique in that she seems to have transitioned perfectly fine and is in a position to help Alyssa overcome her illness. This is a far cry from the guilty liberal idea so deeply entrenched in much of cinema (and that I described in my review of They Will Have To Kill us First) that transgender people, like other minority groups, are eternal victims of eternal problems and that there is not much one can really do besides patronize and pity them. In a cultural milieu where the word “empowering” is tossed like confetti at the smallest achievement, Crowl’s Eve genuinely is.

To be honest, I’m very proud of this from a kind of selfish point of view, precisely because I did consult on the script and because the writers listened – and, to be fair, had a holistic view of the transition from the get-go.

She seems to have transitioned perfectly fine. It’s her wife who hasn’t.

River+Bay

I just got back to Appleton after driving from here to LA with my wife. I left her there to act. To leap. To take another jump at the acting career she left behind when she transitioned. As she puts it, she made a deal with the universe: that it could have her acting career if she could sort out a decent life as a woman.

And it did, for a very long time. The film she made this summer, And Then There Was Eve, re-lit her spark, so we figured out a way to get her back to LA so she could see what she could see. We had so many kind people in our lives – not least of which is the musician Cory Chisel, who for reasons I can’t explain seems to like us – contribute to the fund that made it possible.

We’ve always lived a little on the knife’s edge but this would be a little more than usual: usually we leap between gigs, when a job has ceased to be, or when something else (trauma, transition) opened that metaphorical window where a door used to be. But this time, we got to leap because there are so many in our lives who wanted to help. A local magazine just did one of the finest stories about us I’ve ever read — which, if you notice, doesn’t mention our genders or sexuality or transness at all, which is so goddamn awesome I can’t even begin to tell you. A special thanks to Justus Poehls and David Aragon for such beautiful work.

At one point in our interview, Helen joked, “Every story begins with Rachel, and ends with Rachel, and she’s the whole middle of the story . . . I just occasionally show up.” They lovingly jostle, but it’s apparent after spending just a little while with them that the mettle of their relationship was forged in some serious hellfire. At another point, getting up to grab a drink, Rachel laughingly noted after a bit of repartee, “We have lots of ways to tell each other to fuck off.” Through the haze of their edgy humor, there’s this rare, almost tangible sense of their solidarity.

And for that? 2016 brought so much sadness and fear and isolation, even, too, but it also brought us all this love and kindness and cheer from so many people, from every stage of our lives.

Thank you. We are happy to be able to cheer whoever we can with our antics, our love, and the endless story of our ongoing relationship with each other, with gender, with life.

Onto 2017. Happy New Year.

Interview: Ashley Altadonna & Helen Boyd, Pt. 2

ashelen

Here’s Part 2 of the conversation between me and Ashley Altadonna, the filmmaker.

Ashley: What do you wish trans partners knew more regarding their cisgendered partners?

Helen: That we feel all the stigma, too, and feel personally at risk as a result of being with someone trans. My sense is that they, in some ways, are understood – they are fixing a thing that is wrong, being their true selves, however you want to put it, while we’re just being dragged along for the ride. That is, we’re stigmatized for choosing to be with you. Mostly, though, I’d want them to know we’re often doing our best, and we don’t get a lot of compassion, and we can’t really complain to friends because of the stigma against trans people, so we tend to bottle things up, often to explode later.

Which I think is something trans partners and trans people have in common, yes?

Ashley: I’ll be the first to admit that being transgender can easily become a navel-gazing endeavor, especially early on in one’s transition. When you’re dealing with all the emotions that go along with gender dysphoria, trying to assert your gender identity to yourself and others, having new experiences… it’s easy to lose focus of any stigmas that your partner might be going through as well (not that that is an excuse). Since both of us are coming at this from a “male-to-female” transition perspective, I’m curious how true this is for those dealing with “female-to-male” transitions in their relationship.

What do you wish partners of newly transitioning trans/cross-dressing folks knew?

Helen: That some of them will need to go. And that blaming the gender stuff for everything is a mistake. Some people aren’t goodpartners or are, but neither has anything to do with their genders. Try to make that distinction: what are the issues that concern gender, and which aren’t?

What about you?

