Interviewed by Zamara Perri
Adrienne Kincaid is a black, trans, lesbian, engineer who lives in Portland with her wife, Jamie, their dog, Angus, five cats, a bearded dragon, a turtle, a hedgehog and a bunch of fish. She gave us a glimpse of her story in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post.
I thought it was so important that we share Adrienne’s story as there aren’t many stories of black trans women who identify as lesbian.
In the following in-depth interview she talks about coming out as trans, finding love and settling into family life:
Black Lesbian Love Lab (BL3): When did you realize you were trans?
Adrienne: It’s not so much that I realized I wasn’t a boy. I just I finally understood that people genuinely, expected me to be a boy. As a kid, I would pretend to shave my legs. I was punished for pretending to shave my legs. The toy shaver disappeared after that. I was probably six or so at that point
I knew I was different around 8 or 9. At around age 15, I more or less just boxed up everything that wasn’t about being intelligent and put it in a box deep inside my head.
BL3: When did you start coming out to yourself again?
Adrienne: By 23, my life had fallen apart, my marriage had ended, and I hated myself. I started therapy and immediately hit on the whole idea that I was a woman, but because I was born in the 1960s and raised by people who were born in the 1920s, I thought that meant I was a gay man.
I moved to the Bay Area and started university and tried to date men. That was a disaster, and I had two epiphanies; the first was that gay men were men and felt like men.
The second was that a basic prerequisite for being a gay man is being attracted to men.
BL3: What does transgender mean to you?
Adrienne: Transgender describes my experience of coming to womanhood.
BL3: When did you start coming out to other people?
Adrienne: People I was dating were immediately in the circle of ‘need to know’ as soon as it got to a first kiss. I was dating within the women’s community, pre-operatively. So the sooner the conversation is had, the better.
With friends, it was more a question of filling the gaps. I talked very little about my life prior to transition, and when I did, I was circumspect in the extreme. There were friendships that reached a point of intimacy where I felt that they had a need to know.
BL3: Do you think you’ll ever get to a point where you feel comfortable dropping “transgender” as part of your identity?
Adrienne: The best answer I can give is, probably not. I’ll be blunt, I didn’t want this, I merely played the hand I was dealt. For my money I’d have just as soon have been born with the second X chromosome and saved myself the trouble. But you don’t choose the cards you’re dealt in life, you just play the hand as it is.
Adrienne: In your Huffington Post article, you noted that you never faced any real challenges in assuming your true identity. How wonderful! How did you come to terms with essentially being same-gender-loving?
Adrienne: Actually, I really glossed over the challenges and I should have made it clear because I started transition way too early for it to have been an easy path. It wasn’t. It was hard. Hands down the most difficult thing I think I’ll ever accomplish.
I glossed over the hard parts because enough people know about the hard parts and every single trans person over the age of about 30 knows, for an absolute certainty, that it’s hard. It’s the predominant thing you will hear or read about black trans women. I wanted to tell a different story.
BL3: Do you consider yourself a lesbian?
Adrienne: I consider myself a lesbian. I use queer as a convenient shorthand.
BL3: What made you decide to do gender confirmation surgery?
Adrienne: I’ve wanted it since 1982 when I found out it was possible on, of all things, an episode of The Love Boat.
Ultimately, surgery was my goal because every single day I had to deal with a part of my body that was absolutely and definitively not woman.
On Dating Same-Gender-Loving Women
BL3: Did the queer/same-gender-loving women that you dated find it challenging to accept that you were a lesbian who had not had Gender Confirmation Surgery? Tell us a little about those conversations.
Adrienne: Some women did and some didn’t. If I found out a woman was bisexual, then the conversation became easier because at least what I had between my legs wasn’t a problem per se.
That said, I would usually try to feel someone out on the first date. If things got to a first kiss, then I would say “we have something to talk about.” I never had it go ugly. No one ever said ‘ick!’
The last two women in the Bay Area where we were mutually sprung over one another and intrigued at the potential. Both told me that they would probably live to regret this but that my being pre-op was a problem.
It was hard to hear, but your desires are your desires and being able to see that is lived feminism to me.
BL3: Who was the first girlfriend/partner that you had that made you feel completely comfortable as a lesbian?
Adrienne: Probably the first time I felt comfortable was with this woman I was with back in the mid-1990s. I was about five years in. Samantha (not her name) was this gorgeous butch from Iowa who had moved to the Bay Area to go to seminary.
I put her through her first year of seminary and then she became he. I left because I was a lesbian. At the time it was very core to my identity. It still is!
