I first met Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall in Palm Springs, California at the yearly Bold Strokes Books book event held there. To me they seemed like the perfect couple, well balanced in personality, career and energy. Diane’s gregarious personality exudes being an editor/writer for The Advocate among many other publications, while Jacob’s subtlety seems to ebb forth like a warm tide. When Diane identified herself as lesbian and Jacob as her transgender husband I was taken aback. Not because of any procedure, but because I have met very few people that radiate a personal harmony, an energetic serenity more than Jacob did from the very first moment I met him.
Over the weekend I had the pleasure of listening to them read from their upcoming memoir, Queerly Beloved (tentative release date 2014, Bold Strokes Books). I found myself intrigued by not only the obvious challenges they’ve faced over the last 20 years, but how they handle the day-to-day obstacles life throws in everyone’s path. I wanted to know more about them, and was highly pleased when they agreed to do an interview.
Eric Andrews-Katz: What was your name given at birth?
Jacob Anderson-Minshall: I was born Susannah Christine Minshall, but preferred to be called “Suzy”. I was born a girl but my parents let me be a Tomboy. They didn’t force me into gender roles.
Eric: Describe the family you were born into and the life you had growing up?
Jacob: My parents are both scientists and I am a middle child. My older sister is two years older, and the other is ten years younger than I. We lived in Pocatello, Idaho (then it was the 2nd or 3rd largest city in Idaho with a population of about 40,000). We moved five miles outside of Inkom, Idaho (population 800) when I was about 8 years old. While my family was Catholic, Inkom is more conservative and more Mormon of an area.
Eric: Were there childhood incidents that helped you recognize your true identity?
Jacob: Looking back there are a lot of things, but I had been blind to them myself for many years. I used to hang out with and play with other boys, but after we moved to Inkom, they saw me as a girl and therefore different. So they stopped playing with me. People had more restrictive ideas of what was appropriate behavior for girls vs. boys. It was that period, when other people were focused on my gender variance, when I had the most problems.
Eric: What were your ‘Coming Out’ experiences like?
Jacob: When I first came out as a lesbian I thought that all those feelings that I didn’t understand were what made me a lesbian. I was always thinking that being a Tomboy was being a lesbian and that that was the ‘lesbian experience’. I didn’t admit it to myself until I was 35 the other possibilities. When I started to look back there were all these incidents. At one time I convinced the other boys that I was a boy (I insisted and convinced them so I could hang out with them). I was just me, and no one told me I wasn’t a boy until we moved to the [Inkom] farm. Because I was only hanging out with boys at school, I was taken to the school Psychiatrist. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with them anymore.
I am thrilled that there are kids now who are three or four years old and know they are trans [gender]. They vocalize it. There are people who come out later in life, like I did, with my same experiences and they don’t recognize themselves for whatever reasons. I think we [trans people] all recognize it at different points in our lives, but just don’t know how to vocalize it. It’s really hard to understand [those feelings] that make you feel different. Once you identify that, it all makes sense.
Eric: How did you first meet Diane?
Jacob: We met at the Boise, Idaho pride parade.
Diane Anderson-Minshall: It was only the 2nd gay pride parade in the state. We were both 22 at the time. A friend of a friend introduced us, but there was no big ‘click’. A few months later he came up [to where I lived in Idaho] and we hit it off.
Eric: How long were you two together [as a couple] before the subject of transgender was brought up?
Jacob: We were together 15 years before the actual subject was broached.
Diane: I started becoming aware about six months before he told me, so I had six months to process and worry. I went into ‘Emergency Mode’; ‘what do I need to do’? ‘Who do we need to see and figure it out’? I wasn’t thinking about myself as much as what Jake needed as part of his Gender Dysphoria (former called “Gender Identity Disorder”). I just wanted to solve the issue immediately. The feelings came later.
Eric: How do you differentiate between the feelings of attraction to women – as a biological woman, versus the attraction as your true self as a man?