Ashley: Coming out to your partner might be the one of the most difficult and terrifying things about being transgender. The fear of rejection from someone you are emotionally invested in is real. I ended several good relationships, prior to meeting my wife, because I was afraid of telling my partner I was transgender. I would remind partners to keep this in mind when their partners come out to them. A partner transitioning doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship has to be over, but I’ll agree that both parties need to realize that some relationships won’t last transition and that ultimately, that’s okay.

The trans community has really come more into the political, social and cultural forefront in the last few years with celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner & Laverne Cox, Bathroom Bills, and most recently with the Justice Department standing up for trans folks.  What has most surprised you? What do you see as being “next” for trans folks?

Helen: As I wrote during some of the bathroom bill madness – I think what’s next is a sense of relief, that so many of these attacks have been fought back, that an upcoming generation is fine with it, that you are the gender you say you are. Honestly. What’s next moreso is not about transitioners, per se – it’s about the genderqueer, GNC people, all of those who are even less understood than those who transition from one binary gender to the other. But I also think we have not yet even begun to address intersectional issues.

Is there anything that was very surprising for you? Any victories or losses that particularly made you happy or upset you? Moreso, what is the connection between your personal issues and these ‘writ large’ versions? Where does the personal and political meet for you?

 Ashley: What’s intrigued me most the way a “trans-narrative” is starting to be presented as trans folks gain more attention and recognition.

This idea that trans people know from a young age that they weren’t the gender that society assigned them at birth certainly wasn’t my story.  I identified as a guy for nearly twenty years, before coming out as transgender.  Making room for all trans, GNC, genderqueer folks will be vital as our community moves forward.  Remembering that there are just as many different types of trans identities as there are those claiming those identities is crucial.  There are still a lot of basic rights like, employment & housing protections, and access to reliable appropriate healthcare that need to be established for transgender individuals, but I’m hoping society can also recognize that we aren’t all Jazz Jennings, Caitlyn Jenner or Chaz Bono.

If you had to describe the focus of your new book, what would you say?

Helen: I’m honestly taking a step back from writing about trans issues. I think when I came along – which is more than a decade ago now – it was important for a cis, liminally trans person to make the arguments, especially feminist ones, for trans inclusion, rights, and power. But now, trans people have that well in hand. I will still be writing about gender, and about bullying, and all sorts of related issues, but in different ways that the previous books. One of these days, though, I’d still like a grant to do follow-up research on the last generation of crossdressers who were closeted. They still fascinate me the most, to be honest, because they’re so misunderstood even within trans community. I have often been encouraged to write about what it’s been like to be a cis person doing trans work, to write a bit more about being an ally, but often when I think about it, all I come up with is “shut up, do the work, try not to be a dick, expect to be a dick, and apologize when you’re called out.” Not much book there, is there? But mostly it makes me uncomfortable to claim allyship, and while I’m very thankful many trans people seem to think I don’t suck, I know my very presence upsets others. & Often I’m just too tired, and trying to just do the work, to get into the arguments, and I’ve lost any urge to defend what I do or why I do it. So gaining a bunch of visibility for a new book on trans issues is exhausting to even think about.

And your next project?

Ashley: Honestly, I am trying to figure that out for myself right now. I am about 70% through production on my documentary “Making the Cut”, which I’ve been working on since 2009. This is my first attempt at a documentary and a feature film and it has been a learning process. I’m working with a new producer and hopefully they will give me the push I’ve needed to get this project done. I’m also working full time as a sexuality educator and hoping to create an online transition guide for male-to-female trans folks. I’m working on some writing projects for www.tallladypictures.com and I’m playing in a band again called The Glacial Speed. We’re releasing a digital album later this fall. My wife and I just bought a house this summer and tying to have a baby so, you know, there’s plenty to keep me busy for quite a while.

(Thanks for reading!)

Trans Actors, Trans Stories, Trans Lives

More than a decade ago, the most talented actor I’ve ever known gave up acting. She needed to transition, and her acting career was the hardest thing she had to give up, but she didn’t want to be a pony show, a novelty, gag casting. She had played so many amazing roles – Henry V, Algernon, The Chocolate Cream Soldier, even Larry Foreman – and despite what people think about acting, playing men on stage requires a lot of gender. She couldn’t grow her nails or her hair or go on hormones that would change her face or physique too much. She squeaked by for a few years by starting her own theatre company with friends and colleagues, and without much of a thought, came out as trans in The New York Times while doing so.

