What would you do if your spouse told you they were trans* after years of marriage? While the question is at the heart of the newly released memoir Queerly Beloved by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall, there are so many more layers than this overarching question conveys. Told in varying chapters narrated by Diane and Jacob (Suzy), the reader is brought into the authors’ lives and given a rare, brutally honest glimpse into one couple’s experience dealing with a life-altering transition for both individuals involved.
With chapters titled ‘A Different Kind of Woman?’, ‘The Road to Manhood’, ‘Chest Surgery’, ‘Making It Legal’, ‘Androphobia’, ‘Being Married to a Lesbian Doesn’t Make Me Less of a Man’, ‘The Question of Realness’ and ‘What Keeps Us Together’, among others, the authors lay out the roadmap that took them from a lesbian relationship to lesbian spouses to their current status as husband and wife. The labels here lie at the heart of identity politics, which feature prominently throughout the text, especially for Diane. For someone so indelibly linked to the term “lesbian,” you really get a sense of struggle here that raises many questions for the writers and their readers; if you are a woman married to a woman, identified as a lesbian, when your partner transitions to a man, does that transition impact your identity as well?
Diane writes: “Often when women would question me in those early days, asking how I could be a lesbian with a husband, I would ask them, ‘Is your identity tied to your partner’s genitals?’ They’d invariably say no and my fight would be won. I honestly didn’t think my identity needed to change just because his did.”
Later on, Jacob takes this argument further, writing, “…is the partner of someone who goes through a gender transition required to alter their own self-identification? … If so, how should partners of trans people who haven’t undergone genital surgery identify? Or does your partner’s gender identity or gender expression determine how you should identify?”
The authors both ultimately agree, “It’s not our place to identify someone else as a lesbian or as a straight person or as a bisexual person. It’s completely up to them to decide and verbalize what their sexual orientation is.”
As a bisexual reading this book, this concept really intrigued me, especially as it flowed through Diane’s sections. She says that she once “tried to claim a bisexual identity,” but her attempt “went over so poorly I never did it again.” While she isn’t specific about “poorly” and what that meant, one can assume that she faced all of the myths, misconceptions and hurtful stereotypes that continue to haunt the bisexual community to this day – non-monogamous, slutty, confused, wanting the best of both worlds, etc. While not the focus of the book per se, the idea of biphobia certainly comes through here, which I was pleased to see as it is an important topic and one that Diane herself further develops when she discusses feeling somewhat invisible in queer spaces after Jacob’s transition. She acknowledges that heterosexual-appearing couples are often unwelcome in LGBTQ spaces, something many bisexual couples can relate to.
Diane writes that people “couldn’t understand why a presumably straight couple was at a queer bar or representing a lesbian magazine.” Yes, yes and yes. This is a frequent frustration, which causes me to be even more vocal about my own bisexuality when meeting people for the first time. I felt for both Diane and Jacob reading such passages. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that. I know other bisexuals and those who identify with fluid orientation labels (pansexual, sexually fluid, queer…) will understand as well.
I felt even more for the authors when Diane acknowledged “how often gays and lesbians forget the ‘B’ in LGBTQ. Nearly all the time people treated me like a former lesbian who was now straight, instead of assuming I was a bisexual woman and still validly a part of the LGBTQ world.”
YES. Thank you, Diane.
While she prefers the terms “queer” and “bisexual-identified lesbian” or “lesbian-identified bisexual” to simply “bisexual,” I responded to so much of what Diane specifically wrote in this book, I found myself highlighting and underlining various passages on most pages throughout. For instance:
- “…for many trans people of any gender or sexual orientation, the love of a bisexual (man or woman) is also suspect” (I’d argue for cis people as well!).
- “In addition to trans people, I’d say that many bisexuals are also still struggling for the greater society, and the LGBTQ community specifically, to recognize their relationships as having the same validity and value as anyone else’s
I believe bisexual readers will enjoy the questions Diane’s experience raises about identity as it pertains to your significant other.
Not only does Queerly Beloved tackle important issues surrounding the topics of gender, identity, orientation and the like, but it gives readers insight into what trans* individuals go through before, during and after their transitions (though Jacob notes more than once that “after” may not be apropos, as many trans* people experience a life-long transition of sorts). Both Diane and Jacob truly write openly and from the heart about their experiences with hormone replacement therapy and top surgery, among other facets of transitioning, revealing the truths and emotions for both sides of a couple going through it. I found myself unable to put the book down once I cracked the spine and would highly recommend it to everyone in the LGBTQ community, as well as those who want to understand gender, sexuality and trans* issues a little better.