Diane Anderson Minshall had a wife. Now she has a husband. But she’s been married to the same person the whole time. Queerly Beloved, a memoir she and her husband Jacob wrote together, is the story of how they went through Jacob’s gender transition and came out the other side, still a happily married couple.
Diane Anderson Minshall is a famous figure in the world of lesbian and gay magazine publishing and was actually my editor at Curve Magazine, a lesbian monthly, back when I freelanced for them. So I was very curious to read Diane’s account of her personal experiences in her own words. Having known Diane only professionally, and only by email, I was surprised by how candid she is in this book, especially since the whole LGBT world knows who she is. At least anyone who has read one of the three major gay and/or lesbian magazines: Advocate, Out or Curve. Having read the book, which alternates between Diane and Jacob’s point of view, I was also very curious to ask Jacob a few questions.
SL: Jacob, you were in a same-sex relationship with Diane for many years before realizing you wanted to transition. Why do you think it took so long to realize you were transgender?
JAM: I know! It should have been obvious, and when I look back on my life now I see all these clues; like breadcrumbs I was leaving myself. But I just didn’t notice. I think there are a number of reasons it took me so long to realize I was transgender. For one, Diane has always had the uncanny ability to see through me. I’ve always felt that she saw the real me.
I had also found a gender expression within the lesbian community that I thought fit perfectly: I was butch-identified. I met other, often old school, butches, who seemed to share my sense of self.
SL: Jacob, what do you think were the main triggers for realizing you are a man and not a woman?
JAM: I finally realized that I was less a butch lesbian and more a geeky guy when several things coalesced. I had been a park ranger but was injured on the job and was out on worker’s comp. The injury and resulting chronic pain really forced my attention onto my physical self; which was the one area of discomfort in my life. Simultaneously I began reading a batch of trans memoirs and seeing my life story reflected in their stories. Several pieces by trans men really helped me realize the ways I wasn’t like other butch lesbians. In particular, most butches embrace their femaleness. Although I identified with women I had never truly identified as a woman. And when I used a trans identity as a cypher, my life seemed to make more sense. It was one of those epiphany moments where suddenly everything seems to come into focus.
SL: Some trans people find that they are attracted to genders they weren’t previously, after starting on hormones. Did this happen to you?
JAM: I think I understand men’s sexuality more now than I did back then. I am sometimes surprised by the sexual thoughts or images that will pop uninvited into my head. I do think that I find more men attractive now, and men have entered my sexual fantasies in a way they hadn’t before. But my sundial is still pointed squarely at Diane.
SL: Why do you think your relationship was able to survive your gender switch?
JAM: We had already been together 15 years when we went through this transition. Together we’d already overcome numerous obstacles as a couple. We’d also always been remarkably close and shared many values and perspectives; including our complex feelings about our Idaho home towns. As a couple, we’d embraced the term co-dependent because we felt like we were dependent on each other. I couldn’t imagine my life without Diane. We didn’t even like to spend a single night apart. We had even worked together from a home office where we rarely saw other people. By the time we got to my transition our relationship had become very resilient. In some ways it survived because we refused to give it up. Our other identities may have shifted over the years, but our identity as a couple never has. Plus, being single again sounds exhausting!
SL: Diane, you were used to going to queer events as part of a same-sex couple. Now that you are showing up with a man, do people treat you any differently?
DAM: Yes, if they don’t know me, especially. We’re lucky to be fairly public people in some circles and so when we show up together, those folks just treat us like they always did. But if we’re at a big event with lots of strangers, I think we blend in and folks look at me as just some straight girl. Guys will hit on Jake, even if we’re together, but women don’t hit on me if we are. [laughing] It’s frustrating to be so invisible after being so out for so long.
SL: Diane, you said in the book about an earlier time, “I tried to claim a bisexual identity. It went over so poorly I never did it again.” When was this and what was said to you? How did it make you feel?
DAM: When I first came out, I wrote an essay in this book “Closer to Home”, which was about bisexuality and feminism and I wrote about being bi then. But I really got the sort of Dan Savage treatment; the vast majority of people treating me as if I was on a stopover to lesbianville or it was a phase, an experiment, or something for the titillation of boys, especially because I was femme and didn’t yet know about femme identity. I fought it for awhile and said that I wasn’t going to invalidate all my happy, successful relationships with men. I was never one of those lesbians who felt like, Oh it was never right, I hated sex with boys, etc. so I didn’t want to dismiss the very real, important relationships with boys. But after awhile it all seemed to be so far removed from my life, and I felt my allegiance and identity very woven with lesbian identity. And after you’ve been with ONLY women for decades, and your friends are all queer girls, and your commitment is to women’s culture, it’s easy to feel like, “OK, that was how I felt then but now there’s no debating that I’m a lesbian; even if I still find men attractive, the attraction is significantly lower than women and I know I’ll never be with a man again…” Little did I know… And you know over the years, I used queer and lesbian interchangeably, the latter mostly because my readers used it. I’ve always felt queer. And I’ve always been super bi-friendly, which did not jibe with other lesbians on occasion. I remember I wrote an article about the treatment Anne Heche received after the Ellen breakup, how she was completely dismissed as a straight girl who did nothing for us and I was aghast at that. Surely her relationship pushed visibility of same-sex relationships to a whole other level. And just because her next partner was a man doesn’t mean she isn’t still queer. But of course, I got lambasted for that article. Another time, when my friend Athena, who had been lesbian-identified, fell in love with a man, we wrote an article together on the quandary for Bitch magazine, called “What Happens to a Dyke Deferred?” I’d write it differently today, a decade or more later, but it offered a salient look at what happens when a queer woman falls in love with a man, how terrifying it can be to treated like a poser or fake, a la Joanne Loulan, or feeling kicked out of the club. Fortunately, I had far less of that because of the timing of my announcement, but I still lost something when I came out as someone who loved a man.
In Part Two of this article Diane Anderson-Minshall answers these questions:
How did Jacob’s transition from female to male affect your identity?
What are the three things you miss the most about having a wife?
What do you like the most about having a husband who is still queer?
Since you acquired a husband, how have your own personal attitudes about bisexuality and bi people in the queer community changed?