Daisy In Cement: Before and After

As some of you may already know, I was recently published in an anthology by Transgress Press. Love Always is a collection of short works by the partners of trans folks about the challenges, triumphs, and romance of these relationships. This blog post is meant to shed light on why I originally wrote the piece, deciding to get published after heartbreak, and how things have changed since then. Oh and a little not so objective gushing review. You can purchase the book HERE. love always1 That would be me totally cheesing over receiving my contributor copy, and seeing my name published in a book for the first time ever!!!! Still  absolutely surreal. lovealways3love always2

Why I Wrote  “Daisy in Cement” 

Love stories rarely tell queer romances. Romances in mainstream movies, song, television, and even in marketing advertisements are primarily targeted towards a heterosexual audience. Although at the time I found myself in a “heterosexual” relationship, I couldn’t see myself portrayed in these images, as the leading lady was never a lesbian, and the leading man never transgender. Even on the rare occasion that a story of transgender person makes it into the media, the narrative often solely focus on the transition process; what is almost always forgotten is that nobody transitions alone. This process is one that often intimately involves other people whether that’s family, a counselor, physicians, friends, a support group, or a lover. I needed a love story that spoke to my triumphs and struggles as a partner of a trans person. I needed to know that my relationship was possible; that there was hope. The only passage I had read when my partner came out to me as trans was the following, “partners of FTM participants who identified as lesbian often had an especially hard time coping with the loss of their own identities. For some partners, it had been an arduous process to accept and take pride in themselves as lesbians, and now this hard-won accomplishment was being taken away,” (Beemyn & Rankin, 2011, p. 70). This was followed by, “some of the FTM-lesbian couples were able to get past their struggles,”…. just some. But I didn’t feel an immediate loss of identification when my partner came out, because 98% of the time I as assumed entirely heterosexual anyways (the struggle of being a femme). My sexual identity has been largely invisible my entire life. So this tiny note about FTM relationships with lesbians felt about as foreign as the heterosexual romances blasted over mainstream media. As Janet Mock says in her new book, Redefining Realness, “I know intimately what it feels like to crave representation and validation, to see your life reflected in someone who speaks deeply to whom you know yourself to be, echoes your reality, and instills you with possibility, (2014, p. xvi).

I needed love stories that represented who I was, who my partner was, to remind me that not only was our love possible, but it was magical. These stories didn’t exist. When love stories like yours don’t exist, you simply have write your own as act of validation, and a symbol of resistance. The love story I wrote was a point of defiance in the mainstream portrayal of romance between a man and woman. It is was anything but heteronormative, and it was beautiful. My love story was a refusal to the one paragraph acknowledgement of FTM-lesbian relationships in “The Lives of Transgender People” .  And in part, I penned our romance so I could have something tangible to prove our love existed; so that if we became a statistic of another failed FTM-lesbian relationship I would always knows that at some point there was an undeniable love between us; there was context behind that statistic more valuable than the end result. Our story was a point disidentification (Munoz, 1999) with the only thing being told about FTM-lesbian relationships is that they are hard; maybe even close to impossible. I am not denying that navigating our relationship was fought with difficulties. What I am denying is the notion that these hardships were the only notable thing about us. What about love? What about silliness? What about exploration? What about triumph? These too are parts of FTM-lesbian relationships. Those are stories I needed when my partner came out to me, and that’s precisely the story I’ve told. Although, I wrote this in a large part for myself, it was also my hope that in sharing my story, people would feel empowered to share their own queer romances. Society does far too much of painting a picture of what love should look like with no regard to the complexity of diverse sexual and gender identifications. This was my push back. This was and is my very queer love story.

