It took more than a change in state law for Kevin and I to be united in legally wedded bliss last summer.
Neither of us began life destined for manhood. Our birth certificates register the births of female babies, and we were raised as girls. By the time I was an adult, I was aware of those not born to womanhood claiming it for themselves, but it still hadn’t occurred to me that I could do the same in my own life: that the man I saw in the mirror could be made visible to others. I learned it was possible to become a transsexual man when I finally saw others change their female-looking and sounding bodies and voices and names to match their male souls and minds. By the time Kevin and I met through a mutual girlfriend–we were all polyamorous queers–I was several years beyond the awkward phase. No one who met me could tell that I hadn’t been born male.
Kevin wasn’t yet Kevin, but he was nearly on his way. When he decided to transition, he began to act on his emancipation from the gender roles that had confined him. Realizing that he was a man meant that he felt entitled to masculinize his body, as I had, and take a new, male name. This was just part of what his freedom afforded him. It also enabled him to act on his other desires, the ones he had suppressed in order to be a “good” butch lesbian. As my own feminine appearance had belied my masculine identity, Kevin’s looks were interpreted as evidence of another, preconceived set of behaviors and desires: he was typecast as the butch. Despite what he looked like, he loved men, and he was attracted to me. The attraction was mutual, and we fell in love.
I know this isn’t unique to transgender, gay/lesbian/bisexual, polyamorous, or kinky people, but Kevin and I felt lucky to have found one another. It’s difficult to find someone compatible when your gender and body don’t closely match, when your sexual orientation is in the minority, and your attitudes about sexual monogamy are even less well understood by most people.
Kevin and I first talked about marrying when we moved to Northampton, MA. Before living together in Brooklyn, NY, we’d both grown up in conservative places: the Rust Belt for Kevin, and the Bible Belt for me. For years, we’d seen lesbian and gay couples in the news, countless pairs of them being married on courthouse steps and raising their ringed hands and signed licenses triumphantly in the streets of California, then in Massachusetts. Gay marriage had arrived in Massachusetts before we did, so the decision to marry was open to us. Would we be legally wed?
I have been married once before, as a woman to a man, and have a child from that marriage. Since transition, I’d once toyed with the idea of marrying a woman I was involved with, but we backed out at the last minute, unready to make the commitment to one another. Kevin and I had both already made tremendous changes in our expectations for our lives. As well, the world had changed around us, altering our real and perceived options of what we could do or be, and how we might live. We both felt incredibly lucky to have discovered the joy and peace of being in a comfortable gender, being seen by others as we saw ourselves, loving who we wanted, and not hiding any of these things. Taking on marriage, with the multiple challenges that we present to the traditional model, required an additional adjustment to our sense of entitlement. Upon arrival in Massachusetts, we were just old enough people, and new enough as men, to not yet feel worthy of the right to marry as gay men.
Getting married is a supremely traditional act. It’s a vote of confidence in the conservative, stabilizing forces of civilization that act as counterweight to the dramatic societal changes that civil rights movements bring. When I was ready to embrace marriage with Kevin, it was because I had no doubt that we could make the institution our own. We had an unusual relationship from the start, and we made it work because we believed in our values and because we valued what made us different from other people we knew. Even though much of our lives felt experimental, ad hoc, and constantly evolving, we made our marriage a priority. Making good on our commitment to stick together, we had proven not only able, but had grown as people in the process. Not only was marriage good for us, but we were good for our marriage.
The last barrier was not a legal one, but a trans matter: one of gender identity. Although my documentation was already corrected, Kevin’s was not, and it was important to him to make our relationship public as a man, not as a woman. Some people are more than glad to use the loopholes of documentation to create legal, heterosexual marriages between two people of the same gender. Gaining the legal rights of marriage in a state that denied us a marriage as men would not have served our goals. We weren’t marrying to gain some tangible benefit, like health insurance. We would be discriminated against, experiencing the many injustices that come with a state-recognized, but federally ignored marriage, and fight the injustice like other gay married couples.
We made our own wedding. Kevin sews and bakes and gathers people, I cook and write and collect music. We pooled our domestic powers, as we had for seven years of commitment, interdependence, love, sex, and living together. We took out some loans. We invited our dear friends, co-workers, and relatives. My sister came from California and I met my niece, who got two new “tíos”: “uncles” she met at their wedding, and who love her. Thanks to my sister, my niece has never known a world where two such tíos as my husband and I are second-rate family.
In Paula Ettelbrick’s obituary, her legal opinion on gay and lesbian marriage from 1989 was quoted: “Justice for gay men and lesbians will be achieved only when we are accepted and supported in this society despite our differences from the dominant culture and the choices we make regarding our relationships.”
The real “danger” to society in recognizing our right to marry is that we will inevitably queer marriage. Broadening the definition in one way presents ever more ways in which we may negotiate formal, legally recognized relationships that match the way we live. We are sure to see social and legal changes at an increasing rate, as our private lives accommodate new ranges of possibilities, and even more rights are clamored for and eventually won. Someday we’ll win the rights to create our own marriage contracts, decide for ourselves their conditions and constraints, and even the number of participants in a marriage, or how many marriage contracts one person may enter at any given time. The conservative forces might hope that the radicals will be appeased with an offering of equal marriage, but only the first wave of conscious gay citizens can possibly receive its birthright as if it were a gift.
Why transition from female to male, to become a gay married couple? It’s a question that both Kevin and I took years to learn to answer this succinctly: We transitioned to match our bodies to our feelings of already being men. Our sexual orientation is who we are attracted to. We married for love.