BY NATASIA LANGFELDER
Jacob and Diane Anderson-Minshall have been together for 23 years and have weathered their share of marital ups and downs. The two queer activists have had a presence online and in print for years and it’s not a surprise to any of their fans that when Jacob and Diane married, Jacob was a lesbian named Suzy. Now, they are sharing their story on how they were able to ensure their marriage held together though Jacob’s transition from female to male.
“Queerly Beloved” asks the question, “is it possible for a love to overcome a change in gender?” The Anderson-Minshall’s admit it’s hard, but possible. The memoir is an honest look back at how the two worked to keep their marriage together and keep each other sane as Jacob worked through the trying process of transitioning. “Queerly Beloved” is vulnerable, heartbreaking and hilarious in turns and provides invaluable insight into how a transition can affect a relationship.
You are both very much “out there” in terms of sharing your personal life online through your writing. What felt different to you, if anything, about sharing your story in “Queerly Beloved”?
I think that we felt a little bit of a mission with this. Both of us share a lot and there’s an advocacy element to it. There’s a reason why we are writing about it. We need to talk about sexuality.
When Jake (Jacob) first came out and we began the transition, I call us the transitioning couple be cause we transitioned together, we read a lot of books and watched documentaries that started with a couple and ended with a trans person walking into the sunset alone.
We were talking with people who said, “you’re going to break up.” That was the prevailing notion we kept hearing. We thought very early on, “once we survive this and are on stable ground we want to tell our story about staying together.” There aren’t enough stories about people who do that who have stayed together. Of course, since we’ve been public, we’ve met a lot of couples who have stayed together but who aren’t public.
The mission was to tell the unvarnished truth, but also hopefully inspire people to recognize that relationships in the LGBT community can survive. Not just for couples in transition, but for all of us. Lesbian couples don’t hear enough that our relationships are worthy and that they are worth fighting for and will survive.
Was it hurtful for friends and family to constantly tell you that your marriage was doomed?
I think that part of it was that it was sort of expected, especially from casual friends who have been in this situation and have had friends in this situation. So that was like, “this is what going to happen to you because it happened to my friends.” It worried me definitely. I didn’t want that to happen to us and I thought, “well we’ll work through it.”
I think that Jake was much more impacted because he took a lot of the brunt of it. A lot of people including his mother and his sister (especially his mother) were both like “Diane is going to leave you, you’re happy, you’ve been together 16 years, she’s a lesbian why would she stay with you if you become a man?” I think she was very worried. I don’t think it was a matter of it being hurtful.
It was really fun in the chapter where Jacob talks about how private of a person he is and then spends an entire page talking about his peeing positions. Where did you two draw the line between what to share and what to keep private?
We had an editor that was not as familiar with transpeople. She’s very lovely, but was in a community where she only knows maybe one transperson. She had a lot of “Trans 101” questions. She would send the manuscript back and have all these questions and say, “whatever you’re comfortable with expanding upon please do.”
And some of the questions are “how do you pee now?” or “how did that change?” and some of them are very body specific. The one thing that we said we wouldn’t talk about was Jacob’s genitals. You know, I’ll talk about my vagina for hours. But often people will ask about Jake and they want to know. They think of transition as a very finite thing. Take Renée Richards. How it worked for wealthy white women was they would take a month and go abroad and come back a different person and that’s what people think of as a sex change.
But we know that it’s very different; people come from different places. People will ask if he (Jacob) has the full enchilada, basically meaning, “does he have a penis now?” I’ll counter by saying, “first you tell me about your wife’s vagina.” And that way they can kind of think about, “is it cool to talk about somebody’s genitals.”
Jake’s lovely explanation for that, which I’d like to just repeat. People who haven’t talked about whether they have had bottom surgery are generally people who cant afford it, don’t have access to it, or just know that phalloplasty doesn’t give you the perfect penis.
What we’ve seen out there so far is the people who can’t access it are the ones that have to say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” While the people who can afford it, do talk about it. Leaving the brunt of [responsibility for promoting privacy] to the disenfranchised people. So we actually need all transpeople to say, “we don’t want to talk about that,” in order to make it a level playing field.
Everything else we would talk about [in the book]. We were very aware of not making it a “Trans 101” book, but if these are the questions people are asking, we should answer them. Originally, we were thinking this book was for people like ourselves, who are more in the know with the proper terminology. But even eight years ago, we didn’t know all this information and we assume that other people need more explanation. We hope that it will be informative and interesting for both people who are in the know and people who are less familiar.
The younger generation seems to be more accepting in general. Do you think that it will be easier for the T part of the community to be accepted as we move forward?
Yes, definitely. For the younger generation there’s a fluidity around gender that they are able to express that the other young people who are around them accept. They don’t need to define themselves as much by gender as we did. For example, the Trevor Project, I have a friend who works there who explained to me that they have morning meetings and the people who were gender fluid would choose to identity as male, female, neither, or both depending on how they felt that day.
It’s so difficult to identify outside of the gender binary and young people are driving a lot of the conversation about what it means to be queer and gender neutral or gender queer. This generation will grow up having these conversations. Also, there’s an awareness of transgender children that there’s never been before. We think what happened to Jake, his transition occurring so later in life, will stop happening because kids will start having medical intervention early on. They won’t have surgery before their 18, but just having the hormones to block the characteristics of the sex that the gender they were assigned at birth is amazing.
