Question: Clashing identities?

rivkele asks…

I am a queer femme who is dating a transguy who identifies as heterosexual male. Recently he has been expressing difficulty with my identity, because of its potential to invalidate his masculinity. He’s not comfortable with me expressing my queer identity. Is there a better term for myself that would allow for both of our identities?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on April 4th, 2011 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 35 comments »

35 Responses to “Question: Clashing identities?”

  1. Elijah

    I don’t think that you should have to re-negotiate the terms of your gender around his; your queerness is as valid as his queerness (or lack thereof, if he doesn’t identify as queer).

    I think the issue here is less that your queerness/gender is a real threat to him (although he may well perceive it as one) and more that he’s uneasy with the implications of labeling, perception, et cetera. He is no more or less masculine because of who he dates; it would be healthy if his sense of masculinity was less dependent on that, and if he allowed you the freedom to identify as you choose.


    Elijah Y. replied:

    HEY OTHER ELIJAH, I’m just switching handles on here because lol so many Elijahs, I’m the one who’s been commenting below to Clare and radical/rebel


  2. In the words of broken clock Dan Savage:

    (as in, right twice a day)



  3. m

    Isn’t that one of the beauties of the word “queer?” That it’s NOT “lesbian” or “homosexual” or anything else that implies that you specifically date women. Is he aware of the nuances it includes (like described here: ?


  4. Steve C

    I don’t know that you need to go right to dumping – but certainly his discomfort should not lead you to shift your identity or presentation. I’d say (of course easier than done) that some good honest conversations are in order – about what each of your identities means to you, what you mean when you identify those ways, how others see them, etc. There is space for us to question and investigate each other’s identities, for sure, but if it’s coming from discomfort in his own identities, there is work he needs to do before you change what you know you are comfortable with. Also – importantly – it’s up to you, not him, if that is work you can help him do. And there you may just find that you/he aren’t ready for the relationship, that it’s better to make sure each of you is comfortable in your identities before you try to make a relationship work. On the other hand, it could be very positive to identify where this discomfort comes from and work it out together.


  5. Clare

    i think that what he needs to understand is that his trans-ness has already redefined his heterosexual, male identity. Consequently, it is this that needs to be re-understood and re-modelled. He nees a broader idea of what his biological ‘given’, means – that it is a wider concept altogether – has someone else been getting at him? Is there a sort of ‘shame’ or embarrassment factor at work?


    Elijah replied:

    …well I really gotta disagree with this; his transness only redefines his heterosexual dude identity if he determines that it does. I mean, my queer (as in sexuality) male identity is not defined in the slightest by my transsexual status. Like. At all. in fact, it’s a little bit annoying, really. My transness only defined my body and hardly affected the fact that I was always a boy.


  6. JP

    If your identity is threatening to his masculinity, there is another label you could use for yourself: “single”.


    Mr. Jessy replied:

    I’m so very sorry to say this, but – yes, I agree with JP. What a sad hypocrite that man is. I feel so bad about the situation. =(


  7. Adair

    I seventh everyone else. Your identity is yours and shouldn’t be threatening to him. Behavior doesn’t always match identity or orientation, so even if you identified as lesbian that doesn’t mean you couldn’t date a straight male. As it is, “queer” isn’t restrictive at all, so there’s no reason to think a queer person wouldn’t want to date a straight male.

    If anyone decides that, since you’re queer, he can’t be a man–well, all I can say is ignore them. You as a couple shouldn’t have to cater to orientationist and transphobic gossips. If other people’s judgments of him were that important to him, he’d probably still be living as the wrong gender. He should know your identity is just as important as his.


  8. cedar

    yeah, what they all said. it is troubling that he thinks his identity should come before yours- that’s not a healthy or respectful thing for a partner to do. you and he may want to make sure he’s in an emotional space to be partnered right now. it’s ok if he’s not- and it’s ok for you to leave if that’s true.

    But i understand you want to be supportive. He’s in a place where he feels a lot of threat to his masculinity and that place may be hard to get out of; it will be important for him to remember that it’s not you who is doing the threatening.

    you being queer doesn’t actually affect his masculinity at all. neither does your saying “i’m queer!” For the record, queer is the term you’re looking for. If it isn’t straight enough for him, you may well want to identify as single for a while.

    good luck!


