Being trans means leaving the system of standardized desire.
When people line up “boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl,” we no longer fit easily into that structure.
Instead of fitting nicely into the paradigm of seeking — men seeking women, women seeking men, men seeking men, women seeking women — we are other.
We demand to claim our expression as an individual, which means we have to be desired as an individual.
This doesn’t mean that we aren’t desirable and lovable, it just means that it always takes awareness to have even a brief awareness with a transperson. We may be very clear on who we desire, but we demand that our partners be comfortable with their own bisexuality so they can love all of us.
Letting our freak flag fly liberates us, but it also limits the partners who are ready to do the work to be with us. Our potential partner pool (PPP) becomes smaller as we move away from normative conventions of desire, in age, in size, in gender, in just the inner work we have had to do to own our own heart, to be comfortable in our own skin.
All of this means transpeople are lonely. What makes you exceptional must inevitably also make you lonely, as Lorraine Hansbury reflected on James Baldwin.
For us, love stops being practical and becomes abstracted. When we don’t fit neatly into expectations, don’t simply fit into the movies and dreams other people keep inside of them, we don’t just fit into relationship.
As a human, as a woman, abstracted love may be the best that I can do, but it is hardly fulfilling.
Celibacy means the renouncing of sexual desire. Abstinence is not having sexual partners, even though you have sexual feelings & thoughts.
Some religions pushed the belief that having variant, non-heterosexual desire was not a sin, but acting on those desires is a sin. You can’t help it if you desire others of the same sex, but if you don’t deny those desires, preferably staying celibate but at least staying abstinent, you become an abomination in the view of God.
For them, homosexual desire was the same as having the desire to murder someone. Everyone has feelings that are impure sometimes, but acting on these feelings makes us corrupt an a sinner.
This sentenced those with variant desire to a life with only abstracted love, denying them the physical intimacy that is a core part of deep, bonded, mature human relationships. They were SOL.
For people who live within the conventions of desire, those who shape their own role and expression to live within expected attraction, living outside of that desire is almost impossible to comprehend. They like the sparks, need the sparks of attraction and can lean into them.
Even if as they mature, younger days of embodied desire, a time when things were simpler and hotter, is always accessible to them.
Transpeople, especially transpeople who emerged later in life, just don’t have those habits and conventions. We learned to not act on our desire, to fear even simple flirting, because the perception of our gender could shift in any moment and the “third gotcha” could swallow our safety.
Relationships where we have to negotiate the expectations of others, where we are expected to play the role they believe their lover, their partner should play, get very very difficult for us. We may be able to tamp down our own desire just to get something back, but always, always, always at a dear cost. (2006)
For me, this has meant staying abstinent. I can’t imagine where I would go to connect with others who are ready to consider a romantic, intimate relationship with me.
This has lead me to a state of aesthetic denial, my beliefs having to adapt to the scarcity presented to me in the world. That scarcity of intimate love started very early for me, with two Aspergers parents, so I grew up with an understanding of abstracted love. My relationships followed patterns familiar to lesbians, though because I was male bodied, I was never simply allowed into that community, never supported in those paired desires.
I learned, at great cost, how to love myself, to become intimate with my own thoughts and feelings, but I never learned how to trust others with my heart. They found it big, queer and overwhelming, not getting the joke, not respecting my tenderness.
In the last week, I have seen a TV show where a woman needs, needs, needs intimacy and heard ShamanGal say that her mother sensed some of her discord comes from the knowledge of how hard it will be to find a partner who is ready, willing and able to love her fully.
I look around and see other transwomen who have had to learn to live with abstracted love, apart from the present and practical love that the normative, especially the younger ones take for granted.
Taking care of my parents for the last decade of their life cast me in the role of spinster, her abstracted love redirected to family. I still do this sometimes with my sister — I gave her an day of travelling companionship that was easy & luxurious for — but working love for the family has never satisfied my need for layered intimacy, creative, intellectual, emotional and physical.
As a woman, I find living without love, without deep and flowing love, to be very difficult. Every woman needs getting loose sometimes, needs to fall into her own sensuality, abandon and Eros. We get a bit dried up and crazy without it.
Settling for abstracted love, for channelling that powerful force into limited and possible channels is a reasonable and good thing, but it is not a satisfying thing. It’s like a diet without some essential vitamins; it may keep you alive, but the deficiencies will always take a toll.
I make the most of what I can get. I have learned to live with aesthetic denial from a very young age. I do the best with my love, using my head the best that I can.
But abstracted love, away from the immersive power and mirroring of deep intimacy, well, it can only keep you sort of alive.
2 thoughts on “Abstracted Love”
“We get a bit dried up and crazy without it.”
Alack! it is indubitably true.