(Honestly, I still remember when she came home from doing the photo and interview for the story, because I remember saying, “You did what?” “I came out.” “In The Times?” “Well I figured since your book is in Walmart, how much more out could I get?” Turns out: quite a lot more.)

So when Jeffrey Tambor said this at the Emmys last night, I thought two things: I am glad things are changing so that people like my wife don’t feel that they have to give up their careers in order to be who they are.

Now, listen to me. … I’m not going to say this beautifully. But to you people out there, you producers and network owners, and agents, and you creative sparks, please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing: I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television. We have work to do. I love you.

I also thought: those of us who come to work with you and know your stories almost always become your biggest supporters, and that doesn’t surprise me even a little.

We have been lucky and willing to leap: so much so that she took a part in a film this past year, and finally, after years of not going to see theatre and really trying hard not to think about acting at all, she is back to knowing that she is better at acting than at everything else.

I’ll add another thing: when I first wrote my books, a lot of people thought I should sell the rights, but often that came with my own suspicions about letting anyone else tell our story. We knew what it was like to deal with TV producers who wanted to cast us as tragic, and we were rejected by Oprah for being a little too urban and a little too weird. And we wanted our story told not by people who would see us as foolish or crazy or sex-crazed but only by people who would tell the story itself, not sell us as exotic or exploit us. So of course we didn’t sell the film rights – how could we, in the environment that existed a decade ago? So that other piece that Tambor said, about letting trans people have their stories, is as important a part of what he said as the piece about actors. There is a reason that the best media – print, film, video – has trans people and trans family members involved.

These are good stories, and we are good storytellers, and it’s about fucking time that someone paid some attention to that.

Interview: Ashley Altadonna & Helen Boyd, Pt 1

ashelen

My friend the filmmaker Ashley Altadonna and I recently decided to interview each other; we’ve had an ongoing conversation about the nature of relationships vis a vis transness for years now, and every time I talk to her I discover new things about how I feel being the cis wife of a trans woman; she, on the other hand, always provides me with new insights about what it’s like to be on my wife’s side of the equation. So we put this interview, or conversation, together, in order to share some of the dialogue we’ve had, and we hope you find something maybe affirming but otherwise interesting in the mix.

Ashley: You’ve been involved with the trans/cross dressing community for a while now. Before you met Betty, how much did you know about trans folks and cross-dressers?

Helen: Not much, to be honest. I knew one person who had transitioned and one who was considering it when we met. But crossdressing… well, I always had myself, and was always aware of gender. The 80s were a safe place for that in some corners, after all, and I am a kid of the 80s.

How much did you know before you started transition?

Ashley: That depends on what you consider the beginning of my transition. When I was 13 and sneaking into my mother’s closet to try on her clothes and putting on her makeup, I knew nothing. I’d seen transsexuals and cross-dressers on daytime T.V. shows like Jerry Springer, but I’d never met anyone who had transitioned. Dressing was a compulsion for me.  It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I even remember reading the word ‘transgender’ and saying, “Oh that’s what I am!” Even then, I wasn’t 100% sure what being transgender meant. It just felt like the label that fit me best.

You’ve said Betty’s transition made you question your own femininity in ways you hadn’t felt was necessary before. How so? What did you do about this?

Helen: I have never felt feminine in any organic way – that is, in any way that was natural to me. There are things about me that you might deem feminine – I’m soft spoken, for instance – but most of my feminine presentation was learned. Again, in the 80s, even makeup was gender neutral. So the way Betty had such enjoyment in feminine expression was troublesome to me as a feminist and as a person. Her ease with it underlined what I thought of as my own failure to be that. So in some ways, her gender stuff exaggerated my own struggles, made me go back to the drawing board, as I’d accepted being gender neutral, or a tomboy, or whatever you want to call it, when we met. And suddenly I felt like a failure at it again. I saw nothing to celebrate about femininity, to be honest, and it’s still something I struggle with.

