Defining a Gay Relationship

When someone says they are gay, it is often implied to be a simple meaning. If they are a man, that menas they’re into men. If they’re a woman, that means they are into women. However, with our new defnitions of gender, that becomes more difficult. What about someone who is between genders? What about transsexual people who are both?

I was once talking with a lesbian woman who I liked very much. We were flirting a little, but in the end, she said she was only interested in real women, with vaginas. For a long time, I was offended by this, despite the fact she was my friend. Is having a vagina her prerequisite to being a woman? Which led me to ask, is a lesbian relationship about two vaginas, or two women? How much of the relationship is about genitalia and how they interact? When its spelled out so bluntly, I think it sounds rather silly. But it all comes back to, how do we define man and woman?

Being a few years older and a few years wiser now than I was when I talked to this woman, I do understand now, sometimes people have a preference for being with someone with certain genitalia, and that is perfectly reasonable. People have their own sexual preferences. However, the question is, is this the same as being gay or straight?

For instance, a genetic female (a person who was born a woman and defines themselves as a woman) dates a transgender woman (who was born male but identifies as female), is that a lesbian relationship? What if the transgirl is pre-op or non-op (either before, or not intending, to get Sexual Reeassignment Surgery(SRS), and still has a penis), is that still a lesbian relationship? What if two transgirls were together? Would they be in a lesbian relationship only after SRS? Is it gay if they are both pre-op?

I have the unique experience of being a transgender woman who has dated other transgender women. Whenever I dated transgirls, there was a sense of shared experience. We both knew what it was like to deal with hormone replacement therapy. We both knew about makeup to cover stubble, we both knew about tucking, about re-learning to speak, about feeling suddenly self conscious about passing. We don’t even have to speak about it, it is just something we both share. We often tease, this must be how “normal” gay  couples feel when they start dating someone of the same sex, this sense of shared experience.

In the end, I find it hard to define what a gay or lesbian relationship is. I think the best way to go about it is to define the relationship based on the gender identity of those involved, but since gender isn’t a binary, often even those definitions are too limited.

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  1. Gwen

     /  January 21, 2013

    LOL. I think those are all good questions, most of which don’t have satisfactory answers — primarily because we don’t have words for each of those concepts, or alternatively the definitions that we do have are too vague or ill-defined or ill-fitting. Plus, our culture is just a tiny bit uptight when it comes to sex, so there are often social and religious issues that get all mixed up with everything else. Trying to label it all “accurately” is very confusing and may be impossible. To quote a well-known song, “It’s a mixed-up muddled-up shook-up world…” but I think that’s what makes it interesting. 🙂

    • Gwen I agree with you completely. It seems like, for many years, people just accepted there was man and woman, thus there was gay and straight. But now we struggle to define any of those words, because the only definitions there are are definitions of exclusion. We don’t have the language readily on hand to talk about this issue.Its all mixed up, just like you said. And the culture of sexual repression makes it taboo to even try to converse about the subject. But I think it is important. I don’t think the woman I mentioned in this post was wrong to be clear she is only interested in having sex with someone with a vagina, but I don’t think that makes her more or less of a lesbian than any other girl.

  2. Very interesting thoughts! For me it’s more black and white: I like dudes who are born dudes. Gender definitions nowadays are more complex than that, obviously, but to me, a gay man is a man born a man who likes men. That’s just me, though; who knows what the next guy would feel? 🙂

  3. For certain we lack the language to label people. In my experience with gender and my enjoyment of bending it as far as it will go – I think, as a culture, removing gender and therefore sexual orientation would be ideal. They are exclusive terms and frankly out dated. We can use blanket terms like queer but really, is that even necessary. It’s people and they love each other, whether its 2 people or 5 in a relationship. The thing is that all the terms, including the various types of gender, orientation and even the term transgender exclude someone or many someones. I think simply it doesn’t matter WHO you love but IF you love. Loving is really what life is about, the rest of the shit can go down the toilet 🙂 {was at work for way too many hours sorry about the shitty joke}

  4. Gwen

     /  January 22, 2013

    Hmmmm… I can only rely on your description of what the woman mentioned in the post said. If she really said that she’s only attracted to “real women”, meaning with persons vaginas, then that’s potentially a pretty insulting thing to say in my book.

    It’s also clear as mud. Suppose I have been on HRT for a long time, suppose I have legally changed my name and gender, suppose I present and am perceived as female… But if I haven’t had bottom surgery, I would not be a “real woman” according to that person. But as soon as I have bottom surgery, then I suddenly would have earned the title of “real woman”?? When exactly do I achieve “real womanhood”?? Or would the person in your post NEVER consider me to be a “real woman” simply because I am trans?? That sounds like the position a TERF would take, and it’s insulting. If having a vagina is the litmus test of being a “real woman”, is there a minimum depth the vagina has to be before the person is considered a “real woman”? Likewise, is there a certain penis size that marks the boundary of “real men”? If one has a penis below that size, is that person not a “real man”? In this case, I am more concerned about the language apparently used to describe you (and lots of other trans women) than whom the woman was attracted to. Yes, people are attracted to other people for an infinite number of reasons, but if you and I are not “real women” according to someone just because of what our genitalia look like, then perhaps there is something wrong with that person, rather than us.

    Anyway, I think, in the end, it’s up to each person to figure out how they identify and what words/labels they want to use to describe themselves. And I think it’s rarely straightforward when trans people are involved. 🙂

  5. Gwen

     /  January 22, 2013

    I will also say that when I started to come out to my friends (most of whom are cisgender), they were typically very confused. I was transitioning from being a “straight man” to being a “lesbian woman”, and I got the usual confused questions about why wouldn’t I just remain a man and date women as a man… It typically took a while for most of them to get it, and I suspect a few still don’t.

    Interestingly, I ran into a number of very religious people who don’t know what to do with someone like me — primarily because when you throw trans* into the whole “being gay is bad” theory, trans* tends to really screw with a lot of religious dogma, for a lot of the same reasons you described above. What is a hetersexual relationship when one or both of the people are trans? What is a homosexual relationship when one or both of the people are trans? And if someone transitions in the middle of a relationship, does the relationship go from cursed to blessed or vice versa just because of the transition? Or, if the changes in my body don’t matter because I will never be a “true woman”, does that mean I can be with a woman, and it’s okay according to that certain religious dogma — despite the fact that to the entire world (including my partner and me), we look like a lesbian couple?

    You can almost hear the neurons short-circuiting!

  6. Consider using cisgender instead of genetic male / female. There are those in the trans community that will argue, since we are, at least in part, a product of our genetics, we, too, are genetic women.

  7. I know this is a rather old post, but I thought I’d give my two cents. I’m in a relationship with another cis girl, but we don’t really consider ourselves in a lesbian relationship. She doesn’t have a defined sexual orientation, though she’s only dated women, and I’m strictly asexual. Neither of us considers ourselves “official” lesbians, since that term tends to be used primarily for women who identify as gay and so it feels inaccurate to claim it as our own.

    • I think thats fabulous! very identity is different, labels are just like street signs – they’re useful for giving you some useful markers, but they aren’t everything. It might make it convinient sometimes to use a label, but it doesn’t define you!


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