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By Shelby Clark Petkus
What happens to a lesbian couple when one of them becomes a man?
That very scenario was experienced by Diana and Jacob (nee Suzy) Anderson-Minshall and discussed in their recent memoir, “Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders.” The couple was together fifteen years before Jacob transitioned from “a lesbian feminist to straight white guy.” They have been together eight years since the transition. The couple was profiled in a New York Times’ article “The Trouble When Jane Becomes Jack” that discussed what happens to lesbian couples when one of them becomes a transman. At the time, the story suggested most couples broke up; in the case of the Anderson-Minshalls, they stayed strong and together.
The couple still considers themselves queer and both still work in and remain a part of the LGBT media and community. Their extensive resume includes the collaborative founding of the lesbian magazine, “Girlfriends,” and QLiterati! — Portland, Ore.’s LGBT literary series.
On their own, Diane and Jacob have even greater lists of contributions to queer media. Diane, an award-winning journalist and editor, is the Editor at Large of The Advocate and editor-in-chief of HIV Plus magazine. She wrote the erotic-thriller, “Punishment with Kisses,” and has written in multiple publications and anthologies. She was also editor-in-chief of “Curve” magazine. Diane was honored by LA Pride in 2013.
Jacob has also written for multiple LGBT and feminist publications, and is known for penning the nationally-syndicated weekly column, TransNation, for four years. He produced and co-hosted Gender Blender, a radio show, as well as writing for Advocate.com. His work’s been included in anthologies like “Men SpeakOut: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power” and was featured in the award-winning anthology “Portland Queer” for his short-story “Chinook.” He recently served on the board of the Lambda Literary Foundation.
The couple talked with BTL about the process of transitioning as a couple and writing the revealing book.
How Has Life Been Since Transitioning?
Jacob: In some ways its been exactly the same as before my transition. Diane still works in LGBT publishing; I’m still a freelance writer who often feels my greatest transition has been from able-bodied to disabled, not from female to male. But testosterone therapy also did change me and how I relate to Diane and how other people see me, so of course those things start impacting our daily lives as well.
Diane: Uproarious. Actually, we’re still transitioning; I think transition isn’t a finite fixed moment anymore. Also, we get treated very differently as a male-female couple which is always odd to us. It both feels great and induces guilt and shock all the time. I’m always amazed at the privileges we now have that I didn’t even know we were missing as a lesbian couple.
What Prompted You Two To Write “Queerly Beloved”?
Jacob: We wished we had a book like this when we were going through this experience. When I first came out as trans, it felt like we read and watched everything out there and the stories all seemed to end the same way: with the trans person alone. That was hugely depressing.
Diane: We really transitioned as a couple, and I think it is difficult enough without all the negativity that’s thrown at you. We were both being told daily, often by our most intimate and trusted friends and family, that we were going to break up. We couldn’t find couples who had weathered a transition and stayed together. So we felt like we needed to share our story, just to give other couples hope [that] they too can survive. We’ve been married 23 years now, and I think we’re not an anomaly. There are plenty of other couples like us, so we wanted to be as visible as possible as well.
Did you two learn things about the other for the first time upon reading each other’s “voices” in the book? Or did you discuss what you were going to share in the book before writing it?
Jacob: Oh my god, absolutely.
Diane: Pretty early on I’d decided I wanted to write my part before I read Jacob’s and vice versa. The conversational tone of the book came about because a) we actually do talk like this and b) in the editing rounds we responded to what each other had written.
Jacob: And c) we’ve been together so long that we pretty much share one brain. It’s not just that we complete each other’s sentences, it’s that we have to complete each other’s sentences because we each only know/remember one half of the sentence ourselves.
Diane: True, we’re a little codependent. So, in truth, there isn’t much that we don’t already know about each other.
Jacob: Although you had been keeping a pretty big secret, which I learned during editing, and it was a little weird because I was having to process that at the same time I was writing about my reaction. They were sort of simultaneous, so in some ways I was processing that with an audience.