In the book it’s very obvious that you two are trying to be as respectful as possible and not offend any party while discussing your personal journey. Has there been any backlash?
So far, no. But we actually are expecting it still, so we are on pins and needles. So far, I’ve been surprised by the transpeople who have read and reviewed the piece because they have been kind and I was worried that’s where we might get some backlash. We haven’t experienced that and I don’t know if that’s because not enough people have read it yet or if people really like it.
Janet Mock, did an interview with Piers Morgan and he said, “when you were a boy” and everyone took offense to that. Jake embraces his past as Suzy and was very frank about it.
When I would talk in the past and say “Jacob,” it was difficult for me and it was very confusing. Finally, Jake just said, “why don’t you refer to me as Suzy when you’re talking about the past.”
Normally with a transperson, you wouldn’t talk with them about the name they are assigned at birth or as if they are one person there and one person here. But it was easier for us. I very much think of him as Jake, not Suzy. It was just about talking about my experience with this other person and we were worried people would be upset about that.
He would explain to anybody he doesn’t want to dismiss his years he spent as a lesbian. He doesn’t want his transition to invalidate his time with the lesbian community and feels like an ally to queer and bi women still. He doesn’t want to rewrite history to say that he wasn’t feeling OK then. Yes, he did have something hanging over him, but he did feel like he belonged in that particular way.
I liked the dichotomy in the book in terms of Jacob moving towards himself and firming up his identity and Diane’s being incredibly shaken. Diane, do you have any more resolution on that now? Was writing the book helpful?
I will often say I’m either a lesbian-identified bisexual or a bisexual-identified lesbian. I like queer too. It was hard for me at the very beginning because I was attached so much to the word lesbian and I didn’t want to change or expand that. I also didn’t want people to stop seeing me. I would walk around explaining that Jake used to be a woman and I’m a lesbian. I stopped doing that, luckily for grocers everywhere!
I’ve accepted that there’s a certain level of invisibility that I’m going to have in my daily life. I’m a professional queer, LGBT media is my life. We are so highly involved that I don’t need to worry about invisibility in most of my life. Yes, it’s bad when we are on the street and we want to do the “hey” nod to lesbian couples because they don’t see us. We’ve both had 25 years of doing the, “hey, you’re just like me” nod and now it doesn’t work. We haven’t stopped doing it it’s just that people who have stopped seeing it. It’s hard to lose that.
But I have come to the resolution that I love my husband whatever that makes me it’s fine. People are going to interpret me differently and I’m OK with that. I very much believe in identify politics. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t like labels. I like them. I’m very much a queer femme, bisexual-identified lesbian, lesbian-identified bisexual, however it works.
What advice would you give to people who are currently supporting a partner through a transition?
First thing, get yourself your own therapist because you will have your own issues to deal with and you can’t work them out with your partner. Your partner is going through their own issues and you can’t tell them, “I’m angry.” You can’t, because at the same time your partner is basically going through puberty. You lose part of your partner while they are going through this self-absorbed puberty, meaning their hormones. Think about what you were like at 13 or 14 (assuming you were growing into the body you were meant to grow into). You need someone to support you.
Educate yourself and hang on tight. You have to be willing to make some changes. There are going to be changes and you really need to know that you are ready to do that. If you aren’t going to be able to hang tight through that, you need to talk to a therapist about it and bring your partner in. They need someone who is going to be strong and supportive. It [the transition] will change everything, but it will change nothing. Their presentation changes, how they are viewed by the world changes, but in a lot of ways this is the person you first fell in love with. I can’t imagine wanting to walk away from that.
Reading books by partners of trans people really helps.
Don’t let yourself or the other person push you away. How many partners of transpeople have heard, “you deserve better,” or “you can’t be with me because you love women?” All of these different things that are all about fear. We can’t let fear push us apart.
Do you think the next idea to write a book about the beginning of your relationship? Will you include anything on Jake’s transition from abled to disabled?
Yes, absolutely. When Jake was first injured and we started reading about disability, I was like, “you aren’t disabled, you’re just injured,” which is a phobia speaking. Recognizing that has been helpful. Something like 80 percent of all people will be disabled during their lifetime.
For some of us it happens as we age and some people are younger, some are born with it. The more we can actually learn to embrace disability, the better it’s going to be for all of us. Baby boomers are living so much longer than their parents and dealing with these issues as their parents age. People are learning to embrace disability as a thing that doesn’t stop you from making a living, being attractive, socializing and all these ways that we often position disability. We make it “other” and assign all these things to it we de-sex it. I think the baby boomers are going to be the ones to change that.
In the LGBT community, there’s an unspoken mandate to put our best foot forward. Oftentimes, I’ll write a story about a crime where the person is LGBT and people will say, “why did you have to write this it makes us look bad?” But we can’t pretend that we are all perfect. That domestic violence doesn’t happen in our community, we can’t pretend that all these diff things don t exist because we want to put our best foot forward. Lets stop pretending we aren’t disabled and talk about it.
“Queerly Beloved” is available on Amazon.