  9. Nick

    Unless your identity is ‘someone who is not attracted to heterosexual males’, your identity really can’t invalidate his. Just like any other heterosexual guy dating a queer girl, he’s got to accept that being with a guy doesn’t make you any less queer.


  10. Paige

    I’m a queer who is in a relationship with a heterosexual cis-man. My queerness doesn’t negate his gender or his sexual orientation, just as his doesn’t negate mine. Being partnered with a heterosexual doesn’t make me less queer, or less genderqueer. Though we have had a few moments of cross-orientation misunderstanding, in general we are comfortable with each others identities and labels. He knows that my identity doesn’t exclude my attraction to him – perhaps some reassurance in this might help your partner understand that you are attracted to him, and that being queer doesn’t affect that.


  11. Comrade Kevin

    I have nothing to add to what has already been said except that I completely agree. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to have an understanding partner who is a cisgender heterosexual. I was so afraid to tell her but felt a tremendous relief that she was so accepting. I hope this is true for others.


  12. kendall

    I think if a queer woman dated a cis straight male it shouldn’t invalidate her, just tell him [assuming its true] that you’dve dated him if he were born male but that doesnt erase the women you dated before either, you’re entitled to be proud of your past or identity or whatever and I wouldn’t change it, I probably wouldn’t call myself a lesbian if I had a boyfriend… but if you were bi or queer or pan or something already more open to change, then I don’t understand the problem
    Its not like you both go from girls to both suddenly id’ing as male and then one of you is sketched out by being a fag [my last relationship] You date girls sometimes, right now you’re dating a dude, whats the issue? It doesn’t make him a girl but it shouldn’t have to make you straight either.


  13. Jessica

    If you, being you, invalidate your partner’s sexuality, then you have a problem. I am not sure that picking a different label for yourself will be helpful, unless your partner is unbelievably shallow. Maybe you both need to explore what is about each other that you find stimulating. Then your partner can focus on that instead of one what things are called.


  14. Anonymous

    It’s sweet that you’re thinking of your partner in all this, but don’t. He should know how much identities and labels mean. You should not have to change yourself for him. Your identity is YOUR’S. He’ll get over it.


  15. cheshire

    I going to take a bit of a different stance to everyone else, I think that queer should work, but prehaps you need to talk to him about the fact that you don’t see him as an ultra-butch lesbain, that you do see yourself as dating a guy, even if it is as a lesbain with one exception.

    Good luck


  16. Theo

    First, I don’t think your queer identity invalidates his identity for a variety of reasons, many of which are listed above so I will avoid repeating.

    However, one important thing to take into consideration is the source of his discomfort. I hate that this has to be said, but in some situations your open identification as queer creates implications about his trans* status [ugh, I hate calling it that… like it’s an otherness, but there’s no other way to describe it that I can think of. apologies!]. In other words, because you identify as queer people are more likely to assume he’s trans* and could put him, and potentially you, in a dangerous situation. I know this isn’t true in all cases, and it definitely depends on the people you are with and both of your gender presentations, but if this is the source of his discomfort talk to him. Personal safety is always in the back of trans* peoples’ minds, whether or not we openly talk about it [because we fear it undermines our self-confidence, masculinity, fierce femmeness, etc.].



  17. AmyDentata

    The lesbian (and so-called “queer/trans”) communities have a history of invalidating trans men and treating them like butch lesbians. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where his anxiety is coming from. And if that’s the case, then it’s there for very good reason. If you’re a man dating a cisgender woman who has only dated women, and who keeps on showing signs she sees you as a woman too, that is extremely invalidating and oppressive.

    Comments like Clare’s above don’t help. No, his transness does not affect his identity as a heterosexual male. Trans men are men. Straight trans men are straight men. Don’t “other” trans people like that. It reeks of privilege.


  18. m

    Watching this thread grow after I commented way back at the beginning…it seems that a lot of people are being kind of combative and upset at this guy that we don’t really know, based on a few sentences, and that seems sad and unfair. I’d like to suggest that people see this as a providing fodder for a discussion between the poster and the guy she’s dating, rather than raising hackles and arming her to have some sort of one-way monologue about how he’s Wrong.


    Adair replied:

    I agree for the most part, and I’m grateful to the people later on who pointed out that his fear might come from people treating him as a lesbian or from valid concerns about safety. I think it definitely makes far more sense to have a conversation about this and explore different understandings and worries than to jump right to dumping him or seeing him as the enemy–but a lot of us have also had our identities trampled by insecure heterosexual men enough that it’s understandable we’re touchy.

