I’m a married transgender woman, and I exist in a grey space
By Lisa Twang, Oct 01, 2020
Eden* is a 27-year-old transgender woman living in between male and female worlds. On one hand, she’s transitioned as a woman medically (through hormone replacement therapy), and socially (presenting and identifying herself as female). On the other hand, her official sex is still listed as male, and she’s married to her female partner Ruby, in what they call “a straight marriage on paper”. Eden hasn’t had gender reassignment surgery, but is open to doing it in future.
In writing Eden’s story, I was sometimes confused by the blurring of her gender roles. While I know gender identity isn’t necessarily binary, I couldn’t fully understand that at first. Talking to Eden helped me see things from her point of view: that for her, gender isn’t so black and white. Instead, she’s found joy — and love — in the grey space between the male and female.
Here, Eden shares how she sees love, gender, and sexuality, and how she’s navigated life and marriage as a transgender woman.
People generally assume I’m female. I wear mostly skirts and dresses, and even when I wear pants or shorts, I wouldn’t describe my appearance as masculine or ambiguous.
Sometimes it’s funny seeing people try to wrap their heads around my relationship with Ruby, because they’re confused by us holding hands and hugging in public. I’m not sure people always realise we’re a couple because we both present as female, and such behaviour is considered socially acceptable. So far, we’ve yet to encounter a hostile stranger in public, and I’ve never met anyone who’s reacted particularly badly, at least not in front of me.
Though I’m gendered correctly in public virtually all the time, my legal documents still say I’m male, so that sometimes causes issues.
I’m more likely to have awkward moments when crossing the border, or trying to vote, but so far it hasn’t been bad enough to prevent me from doing either. I tend to get nervous if I’m entering countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, so I would research a country’s history of LGBTQIA+ rights before I fly over. I want to be mentally prepared, in case I get questioned.
I work in the media industry, and I’m treated as a male employee in the system. I have paternity leave entitlement, and had a slightly higher starting allowance because I’ve done national service. My colleagues have been lovely and accepting, so work has generally gone smoothly.
Ruby is careful about who she tells about our relationship, and hasn’t told her colleagues about me yet, because she works in a conservative environment. If they ask, she changes the subject or diverts the topic by giving generic, boring answers. We don’t feel we need to explain ourselves to people we don’t know very well, which can be tiring at times.
When it comes to sexuality, I’ve always been attracted to women. Before I dated Ruby, I had two serious girlfriends.
People who assume that trans women are all attracted to men assume that attraction to men is a condition of being female. It isn’t, obviously, as the existence of lesbians and asexual women shows.
Gender identity and sexuality are two separate entities — one describes your own position, and the other describes the direction in which you feel attraction. But the idea of gender and sexuality is complicated, because what do we mean when we say we’re attracted to men or women? Do we mean the person’s innate sense of their gendered selves? Or do we mean their physical bodies, or specific parts of their bodies?
The simple answer is that it’s some combination of all these things. I feel like the language we often use is too constrained to cover all the possible permutations of gender and sexuality.
Given my relationship with Ruby, some people might describe me as a trans lesbian, although that is, in some sense, an oversimplification. I tend to be more attracted to people on the feminine end of the spectrum, but I have also felt attraction to some masculine people. There are also trans people who might describe themselves as straight (attracted to the opposite gender to the one they identify with), bisexual (attracted to two genders) or pansexual (attracted to all genders), but different people may have slightly different understandings of what they mean when they use these words.
I was born the oldest of three boys. I’ve only ever felt like myself, and I don’t really identify with the “born in the wrong body” narrative that’s often been seen as the stereotypical trans person narrative. It may be true for others, but it isn’t the case for me.
I see myself as a materialist in the philosophical sense: I believe my body is me, and I am not me without my body. I may not love everything about my body, but I can’t psychologically detach myself from it.
For me, the knowledge of my gender identity was always there in the background. As a child, I didn’t always feel comfortable with the gender norms and expectations of being a boy. My mother tells me I was fascinated with her nail polish colours, and since primary school, I preferred to play as female video game characters than male ones. But I also quickly learned not to be open about my feelings and tastes, to avoid teasing and disapproval from other kids and adults.
I came out as gender fluid (shifting between male and female gender identities) to my family in my late teens. My mum and dad were very open; to them, it was not a question of learning to accept me, but knowing who I really was. Later, when I came out as transgender, they mainly wanted to know what medical choices I’d be making, and how they could support me.
