You are not Magellan
Dear ‘I Must be Crazy’:
Let me start by thanking you for your email. I applaud you for recognizing a difficult situation. You find yourself in unfamiliar territory, and rather then severing ties out of fear, you’ve sought out professional advice. Bravo!
To the issue at hand, I’m curious as to why you believe the woman you have a date with used to be a man. As a general rule, it’s bad form to look into someone’s background before meeting her. I’ve said many times in this column, the Internet is a dangerous resource for idle minds. Granted, you met her online, but that doesn’t entitle you to stick her name in a Google Search and click I’m Feeling Lucky.
That aside, your difficulty uncovering specifics as to the woman’s past shouldn’t necessarily raise red flags (we don’t all strive for Search Engine Optimization). While you’ve told me nothing that seems to validate your bizarre belief, for argument’s sake, let’s say you’re right: The woman you’re seeing is transgender. No one would fault your hesitance. There’s the obvious considerations of sexuality and comfort—both yours and hers. Certainly, you would deserve full disclosure before the relationship escalated to any level of physical or emotional intimacy (consider this a new reason not to kiss on the first date). But understand, I don’t fault this woman for not revealing anything to you—if, in fact, there’s anything to reveal. First dates should be informative, but light. It’s a test drive, possibly the first of many. From the tone of your email, I discern an air of resentment. And while I commend you for seeking out my advice, with the sugar comes the medicine: You have no right to be angry.
Bear in mind, if this woman did complete gender reassignment surgery it was the culmination of years of therapy and a possible identity crisis. Her gender identity may very well overlap with her secret identity, i.e. those facets for which she still fears being judged. Make no mistake: this woman is a woman even if she was once a man. The courage it took for her to come to terms with herself is heroic. I hope you’ll remember this as you decide whether or not to move forward with the relationship.
Kay Marks the Spot
Dear Third Date Approaching:
Listen up, sweet pea, I don’t know where and by whom you were raised, but in the real world, a gentleman doesn’t perform a professional background check on a woman he’s dating. How would you feel if after two dates a lady made it a point to go through your closet and dig out every pair of dirty drawers that ever graced your rear-end? I know you emailed my column because you’re worried that this woman popped out of her Mama’s oven as a man, but sweetheart, as I see it you have a far more serious problem: Your inability to openly communicate with a potential lover, not to mention your immaturity toward a painfully sensitive issue.
And for all your crackerjack PI work, what have you uncovered? Apparently, you’re dating a successful civil rights attorney who moved to New York to enter private practice. So what, she legally changed her name a few years ago. Do I have to list all the legitimate reasons why someone might do this? It doesn’t mean she changed anything else about herself. As for the old online bio you stumbled upon, I think you’re making hay out of crabgrass. You’re telling me that there’s an LGBT lawyer in Los Angeles with the same last name and similar first name as the woman you’re dating. Level with me now, what’s “similar”? Both names start with the same letter? How common is her last name? I’m sorry gumdrop, but just because you can’t get in touch with this lawyer in LA doesn’t mean you’ve unearthed the Holy Grail. After five years, it’s more likely he found a new job or moved (not to New York). I know you think the man’s photo bears an “undeniable resemblance” to the woman you’re dating, but I’m not buying it. Don’t talk to me about hair color or bone structure or that freckle they both have above their trachea. As my pappy used to say, A man plants enough seeds and he’s liable to see trees even in a clearing.
Just to be clear, you know that many lawyers who work on behalf of LGBT rights are neither L, G, B, or T? Do you think that all immigration attorneys were once immigrants? Or that a landlord-tenant attorney must have been born a building?
I don’t mean to poke fun at you, but I can’t believe some of the harebrained antics you’ve dreamed up. Do you really think it’s a good idea to challenge this sweet lady to a series of tongue twisters? Now I’m no speech pathologist, but I don’t think “Hard R’s”, as you call them, make an Adam’s apple more pronounced. And come now, sugar, a mouthwash gargling contest? Any man with sense enough to write me should know better than that. But in case I’m wrong, I strongly recommend against telling her that your book club plans to read Middlesex just so you can gauge her reaction. (Note: you might want to sit down with that trusty Internet you like so much and learn the difference between transsexuals and hermaphrodites.)