    People need to know that they should respect their partners’ identities–and that doing otherwise is grounds for dumping, if the issue has been explained to them and they don’t adjust their behavior and beliefs accordingly.

    I also doubt that the OP is going to “have some sort of one-way monologue about how he’s Wrong.” She seems (admittedly from a few sentences) to be putting his concerns above her own. Maybe we’re just trying to counterbalance that?


    Mr. Jessy replied:

    If he’s afraid, that his loving partner is treating him as a les girl, while he is a transman… Do you really think that it make the whole situation better? =\


  19. Josh

    re: Claire: how does him being trans make him any less heterosexual? He’s male, he’s attracted to women, that makes him straight.
    That said, I don’t see how your identity would validate his identity, unless by queer you mean you’re not attracted to men (which is not necesarily what queer means). As a queer-identified transman I wouldn’t have a problem with a partner identifying as queer, but you should talk to your partner openly and find out what exactly is bothering him; ask him what it is you are doing that it feels like is invalidating his identity.


  20. radical/rebel

    I want to say this as diplomatically as possible, but I have a very great fear that trans people claiming the term “heterosexual” contributes to queer invisibility, heteronormative privileging of understandings of gender/sex/sexuality, and reifies the gender binary. Being trans is, I think, a way of being queer, and being a heterosexual trans person seems like a way of negating and mitigating trans-ness.

    This is not to say that trans guys can’t be primarily attracted to cisgender women, but are those relationships necessarily heterosexual? Mightn’t it be more liberating for our community (just our community of fellow beings, I guess) if we didn’t want to run and cloak ourselves in the word “heterosexual” at every opportunity?

    I hope this is not too inflaming and only taken as a suggestion, although it does represent my very sincere and deeply considered beliefs, as a queer trans person.


    Elijah replied:

    Nope. First off, being trans may be a way of being queer /for you./ It is definitely not a way of being queer for me. My queerness comes from my sexuality, not my gender or my dysphoria or my sex. I am not saying that being trans cannot be a way of being queer, I’m just saying that some people relate to their pasts in vastly different ways.

    Secondly, I’m going to tackle your points about heterosexual trans people like this:

    “negating and mitigating trans-ness”: Heterosexuality does not negate transness. Trans status is unrelated to sexuality.

    “contributes to queer invisibility”: There are trans people who identify as heterosexual who nevertheless also claim queerness because they do identify their transness as a part of their queer identity. However, there are straight trans people who simply want to be known as straight. Just ‘cos they do. They see their transness as a medical condition, and that is no more wrong or right than your trans-as-queer identity.

    “heteronormative privileging of understandings of gender/sex/sexuality”: I really don’t understand this. They do gain straight privilege, yes (only if they “pass” though, which is also important.) But if they’re straight, they’re straight. That’s kind of it. When a trans person is heterosexual they don’t identify as such JUST TO SAY “look at me and all my privilege!” If they do they’ve got some problems but seriously sometimes people are straight just because they ARE.

    “reifies the gender binary”: If you’re using this to tackle the very meaning of “heterosexual” itself I suggest doing that separately and not tacking it on to trans people specifically.

    “This is not to say that trans guys can’t be primarily attracted to cisgender women, but are those relationships necessarily heterosexual? Mightn’t it be more liberating for our community (just our community of fellow beings, I guess) if we didn’t want to run and cloak ourselves in the word “heterosexual” at every opportunity?”

    Yes, they are heterosexual if they identify as such because there is a man and a woman involved and trans or cis status does not matter. Also, where are all these people coming from who are “cloaking themselves” in the label of heterosexual? Last I saw, heterosexuality was a sexuality that people kind of had because they were attracted to the “opposite” gender, not because they didn’t want to liberate people or something. You seem to be saying that liberation can only come through queerness, which isn’t true and is quite frankly a little condescending. Not everyone is radical or a rebel. Some people fit in heteronormative, gender-normative norms because that’s just what they do, not because everyone’s pressuring them to.

