When I came out as transgender, one of the first other trans women I befriended warned me about the perils of “trans-lesbianism”. She had told me that while it can be amazing and affirming to be with someone who truly understands the euphoric highs and dysphoric lows of living in a trans body, it can also lead to a lot of mutual wallowing and spiralling anger about the difficulties of navigating the world as a trans person. We eventually had a falling out, as she was dealing with a lot of bitterness and internalised transphobia, but what I learned was that I really wanted close trans friends. I just didn’t want being trans to be all we had in common.
My fiancée and I are both queer and polyamorous. About a year after I came out, when I was a bit more confident in my identity, we decided to go on dating apps. One fear I had about coming out was that I would be undesirable, even to my partner who had dated trans and gender diverse people before me. It’s an insecurity I acknowledge comes from internalised transphobia, from a lack of media representation of healthy trans relationships, and the shaming of attraction to trans women that pervaded mainstream pop culture, particularly growing up in the nineties: “chick with a dick” was a punchline or a deceptive villain.
Dipping my toes (and eventually bomb diving) into Tinder made me realise how much trans women are very much sought after, unfortunately often in a fetishising or problematic way. I experienced many “chasers” (men who fetishise trans women) asking to see my genitals almost immediately, most of them promising that they could pleasure me in any way I wanted, without asking any actual questions about me; “gold star lesbians” (cisgender lesbians who have never had anything to do with penises) who wanted to “try transgender”; and some straight up abuse, but I also met a lot of amazing trans femmes, including a couple of the girls who I now hang out with all the time.
While cooking vego tacos together at one of our houses we came up with the name “Baby Butch Gang”. It’s a reference to “Chained Girls” a 1965 exploitation film about the “perils of lesbianism” that two of us had watched together on a date. We had laughed and made out while a David Attenborough-esque voice-over warned of the “gangs” of young lesbians stalking the streets of every major city looking for new girls to indoctrinate. More affirming than being found attractive has been connecting with other femmes and forming valuable and supportive friendships. Polyamory for me seems to mean having cute friends to watch movies and go out to dinner with, and then also sometimes kiss.
Recently my fiancée told me my little trans femme posse sounds like the “goth lesbians” they hung out with in high school, with the sleepovers and occasional “exploring” with each other. The other similarity is that most of Baby Butch Gang are right in the middle or somewhere at the beginning of our second puberty. We’re all taking hormones and talk openly about the changes in our bodies, minds, and moods. Despite us all being in our twenties and thirties, there’s definitely something joyously teenage about our hang outs. Some of us trade clothes or make up advice, we talk about the kinds of boys, girls, and non-binary people we’re into, and gossip about other girls.
It’s the kind of group I wish I had in high school. Often my closest friends as a teenager were female. After high school I spent a couple of years in a friendship group that was mostly cis women but I always felt somewhat on the outside. One of the most strengthening things about coming out has been experiencing what can be the warmth of female spaces and how most of the time women are so ready to be there for other women. I feel that particularly my friendships with other women of colour (trans and cis) has become a lot stronger. There’s a shorthand in any marginalised group and specific ways of supporting and understanding the challenges of surviving and thriving in a cis-hetero-white-patriarchal culture.
Honestly though, when Baby Butch Gang catches up most of what we do is kind of ordinary, wholesome, and not necessarily involving our transness. We watch movies, go to each other’s gigs (I’m a musician and two of the girls are stand-up comedians), drink cocktails, eat out, stay in and cook together, go out dancing, play board games, and just generally goof around. Knowing that my womanhood is not being questioned or scrutinised means that I often find myself being my most femme and girly around them. We have each other’s back and we all understand just how valuable that is for girls like us.
Heather Joan Day is a trans femme writer.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_.
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