If you think I’m taking a harsh tone, it’s only because there’s something so darn frustrating about your email. You speak so earnestly about wanting to be in an open, honest relationship. Then you go off talking about this scheme and that one, like you’re a little boy playing detective. If you’re so uncertain about who she is, why see her again? Why heap extra vinegar on to this pickle? I’ll tell you why: You feel something for this woman. Based on your description, I have a hunch she’s everything you’re looking for. Now I can’t help but wonder if you don’t think you’re ready for her?
You mentioned that you’re “recently” divorced. How recently? Is it fair to say that this is your first serious prospect since you’ve re-entered the single life? It’s a scary place, no doubt about that. We all know how fear can go to town on the mind. Otherwise reasonable people jump to wild conclusions; you hear hoof beats and suddenly you expect zebras instead of horses.
Listen to me now, because I do want the best for you. Consider what’s getting you so riled. Why do you even care if she was once a man? I’m not asking because I don’t think it matters (it certainly would to me). But what are your reasons (objections)? If you pursue this relationship, are you concerned that you’ll have to reassess your own sexuality? Remember, you’re talking about another human being, one whom you obviously care about or you wouldn’t be wracking your brain six ways from Sunday to figure out.
I’m all for you learning about this woman, but do it the right way. Learn from her. Let the relationship play out at a pace you both can handle. Remember, a third date doesn’t have to end searching for your boxer shorts and wondering if you have time to go home and shower before work.
With love and understanding,
Dear Sleeping with the Light on:
No, a “freakishly large” clitoris does not indicate a woman is transgender. Clitorises, like penises, come in a range of sizes and shapes; that your lover’s is particularly notable shouldn’t be cause for concern. Consider yourself lucky that you’re far less likely to miss the bull’s eye. Though, your question begs two on my part: Why are you so adamant to believe that your lover was formerly a man? And, in the absence of this assurance, why are you maintaining sexual relations?
The level of compassion she’s exhibited toward you borders on the supernatural. If I understand correctly, she has encouraged you to mend your relationship with your daughter, a laudable sentiment by any standard. She rewrote your resume so that you might find a job you enjoy. She has even offered to let you stay with her before the judge allocates assets to your ex-wife. Forget transgender, I recommend you call the Vatican and see if they’re missing a saint.
Is it possible that you’re concocting an issue on her part so your recent misfortunes seem less glaring? It’s difficult to fathom that you could still be “in the dark” on this matter if it was at all rooted in fact. You have met her close friends. Your friends adore her. You admit, when you’re not questioning “what she might have been”, you’re happy. With that in mind, why would you ask to see her prom photos or inquire as to her favorite junior high school fads? Are you really comfortable holding the viewpoint that sleeping with a Cabbage Patch Kid foreshadows one’s future sexuality? Do I really need to point out that owning a Culture Club CD is not a sure sign of a “lifetime membership in the LGBT community”? Such beliefs are not only offensive, but are so clearly a macho attempt to mask the greater issue at hand, i.e. your feelings.
It doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that for all your musings and artless stratagems, you’re surprisingly vague about what this woman means to you. That you’re exerting this degree of effort to seek out professional help, even anonymously, is an obvious sign of your affection. Look beyond gender (past and present) and focus on the person; recognize what works and what it is that you’re working tirelessly (though misguidedly) to preserve. I can’t help but think that your fear is rooted not in sexuality but vulnerability. You don’t feel equal to her; instead of overcoming your insecurities, you’re tempted to cut and run before she realizes and saves you the trouble. While I’m sympathetic to your concerns, I’m disappointed by your cowardice.
Neither I nor anyone else can guarantee the viability of this relationship; but I can promise that if you don’t confront these fears now, you will find yourself back in this sad, lonely corner every time you meet a potential mate.
I wish for you the courage to turn off the lights.
Dr. Ted Berry
Dear Just Asking:
If I were your girlfriend, I, too would be pretty teed off if you kept insisting to meet one of my exes. I know, you say she’s not your girlfriend. Ten times in your letter you reiterate that very point. Sorry to be cute, but Me thinks the lady’s boyfriend doth protest too much. You go on dates, you have sex, you’re meeting her parents this weekend. And no, I don’t believe that you’re only driving upstate for her father’s 65th birthday because it’s a great opportunity for reconnaissance. No one believes that.