There must always have been those who did not marry. Perhaps they got themselves to a nunnery, or became a maiden aunt, or an old maid, or a spinster… or something more desperate still.
Well, what of it?
It is a challenging life, being denied the juiciest fulfillment which the flesh, the tender heart, the love-drunk soul can conceive. We should not have to resign ourselves to such an outcome for reasons of mere circumstance, when our heart is not truly in it, for going this difficult way.
My celibacy is, in the psychoanalytic phrase, “overdetermined.” There are reasons, and there are reasons.
I must be abstinent, yet I choose to be celibate. Would I have made the second choice if I had not been faced with the first necessity? Perhaps, or perhaps not; I think it is a pointless thought experiment to question it at this point. What is not, cannot be.
Let me rather gather up all my longing (which is) and await the next development, denying as little as I can of what is now, my joys and my unfulfilled dreams. What is not today, may be tomorrow, in one form or another, for life is growth, and what our Lord assured the woman who was concerned about many things was that, “Martha, I am the Resurrection and the Life!”
This paragraph, coming from the writings of Helen Luke, has been with me a while. I think about this “kind of death” and I wonder about this “sometimes perhaps even more profoundly”:
I have a love for the Bountiful Lady, for the Empress, who receives our offerings of fruits and flowers and rich fabrics to adorn her enormous body. I will not accept the death of aesthetic denial, not quietly. I make my protest.
Yet I find this is where I am situated, and I honor my love by honoring it here, exactly as I find it.
But you make such a good point, and I took this post to heart when I read it this morning, while lying on the edge of my porch and grounding my feet in the dirt, with my cat Milo rubbing his furs all up against me, eager for loves and head scratches, eager for his breakfast.
I do not want my love to be any more abstracted than it has to be. (If it has to be, then it is a matter of practical loving to find out how to make it work as well as it can do, so that what is here goes not to waste.)
I do not seek a partner in this life (this probably makes me different from most trans people, just as it does from most people overall), but I know it is a very high calling to Make Love, and I have this vision of that which spills over the bounds of a relationship into the wider circle of humanity, and I want in my way to create a Home that may warm others: friends, guests, and strangers passing through.
Do I not need someone to hold me and cherish me, to help me sustain the fire? It is for this reason I would want to be a domina, a lady of the house, and a fulfilled wife–to be a heart in the bosom of a family.
But I think my love goes by another way than this. I take very much to heart the spiritual and symbolic life, to the point where it is no mere symbol, but I find it turning up everywhere and in the most mundane and practical things. Not everybody finds this growing in them to the same degree, even those of many hookups and serial monogamies. (So take that, sexy ladies!)
True, I need humans to love, and to love me. But there are ways for this to happen. I am a part of this world, and in fact can scarcely avoid it.
Whatever this is, it is enough. By the time I get to eternity, it will be enough. I believe that.
(And why were the Vestals virgins, whose lives were dedicated to tending the sacred flame? Simply to sidestep the difficulty of finding adequate childcare while Mommy goes in to work? Or are there other reasons, and more integral to the tale?
I ask this rhetorically, and also because I genuinely want to know the answer. And I only just begin to understand.)
To me, celibacy is about service, about commitment to some structure.
I can imagine being celibate as part of a community with shared vision and beliefs, with a set of strictures that one agrees to.
Even then, though, I don’t see it is healthy to commit to celibacy if you have never experienced and matured in the desires of the flesh. Too much celibacy, I fear, is about preempting the desires of the flesh, rather than a wise renouncing of them, which can lead people to an unhealthy, stunted desire, one that has to be wrapped in manipulation, secrecy, denial and hypocrisy. Hierarchical organizations often value continued infantilization as a kind of embodied purity, an fixated virginity, which creates problems.
I remember an SNL skit where they ran a candidate who was definitely not going to be involved in a sex scandal because Terry Ferguson lost his genitals in a fire.
He was a crap candidate, but he was virginal and pure, sothat should be enough.
Renouncing fleshly desire is a powerful spiritual tool, allowing us to see and feel beyond our own neediness, keeping focus and energy on other quests.
My abstinence has given me clarity, yes. I have used it to move beyond the entanglements of chasing some sensation to fill up my emptiness.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t know myself as rich with Eros, that thoughts of intimate relations don’t pass through me.
I like my Eros. I need my Eros. For me, that is the line between celibacy and abstinence, the choice of giving my desire to a community or keeping it within me, an ember that I just don’t seek to fan into flames at whatever cost.
Moving beyond being a slave to desire has been a powerful spiritual discipline for me.
But my desire, well, it is too much of a part of me to try and deny or hide under a bucket. It is, I know, a gift from my creator, part of living a rich & full human life.