Speaking of Marriage: Transgender Identity and the Marriage Debate

ts-mario and diana2Today’s New York Times OpEd piece by Jennifer Finney Boyle, reminds people that the “gay marriage” vs. “straight marriage” debate has once again failed to incorporate transgendered people. In some states, transgendered people who have medically transitioned and legally changed their gender identity can participate in the heterosexual marriage. This means neither GLB folks, trans or otherwise, have access to marriage and the proscription is clearly one about sexuality and sex practices. In other states, both gender and sexuality are at issue, where gender reassignment is not legally recognized trans women can only legally marry other women but these marriages are seen as heterosexual b/c trans women are considered men. Obviously these distinctions are less complex than reality. As in the case of Boylan, a trans woman could legally marry her female partner prior to transitioning and that marriage would be legal in all 50 states and in most states, these same-sex marriages would be considered legal even if the trans woman was post-op b/c not recognizing her gender superseded questioning her sexuality. Also, as in the case of Boylan, there are no laws voiding the marriages of similar couples post-transition even where gender is formally recognized but gay marriage is illegal.  Meaning, that the policing ofgm gender in some states and the heterosexism of marriage laws in others can lead to the existence of gay marriages and/or legally defined same-sex marriages throughout the nation.

In an interesting way, the heteronormativity of the “opposite” or heterosexual marriage activists has both exposed the ways that sex, gender, and sexuality remain tied together in a system of oppression based on heteropatriarchal dominance (yes, I’m pulling out the $5 feminist words; anti-intellectuals and anti-feminists feel free to hate on me, I don’t feel you). At the same time, this heterosexism & gender normativity has also opened loopholes that may expand the discourse surrounding marriage enough to open the door and let everyone in. In this way, the inability to imagine the heterogeneity of the human condition and heteroglossia of current gender terms has in fact made it possible for both to show up in multiple legal couplings. The pessimistic view, of course, is that by expanding the discourse women and men who haveHidden-Message-Wedding-Rings-1enjoyed access to heterosexual marriage and/or gay marriage may find themselves exempted from marriage and possibly their legally recognized genders before the day is done.

The bottom line is that the complexity of our lives is no longer reflected in the rigidity of our laws. While laws may do very little to expunge prejudice or oppression from our world, simply shifting it, they do ensure certain kinds of equality that more and more people are being denied. One of the arguments the gay marriage folks have made is that we have laws prohibiting “unequal treatment under the law” and that the division between gay and straight couples’ access to marriage and all of the rights it affords is certainly unequal. Recognizing transgendered people’s relationships in marriage can only help this argument. At the same time, it seems to me that the movement has two tasks at hand:

  • recognize and incorporate transgendered people into the marriage movement
  • do so in a way that does not increase transphobia or decrease rights currently accessed by transgender people

And transgendered people who have or could enjoy the legal loopholes open to them, need to stand up for the rest of the queer communities’ rights to marry.

For Boylan’s take, read here.



  • “Mario del Scororro and Diana Guerrero.” Reuters/Tomas Bravo
  • “Nikkie Eddie/Dawn Miller & unnamed gay couple at anti-pop 8 rally.” Getty Image/Sandy Huffaker
  • “Secret Message Wedding Rings.” unattributed.

One thought on “Speaking of Marriage: Transgender Identity and the Marriage Debate

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