While my parents come from traditional backgrounds, I’d describe them as fairly progressive, though in different ways. My father considers himself a logical and scientifically-minded person, so I believe the current scientific understanding of the roles biology and one’s environment play in shaping one’s gender identity have been persuasive to him. On the other hand, my mother has always been a compassionate and open-minded person who tends to accept people as they are, so she did not need much persuading.
When I identified as gender fluid, I started presenting androgynously, and growing my hair out. During national service, I didn’t make any attempt to conceal my gender identity — I simply didn’t express it in any specific way. I was competent in my assigned duties and fairly well respected, so I didn’t experience bullying. I generally did my best to pass my time without drawing unnecessary attention to myself. I entered university and at 21, I officially changed my birth name to Eden, a unisex name.
Ruby and I met in university, and talked very openly about our gender and sexuality while we were still friends. Sharing our vulnerabilities definitely brought us closer together.
I felt very comfortable with Ruby, and opened up to her about why I felt like I was gender fluid (at the time, I liked the idea of slipping between being male or female), and how I was still experimenting with labels. I found her to be really understanding, supportive, and willing to discuss these very personal issues.
We also talked about Ruby’s sexuality; she wasn’t interested in having sex with her then-boyfriend, so we wondered if she was asexual. We concluded that Ruby just didn’t want to have sex with her boyfriend because he wasn’t the right person. There wasn’t chemistry between her and her ex, and they later broke up.
Halfway through university, having considered it for many years at this point, I decided I wanted to start hormone therapy and begin medically transitioning to female.
At 23, I started talking to a psychiatrist, then transferred care to a GP and later an endocrinologist, and went on female hormones. There aren’t any relevant laws on hormone replacement therapy without doing surgery or changing your legal sex, except that you must be at least 17 and need parental consent if you’re between 17 and 21. The physical changes after going on hormones were mostly desirable: my skin became smoother and less oily, and I had some fat redistribution, and breast tissue growth. The only complaint I had was that I gained weight!
I also began transitioning socially in school, and my dressing became less ambiguous. I wore skirts and dresses, and learned how to do makeup. My friends already knew I wasn’t a cisgender male, so it wasn’t a huge leap for them to accept me as female. I spoke to my college administration in Singapore about my transition, and they helped me sort out logistical issues like what bathrooms I would use. My college was generally sympathetic and supported me as well as they could while being discreet, and were careful not to attract the ire of the public.
I also cleaned up my social media: right now my gender is listed as female, I don’t have pictures of myself before transitioning, and my social accounts are private.
While transitioning, my struggles were more psychological than physical. I felt the weight of doing something so significant and life-altering, but Ruby supported me through it.
Transitioning was easier than I expected, but I still felt some anxiety over it. The repeated explanations to friends and family on what transitioning meant, and why I was doing it, was mentally exhausting at first. By then, Ruby had gone on exchange overseas for a year. Even though we were on different continents, I confided in her quite a bit, which helped me manage my struggles over transitioning.
I flew over to visit Ruby for two weeks, and we bonded even more during that trip. We travelled together for two weeks, and realised how compatible we were, and how it felt so easy, and freeing, to be ourselves with each other.
Even as I flew off to do a semester abroad myself, in a different country, Ruby and I slowly drifted into a relationship. By the time we both returned to Singapore, we realised we had feelings for each other, and there wasn’t a moment where we had to say it out loud.
We’ve realised that while we can have a long list of criteria for an ideal partner, what matters most is having the right connection with someone. It just works, whether you’re queer or straight.
My being transgender was never an issue for Ruby; she told me she liked me even before I transitioned, and she still liked me afterwards. She says she fell in love with me as a person, and even when my gender identity changed, it didn’t change how she felt about me. She thinks it’s sexy when I cook, and we share many similar interests, like old-school show tunes and crafts.
When it comes to intimacy, I value our emotional connection over a physical one. I feel one can be intimate by simply being physically close, or showing physical affection. Ruby always felt we were intimate first in conversation. Even now that we’re married, it’s not like we have sex all that often!
A lot of queer kids feel like they can’t talk to their parents, but we feel very fortunate that our parents support our relationship, and have welcomed us into the respective families.
