When does the law think you’re man enough?

Q: There was a piece in The New York Times last weekend about the debate in the queer community — particularly in the lesbian community — over gender reassignment surgery. Lots of formerly butch lesbians now identify as "transmen."

The strangest revelation was that after one member of a lesbian couple became a man, they were able to get legally married in California. I thought California didn't allow gay marriage. Doesn't the fact that a marriage is legal if one partner gets a sex change kind of turn all the anti-gay-marriage arguments on their head? I mean, how do you think the bible-thumping Republicans would take to that argument? "No, you can't get married — well, I guess if one of you has a sex change it'll be OK." That's pretty fucked up, no? —Loyal Reader

A: Didn't you get the memo, LR? I'm supposed to lay off the gay-marriage issue for a while. But quickly ...

Yeah, it's fucked-up, particularly when you read all of Paul Vitello's piece ["The Trouble When Jane Becomes Jack," Aug. 20] and learn that many transmen don't bother getting their genitals swapped out. Building a reasonably functional penis is a hell of a lot more complicated than building a reasonably functional vagina — so there's not much incentive for transmen to get an "ersatz penis," to use Vitello's term. Which means there are lots of double-vagina marriages in California and other states.

Still, it's not as fucked-up as you might think. Gender isn't just about genitals — the mind is gendered, and some male minds are born into female bodies and vice versa. While denying civil marriage to same-sex couples is an injustice, a fully transitioned transman — meaning he's got an "M" on his driver's license now, not an "F" — and a woman-born woman are an opposite-sex couple, penis or no penis. If society is going to reserve civil-marriage rights exclusively for opposite-sex couples, then you have to let transmen marry their female partners. But a lesbian couple being able to legally marry and keep on grinding their glazed donuts — as long as one of the women gets a double mastectomy, a few hormone shots, and a soul patch — only goes to show how absurd our marriage laws are.

Another small absurdity: Vitello's piece focuses on the debate in the lesbian community over transmen. Are they traitors to the cause? Abandoning their community in order to access male privilege? I'll let the ladies and ex-ladies duke that one out, but I would like to weigh in on the fact that, as Vitello writes, "there is no apparent parallel imbroglio in the gay community toward men who become women ..."

The reason there's no parallel imbroglio in the gay community is because adult gay men rarely, if ever, decide to change their gender. I've been out of the closet for more than two decades now (since I was 7 years old), and in all that time I've never known a single adult gay man who decided — particularly in midlife — to run off and become a woman. The only men I've known who changed their gender as adults were heterosexually identified men who now identify as lesbians.

However, I've known lots of lesbians who later decided that they were and always had been men, and many more lesbians who decided they were and always had been heterosexual. At the risk of being burned in effigy at the next dyke march, the fluidity of female sexual identity sure does make me appreciate the solidity of male sexual identity. While I have to worry about my boyfriend leaving me for another man (he assures me that my worries are irrational — but he would, wouldn't he?), I don't have to worry about him walking into the kitchen one day and announcing that he's always been a woman, or that he's only just realized that he's straight. A guy that's sucking cock at 18 will be still be sucking cock at 28, 38 and 108 — but it seems that a woman can be eating pussy at 18, sucking cock at 28 and having her cock sucked at 38.


Q: My sister has a client with a very unusual problem. When the client and his wife divorced, he agreed to pay maintenance (alimony) for 10 years or until she remarries. She is now in a lesbian relationship. They have exchanged rings, portray themselves as married, and she lists her partner as "spouse" on her child's school records. This man believes he should have the right to terminate maintenance based upon his ex-wife's "remarriage." But marriage between two women is not legally recognized in this state, therefore there is a great deal of doubt as to how he would fare in front of a judge.

So which side of the fence do you fall on, Mr. Savage? Doesn't this strike you as a major double standard, that this woman can flaunt her lesbian, nonlegal "marriage" with impunity while she fucks her ex-husband royally? —Double Standards For Everyone

A: I suppose it's a double standard, DSFE, but it's not one I'm prepared to get exercised about. While I agree that this woman has an ethical obligation to turn down money that she's entitled to on a legal technicality, the fact remains that she is not married in the eyes of the law. That sucks for her, it sucks for her partner, and it sucks royally for your friend's royally fucked client. I hope he's directing his anger not just at his ex-wife (she certainly deserves a share), but also at the federal government, bigoted judges and irrational fears that keep his ex-wife from legally marrying her "spouse."


Q: I'm an 18-year-old girl, going off to college in September, and I'm not sure how to identify myself to people I'm meeting for the very first time. I started at my school in kindergarten, and stayed there until I graduated last week. Everyone there knew I liked both girls and boys, probably because I was kissing them from about third grade on.

I can't say I'm a lesbian because it's inaccurate, and I'm certainly not straight. If given the choice between Brad and Angelina, I'd definitely go for her. I don't want to tell people I'm bisexual because 95 percent of the "bisexual" 18-year-old girls I've met were drunk straight chicks. So what do I say? "I'm a dyke, but I'll do boys too"? "I'm bisexual, but not one of those bisexuals"? Or should I just flirt with hot people and forget about labels? —Not One Of THOSE Bisexuals

A: Lots of young gay men run around telling people — particularly straight people — that they're "not like other gay people." What they mean is, "I'm not a skeezy slut." Some young lesbians insist they're "not like other lesbians," meaning they're not man-hating, pit-hair-braiding, makeup-fearing bulldykes. These stereotypes are not without foundation, of course. There are lots of skeezy gay sluts out there and tons of man-hating bulldykes. But just as it's unfair for straights to believe that all gay men are skeezy sluts and that all dykes are man-haters, it's unwise for young queers to confirm heterosexual prejudices by implying that they've just had the pleasure of meeting the one and only gay man on earth who isn't a skeezy slut or the one and only lesbian who isn't a man-hater.

Don't play this idiotic game, NOOTB, unless you want to mark yourself as an immature, shallow young queer. You can tell people you're bisexual without adding the self-hating bi-phobic qualifier. And then, through your behavior, you can demonstrate that you — like most bisexual girls — aren't just some drunk straight chick.


A nod to heterosexual marriage: Happy anniversary, Matt and Amy! Keep your head down in Iraq, Matt.

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About The Author

Dan Savage

Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist, podcaster, and author, and has appeared on numerous television shows. His sex advice column “Savage Love” first appeared in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly, in 1991. The column is now syndicated across the United States and Canada. He has published six books...
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