Author Archives: Emma Hunt

From She To They – The Pronoun Change That Distorted My Perceived Sexuality

Ever since I learnt about building schemas during my university career, I have literally felt and seen myself adapt my schemas around new information in regards to Dylan’s transition to gender neutral.

As I’ve found out about each new change, I have sat with the discomfort of the Unknown before then adapting my schema to reflect the new information and fit it into my reality. A part of me has marveled at my ability to adapt as I’ve watched my brain ‘come around’ to the new ideas and accept them as the new normal, whilst another part has actively pulled away and resisted these changes due to fear of losing myself in the process. For me one of the hardest transitions to come to terms with has been the pronoun change – which is actually still very new as I write this, and as yet not put into practice by anyone except me.

Dylan told me recently that they planned to change their pronoun from she to they, something that I suspected was coming but if I’m honest really hoped wouldn’t. For Dylan this change was something that made them feel more like themselves, and better reflected the way the gender binary did not suit them-she and he simply did not reflect Dylan’s identity. For me, however, it is through this one word change, from she to they, that I feel the public loss of my identity most keenly.

In using they when referencing my partner a large part of my identity, the lesbian part, is no longer readily obvious. Where previously I could gently ‘out’ myself through a comment such as ‘my partner is a brilliant social worker, she works for…’, I am now faced with the comment ‘my partner is a brilliant social worker, they work for…’ Which I fear will be read as me trying to hide the gender of my partner, rather than as my partner being gender neutral since this gender is not yet part of mainstream consciousness. This then implies that I am uncomfortable in my sexuality and greatly saddens me because I am actually very confident and happy in my sexuality, so to come across as uncomfortable makes me, well, uncomfortable! I mentioned this to an Austrian friend this morning and she actually said that as an ESL

(English as second language) person she would read this as me having multiple partners, something else I hadn’t considered but also inaccurate in my case. In order to avoid this confusion I need to preface every conversation with an explanation of my partner’s gender, something that is at times a little daunting considering that they are part of a considerably small minority group (and we all know that discrimination comes readily when society lacks understanding), as well as a direct explanation of my sexuality if I want to share that part of my identity. No more subtle, gentle outings for me- blunt explanations only.

In this way I have come to realise that the hardest part of this particular change is that this is not going to be a transition from one thing to another and then it is completed. Unlike Dylan’s name change, which was a transition for our current community but is irrelevant in all new social situations, this pronoun change is going to be a lifelong process, and one that requires me to regularly explain. Any person that I ever talk to about my partner will need a direct explanation of both of us if I want them to understand my identity. In terms of my sexuality this is quite different from the simplistic and subtle outing that I have become used to over the last 10 years.

Through this I’ve really realised just how much sexuality is a key part of identity and is often seen as reflected in choice of partner. The problem that I’m now having though is that my sexuality is seemingly at odds with Dylan’s gender- if I am she and Dylan is they then what sexuality am I, and what type of relationship are we in? The use of pronouns, something seemingly so simple, distorts my sexuality and makes it unrecognisable. My place in society is no longer easily readable through conversation, but shrouded in mystery- am I uncomfortable with my sexuality? Dating many people? Don’t know that ‘they’ is (traditionally) a plural?

Whilst this has been a big change for me, I can feel my schema adapting to our new reality and building new pathways to reconcile the new ways that my identity will need to be expressed. I am still daunted and worried but I can also feel a small yet distinct flutter of excitement at the prospect of pioneering social change through sharing mine and Dylan’s confidence in our genders and sexualities. I am learning how to make my language reflect our identities and new ways to feel comfortable ‘outing’ us.

I am learning to truly own my identity, both as an individual entity and as a reflection of Dylan. Yes, I am the partner of a gender neutral person, but I am also my own person with my own identity words. I am a lesbian, who happens to be in love with a human that lives slightly out of the box, and has ‘character’ rather than ‘gendered traits’. I am the ‘she’ in she+they- and that means whatever I want it to mean, not what society stipulates.

My Dating App Success Story

Our story began with Brenda, a lesbian dating app that was all the rage in Sydney in 2013. Although this app was rather sparse in terms of the details you input about yourself, Dylan’s cute picture and short description was quick to spark my interest and I sent them a message.

Thankfully they wrote back. Whilst Chatting like this wasn’t unusual for me, what I didn’t know was that it was Dylan’s first time on a dating site and despite enjoying our conversation they were totally weirded out at the thought of chatting so in depth with someone they didn’t know. So much so that they almost didn’t meet me.

Almost. Obviously we did meet and we had a long first date that neither of us wanted to end, then an extremely romantic second date (night time beach picnic with candles- well done Dylan!) and many many more dates to come. We were a lesbian dating app success story!

Fast forward 3.5 years and we are still a success story, only not the lesbian type anymore, and I guess if we’re being pedantic we never were.

