“The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” – George Orwell, 1984
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Nevlynn:
“If any of the men I’ve had intercourse with in the past… demanded that I see them as a woman I would refuse… I was having sex with a man… That was my lived experience.”
When I entered into a relationship with my soon-to-be-husband, I was not entering into a lesbian relationship. In fact, I gave up a lesbian identity to be with him. I lost contact with my lesbian friends, I stopped going to “the bar” (because he didn’t want to be seen as a tourist, tellingly), and I removed a gay pride sticker from my car bumper out of respect for our relationship. That was in some ways a disorienting and sad experience for me, but I did it for the man I was in love with.
When we went to the courthouse to get a marriage license, we weren’t turned away like a same-sex couple would have been in my state at the time. When we bought a house we didn’t have to look for a gay-friendly neighborhood to keep from getting beat up. No one looked at us funny when we picked out a queen-sized mattress and tested it out together in the store. It was easier for us than it is for lesbian couples. Because he is a man.
In contrast, my relationship with my girlfriend a few years prior was a whole different thing. When you’re in a gay relationship, some people hate you, and some people tolerate you, and some people are fine with you. Very few people celebrate you. But when you’re in a heterosexual relationship, I can say from experience, you’re treated as part of the Grand Plan of the universe. People fawn on you when you get engaged. People you don’t know coo and hug you. All religious people love you (and there are a lot of them); they even forget you’re atheists for a while because you’re doing the right thing. You get free things on your honeymoon, every time you turn around.
That’s how things were for us. Because I’m a woman, and he’s a man.
When I started taking birth control pills, it wasn’t because my husband was a woman. It was because he was a fertile man who was using his penis to have sex with me and that posed a risk of pregnancy to me (and to me only). I had a pap smear every year, too, to help us get that birth control, to keep us from having those kids we didn’t want, but he didn’t have any genital exams at all. When I had migraines for nine years from those very same birth control pills (I didn’t realize the cause until I went off them), I had them because I am a woman. He escaped having migraines all those years because he is a man.
When I took a pregnancy test those three times, it was because he is a man. When older relatives asked me if I was going to hurry up and have kids before I got too old, but they didn’t ask him, it was because he is a man. Even when I “slept in the wet spot” it was because of biology – mine as a woman’s, his as a man’s.
Our medicine cabinet contained Gold Bond medicated powder and condoms. There were boxer briefs in my bedroom floor and our toilet seat was sometimes up instead of down. These aren’t things that happened before I lived with a man.
When I signed the line on the divorce papers that said “The wife affirms that she is not pregnant,” and he was not required to sign, it was because he is a man.
His friends and family and ex-girlfriends and acquaintances also had a lived experience that included him in their lives as a boy and a man. They had a son, a grandson, a brother, a brother-in-law, a nephew, a boyfriend, a Best Man.
The past is not alterable. One person’s lived experience “needs to be respected just as much as anyone else’s experiences.” None of us should be required to lie about the past because someone happens to be uncomfortable with that past.