I’m curious if trans women ever realize how many cis women have to learn gender, if that’s something that could maybe create solidarity instead of animosity. Your thoughts?

Ashley: Prior to transitioning, I don’t think the idea of either gender having to “learn gender” ever occurred to me. I remember feeling as if everyone else inherently knew how to perform their gender, and I was somehow the weirdo who didn’t get the memo on how to act “like a man”, or at the very least enjoy it. After transitioning, and talking to other women (both cis and trans) I’ve heard countless times, that they never felt comfortable doing whatever supposed universal feminine cliché. The reality is that we all have to learn gender or even unlearn gender to varying degrees. I think if people recognized that gender is something everyone might struggle with from time to time, it would go a long way towards how we understand one another whether trans, cis or otherwise.

Did you feel like your identity changed as a result of being with Betty? If so, how?

Helen: I wouldn’t say it changed: what I’d say is that she was the first person I dated where I didn’t feel a need to put on an act, to be more of a “regular” woman. She liked that I felt powerful and sexy – and maybe even feminine – in trousers and a fedora. The troublesome part was that she gendered these clothes – where for me, they were just what I wore. They were my clothes, not men’s clothes. Being involved in trans community forced me to think about some things as gendered that I had ceased gendering. And it made me kind of nuts, to be self examining every move, from whether I kept my wallet in my back pocket or in a bag. But that made me sympathetic to trans experience in a deeply personal way, too – seeing how engrained these things are, how hard it is to break out of habits.

Was there anything in particular that you think of as masculine that you kept doing, despite transition?

Ashley: It’s funny, every time I try to classify something as either masculine or feminine I can usually find an exception that disproves the rule. There are things that certainly ‘felt’ more like masculine activities – playing in a band for instance. Shortly after I transitioned, I tried starting a new band but nothing ended up coming from it. I took a break from songwriting and focused on filmmaking instead, which also traditionally has been seen as a masculine endeavor.  Despite countless female musicians and filmmakers, those are two areas that have traditionally been male-dominated. Transition showed me that an activity isn’t necessarily gendered just because we as a society deem it to be. About two years ago I started a new band, and in many ways it’s been better now, but I think that has more to do with age than with what gender I identify as.

I think a lot of people think once your partner comes out to you as transgender it’s a death sentence for your marriage, but both of us have been with our partners for what I would certainly call a decent amount of time. What do you account for your relationship’s longevity?

Helen: We are equally weird, equally difficult, and equally stubborn. We are both, also, deeply loyal human beings. Did I mention stubborn? And once we were confronting transition, we decided we’d do best if we focused on being each other’s best friends, and not so much each other’s spouses – especially because those roles are gendered, and have so many expectations built on gender. I realized, as anyone’s good friend, I’d be the one who dragged someone to the doctor or therapist and helped with their transition, and if I couldn’t do that for her, then I wasn’t exactly being her best friend. Likewise for her in listening to me and being compassionate about what I was losing in the process – also as a friend and not as a spouse, per se. It was an important distinction for us.

What about you guys? What was the most challenging piece, do you think? (Also, my readers knowabout our relationship, so I’d love to hear more about who you both are, how you identify, etc.)

Ashley: The most difficult thing for us has been me dealing with my own insecurities regarding my transition. Despite the fact that I’ve been fulltime as female for over a decade, had surgery, and am now legally female, I’ll still ask my wife if, she thinks I’m feminine enough. It’s embarrassing for me to admit that, and I try not to be obnoxious about it.  Hopefully she feels I’ve gotten better as the years have gone on. There was also a period where I was really questioning my sexual orientation after transitioning, which I wrote about in Morty Diamond’s anthology “Trans/Love : Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary”.  Feeling attracted to men was a new sensation for me, and I wasn’t sure what it meant for our relationship. The idea of being in a heterosexual relationship would’ve make it clearer what my expected gender rolesin the relationship were, was somewhat appealing but I also didn’t think I could live up to those preconceived expectations.  I also was already in love with Maria and didn’t want to end our relationship. I ultimately chose her and ended up identify as a bi-curious monogamous lesbian.

Do you consider your marriage/relationship (successful/happy/fulfilling)?

