Loving You Loving Me
Tranny/Crip/Queer Love and
Overcoming Shame in Relationship
By Samuel Lurie
Presented at the
Queer Disability Conference
San Francisco State University
June 2 & 3, 2002
In order for me to begin this
presentation, I have to
give a little background. I was at the Gender and Disability Conference
at Rutgers University, March 2001, where a group of folks came together
over lunch to discuss organizing a Queerness and Disability Conferencethis
conference. I was at the Rutgers conference because I'd started
to become involved in disability politics largely due to my relationship
with a crip activist and writer. I'd begun to make friends in the
crip community and was excited that some west coast folks would
be in New Jersey. I was also drawn to go to the conference because,
way back when, I had attended Rutgers University, more specifically,
Douglass College, the campus where the conference was taking place.
Douglass College wasand
still isa women's college that I had attended as a female.
And here I was attending the conference not only as a guy, and an
AB guy, but as the male lover of Eli Clare, who most folks there
knew as a dyke. I called Eli from the conference and tried to relay
the primary experience of my day and being introduced as: "This
is Samuel. He's Eli's partner," "You know Eli? This is Eli's partner."
I even fell back on it myself when someone asked bluntly at breakfast,
"why are you here?" and I said "my partner is disabled" as if that
explained why this apparently able-bodied, single, maybe even straight,
young guy was there.
I have no problems with a primary
part of my identity being "Eli's partner"as funny and counter-intuitive
to our politics as that sounds. And because I was always quite comfortable,
willing, and able to talk about being the partner of a disabled
person, or at least this particular disabled person, that piqued
the interest of some folks gathered around the organizing table
that afternoon. People wanted this conference to be a place where
people talked about relationships-how we find them, nourish them,
keep them, add to them, end them. And about sexwith specifics
about how we have it with crip bodies. Where do we place the pillows,
how do we accommodate body parts that don't bend, or aren't solid,
or can't get hard or wet on their own. What about the body with
an absence of parts, or extras in places you don't expect? To talk
about the specifics of sex, we have to talk specifics about bodies.
And how do we talk about bodies without collapsing into a well of
Since I never felt at all intimidated
about at least the thought of talking about these thingsshy
maybe, but not intimidatedI was thrust into the role. When
one of the conference organizers started telling everyone that "Samuel
is gonna talk about AB/crip/queer relationships" people seemed excited.
So, one more thing: I have also
been one of the organizers of this conference, part of a fairly
small team that spent months sorting through details large and small,
everything from questions of alternative format materials, the scent-free
policy, big-time money anxiety, down to what colors to use on name
badges. Lots of work details that frankly have not been very sexy.
And working relationships that have been pretty businesslike, or
at least confined to the limits of cyberspace. So here I am with
this task, of talking about the giftsphysical, sexual, emotionalof
my relationship. To talk about overcoming shame in relationships
is to talk about intimacy. And to talk about intimacy, I have to
be intimate. It doesn't totally fit with all the email organizing
we've been doing. But here we are in the flesh at San Francisco
Statefeeling the seabreeze, the chilly fog, the buzz of all
these people hungry for the magic of connection. So let's go there.
Let me breathe in the intimacy and the trust of this room and take
I also need to add that I will
be referring to Eli using male pronouns, which might be confusing
for some people. But that's the pronoun I use, that we use, in our
My lover asks for a copy of a
photo of me that somehow didn't make it into the stack of doubles
I sent in the mail. These are pictures I can barely stand to look
at and I know that, to my partner, they capture many of the things
he loves about me. But I instinctively turn away from pictures of
me, learned from a lifetime of seeing only ugliness in the mirror.
I was born and raised as a girl,
but not a normal one. No one close seemed to really mind my tomboy
ways, a tacit acceptance that was a stroke of luck. But still, I
felt destined to be forever misunderstood, unable to ever name the
reason for my sense of shame and wrongness. I developed a hefty
armor to shield myself from tormentors, and I became pretty good
at standing up for myself. But the shame of absolute difference
ran into my bones, my pores, my essence. I couldn't name what it
was, but I didn't need to. It was doing its damage without benefit
of a common language. I got the message, lived the message, that
my queer body, butch body, freak body, was barely entitled to take
up any space at all.
Thankfully, I did do a lot of
work to break out of that space, but it hasn't been along a straight,
continuous line. Three years ago, I traveled here to San Francisco
for chest reconstruction surgery, and that was a big step in making
my body right. But when I came home from surgery, I confessed to
the friends who took me home from the airport, "now who's gonna
want me?" I finally had the body I wanted, or part of it anyway,
but couldn't quite imagine anyone else wanting it. As I settled
into my body, a lot of things shifted and I could actually believe,
if only for a second at a time, that I could be attractive. But
I still wasn't sure to whom. I mean, what category could I possibly
use to place my personals ad? How could I describe who I was, who
I was looking for?
I want to add though that this
wasn't really done in total isolation. There are many of us challenging
the gender binary, creating a new language, new words for who we
are and what we want.
Perhaps it is no surprise that
I found a poet.
I met Eli at a reading and, for
me, it was love at first paragraph. We kissed at lunch and spent
that first night together. All faster than either of us had ever
experienced and at the same time shockingly safe. I don't want to
gush too romantic, though you can probably tell I could. To put
it simply, we began to find a home in each other's bodies, in our
intertwined bodies, in our own bodies being touched like this for
the very first time.
Eli too had to move through layers
of shame, embarrassment, complete unfamiliarity. He had never let
his tremoring hand loose on someone else's body before, had always
tried to hold it back. I guess I gave him more than permission.
Immediately, my body started begging for that exact tremoring touch.