Why I Decided to Publish After Heart Break 

When I originally penned mine and Jays* love story (and the above remarks immediately after finishing), I was enthralled; swallowed in the midst of our relationship. I was deeply in love with Jay. And sinking those emotions into a page while they were still pulsing through my veins was an entirely foreign experience for me. You see, writing this story, our story, was the first time I had ever written about love for someone in the present tense. I almost always waited until the loss of a person to hash out my feelings on paper. I guess for the most part when I am happy I don’t think about writing. I like to soak in the moment, like a seed that has felt rain for the first time. I’m never worried about drowning or even an impending drought, I’m merely blooming; existing. It isn’t until these memories begin to slip through my fingers, the way that heavy rain does as you try to catch it, that the reality of loss forces me into writing; frantically attempting to preserve fleeting emotions. And so what I wrote about Jay, and our relationship, might possibly be the most sincere thing I’ve ever written. The emotions weren’t recalled, but raw. I submitted Daisy in Cement while I still was waking up every morning beside what seemed like the whole universe, drowning in depth of Jay’s blue eyes over and over again.
By the time Transgress Press notified me Daisy in Cement was going to be published, Jay was gone. Our breakup was incredibly raw, and for those of you who know me personally, witnessed a tiny sliver of pain I was going through, as I tried to hide the worst of it. I had never experienced betrayal quite like that before, so, you can imagine the dilemma I faced. Did I really still want to publish our love story while I was drowning in the loss of our relationship? The sting of losing Jay reverberated through every fiber of my body so constant that sometimes it felt like my heartbeat; maybe it was only pain that pulsed through me that summer. I couldn’t even bring myself to reread the piece when I received the news, so did I really want the world to read it? Did I want friends and strangers alike to see my heart laid so tenderly across butchering block? Did I want everyone to know I fell like a fool?
I was overcome with fear, sadness, and embarrassment. Ultimately, I realized these emotions were nothing more than the echo of my ego. I re-read why I had written the piece (the words above), and it suddenly became clear that there was no space for my bruised pride. This was an important story, and it needed to be told. What happened with me and Jay after Daisy in Cement doesn’t negate any of the feelings I had during that moment in time. That story is every bit as real today as it was then, and every bit as important.
The irony of it all was bittersweet. I was finally being published, a dream come true, but it was story that I was afraid to read. It was memories I had spent months drowning out with Sam Smith and countless bottles of wine, tools I used to force memories of Jay into the depth of cells. I was terrified to let myself relive those feelings . It was far too painful for me. Even during the editing process I would skim the words, but still couldn’t engage with what I wrote. I probably would have caught some of the errors printed in my piece, had I been able to actually reread the story. But, I have come to kind of love the mistakes in Daisy in Cement, as they are a true testament to how in the moment the story was, and how far I’ve come in terms of healing since then.Its flaws are what make it perfect, and I am thankful now to have them preserved in a published work.
How Things Have Changed Since Daisy In Cement

When I wrote Daisy In Cement , throughout the rest of my relationship with Jay, and even for a while after our split, I was self-identifying as a lesbian. As I made clear in my piece included in the Love Always anthology, I felt my right to self-determination was fundamental. I had fought hard both internally and with my conservative family to express and embrace my lesbian identity. I did not feel that falling in love with Jay changed this. I felt that he was my exception. He was the perfect and only man my heart was designed to love, and therefore I did not think this really altered my sexual orientation. Orientation means a “main interest”and at the time, I didn’t feel as if my main interest in women was somehow blasted into oblivion by Jay’s gender. Jay was Jay, and I was in love with him for a thousand reasons that burned like wildfire. Revealing his gender did not put out a single flame, in fact his sincerity and vulnerability in sharing his true self with me only hurled me deeper into fire that was Jay; I was engulfed.

Eventually though, after the end of our relationship, my family and other people I held close to my heart began to hurl my lesbian identity at my already fractured heart. “What was the point of coming out Amber if you were just going to date a dude???” “Why wouldn’t you break up with him the moment he told you he was guy if you are really a lesbian” etc etc etc. I was already so tender. The last thing I needed was have my identity shit on because I fell in love with a guy who ultimately broke my heart. I didn’t want to hear about how foolish I was, or how I should have left. Lesbian became sort of a sore spot, a way for people to rub salt in a gaping wound. An identity that once felt safe began to feel perilous. However, as scary as my place of solitude had become, it still felt like home; dysfunctional but true.
It wasn’t until I began to date again that I recognized that Jay was not an exception, he was just a revolution. He opened my eyes up to the possibility of loving beyond the borders of binary gender. He forever changed the way I view gender and sexuality, and since him I have discovered an interest in bunch of queer identities, not just women.
But Jay did not just expand my sexuality, he also helped me find purpose. My love for him and earnest desire to be an informed capable partner initially pushed me into the Queer Studies department at Oregon State University. It was in these classes that I fell in love wit feminist and queer theory.  I finally found a field that excited me, ans challenged me. I discovered a niche I knew I could uniquely contribute to and a career path that I was genuinely excited about.  None of this would have been unearthed had I not fallen for Jay. So, in truth, Jay opened far more doors in my life than he ever closed.
But, lesbian didn’t feel like home anymore. It felt like sweater that suddenly fits too tight after you accidentally put in the dryer. It was too small of a label; constricting who I could and couldn’t date just the way the label straight had before I came out. I slowly started to identify at a queer femme lesbian, which became quite the mouthful.
Hi, I’m Amber. I am a queer femme lesbian
Eventually I felt comfortable enough to shed the term lesbian all together.
Queer Femme 
I have truly found a home in the term queer as it is unhinged from gender in beautiful way that allows me fluidity in my attractions. Just a week ago I ran into an old coworker who invited to me brunch and said bring your lady…or your man…or whoever you are dating now days. I never know with you. I just winked and said, I keep you on your toes don’t I? and walked away.  The uncertainty settled well with me. In that way, queer is a mansion that I’m quite certain I will never outgrow.
Besides the end of our relationship, shifting to a queer identity, and healing a broken heart, only a few things has changed from what I wrote. I am still a femme through and through, and yes it is still hard to keep me in pants.  Although, I have abandoned trying to pee standing up, as Jay was always much better at that than I was (you’ll understand this if you read the piece). And, I can finally read Daisy in Cement now and smile about how foolishly in love I was, and how fucking wonderful so many of the shared moments were. I am not bitter, or hurt anymore. I am thankful for an experience that lead to so much growth. My love with Jay may not have been permanent, but it was cataclysmic.
Not So Objective Gushing Review of  Love Always 