    A heterosexual trans guy who does not identify with his trans status is not queer. Other people may perceive him as such, but he isn’t. He is neither queer in sexuality nor gender, and therefore not queer. Honestly, there are homosexual cis guys who don’t identify as gay. Yeah, sure, maybe there’s a bit of shame or whatever involved, but don’t assume that everyone identifies “in the norm” only because of pressure to NOT identify outside “the norm.”


    radical/rebel replied:

    Thanks for this response, it was really something I needed to hear, and obviously something that I need to think more about. I really do apologize if my comment came off as condescending, which it totally might have. I hold pretty controversial opinions and it’s hard posting in an online forum where I don’t know who’s going to read what I say and how to preface my remarks while making them still true to my opinions. I’m going to keep reading over your response and trying to learn from it, although I think I’ll still disagree with it, but only because of how extreme my own positions are.


    Elijah Y. replied:

    not much to add here ‘cos imma let you think this over in peace, but let’s just say that it’s so awesome you aren’t getting super defensive or angry or whatever. I LOVE CONSTRUCTIVE DISCUSSIONS

  21. radical/rebel

    Just a thought, the noun “femme” is usually used within lesbian circles to denote either “femme” or “butch” types, so maybe he’s reacting out of a fear that your identity is bound up with lesbian-ness? In that case I wonder if identifying as a “femme queer” instead of a “queer femme” might work better. (I don’t see that being “femme” is necessarily lesbian, but calling yourself “a femme” is saying that you’re part of a type of lesbian, sort of.)


  22. Kejt

    Umm, he isn’t okay with you expressing your identity? When he’s a transguy? If you want it to work between you two, you need to both accept the other as they are. If you’re queer, then you’re queer. It’s your identity in question, not his. If he feels like his masculinity depends on the expression of his partner than maybe you need to reevaluate your relationship. Whatever you do, don’t hide who you are, even if it makes him uncomfortable.


  23. Tommy

    I think the most important thing to understand is WHY he has problems with you identifying as queer.

    Personally, I know I would have issues if my partner identified as a lesbian woman or as a straight man, because I’d feel like she or he doesn’t really see me as male but “only” as a very butch woman, but I wouldn’t have issues with a “queer” woman since “queer” doesn’t usually mean “strictly lesbian”.


    Maybe he is worried that you are attracted to him because of his transness (therefore he is afraid that you don’t “really” see him as male), or that you don’t see your relationship as a straight relationship like he does? Maybe he thinks that you see him as a “queer person” or your relationship as a “queer relationship” and he’s not confortable with that?

    That’s what you should find out; you should discover exactly what he’s worried about, and why he thinks your queer identity has a “potential to invalidate his masculinity”.

    Also, last but not least, if it’s not a big deal for you to change your identity, that’s all fine and dandy, but if you would resent losing your queer identity because it’s important to do you shouldn’t feel forced to do so.


  24. tino

    im sure others have said this, but I would be hesitant to change the way I define myself in order to make someone else comfortable. I realize that in this kind of relationship negotation is needed, but when something as intrinsic as identity comes into play I just don’t think I could change it.

    I do however understand where your partner is coming from – maybe feeling like his being trans is something that prevents his relationships with others (you included) from being the way he would like them to be. it sounds like he has insecurity about this and needs to feel validated in his identity, which has more to do with him than you. Talking about what makes him feel more secure might help you both figure things out. As well, depending on what being queer means to you, it may help him if you elaborate on why you identify as queer and how your relationship with him fits into things. (For instance, queer could mean you’re a woman who’s attracted to femme women & cis men, or butch trans men and butch women, or any variety of combinations. Explaining how you specifically feel might ease some of his worries.)

    anywho. good luck.


  25. tino

    PS: if he’s aiming to be more “stealth” and feels that your expression of queerness is threatening his public (or private) life, then you each need to talk about boundaries that you have. Your being queer does NOT mean that he’ll be assumed to be non-cis, straight, etc. by others, but he might feel this is a giveaway. Again, something you’ll have to talk about and reach an agreement that suits both of you. And again, it’s possible to do this without compromising your identity or the “queer” part of your life; you are each two separate people, after all :)


  26. vex

    If he insists that you need to change your sexuality in order to satisfy his insecurity about his, DTMFA.

    If he insists that his insecurity is something he needs to discuss with you in order to feel secure about BOTH your sexualities, then talk to him.

    There’s a distinction in the action/conversation taking place that is really important.


    Jessica replied:

    Your eloquence has made my day. DTMFA is indeed a most precisely appropriate acronym.


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