September 9, 2019

On being non-binary and bigender and the fear of coming out to the family

Bigender people sometimes feel male, other times female. (Illustration photo. Original photo: Nadofotos, gender switch in Faceapp).

In this guest post Jemimah writes about being non-binary and bigender and the fear of coming out to their family. Jemimah is assigned male at birth, but they may switch between a male and a female gender identity.

By Jemimah

I was recently asked whether writing help me deal with my gender complications.  The answer is possibly.

A follow-up might be to ask about reading. I do a lot of reading; I am, for instance,  about to go and follow the Silk Road to China. But while the Chinese situation in Xinjiang is interesting,  it is not directly relevant to the topic of this blog post.

Non-binary and bigender identities

I have read lots of books on transgender issues recently, though. One book in particular did provide some relief. It was Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows, a collection of essays arranged by Christine Burns.

It is a complete history of all modern activities in the non-straight world in Britain and has, for instance,  some surprisingly encouraging accounts of straight politicians helping the LGBT community.

The book probably caught my eye because included in it is an essay on non-binary identity, by Meg-John Barker, Ben Vincent and Jos Twist. Non-binary is, as they point out, the most common umbrella term for people who experience their gender as neither male nor female:
"Non-binary people can have a fluid experience of gender, experiencing themselves as more male, more female, both or neither, at different times. Other non-binary people experience themselves as somewhere between male and female, or as a separate third category, for example."
Their main focus is on the area somewhere in between male and female. This may be the more common condition. They think that about one in 250 identify themselves as other than male or female.

The non-binary identities they are discussing are not necessarily bigender in the sense that I, Rick/Ria [a 26 year old British bigender person] and the neuroscientists V.S. Ramachandran and L.K. Case understand it, though.  I believe myself to have, one at a time, a male and a female gender.


My gender identity is more similar to the one of James-Beth Merritt, who in their book Bi-gender, A Candid Nonbinary Memoir, writes:
Bi-Gender: A Candid Nonbinary Memoir
I’d like to point something out now, a distinction that isn’t absolute, but that’s important to understand: I’m not a crossdresser. As much as possible, I always dress as the gender I actually am. Since I’m bi-gender, which in my case means that my gender switches back and forth between male and female, the most important distinction between me and a crossdresser is my identity, and that’s mostly invisible.
Coming out

I have not come out to my family as regards my experience of gender. I have been feeling increasing pressure to come out, though,  and so have been reading books and web articles by and about wives of crossdressers.

The Crossdreamers blog has a few posts about this topic, including the article by Jack’s wife Sally . Jack will provide some links at the end of this post. There are also some relevant discussions over at Crossdream Life, including a very relevant post by SallyAnne  in December last year where she shared an article by Ginny Searle.

My main sources, however,  have been the books by Helen Boyd and Peggy Rudd,  which have not cheered me up. Virginia Erhardt’s book is better; not sure why.

I do like the account by Boyd of her times with her husband Betty because they obviously had fun and was saddened when Betty finally transitioned because that changes things. Not that she was wrong in doing so, it is simply that for me, as bigender, transitioning will not solve the problem.
Betty and Helen Boyd (photo from Flickr)

They are also a fairly special couple. Not only is Betty transgender but I think that Helen may be some shade of queer, as well, although I would rather not that we speculate. Moreover, they live in a fairly special environment in New York. In other words: My life situation is very different from theirs, as is the culture I live in, which present other challenges.

The fear of failure

I think what depresses me is that according to Boyd and Rudd there is such a low success rate for such relationships. As for the couples who do stay together some end up in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement. For me, I think that this would be just as bad as separating.

I have to say that Jack Molay has just pointed me towards some more optimistic statistics, but I still find the case studies significant.

I know that I am not a crossdresser, which poses its own challenges for some partners, and especially those with a more conservative personality.  But I do not think it is easier to handle a bigender partner. It is nice to think that life could be like that of Ryan/Ria  and their partner Krystal but I think that is very unlikely.  Krystal is pansexual so she is relaxed about who she wakes up next to.
Ria Wrigle and their girlfriend Krystal Griggs. Ria AKA Ryan are bigender and switches between a male and female identity. Photo from Mirror (PA Real Life Features/Carl Fox).

This is sad, because I would love drifting into really old age sitting about, doing some housework, dressed in not very glam dresses and going out occasionally, wearing something more sparkling.

I would like to be able to come up with detailed reasons for success and failure and I am sure that there are academic papers on the subject. An easy thing to say would be that it is all about the couple involved, but that is a bit simple.

One obvious good thing to do is talking about this side of you before the relationship gets too far along. But that isn’t always possible. There is the fear of killing off the relationship early on. The gender variant person may also live in denial at the time, and even believe that a traditional relationship will fix their problems.

Another important factor is lack of knowledge. 50 or so years ago I did not know that I was on the TG spectrum. Transgender and bigender people do not always have the language needed to understand themselves or explain what they are to others.

There is advice on how to broach the subject but it is very difficult to decide what would be the least bad. I did accidentally flirt with this possibility. Once, I had been out with a transsexual friend and then forgot to remove my minimal eye shadow. Thank goodness for low ambient sitting room lighting. But it could be that I hoped my wife would see this and ask the right questions.

What are the chances of success?

To me it looks like most of  the cases of coming out I have read about are failures, but I am not sure. It would be good to know the real success rate. Is this ratio correct? Knowing this would make easier for me to say why things went wrong, if they went wrong. Research on the crossdressers.com site could probably help me in this respect.

A common factor I find in the stories about failed relationships can be characterised, often unfairly, as selfishness on the part of the crossdresser. I can see why it may look like this to others.  After years of repression, you are finally able to ask for what you want or need – but this can be very hard on the partner. She did, after all, sign up for a relationship with a man.

Enjoy Sex

This must be especially true if there is a sexual aspect to the gender variance, which there usually is. For sure,  a male can be submissive and there are probably plenty of dominant females. Your wife or girlfriend may be one of them, or she may be willing to experiment. But that is not quite the same thing as being affirmed as a woman. However, I suppose love can survive with patience and if both partners are willing to compromise.
Meg-John Barker is Barker is currently a Senior Lecturer in Psychology
at the Open University in the United Kingdom with a
focus on psychotherapy.
(Photo: Dominic Davies, of Pink Therapy UK.

This leads back again to Meg-John Barker and their books. A wonderful book they have written is Enjoy Sex. This is a primer on sex which hardly mentions the ‘bits’ and it is mostly unclear what the make-up of the couples – two cis, one cis one trans etc – is.

It should be required reading for the couples we are talking about.

My life

This brings it back to me, I think. I am getting a little more concerned about my life. It is getting a bit harder to live with my conflicts. I know that many gender variant people have it much harder, but this situation is not ideal.

So I am not sure that any of my reading has helped but I think that writing this has. I find that the thinking and the reading that goes into this suits our intellect and even for the more emotional Jemimah is a good way of coming out of a mild depression. I am not sure that it has helped with any decision about coming out; that may come if there is more pressure to do so and I will then have to deal with the result.

Talking about a more emotional Jemimah. I recently went with my wife to see the documentary on Leonard Cohen’s relationship with his muse Marianne. It was just as well it was dark because at the end when they are both dying tears started running down my face. The thought of the completely non emotional Jeremy reacting like that is inconceivable. It was definitely Jemimah in the cinema that afternoon.


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