In 2015, Dylan came out as gender neutral, a gender that sits outside the constraints of the male/female binary, and has only just started to be legally recognised in Australia in the last couple of years. Although this revelation didn’t change the way we felt about each other, or the way we related to each other, it did change both of our identities and so caused a lot of confusion for me, especially because the journey was in no way linear.

The revelations started coming for Dylan after I jokingly asked them one day if maybe they might be transgender and be a man. Dylan laughed it off, but unbeknownst to me stayed up late for days on end feverishly googling all things trans and noticing many similarities, as well as differences. This eventually culminated in Dylan telling me that they were a man, and us both crying at the enormity of the situation for a whole weekend. And then suddenly, not to long after this, Dylan changed their mind.

To be fair, it wasn’t sudden for Dylan because they already knew that there were some parts that didn’t add up and that ‘male’ didn’t really fit, but to me, sitting outside of the process and hearing only the end results, it was sudden.

So life went on as usual in our female, lesbian world and then it was happening again. Obviously Dylan had been thinking about this constantly and taking time to consider all possibilities, but again, to me it was a sudden revelation. ‘I am not a man, but one day I want to have a flat male-like chest and then I will feel comfortable.’ It quickly moved from one day on to in a few years and then next year.
I wasn’t shocked that this was something Dylan wanted but I was confused about what this all meant and where it was going. Was it going to be a slow transformation into ‘male’ or just a cosmetic change that made Dylan feel more comfortable in their body?

I didn’t know, but I wanted to know desperately. I realise now that these types of self discovery take time and can be very emotionally draining, but for me, watching from the outside and never knowing what was happening and what to expect also had its challenges. I loved Dylan but I was unsure how I felt about the possibility of being ‘straight’ and dating a man, and basically just wanted to know where the end point of this journey would be so that I could get my own thoughts straight.

After more soul searching Dylan realised that neither male nor female fit for them, and found the right label- gender neutral, or non-binary or genderqueer. We happily interchange these words, although some people probably have a preference for which is right for them. Even after this discovery there were still more revelations to come with Dylan making the decision to change their name and their pronoun (their old name is generally considered a ‘female only’ name so didn’t quite fit).

Writing it all down it sounds fairly condensed, but from the moment I mentioned the possibility of Dylan being transgender, to the point where the first changes were actually made was 18 months, and we are still waiting on Dylan’s chest surgery due to the availability of the surgeon, so it will end up being about a 2 year process in the end. The first 18 months were definitely the hardest part though. Hard for Dylan as they analysed every innermost thought to find their authentic self, and hard for me as I waited on (and at times tried to provoke) these decisions, anxiously wondering what my relationship would look like, and how my own identity would change in Dylan’s reflection.

I’m not going to lie, it was a difficult and challenging time for both of us, and whilst I know for a fact that neither of us ever thought specifically about leaving each other, we both thought the other one might leave. Dylan thought I would jump ship because I wanted a woman and I thought Dylan would run from me because I wasn’t laughing and smiling my way through the situation. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

Finding my voice and starting to write about our relationship and my experiences on my blog She+They was a major turning point for both of us. It gave me the confidence to confront the situation head on and really own my feelings and experiences – both the negative and the positive – and it explained to Dylan exactly why I had found this change hard. It gave me a platform from which to discuss identity, change, relationships, and all things gender neutral and also gave me a new ‘hobby’ with a purpose. I wanted to provide myself with an emotional outlet, educate my community and reach out to other partners of transgender people. I’d like to think that the blog is quietly achieving this.

I know it sounds a bit corny to say this but we are stronger and happier than we have ever been now, and it’s undeniably related to Dylan’s transition. Obviously Dylan is a happier human so this has helped, but the transition also taught us a lot about each other and the different ways we both like to communicate. We learnt that I express my love through tasks whilst Dylan expresses theirs through words, that I like to talk everything through and be a part of ‘the process’ where Dylan prefers to do this alone and then divulge answers and that I like to move quickly, investigate all angles and make decisions where Dylan prefers to ruminate. Neither of us are ‘right’ but understanding the inner workings of each other, and what we both need in times of stress has brought us closer together. We also now know each other’s trigger points, as well as solutions to appease each other, so that basically any argument we may have now dissolves in a matter of minutes.

Obviously Dylan’s journey was not easy for them, and caused great amounts of confusion and fear about what the future may hold, but that said often the journey of a partner is seemingly overlooked completely. Perhaps this is because it is considered easier or insignificant by comparison.

Whatever the reason, it is something that shouldn’t be overlooked or devalued. As the partner of someone transitioning my sense of self and identity was challenged in a way that I never thought was possible.

I mean, I’m a lesbian in a relationship with someone that isn’t a woman, and in a world where everything has labels our relationship doesn’t even fit into a box. I always considered myself open minded so I guess it’s pretty great to be able to back myself up and say that I am quite literally living outside the box. And it’s a pretty damn good space to be in!