When I discovered that his right hand tremored more than the left,
that's the one I pulled to me, to rub my chest, cheek, thigh. I
didn't want a single bounce to go to waste. I don't want to sound
objectifying, or fetishistic, as if I was only attracted to this
person because of the shake. But I think that there was an utter
magic in the combination of my wanting that very specific thing
that for Eli was the root of so much of his own struggles with his
body. I wanted it, loved it. More than acceptanceit was an
Of course we can't easily explain
desirewhy it's there or where it comes from. But being desired,
and trusting that, reciprocating that, cracks us open. Sensually,
to me, Eli's CP is literally a gift. And I recognize the absurdity
of trying to imagine: would I have fallen in love with Eli if he
didn't have CP? That's an unanswerable koan. Would a boulder be
a boulder if it wasn't a boulder? I fell in love with someone with
CP, and I like the CP. Can it be that simple?
Eli once wrote: "me, looking at
me in the mirror and liking what I see, is a minor miracle." We
have helped each other achieve this miracle, and it feels more than
minor. In part that has come from the affirmation of the observing
eye. But it has also crept up from within. Pride and self-love a
mighty powerful byproduct of being admired and loved. Someone has
to do a lot of convincing for us to be able to peek at the mirror.
And we still have to do a lot of work ourselves.
For instance, what work did Eli
have to do to accept help from me? On one of our first hikes in
Vermont, on a steep, slippery trail, the kind where Eli moves especially
slowlyhe was shrugging off my outstretched hand, not wanting
any help. But I was only offering it in part to provide balance.
"We're lovers out on a hike," I reasoned, "you're supposed to want
to hold my hand." He laughed, relaxing, the tension breaking. Eli
has spoken of the filters that work to keep it all out. Here was
one mighty big filter doing its job.
We hike more easily now, Eli referring
to my hand serving as that "third point of contact"stabilizing
and comforting. But he still gets self-conscious of his preference
for crawling on all fours across narrow bridges, or dropping to
his butt to slide down even short descents over rocks. A key to
learning how to be okay with who we are is to have others not judge
us. I have no investment in how he crosses a bridge or uses a foothold.
Each hike, maybe, takes him a little further towards believing that.
He's got nothing to prove to me.
That capacity to not judge frees
him. And his capacity to not judge frees me. So, let me tell you
how my crip/queer/tranny lover helps me overcome my shame. I spoke
earlier of my queer, tranny, freak self. A lifetime with psychic
armor as sure as skin. Rooted with shame, with a notion that this
butch, tranny, freak body could never be desirable or hot. A shame
that is embedded in the collective unconscious of gender non-conforming
queers, where thousands of daily encounters are layered with danger,
disgust or distress.
Having transitioned, I am hardly
done. Yes, I am more at home in my body. Yes, I am safer on the
street, more solid in everyday relationships. Less visibly challenging
the gender binary, and less likely to have to pay a price for that
publicly. But the shame I speak of cannot possibly go away in real
time. It feels like it precedes my very being, going back into a
psychic prehistory. A lifetime where I could never settle in to
anything normal, couldn't pursue a "normal" job, have "normal" relationships.
Any attempts I made fell so far short they seemed like mockery.
What my body looked like, what my body wanted, could not be easily
explained. I had to stay small. Somehow, a big part of unlearning
that has come from my relationship with someone who not only loves
every single part of me, but who is also committed to moving in
an intentionally slow pace, perhaps immeasurable in human time.
I have always survived by moving with a kind of mania, a rushing
around that, ironically, (maybe), has kept me from freaking out.
But it's the slowing down that I really needed.
On that same early hike where
Eli first took my hand, he gazed around at the Vermont ruggedness,
cliffsides of granite, quartz and shale. Giant rocks dotting the
hills, dropped long ago by glaciers moving through. "If I believed
in reincarnation" he said "and I had a choice?... I'd want to come
back as a boulder." And there we had it. To me, Eli is a boulder,
a bedrock, a stabilizing force that took a long time to get there
and isn't going anywhere fast. What does his CP have to do with
this utter stillness? How does his perpetually tremoring body also
define an essence of solidness, of non-movement? Perhaps this is
just one more example of how contradictions actually create completeness.
Here are a few of my contradictions:
I am a man who was born female. As a gay transman, I am a faggot
without a dick. And no matter what they say about normal, about
possible, here I am. I know *I* exist. How do we create a language
to normalize who we are? Just how do we take hold of our unique
bodies, reframe a lifetime of shame into one of comfort and pride?
How do we actively love and celebrate, not just accept, our unique
I do not pretend to be able to
answer these questions.
Yeah, it helps when we have a
lover who says we're fucking hot. Or have a good exchange at a bar
or on the street. But it's a tenuous little bead of confidence that
can disappear in the moment it takes someone to wince away from
But I know that when I look at
pictures of my boyfriend, the ones he winces at out of lifelong
habit, I stare transfixed and hungry. And now he knows that too
when he smiles toward the camera lens. And for myself, I want to
be as beautiful as my lover thinks I am and I grow taller by being
loved by him. As old and as thick as a glacier, this pain is rooted
deep. Every kiss and shaky caress are like years of sun beating
down to begin to melt away layers. I know we do this for each other.
A desire that has no qualifiers, no "in-spite-of," or "although."
We are discerning, critical people and we want each other for all
the things that we are. Crip, tranny, queer. No judgments. Just
love. Freaky, wonderful, real love.
In so many ways, I am truly grateful.
LURIE (right) was a member of the
organizing committee for the Queer Disability conference and is
the boyfriend of a queer crip hottie (left). "Partners
and Allies," the conference
session where this article was presented, was a highlight of the
weekend for Samuel, not only because he got to talk about his relationship,
but because it was the only hour and a half when he wasn't interrupted
to deal with some crisis. You can reach him at email@example.com.