Jacob: I don’t think it was like that. It was really of more being honest with myself about my true identity. I was always uncomfortable in my skin and was not always good at figuring out why that was. At that time, I was about 35, Diane was working on an anthology called “Becoming: Young Ideas on Gender, Identity, and Sexuality”, and she recommended it to me. I started reading and in some of the stories I heard parts that I was identifying with, people were writing and capturing my feelings. I started to say, “Maybe if I was born in a different time I would identify as transgender. At first I felt that maybe if I were younger I would identify as a ‘boi’ *
Diane: * B-o-i is a political spelling used by women as a way to identify themselves, on a scale of masculinity, as a gendequeer person.
Jacob: Diane was also – at that time – writing for ‘Bitch’ magazine and they assigned me a number of transgender subject books to review and write about. I did think that if maybe I was younger I might identify more with being ‘transgender’ or some other word, but I thought that at my age it wasn’t open to me anymore. Over more time and after hearing more stories, I identified more and that’s when I said I was ‘trans’.
Eric: At what point did you decide that making the transition was the right decision for you?
Jacob: Immediately, that’s the funny thing. I told Diane I felt trans and I wasn’t sure if I was going to transition. Diane was very much a ‘go forward and try to solve your problems’ kind of person. Once I finally said it out loud, Diane said that it wasn’t a stopping point, but it was a beginning point of finding out if that’s what I wanted to do.
Eric: Were/are your family and friends supportive?
Jacob: Almost everybody is in a supportive place now. There were struggles and the interesting thing for us is that some of the people we thought were going to be supportive had reservations, and vice versa. There was a distinct gender difference input. Most men were congratulatory, while most women said, “How could you do that to Diane? Can’t you just be a different ‘kind’ of woman?” or “But you’re so happy! You’ve had this marriage and everything is going right, so why would you be unhappy?” They didn’t understand back in 2005.
Eric: Diane, how did you react when Jacob first discussed it with you?
Diane: I saw it coming long before Jacob did. I saw the wheels turning about 6 months before. We’d been together for 15 years, and I knew him. I knew he was becoming more interested in trans narratives, and those identified as ‘transgendered’ or ‘gender queer questioning’. It mirrored the other people that had come through having similar movements, and I saw other lesbian feminists having similar thoughts – so it wasn’t completely unheard of. By the time Jake actually said, “I think I’m trans”, I was ready for it to happen in one-way or the other.
Eric: There must be many steps taken before the final step in making the transition. What are the steps needed?
Diane: I was comfortable with the binary, ‘male’ and ‘female’ but no so much in the in between. I was hoping we weren’t going to stay in that in between space, as it was hard for me to navigate. I thought it would be harder than the whole losing a wife and gaining a husband. And I wanted Jake in therapy.
Jacob: We were in the San Francisco Bay area and part of the Kaiser HMO plan; it took a referral to get into the gender studies program. WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) and the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care lay the steps out exactly what should happen, when, and under what circumstances that a person should move onto the next part of Transitioning. Seeing a therapist is first, preferably someone used to being part of the gender program. My therapist had been working with transitional people for over 20 years, and she knew the ups and downs of everything going on with me. We had no idea how much we lucked out with her as our doctor. She told me that ‘if anyone in the Kaiser facilities ever treats you differently, tell me immediately and I’ll take care of it’. They immediately made me feel completely comfortable there.
The amount of therapy you need depends on the individual. They judge on where you are, making evaluations to determine that [what you’re feeling] isn’t something else; that it isn’t a mental health issue, or that someone is trying to hide their identity for legal reasons. You have to pass that test before moving forward.
The next step is the Real Life Test – living in the preferred gender role. The rules have changed now [in this day and age], and that’s a good thing. It can be dangerous for someone going from male to female, dressing and living like a woman but still being a biological male. Today there are shorter periods of time to wait between dressing and living [as the preferred gender] and starting the hormones. It now depends on when your therapist thinks you’re ready.
Top surgery for Female-to-Male trans can happen sooner, but the bottom surgery is usually suggested to wait for another year or so. That way the body can adjust to the hormones. For many decades they recommend that you moved to another city and started life over. But now you go away for a month or so and come back a different person.
Eric: Have you fully completed your transition with all surgeries including Phalloplasty?
Jacob: There are a lot of trans people that will never have ‘full’ bottom surgery and consider themselves fully transitioned. The idea of being ‘done’ with transition simply isn’t a concept that many trans people understand. For some there is certainly an end point, but for many others, it is an ongoing process, kind of like life itself.