Diane: Well, as soon as I knew I was going to share experience in the book, I did ask him if he wanted to hear about it ahead of time or read in the book and he choose to read it. We both do have this thing where we discover ourselves through our writing or communication.
It’s in those processes that we are able to really solidify and express our feelings about ourselves and the larger world. So, there were conversations between the two of us that were sparked by the book that led us each to better understand where we each are today. We literally just had one yesterday after an interview, that was really revealing.
Have you experienced any backlash from the LGBT community on the book, transitioning, labels, etc.? I know that people can sometimes get angry when something doesn’t mesh with their preconceived notions!
Jacob: Yes, the label/identity issue. It’s still coming up after all these years. I’ve been asked how I can be with a lesbian-identified woman. Other people want to know how I can still identify as queer when I’m now in a male-female relationship. Likewise, some people don’t think Diane has a right to identify as lesbian.
I don’t care how Diane identifies as long as she’s still with me, but I don’t believe that me changing my identity and even my body should automatically mean she has to change her own identity. It’s hers. If your partner had an accident or health issue that impacted their secondary sex characteristics (especially sexual organs), would it change how you identify? Would it change your sexual orientation? What if your partner had a breast removed or an ovary or a testicle — does that change your identity?
Diane: I’m still explaining myself. I admitted on Advocate.com a while back that I’m attracted to transgender people and got lambasted as a chaser and fetishist, which is so untrue. Lately I’ve been saying I’m either a lesbian-identified bisexual or bisexual-identified lesbian. I do feel like my orientation in terms of my identity has been going through a change since Jacob began transitioning. There’s some morphing going on but it’s something that’s not really fixed yet, it’s not really resolved.
I was sort of attacked for saying that since we transitioned I’ve begun to find other trans guys attractive, not just Jacob. I said I’m attracted to women and trans men and many readers felt I was saying that trans men weren’t “real” men and I was accused of being a “chaser.” So let me say this with an ounce of caution: I’ve started feeling like I have a sexual orientation that is attracted to both women and transgender men. I’m attracted to trans men for their particular brand of masculinity, not in spite of their maleness, and not because I see them as women. I’m still trying to find the right words for what I feel, and I haven’t really hit on an eloquent answer yet. I just think that transitioning later in life makes it so trans men have experienced what it was like to be catcalled on the street or know what mansplaining is from personal experience and creates, generally, a more feminist man. That’s what I like.
Jacob: In the beginning, there was some backlash about my transitioning, especially since many lesbians at the time felt that butches were abandoning the community in droves, all to become men. And admit it, especially to lesbian feminists (which I once identified as): men were the enemy. [Jacob wrote a piece called “Becoming the Enemy” for the feminist men’s anthology “Men Speak Out”.]
Diane: Largely though, we’ve had a lot of support from lesbian and bisexual women and trans people. We’ve been surprised by the number of people who’ve come out to us as closeted trans people or at least trans men questioning their options, so it’s been great to be able to coach them on this momentous experience.
With both of your consistent work in writing, publishing, etc., do you have plans to write further works of nonfiction?
Jacob: Absolutely! I’m editing a novel and working on a graphic novel.
Diane: There will always be another project. When we got the first draft of “Queerly Beloved” back from our editor at Bold Strokes Books, she said, “You have a really great start here. Now I’d like you to throw out the first 23 chapters and start there.” Instantly, 23 chapters and maybe 40,000 words were cut from the manuscript. It eliminated the first 16 years of our marriage. But she went ahead and edited those 23 chapters, so we could do a “Queerly Beloved” prequel.
I’m also working on a nonfiction crime book about the most sensational LGBT crimes in history. I love crime writing and would love to do more of that. There’s not enough good investigative journalism out there about the LGBT world. Also, I’ve started to open up about my mother’s struggles with mental illness and its impact on me as a kid and an adult, so I’ve toyed with doing something on that.
Jacob: And both of us would love to go back to our “Blind Eye Detective” characters or do another mystery or detective series.
Diane: I think your graphic novel is the next project we need to put to bed though.
“Queerly Beloved,” which came out May 12, is the first nonfiction work put out by LGBT publishing house, Bold Strokes Books.