BL3: Let’s talk about being in the oppression Olympics for a second. You’re a black, queer, trans woman in an interracial relationship. Do you ever feel like, damn, what the hell? How do you handle all those identities at once?
Adrienne: Oh it’s even more complicated than just that! Jaime grew up government housing poor. I grew up in the black upper middle class. My father was in Alpha Phi Alpha and my mother was a Kappa. That kind of black family. My parents were both educators and very old school ones at that. Mom taught 19th-century British literature and dad taught teacher education.
We went to an AME church in Sacramento and lived in a pretty tony neighborhood so along with being black and queer and a trans woman I have a strong, very strong, identification with a certain kind of blackness.
BL3: How does your wife support and honor your identity/ies?
Adrienne: Mostly she just loves me.
BL3: Tell us a little bit about your wife, Jaime. Does she consider herself a lesbian?
Adrienne: Jaime is bisexual. She’s an amazing woman and it’s been my pleasure watching her pick up, self-taught mind you, knitting and spinning within the last year. She’s an avid equestrian; she loves riding dressage. She grew up ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’ as they used to say and she has taught me a lot about what it’s like to grow up poor which is something I had no firsthand knowledge of.
On Meeting Her Wife, Jamie
BL3: How did you two meet?
Adrienne: The dating site OKCupid. At the time she was still belly dancing, and there was this picture of her doing a layback, and I read through this woman’s profile thinking “she is so out of my league” but I got to the very end, and she said, “I LOVE NERDS!” I thought I had nothing to lose.
BL3: What attracted you to each other?
Adrienne: We’re both nerdy as the day is long. About different things, mind you, but we also have plenty of nerdiness in common. Jaime is uncommonly intelligent, and intelligence is a huge turn-on for me.
BL3: What do you love about each other?
Jamie: Adrienne is hands down the smartest person I know. Brains are definitely sexy. But she’s also sweet, and gentle, and doesn’t ever want me to feel like she’s got the upper hand in our relationship.
There’s no pretending not to be emotionally invested or any of the other games so common in romantic relationships. She lets me see the vulnerable side of her that no one else knows is there.
BL3: When did you realize this woman was special to you?
Adrienne: It was our first winter together. We had a ‘Snowpocalypse, ’ and we were stuck in this crappy little two bedroom apartment for two weeks. I worked from home, and Jaime was just off during that period and instead of being tired of each other when it thawed, and we had to start going back to the office, we were both saying that we could have had another week of that and it would’ve been just fine.
BL3: How long have you two been together? What’s your secret to having a happy, healthy relationship?
Adrienne: We’ve been together for 10 years. I would say that three things have really helped. We make one another laugh on a regular (I mean daily) basis. If you keep one another laughing, you’ll continue to like one another. The second is that we don’t try to process the hell out of every emotion that one of us feels. Let one another be human.
So many people seem to treat their marriage as a competition. So much effort is put into making sure both partners are doing their share and getting resentful if one person thinks they’re doing “more” than their partner.
We both look at our marriage like the buddy system for grownups. We both consider it our job to take care of the other and try to make things easier for them. So I clean the litter boxes, not because it’s my job but because I know she hates to do it. She cleans the bathroom because she knows I hate to do that.
I think caring more about your partner’s needs and wants than your own is the foundation of a strong marriage. It just doesn’t seem that way sometimes, because it only works if both people genuinely put their partner first.
BL3: Are you and Jamie legally married? And if so, why was it important to get married?
Adrienne: Yes, we are legally married since 2014. I’m middle-aged, and I was facing down a major surgery. I wanted to make certain that if anything were ever to happen to me, Jaime was covered.
BL3: What was the best memory from your wedding day?
Adrienne: I don’t think I could pick just one. I loved the whole day. It was tiny, low budget and held in our back yard with a barbecue reception. It was perfect even though some things didn’t go as planned.
BL3: What advice, if any, do you and Jaime have to share with other lesbian couples where one or both are transgender?
Adrienne: Surgery is a solution to one problem and only that problem. It won’t fix your life. You still have to do that. Don’t wait for surgery to start fixing your life, fix your life as part and parcel of transition.
To the non-transgendered partner, understand that it’s not about you.
There may be times when your partner seems to be having a great time in bed and then very suddenly isn’t. It’s not about you, don’t take it personally.
Understand that transition is a time of intense introspection, and yes, sometimes selfishness. It’s the nature of the beast. Make sure you ask for what you need because sometimes your partner might not notice what’s going on with you through all the noise in their head. That doesn’t mean they have a right to ignore your needs, just that they need a little help to see them.