I don’t talk about which surgeries I have or haven’t had because that’s unfair to other trans people, many who don’t get bottom surgery (or even top surgery) because they can’t afford it, don’t want it, don’t have access to it, or are reluctant to get a flawed surgery (as phalloplasty is often seen as). Bottom surgery is still a very expensive process, can range between $50,000 – $100,000, and is rarely covered by insurance, although Medicare is currently considering altering their policies. Until it isn’t out of reach of so many trans people, having bottom surgery is a huge privilege. Those without it often haven’t ‘chosen’ that path, but they are sometimes denigrated and discriminated against for not having it. Also, I should add, more trans men these days are having metaoidioplasty, a procedure that creates a micropenis from the clitoris.
The penis question feels like a way that non-trans people judge you, asking “Are you really a man?” and by not answering it, I challenge you to accept my manhood on my word, not on my genitals.
As for my transition, it’s been a 7-year process. It’s a whole new way of looking at a new world. It changes how everyone treats you and is a constant learning experience. I don’t think it’ll ever be done.
On the other hand, the minute I said ‘ I am now Jacob’ and started doing the Real Life Test, I started passing in my life in many ways. I wasn’t working at that time, due to a work injury a couple of years before I transitioned, so since my workload was by computer (in print as a freelance writer) I immediately became Jacob [in the byline].
In other ways it was definitely harder when we lived in a small community. Everyone knew my family. Everyone knew me. Everyone knew my dog! It was real obvious to them even when I looked like a boy because they knew me as ‘Suzy’. It’s a constant coming out process.
Eric: What was the first thing you did as your true self as a man?
Jacob: Cut my hair and get a new outfit. For the longest time when we went to buy clothes, Diane would steer me to the Girl’s area. I was so happy that I could finally go to the Men’s section and buy a wardrobe!
Diane: I wanted to put rules on what kind of man he could become. I kept saying things like, “Hey a lot men shave their chests you know.” And I’d see certain guys and shout, “Not that!” Finally, he said exasperated, “Well what kind of man can I be?” and I thought for a minute and said “Ryan Seacrest.” He was the perfect inoffensive metrosexual. So after that we began using that to make decisions on clothing and other things. Our new mantra became WWRSD – What Would Ryan Seacrest Do?
Eric: What was your emotional path like when your wife of many years tells you they need to make this type of transition?
Diane: There was a lot of over-compensation. When Jake first transitioned we were worried about keeping it a secret. I was the editor of CURVE magazine, and we wondered how people would respond to him, or how people would interpret my work, and us and how it would affect my career. But there were no worries.
Jacob: At first I would wake up and she would be balling her eyes out. That’s how she dealt with things when I was sleeping. There was a lot of crying in bed at night.
Diane: There’s dealing with packing up his girl clothes and adjusting to having mitigate his maleness; like shaving his legs. As a woman, he had these long gorgeous thin legs that any woman would love to have. Now he’s growing hair out on them. I would have a crying fit thinking about this beautiful woman becoming a man. I would try to keep things private since he had so much to deal with already.
Jacob: Plus the hormones make everything crazy!
Eric: How did you pick your name?
Jacob: We took a long time to pick a name and wanted to be true to my parents – all of us kids were named after saints. I narrowed it down to Jacob. Jacob was supposed to be the first born, but his twin Esau prevented that in the womb and was born first stealing the birthright. The true one was supposed to be born first and didn’t make it. I like that idea that my true self was supposed to be born but something prevented him.
Diane: One of my favorite songs is Jack and Diane, so it worked as well.
Eric: How has your life changed post-transition, on a physical, spiritual and mental level?
Jacob: Basically, I’m the same person I was before but also very different. One of the biggest changes was in terms of my emotional range. As a lesbian feminist I always believed the differences between men and women had everything to do with socialization and nothing to do with biology. After the testosterone started I know better. I don’t have the emotional range like I used to, and that is a relief! I was very sensitive and felt like my nerves were always exposed. Testosterone thickened my skin and my emotions as well. It protected me from the outside world – I became ‘dulled’ so to speak. Diane interprets my emotional range as anger. Apparently my expressions are reduced in range as well.
