This week on Twitter, an erotica author I know ‘came out’ as not being the lesbian cisgender female persona they had adopted online, but a bisexual cisgender man. I have debated a coming out of my own for quite a while, for different reasons. My reasons center around transgender visibility and society’s addressing thereof, and the death of privacy in the digital age. Nevertheless, it’s probably time, so: let’s talk about me.
Theresa Dale is most assuredly a persona. It is more than a pen name; a pen name implies the self and personality I present to the world is exactly the same, just as ‘Jane Doe’ rather than ‘John’. That’s not the case. I speak differently as Theresa; her mannerisms are different. She is social in a way that I am not, says things that I will not, and does not say things I very much would. Her pictures are not real; they originate from This Person Does Not Exist. Theresa is modeled heavily after a long-running roleplay character I crafted in 2014; I have played that character for nearly eight years. To step into her skin is almost as comfortable as being in my own. And while I do engage in sexual roleplay as various characters, I do not do so as Theresa, and everyone involved is aware that these characters are fictional creations in imaginary worlds.
Theresa does share quite a bit with me, of course. Her love of music is mine; her background in international travel is mine. The industry she works in is mine; her university education is mine. Her marriage is not, but her same-sex exploits are. Ironically, it is her proud bisexual nature that I do not share, and while her BDSM experience comes from my real-life time in the community, Theresa is solidly switch, and I am not.
I am a straight man. Depending on who you ask, I have either been a straight man for about two weeks, for about two years, or for my entire life. If you ask me, personally, I’m not sure I am one at all. My legal name and gender change was in July 2020: perhaps that is when I became “a straight man”. I began transitioning from female to male about two years ago: perhaps that, then, is my so-called birthday. Some people would loudly and stringently profess that transgender people are born that way, and I have always been a man, that I am a man, and there is no difference between myself and any other man.
I respectfully disagree, and it is my personal viewpoints on transgender identity as a transgender man that both prompted my first desire to ‘come out’, and my reluctance to do so.
I do not like the term ‘deadname’, and I don’t use it. I do not think that “all trans men are men” and “all trans women are women”, point and full stop. To say this, in my mind, reduces transgender identity, and indeed personal identity, to a flat binary that ignores and does disservice to the unique social landscape and knowledge that transgender people have.
As transgender man who passes, I have been so roundly accused of horrible things in my erotica when I write. I write taboo material; I indulge in the eroticism of blackmail, coercion, drugs, hypnotism, and other forms of non-consent. I have written rape and incest fantasies. I will never forget the time when someone who knew me only as a man read one of my stories — despite trigger and content warnings aplenty — and condemned me as an ignorant asshole who glorified trauma for sexual titillation. They said I have no understanding of what life is like for women, or what it is like to be sexually harassed, abused, and exploited by men.
Yes, I replied, I do. I know intimately well what it is like to be raised as a woman; to attend school as a woman; to enter the workforce as a woman. I know what it is like to do these things as a lesbian woman. I have been on the receiving end of requests for countless threesomes, for personal details, and for photographs by men who fetishized me as a sex object. I have had my relationships discounted as unnatural and worth ‘less’, and my right to marriage denied by laws of hate, because I was a woman who loved other women. I have been sexually harassed, threatened with ‘corrective rape’, and I have known friends who were hospitalized for the crime of holding hands in public. I have battled my entire life with earning less at work, getting fewer promotions, even fewer job offers, because someone with a vagina cannot possibly be as intelligent as someone with a penis.
Don’t tell me I don’t. Do not tell me that thirty plus years of my life is null and void because, looking at me now, you see a straight man. Do not tell me that I was never female, and that I was always male; it isn’t true. Most of my life has been lived, influenced, and shaped by my experiences as a woman. Transgender people have a unique and wonderful perspective of seeing life from both sides of that fence, and we collectively have an understanding and perception of how society treats men and women that cisgender people can never replicate. I didn’t change my legal name because I am ‘dead’, but because I seek to avoid discrimination and to enhance my privacy. I grew tired of having to explain why the name I go by did not match my ID card, and of the bigotry I occasionally encountered because of that. I did not grow tired of the wealth of wonderful life I lived under that previous name.
I feel as though much of the online community has a vastly different viewpoint on this than I do. I recognize that for some transgender people, they truly did live in agony as a gender they never felt they really were; that their pre-transition life is something they’d very gladly call dead and buried. For many transgender people, they want nothing more to be seen as just a woman, or just a man. That’s absolutely their right, but I detest that that narrative is one that I am expected to adhere to. My preferred verbiage is that I ‘socially present’ as male, but I acknowledge that I am biologically female. I reject ‘non-binary’ for myself, as while technically accurate, it has again specific connotations of performative gender (or lack thereof) that do not apply to me. If there were a different word I could use than ‘transgender’ — some word that encompassed that I am not “neither, nor”, but “both, and greater than the sum of the parts” — I would. Two-Spirit is very close, I feel, but I’ve no doubt that using that term would tread towards accusations of cultural appropriation. (I am, like Theresa, quite white.)
Ultimately I write as Theresa, rather than myself, for two primary reasons:
Firstly, I am incredibly aware of the death of privacy in the age of the Internet, and I’ve no particular wish to have my real identity connected to everything I write for the rest of eternity. The internet never forgets. Perhaps in a generation or two, there will be enough people on the internet with their mistakes and controversial statements enshrined, that no one will care that you said something stupid when you were twenty, or will accept that your views might have changed between then and forty-five. Perhaps society will reach a point when being known as an erotica writer, as LGBTQ, as a religious minority, or a particular political persuasion is not a blackmark against you. Right now, we do not live in that utopia.
Secondly, I do write lesbian erotica, and BDSM-flavored erotica, from my personal experience. I was a lesbian — am a lesbian? — for three decades, and was blessed with an adventurous sex life during that period. I’m writing what I know. People are remarkably suspicious of a ‘straight man’ writing lesbian erotica, for good reason, but in my case, I am more akin to Heinlein’s ‘Unmarried Mother’. I do not look like I could possibly know from first-hand experience anything about what I write, but that is very much not the case. (It’s an unfortunate fact that I have to state this but: no, not everything I write is from first-hand experience. That would be immoral, illegal, and/or horrific in various combinations, but I do not believe that fantasizing about those acts is any of those things.)
A third, but more minor reason why I present myself as a female author rather than openly waving trans colors for all to see, is because I feel there is a strong expectation that transgender artists represent transgender characters in their works — and I don’t. I may, at some point, but I do not feel it is an obligation that because I am a particular stripe of ‘queer’ that my work necessarily promote that particular queer visibility. If I am known as a ‘trans author’, I suspect — or fear — that people would be disappointed in my work because it does not include highly visible transgender characters.
So. Depending on the observer, I may or may not be a straight man who uses a female persona online. Some will insist that I am, some will insist I am not, and both will reduce me accordingly. I’ll save my thoughts on transmasculine erasure in queer spaces for another time.