Reading Love Always was a completely cathartic experience. As I thumbed through my love story alongside so many others, I was brought back into my being. So many of these stories echoed the emotions I had been forcing into silence. Their words sung to my soul, nourishing it back to state of entirety. I cannot thank Transgress Press, the editors Jordon Johnson and Becky Garrison, and all the incredible contributors enough for creating such a healing body of literature. I would highly recommend this book to any current, or former partner of a trans folk, and to any trans person wanting to gain a glimpse into the unique experience of being a partner.
Although the entire book was excellent, there were a number of pieces that were total stand-outs to me. I have listed some of these below (there were just too many!!!).
  • “Tin Porn Star” – Jaime M. Grant : Jaime’s account of intimacy after her partner’s double-mascetomy is loving, sensual, and absolutely addictive. It’s one of those works that makes your whole body tingle, and hair on your arm stand up as you bite your lower lip trying not to squeal from the intensity. I’ve never read 50 Shades of Gray, but I would confidently bet quite a bit of money that this is about 33 times more sexy than anything written in that novel.
  • “A Femme’s Chrysalis”- Isabella Abrahams : First off, the alliteration and imagery in this piece is flawless. The words are so perfectly crafted they dance through your mind in flawless choreography. She also speaks to the truth of, “finding ways to protect him, without emasculating him,” a  familiar challenge to me . As a fellow femme, she put this experience into far better words than I have ever been able to.
  • “How My Partner’s Transition Gave Me Schlubby Ape-Man Complex”-Justin Ropella: This piece is absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t stop ferociously snickering on the plane as I found myself playfully relating to new found insecurity as your partner begins to criticize parts of their own body that you so happen to share. Suddenly you begin questioning whether they are even attracted to you at all. Does he hate my hips as much as he hates is own, etc, etc etc. You quickly become hyper-aware of body parts you may have never noticed before, putting your own body under the same microscope your partner is. Justin paints this arduous process with such humor that makes it easier to laugh at yourself; to give your body damn break. Thank you Justin.
  • “Lost in Transition” -Mignonne Pollard: My heart ached alongside Mignonne as I know what it is like to find yourself in love with possibly the right person at the absolute wrong time. Everyone wants to be the end, but sometimes you are just the transition girl. 
  • “Hello Ladies”- Shawnee Parens : Oh man. There is nothing worse than the constant Hello Ladies when you are out and about with your man. Its like you are set to have a wonderful day, and then that shit. And its always the worse in these “progressive” areas as people gleam with pride as if to say look at me recognizing you as lesbians. I need a gold star. Actually you need to quit your assumptions because you just made an ass of yourself, and quite possibly ruined my partner’s day. This piece is daily life.
  • “Cocoon” -S.J. Sindu : This piece absolutely cut through my soul and quite honestly left me breathless. “I can tell you I love your scars. Do you see mine? Remnants of internal bleeding cut by your manhood. This is your story but I am the pages you mark with the ink of transition. branded. the discarded cocoon”.
  • “Letter to My Trans Boyfriend” – Anne Totero: When you are completely in love with someone its hard to understand when they don’t see their self as perfect as you do. Anne’s poem captures this tango between professing your love while validating their very real feelings of dysphoria. It’s a dangerous dance that I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to get right.
  • “No Big Deal” – Blair Braverman : There is something wonderfully effortless about about Blair’s piece, and it was absolutely the best line to end the book with.

“Recently we watched a video of Laverne Cox’s powerful speech at the 2014 Creating Change conference. We were especially struck by one line: “loving trans people is a revolutionary act”. On a societal level that’s true, but between you and me? We looked at each other and shrugged. My love for you isn’t revolutionary. It’s inevitable”

I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes falling in love is extraordinary and absolutely ordinary at the same time. Maybe the revolutionary part isn’t falling in love, but rather sharing out love story with others. Thank you for sharing yours.

*Jay is the pseudonym used in Love Always and has been maintained in this piece as to not contradict or infringe on the anonymity agreed on with the publishing house.

Works Cited

Beemyn, G. & Rankin, S. (2011). The Lives of Transgender People. New York: Columbia Press.

Johnson, J. & Garrison, B. (Eds.). (2015). Love Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge, and Resilience. Oakland: Transgress Press.

Munoz, J. (1999). Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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