As my partner slid her hands beneath my dress, pushing it up around my waist, I asked “Will you call me Jena?” This is something I had wanted for a long time but for whatever reason the femme side of my gender was rarely on display during my sexual encounters with her. She complied, but I could sense a little unease in her voice as she said my name. So I took over referring to myself in femme ways and relaxing into a roll I so desperately wanted to fill. Doing this for the first time and accepting that part of me was exciting and liberating. Everything inside me had been leading in this direction.
After this experience, I asked my partner how she felt using my femme name (admittedly, something I should have done beforehand). For a little background, my partner is a cis-woman and as straight as they come. By my telling of it, she has never found any part of a woman attractive in any significant way. She is attracted to male-bodied me and yet has been supportive of me wearing whatever female clothing I desire in private or in public.
Still, she said using a femme name for me was not something with which she was comfortable. It did not create any attraction for her. Quite the contrary, I got the impression that it created a kind of repellant visceral response (the opposite of attraction basically).
I want to be clear that I do not fault her for it in any way. While I think there are aspects of attraction that we can control and help shape, there is also a part of desire that cannot be forced. Accepting this duality has been central to my own journey of exploring sexual attraction and even gender identity. I accept and support her boundaries.
Additionally, for about two years we have had an agreement that I could be with other queer folks sexually. For this arrangement I would be non monogamous and she would be monogamous. This was actually her idea initially and one which she mentioned a couple of times before I actually accepted it as a viable possibility. We did this because I wanted to continue exploring my queerdom and retain my visibility as a queer person.
During that time of being able to “date” (or whatever you want to call it) other folks I had talked to many folks but none who could muster up any interest that went much past the tip of their genitalia. I also found it hard to believe that my partner was one hundred percent okay with this arrangement. Accordingly, I didn’t want to proceed full steam ahead and do irreparable damage to our relationship. As a result, I had only been with one other person who was a dear friend of mine on one occasion.
So when I initially heard that she couldn’t accept calling me Jena I was worried but knew that perhaps I could still explore this aspect of me with others. I felt like I still had a lifeline and an outlet in which to revel in who I was becoming. A week or two later this too came to an end.
My partner told me that while our relationship arrangement made logical sense to her that she couldn’t accept it on an emotional level. Now that she had discovered and spoke her truth, I was happy to focus instead on monogamy. The clarity of monogamy has always felt reassuring and I find simplicity and beauty in the practice.
All of this creates a number of quandaries for me. Is my femme side in any form a problem for her that will eventually surface? For now, I am aware of the possibility, but am accepting that I have heard the truth as best as she currently knows it and am proceeding accordingly.
The larger issue for me is that now that I am monogamous can I express my femininity in such a way that is still fulfilling for me while not being off putting to my partner? Is it possible to walk this line and leave everyone happy or will tending to her boundaries squelch my identity? Furthermore, is it even reasonable to walk a line at all where gender identity is concerned? Isn’t it more preferable to be who I want and need to be and let the chips fall where they may?
I don’t pretend to have the definitive answers, or any answers, but I do want to talk about what I have discovered while wrestling with these questions.
Realizing My Femme Side
In my past, I had kept my femininity shutoff from the outside world. I was closeted on purpose. Growing up I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand virtually any queer issues nor did they make an attempt. They mainly ridiculed and disparaged those who were different. Twenty some odd years ago, I shared a few pics with the person who was my first spouse. They were of me wearing her undergarments. Later when she was upset about something, she said, “I leave for a week and the first thing you do is dress up in my underwear.” I didn’t know exactly what this meant as it didn’t pertain to the argument at the time but I got the picture. I was expected to knock it the fuck off.
I had reached out to someone I thought I could trust and I received a scolding that was the death knell to me living openly with her. I didn’t want to experience that again and in small minded (I mean small town) America it was sure to happen each time I tried to publicly become who I needed to be.
So I kept it all under wraps. I dressed in femme ways only when I was alone and my partner was gone. I never mentioned it to her again. Later with other partners I was able to bring this side of me to life but mainly did so only in the bedroom; the most private of spaces.
This year though I have started wearing women’s clothes (pants and shorts) out in public. It is still less than I would like to wear, but it is a process and I am in the middle of it. Still, dressing with femme clothes in public is removing the secrecy around my gender. It is helping to give me some visibility as a queer person.
Likewise, when I was chatting with folks on dating apps I was leaving it up to people to call me by my masculine name or my femme name. Those who chose my femme name lightened my step. It felt foreign to be called Jena but it also resonated with me and made me happy. Having this quality in my life makes me feel more rounded and gives me visibility as a queer person. It’s as if my figurative masculine edges are being sanded down a bit. I like that.
What I’ve Learned . . . Kinda
This revelation is another step in understanding where I have been and in some ways where I am at now. My desire to be femme during intimacy was because I had kept this side of me in relative secrecy. I’m curious to see if having the femme me on display in public will erase the need to be referred to this way occasionally by my partner. If this is the case then I’m not walking any figurative line at all. Problem solved.
Conversely, if I still have the urge to be more femme than my partner can handle then it will be unfair to myself to continue walking someone else’s path. It seems as if this is the more likely outcome. While dressing femme in private led me to also dress in public, the occurrence of the latter has not diminished the occurrence of the former. So it seemingly follows that using my femme name in public is still going to be something I desire during intimate moments as well, though that experiment has yet to be conducted.
It must be admitted though that in a monogamous relationship that one half of the experiment is missing. I can’t use my femme name during intimacy to see how much I need to express that part of me. I just have to wait and see if I think I want it used. If I do, the relationship will end and I’ll have to hope that I was correct and that I didn’t make the wrong choice. It has become a much larger burden under monogamy than it was previously.
I used to feel as if I had a clean slate to explore and write down who I wanted to be. Now the surface of my slate is hemmed in with words to direct my path. I can write down who I am so long as I do not obscure parts of the slate which already contain the writing of others.
Keep in mind, I’m not asking to go back to nonmonogamy. That didn’t work and anyway, I don’t need it. It’s just that now I don’t know how to proceed. However, proceed I must because there is no other option before me.
I have had a difficult time writing this because I do not truly know where I stand. Each line I put down on the page feels shaky and dangerous. How much of what I write here is being constrained by the boundaries of my partner and by my fears? Truthfully, I do not know. Only time will reveal that answer. I have tried to be as kind and yet truthful as possible. I know that being gender fluid is firmly a part of me. I’m unpacking it piece by piece and while it feels good to do so, I’m scared of the consequences that my thoughts on this page could have in my current relationship. Seeing it all typed out here is less than reassuring.
If the romantic aspect of our relationship does not survive then it is no one’s fault. In fact, it will be for the best of all possible reasons. That my gender identity does not line up with her sexual attraction is certainly no one’s fault. It is just one of those unfortunate things which can occur as people grow.
For now, my partner says she is comfortable with me dressing in femme clothes and is good with incorporating these clothes into our intimacy. This gives me hope and currently I could use a little more of that.