My parents have always trusted the decisions I’ve made, and they liked Ruby from the start. I was concerned at first that Ruby’s parents might not accept me, because they come from a religious family, but they’ve surprised me by being very open. They did their best to understand LGBTQIA+ issues, and asked us what it meant to be transgender, and how that would affect Ruby’s life (such as having children).
Now, Ruby’s mother helps us manage relations with her extended family members. Some are supportive of our relationship and we visit them for special occasions like Chinese New Year, but Ruby’s mother has advised us not to tell Ruby’s grandfather about us, as she feels he will probably not accept it. We don’t want to rock the boat if other family members are uncomfortable, and we’re fine with not everyone in our family knowing about us if we’re not close to them.
In March, Ruby and I had a small, intimate wedding in Sydney, just before the borders closed due to COVID-19.
Our wedding ceremony was in the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. We were surrounded by close friends and family, and enjoyed a simple wedding lunch.
For our wedding, I wore a black dress, while Ruby wore a white one. It was perfect because if we were married in Singapore, I’d be expected to dress in a masculine way as the groom.
As a queer couple that’s straight on paper, Ruby and I are in a grey area. We registered our marriage in Australia to avoid the risk of having our marriage voided by the authorities here.
Singapore doesn’t recognise same-sex marriage, or allow same-sex couples to buy a HDB flat as an engaged or married couple. Typically, same-sex couples either buy a private property or apply for a HDB as ‘joint singles’. In 2017, a married couple successfully applied for a Built-to-Order flat together, but the ‘husband’ later went for gender-reassignment surgery and officially changed his sex to female. This caused a lot of bureaucratic confusion; their marriage was voided by the Registry of Marriages (ROM), and they weren’t allowed to own their original flat.
Since our marriage is registered in Australia, it can’t be voided by ROM in Singapore in future if I change my sex officially. Even if Singapore stops recognising our marriage at that point, our marriage licence will still be valid overseas. We also preferred to marry in Australia because in Singapore, the vows are gendered ( “I take you to be my lawful wedded husband or wife”). Same-sex marriage is legal in Australia and the authorities there allow gender neutral language to be used in the ceremony, so we could use the word ‘partners’ instead of husband or wife. On our marriage certificate, we also chose to list ourselves as ‘partners’.
Another bonus of registering our marriage overseas was keeping our relationship status more anonymous. In Singapore, anyone can check using your name or IC number to see if you’re married on the ROM website. Since we registered our marriage overseas, we won’t be stalkable online.
As a married trans woman, I have another unusual concern: whether my hormone replacement therapy will allow Ruby and I to have our own biological children.
Family planning is an uncharted path for us, so we can’t take for granted that we can have kids in future. We’re interested in trying to have children naturally, which may be possible if I go off my hormones temporarily. I’ve been on hormones for four years, so if I want to go off them to try for kids, it will take some time. I’m aware that going off hormones temporarily may reverse the physical changes in my body, but that doesn’t bother me.
Ruby is uncomfortable with the idea of me having gender reassignment surgery, partly because it'll give us fewer options for having kids in future, and also because it's an expensive, long process. We’ve agreed not to make that change for now.
We’re aware that conceiving naturally may not be possible, so we’ve also discussed options like adoption and surrogacy. These are conversations we’ll continue to have, and we’ll take things a step at a time.
Though Ruby and I have an unconventional relationship and we’re not what you would usually imagine in a couple, it’s important that we never have to apologise for that.
Maybe not everyone can understand why a transgender woman and a straight cisgender woman can be happily married. But Ruby and I have each other’s best interests at heart, and we also have our families’ best interests at heart. And to us, that’s what really matters.
I believe I’m a good, responsible person and partner, and my gender identity is secondary to that. I’m not a confrontational person, but if someone can’t accept me or my relationship, I’d say: “This is me: take it or leave it.”
In future, we might want to live overseas, or have kids of our own. I don’t know if I’ll have gender reassignment surgery in future, and choose to change my legal documents. Transitioning is a continuous process, and it’s okay if not everyone understands my gender identity now. I’m happy with how my life has turned out, living in my grey space with the woman I love.
Whatever happens, Ruby and I are glad we have each other, and we’re excited to spend the rest of our lives together.
*Details have been changed and kept vague to protect identities.
My name is Lisa, and you can find me at @lisatwang on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about love, married life, and how I’m learning to voice more support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
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