The love that dare not speak its name in 2021 is queer, even though it is heterosexual. It is barely acknowledged, and the words for it are filled with contempt, claiming the woman “wears the trousers” in the relationship, the man is “pussy-whipped”. In reality, the man is supportive and yielding, which is seen as feminine. The woman is assertive. They fit together, complementing each other, as well as the most stereotypical relationship where the man is strong and the woman is grateful, but are rarely visible, leave alone celebrated.
I am a trans woman, but I think of my sexuality as male. The best word I can think of for reclamation is “pansy”, meaning feminine male. Pansies are soft, gentle, eirenic. The stupidest criticism of them is that they are not like “manly” men- they have different gifts, but equal worth. The word “virago” has been reclaimed already, by Virago Press. Viragos are decisive, assertive and spirited. “Manly” men, too scared to engage with them, respond by dismissal or condemnation.
These relationships can work. My parents loved each other, and had a strong bond until my mother’s death. Shortly after, my father found another strong woman. I look back to puberty and see that was my desire, though I could not have named it. It’s part of my wish for an older partner. My first girlfriend when I was 18 was 27. Later I had a girlfriend ten years older. I was bowled over by Edwin Muir’s powerful woman, in “Dialogue”-
Men come and go, the wise and the fanciful.
I ride my horse and make it go my way.
And I did not make the relationships work. My mother was terrified of anyone finding out, and so we kept ourselves to ourselves and never spoke of it, and aged 26 I was so desperate to fit gender stereotypes that I joined the Territorial Army. I had a concept of manliness that I tried to live up to, seeing myself as inferior rather than different, a lie I did not have the language or stories to counter.
My father often expressed delight seeing my mother driving off on call, professional and determined, loving her demeanour, yet our first frank discussion of it was in 2013, just before he died. When all the culture tells me that the relations of men and women should work the other way, I tried to be the “man” (meaning cliché) in a relationship. I realised that a lot of what I want in a relationship is to appear normal, to fit in to standard roles so fit in to society. It would mean playing a part, but it would make me feel safer.
It is the same for others. I met Jake and his girlfriend one weekend. She wanted him to “man up”, and he wanted to comply, though I could see it was making him stressed and miserable. Six months later I saw him again, after they split up, and he was so much more relaxed. Jack told my friend H and I that his girlfriend wanted him to man up. H likes soft men, I tried to talk him out of it, but Jack was going to try- to try to be someone else and not him, to mimic gifts he did not have rather than manifesting his own. It did not last, of course, but trying gave him a great deal of grief, without making her happy at all.
H found an artist who she thought at first was gay, he so luxuriated in his softness. He was happy in his own skin. He surprised her and they were happy together for a time, but had different interests.
I can think of few cultural examples, and only one happy. In “The Game”, I was delighted to sense that vibe in one couple, only to find they were traitors. There was a couple on “LA Law” in the 1980s. We need positive stories. Now, I imagine opening like a flower to the right woman, but when younger the image would have terrified me, making me freeze in a trauma response.
So I write this. If it fits you, you are not alone, and you are not deficient. You can be completed in relationship by someone who matches you. A woman told me “My husband dominated me,” and they fitted together beautifully: it can work just as well the other way round. I write this because I know: there is nothing wrong with us, and we are not alone.