Helen: Ha! What a question. Some days. We’ve been together 18 years now, so sometimes I’m not sure if how our marriage has become is about the time together or about the transition or about both. I do know that we continue to be each other’s greatest support and we have a deep, deep understanding of each other. That said, our relationship is not what I expected marriage to be, but I am also pretty sure a lot of people who have been together as long as we have feel that way. That said, why I don’t feel fulfilled had little to do with her transition but had everything to do with her realizing she was somewhere in the ace spectrum. That has become a way bigger issue than her gender ever was, to be honest, because sex is vital for me and it’s not for her.

How long have you two been together? I really think there are certain periods that are difficult for couples, depending on what the deep issues are. If you don’t mind answering, what are yours?

Ashley: We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, but we’ve been together for over 12 years at this point. We have our issues like any married couple. I feel like we’ve been fairly lucky with our relationship.  I can’t recall ever having an extended period of being upset with each other that lasted more than a few days. Having to deal with my transition so early in our relationship probably helped us to be a better couple. It forced us to both consciously try to work on is our communication with each other. We constantly ‘check in’ with each other on how each of us is doing. Sex is somewhat an issue with us. My sex drive definitely went down quite a bit after estrogen, but now our drives are slightly more matched so, in some ways, it’s sort of worked for us.

(Stay tuned. We’ll post the 2nd half on Tuesday.)

Your Wife is Trans? And Other Boring News…

So I kinda love this brief piece on Medium which is kind of a big yawn’s take on someone’s spouse turning out to be a woman, and yet I kinda don’t like it too.

Let me explain: there have always been partners of trans people who are a-okay with their partner’s transitions. It’s not news; there doesn’t have to be tragedy; some people adjust and move on.

For others, not so much.

And sometimes when I read pieces like this one, by any partner, which flourishes the NBD as a kind of fanfare of its own, I wonder: why? Were you forced to write the piece? Do you need to point out that those pitiful wives who do have a hard time making sexual and other adjustments just aren’t as liberated and groovy as you?

Mind you, these are all things I have been accused of. I’m in a glass house here — I’ve heard many times that I am (1) a cheerleader, (2) a gatekeeper, (3) an exploitive asshole, (4) a doormat. (I’ve never worked out how I  can be all of the above, to be honest, if anyone wants to help me work that out.)

So yay! It wasn’t a big deal for you. Trans women in particular should know that it’s not impossible to transition from within a relationship. I will honestly say that my wife and I wouldn’t have made it – not only because I was already gender-y or because I’m awesome (she would say I’m both) but because my partner valued our relationship to such a degree that she was willing to include me in her decision-making around her transition.

That is, it’s not so much about winning the partner lottery for the trans woman; often it’s about the trans person considering the other person and the relationship as much as they consider themselves. And sometimes it doesn’t work out because it doesn’t; relationships don’t, a lot, and that’s okay. A big change like transition is a lot to get through together. No one has failed if it doesn’t work out.

More narratives by more partners, please. And let’s all honor each others’ stories, struggles, and lack of struggles.

Stuff I Said

Last night at my talk at The Tool Shed in Milwaukee, a couple of people live-tweeted the event. So here’s some stuff I said, in the order I said them:

“I was the very enthusiastic girlfriend of a crossdresser & the not very enthusiastic wife of a trans woman.”

“I wasn’t bothered by my gender identity until my boyfriend was better at walking in heels.”

“I was aspiring to be at least as feminine as she was, but I gave up because I was bad at it.”

“The agreement we made: she would transition as slowly as she could, and I would catch up as quickly I could.”

“It’s not our liberation. We’re involved in a struggle that is not our struggle.”

“Transition is, by its nature, a very self-involved process.”

“For partners: if you feel like you’re not getting any support back, that’s because you’re not.”

“I keep saying “pass” but I hate it. Has anyone found a better word?” *crickets*

“Trans therapists don’t understand what we’re going through, tend to be ‘get on board or get out.’”

“As long as I expected her to be my husband, I couldn’t be the kind of friend I should be.”

“Don’t expect the same marriage after transition that you had before transition.”

“Nobody really knows what’s happening in people’s relationships beside the people in it.”

The audio was recorded, so if I get a copy of that, I’ll try to post that, too.