I Call Him My Boyfriend

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V, on the left, with Alyssandra

Alyssandra Lynette was born a boy and her boyfriend “V” a girl.  Alyssandra has undergone hormone therapy to resemble a female. “V” hasn’t undergone any hormonal or physical changes.  While society views them as two women, they define their relationship as heterosexual.

They first saw each other on the Transgender Alliance’s Facebook group. The group did a roll asking everyone what their preferred pronouns were. People on the trans spectrum select pronouns that fit the gender they associate with. Sometimes it can be the simple “he” or “she, but it can get a bit more intricate with gender neutral pronouns such as  “Zis” the equivalent of “theirs.”

The terms allow for a greater berth of self-expression that “he” or “she” might not provide.
“Binary gendered pronouns are like a crayon box with three colors. They aren’t useless, you can do something with them, but they aren’t including the variety of expression that’s out there,” explains Dr.  Ruben Hopwood, Coordinator of Transgender Health at Fenway Clinic, in Boston, MA.

On the roll call list Alyssandra spotted V and felt he looked familiar.  After finding out they had eleven mutual friends she went ahead and sent a friend request. They talked for a day before cooling off.

“I noticed that he had been commenting and liking my photos. I had just broken things off with my on-and- off boyfriend off two years. I was swearing off guys, I thought I’d date a woman next,” Alyssandra said.

V reached out to Alyssandra as she was having a tough day at Emerson College. They talked late into the night as Alyssandra, a theater major currently taking a year off, finished writing a review for "Dear White People." The next day V asked Alyssandra out on a date. Even though Alyssandra had sworn off men she said yes.

V was nervous about meeting Alyssandra in person. His nerves extended past first date jitters.  In a deep rasp he said,
“ I look exactly like a girl. I was so scared. Has she seen my pictures?”

V had dated men before without success and found more comfort dating trans women. This had led to some in the trans community calling him a “tranny chaser.”  Someone who feels sexually attracted to trans women. The term insinuates a fetishized interest.  “I don’t break women into parts. I just want someone who understands what I’m going through,” V said.

V never identified with the lesbian community and had no desire to date a cis female. A cis person identifies as the gender they were assigned to at birth. Members of the trans community told him he’d have more chance with a cis male.  His reluctance to undergo hormone therapy or plastic surgery has led to misunderstanding within and outside the trans community. The health risks and also the possibility that hormone therapy could decrease the ability to carry a child make him hesitant.

Doctors tend to assign gender based on genitalia and the reproductive organs of a baby. The correlation between reproductive organs and gender holds steadfast throughout the life of that child. Dr. Hopwood explained that this doesn’t show a full picture.

“What is it that makes a real man or real women? Often times I find people fall immediately to reproduction," he said,  "we have to take a step back and ask, ‘what about people who can’t reproduce?’ Who aren’t trans but just can’t reproduce? Something happened in their system that they are no longer able to have children. Are they no longer real men and real women, and most people will think about that and say 'no.' So then it’s not about reproduction.”

V tries to not let other people’s perception of him pressure him into undergoing hormonal or physical changes.
“Those same people that are saying 'she is not a man because she has a uterus,' would say that if I had a beard,'" he said.

V and Alyssandra went out to the movies and a year and half later they haven’t stopped seeing or talking to each other.  In August, Alyssandra moved in with V. They share a full twin sized mattress and watch shows on their TV. Alyssandra loves Scandal while V likes Son of Anarchy; so much so, a SOA calendar hangs on the wall.

For Alyssandra this was the first time in two years she had a place that felt like home. From a young age she knew she wasn’t like her older brothers or the men predominantly of color that she saw growing up in both Dorchester and Mattapan. Her mother, Andrée Smith, sits on the board of trustees at the Eliot Congregational church of Roxbury.  When Alyssandra was 11 she came out to her mother as gay.

“My mom is very much a Christian and I think that had a large part to do with it, but I also think she was just scared,” Alyssandra said.

Alyssandra came out to her mother at around the same time that her sister Sequina Taylor was marrying her lesbian partner;  Sequina divorced in 2009. Her mother did not allow Alyssandra to attend the wedding and thought that her coming out was a ploy to go to her sister’s wedding. Alyssandra remained adamant that she was gay  and her mother had trouble accepting this.

“She told people at school that I was lying and that it wasn’t true. She sabotaged me without knowing it. I think she was trying to protect me, but it fucked up a lot of things,” she said.

Two years later after her third failed suicide attempt she decided to come out as trans to her mother. She knew she would face harsh repercussions.

“The night I came out I knew I was gonna get kicked out,” she said.

At age 19 and in her senior year at Waldorf High School of Massachussets Bay her mother kicked her out of the house. She lived with her aunt before moving in with Sequina. Sequina and Alyssandra have an 18-year age gap between the two of them.

Sequina had a tense relationship with her mother since she came out as lesbian and sympathized with her sister.

“She always had a place with me. It is hard,” she said.

At her sister’s she enjoyed much more freedom. With the freedom also came the financial responsibilities. She started working a part time job. After getting accepted into college she spent a total of three months escorting. She set up clear boundaries that excluded intercourse but she still felt uncomfortable. 

“I just didn’t like the feeling I got from it. I felt like I was being used,” she said.

Things were even tougher because Alyssandra and her mother did not communicate. “My mom is an amazing woman and I look up to her. We are working on fixing things," she said.

During that year Alyssandra joined a theater troupe called True Colors. True Colors centers around having members of the LGBTQ family tell their story. It was around this time that Ellen Brodsky started shooting a documentary called “The Year We Thought About Love.” The documentary centered on the troupe as they performed a piece on their experiences with coming out and love.  Alyssandra’s willingness to open up made her a central figure.

“She was so open to us. She invited us into her sister’s home,” said Brodsky.

At the Q&A sessions for the documentary Alyssandra would answer questions. Brodsky found that she possessed a forte with her ability to connect with a crowd.

Alyssandra at first was unaware of how prominent a role she had in the documentary. As the documentary started screening she found herself speaking as an activist for the trans community. While she at times found herself uncomfortable with the role, V helped her see how important it was.

“V told me that people like me can either validate or invalidate people like him. I don’t want to be a voice for anybody else, but if I have to I will,” she said.

V, unlike Alyssandra, hasn’t come out to his mother or stepfather. He came out to his sister, a close cousin and brother. His sister at first was confused and asked a lot of questions.

“Once she heard me to talk about Ally it clicked for her,” he said.

At 19 he realized he was trans.

“It made sense one day. I realized I am not comfortable being feminized. I don’t need it to feel confident or attractive,” he said.

It was when she had her first crush on a trans girl that things started to solidify.

“I was living with my boyfriend at the time and he knew I was something, he thought it was some type of gay. I had a crush on this trans girl Stephanie who I worked with and I knew I had to come out,” he said.

Before coming out he had a series of relationships with men where things didn’t work out due to boyfriends accusing him of emasculating them.

“I was just out right wrong about needing or wanting masculine energy. I used to really think that if I’m this strong woman and people say you need a strong man to handle things; and that’s not true no one should be handled,” he said.

After just turning 30, life for V is more solid. He just started a 401k, has a job as a property manager for Trinity Management and he’s in a steady relationship.
“Ally is such a bonus in his life,” said Max a friend and resident at one of the buildings V manages .

V sat next to Alyssandra on their bed and nodded his head.

“All this stuff is happening but I got Ally,” he said.

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