What are you after, her references? Those men are her exes for a reason. Keep it up, and you’ll quickly find yourself inducted into the club.
Yo Mall-less Wonder:
Maybe you didn’t realize that my blog is about rap (Hence the name, Rapping with Z). But you seem in a bad way, so best I start by dropping some truth on you: Most men pray to God that their girls don’t drag them shopping and load them down like pack mules. Now you’re trying to play it like, because you’re girl doesn’t suck the blood out your weekends she might have been a man? Come on now; there’s no way you wouldn’t be able to tell. Her voice, her build. Have you felt her claves? You can’t fake that, yo.
I get your point: your girl’s not girly. Add that to her being mum about her past, I see why you got your finger over the Panic Buttons. But seriously, who cares what and who she used to be doing? Think of it like this, her life only started when she met you. Maybe she’s hot off a nasty breakup. Maybe she had a bad habit (fill in the blank). Maybe she’s on the lam. Whatever it is, secrets aren’t so bad. They’re like spices; they bring out the flavor. Feel me?
See, it sounds to me like your pride’s taken a hit. Can’t be easy to see your girl ruling your Fantasy Football League (sorry Mr. Commissioner, but anyone who picks Eli Manning over Peyton deserves to suffer through Monday morning), or that she’s batting at the top of order on your softball team. Don’t take it personally. In the words of the late DJ Tone Def, Be challenged, not threatened.
That said, if you really believe your girl used to know her way around a urinal, man I don’t know how you keep hitting that. I’m not saying it makes you gay.
But I’m not saying it doesn’t.
Play on Player.
Rapping with Z
Dear Proceeding with Caution:
No, I don’t think your girlfriend is out to usurp you as a father. You should be thrilled that your daughter has taken so well to the new woman in your life. Partners who enter our lives soon after a divorce often have difficulty gaining the child’s acceptance. That your girlfriend is fine-tuning your daughter’s foul shot and helping polish her three-point turn skills is the ideal scenario. To view it as a threat to your masculinity is petty and shortsighted. Their comfort with one another demonstrates a level of trust and communication which, quite honestly, you seem to lack. In all likelihood, your daughter is experiencing a great deal of uncertainty in the wake of your divorce. She’s seeking a friend—a sense of stability—just as you are.
Have you considered if your distress is not centered on you role as a father but on your plans to move in with your girlfriend? No one will deny that it’s a serious undertaking, and, certainly, a healthy anxiety is warranted. While cohabitation can enhance a relationship, it is also an opportunity to see each other ‘warts-and-all’. My concern is that you initiated living together because you’re in search of her warts. You say that you feel she’s keeping something from you. You should not move in with someone because you think it’s conducive to snooping. Curiosity is healthy, suspicion is not. Do you even know what you’re looking for?
All the Best,
Shooting from the Hip
Dear Locked in Pandora’s Box:
Let me be among the first to congratulate you on your engagement. It sounds like you’ve reinvented yourself over the last year. New home, new job, a reestablished relationship with your daughter, and, of course, a new woman to whom it seems you owe much of your happiness.
To answer your question, no, you’re not crazy. That you feel trapped isn’t cause for shame. It’s not even unexpected. Your life, in some ways, must feel surreal, like the bottom might fall out at any second. To reemerge from epic lows the likes of which you’ve described can accompany as much hesitation as ecstasy. You wonder, Is this real? How long will it last? What if I lose everything again?
I have no doubt that you still remember the pain of your failed marriage. The sting of your layoff. And all the time away from you daughter, the thought alone I find torturous. But trust me when I tell you that you are not attempting anything that millions of people before you haven’t successfully undertaken. You want to love again, and to believe wholeheartedly this love will endure.
Take comfort in the knowledge that many men and women have treaded this land, providing you a clear path through which to find your way. You are not Magellan. You are not Columbus. You are not Lewis or Clarke. You have set out to stick your flag in fertile soil known to many. Steel yourself to this task.
You must operate every day with the belief that your life will endure. Your love for your fiancé, your love for your daughter, your love for yourself, and, above all, your love for the Lord. Some days will present more evidence than others, but do not loose faith in your commitment.
I wish you and your fiancé nothing but happiness as you embark upon this new journey.
Good luck and God Bless,
Rev. Hollis Mitchell
Between You and Him