Eric: Aside from the physical what traits have Jacob lost after making the transition?
Diane: He can’t do the ‘lesbian processing’ thing anymore. That’s a big loss, honest to God! We’ve always been close and talked with each other. Laying around and listening to folk music, talking for hours…we don’t do that anymore. It’s just not in him and he has no tolerance for that kind of conversation any more. It’s different. There are less highs and lows, and he’s just more even-keeled emotionally.
Eric: Have you ever had a funeral or mourned your former self?
Jacob: We haven’t. My parents have mourned for the loss, but for me it was a relief. It was difficult for Diane for a while. There are moments where I get stumped in the weirdness. How do you embrace your childhood when it’s not really your childhood anymore? Our society separates us. I was on a basketball team when I was younger, but it was a girl’s team, and not a boy’s team. Parts of my childhood are hard to keep a hold of and maintain because of the transitioning between then and now.
Eric: Diane, do you miss your former wife?
Diane: In the beginning there were periods I felt that. I missed certain things about Suzy that did stop after the transition. Not all of them were about him as a person. I realized how often two women could actually be together. There was the first time I went to the gym and had to go to the changing room by myself. Or at the spa when we used to sit and chat in the hot tub or sauna, but he was ushered into the men’s section and separate gender experiences. I felt robbed that he couldn’t be here with me. It was then that I felt alone.
On the other side of that coin, we instantly got heterosexual privileges that I didn’t even realize we were missing. The day after we officially got married (we were a Prop 8 couple, so we had to end our legal marriage and our domestic partnership in order to re-marry as man and woman), I called the creditors. In the past I had to jump through hoops to get access to his account information, but as soon as I changed one word (from ‘wife’ to ‘husband’) they instantly gave me unlimited access to his files. No passwords needed. We had also asked our friends (who couldn’t get married) for their permission, and everyone knew we had advocated for decades for marriage equality, and they all urged us to do so.
Eric: Are there attributes (aside from the physical) that Jacob brings into the relationship that Suzy couldn’t?
Diane: Jake is definitely more comfortable as a man and that has helped, but in ways that doesn’t depend on his maleness.
Jacob: When you are perceived as a man there are definite tradeoffs.
Diane: He’s less approachable. Women perceive him differently. A woman can smile at a stranger’s child, and can approach them in ways that men can’t.
Jacob: If I see a lesbian couple approaching I give them the ‘we’re both lesbians’ nod, but they perceive me as a man.
Diane: It didn’t affect our bottom line, but it does affect him as a man when he goes to a mechanic.
Eric: How has your intimacy as a couple changed since the transition?
Diane: Intimacy is different from raw sex. That’s what most people want to know about. Do we have sex? You bet we fuck!
Eric: Has Jacob’s transition changed the way you identify?
Diane: My partner’s genitals have changed, but my orientation hasn’t. It was important for me not to lose my identity. We are both transitioning. We have to adapt and recognize where we are in the world. I still identify as a lesbian, or a lesbian identified bisexual, if that’s how you want to define someone. I don’t want to disappear into the heterosexual community, although it is fine for other couples [experiencing transitions] to do that.
Eric: How do you identify as a couple?
Jacob: We like being ‘Queer’- it covers it all. Identifying politically is important.
Diane: I always insisted on called Suzy my wife, instead of partner. It’s more political and in-your-face. As he began transitioning we were thinking, ‘Now what’? Calling him my husband felt so ‘straight’, and that wouldn’t feel right for either of us. ‘Partner’ didn’t feel right, so I started explaining it as, ‘I’m a lesbian and this is my transgendered husband’. Basically, you can call me what you like, just don’t call me a ‘Straight Girl’.
Diane Anderson-Minshall has been a journalist most of her life. After being an editor for On Our Backs, Girlfriends, and Curve magazines, she became the Executive Editor for The Advocate, and Editor-in-Chief for HIV Plus Magazine.
Jacob Anderson-Minshall is a freelance writer who has written several published essays, and has penned the nationally syndicated column “TransNation”. He has just recently been accepted onto the board of the Lambda Literary Foundation.
Together they write the “Blind Eye Mystery” Series (Bold Strokes Books).