Sky and Mike

Sky, 64, and Mike, 55, Palm Springs, CA, 2017

Jess T. Dugan
American, born 1986
Sky, 64, and Mike, 55, Palm Springs, CA, 2017
Pigment print
Promised gift L2019.158.4

I identify as a polyamorous gay trans man, primarily with a bear bent. A gay man that happens to be very different from many other gay men, but definitely polyamorous. My partner and I have been together a little more than twenty-five years, and that was the core beginning of our relationship.

My way here was as part of the women’s community. I failed miserably as a lesbian. I had sex with too many men. So it just wasn’t right. I moved to San Francisco in 1986 and became very involved in the women’s SM community. I am one of the founders of International Ms. Leather. I had to hide being a trans man for a while because I thought they would take my “card” away. Well, I finally committed and said, “This is not right.” So that’s when I began to transition and never looked back.

I also identify as a dad. My son just turned eleven last week. He’s actually my grandson; my daughter passed away six years ago from cancer. When she passed, he realized very quickly that he didn’t have a mom and he didn’t have a dad, so we let him figure out how that felt to him and what he wanted to do about it. And he decided he wanted dads. I think he’s pretty clear that we’re grandpas, but it doesn’t suit him. We let him choose names for us as well, so I’m Papa and my partner is Daddy Bear. And he always introduces us as his dads.

I’ve long thought that there’s no better school than the world. So we, the little guy and I, will hit the road full-time soon in our RV. We have lots and lots of plans. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to travel anywhere I want to—and I travel a fair amount—and not get any sorts of flack. People assume I’m either a Vietnam vet, a biker, or someone totally crazy you better not fuck with. Either of those three things tends to work for me until I open my mouth and a purse falls out.
I live in abundance of many things: experiences, family, friends, serendipity. Living in abundance is what keeps us healthy and happy. You can’t be shackled by the minutiae of stress and expect to have a full life, and to be fearful feeds into that minutiae. Life really begins when you step out of fear. I’m gonna go where I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go see what I’m gonna see. He and I are going to have adventures without living in fear!

Well, it’s not terribly complicated. I have always identified on the masculine spectrum and have used the words FTM, trans man, gay man, and male to identify myself. Before I transitioned, I was with a woman in a butch/femme lesbian relationship. I identified as a leather dyke back then, and was definitely butch. In October of 1990, I went to a conference, heard of female-to-male, which I didn’t even know was possible, and went through an identity crisis. I started testosterone in February of 1991. I did not lose a lot of friends, but in the beginning it was a little rocky. It was different back then. There was no internet. You found out about groups through the back of magazines. For a while, I refused to identify as either/or. I identified as sort of both, what we would call “queer” these days. For all intents and purposes, I still identify as queer, but my identity doesn’t come up for the most part. I get seen as male. I spend most of my time, in terms of sexualized spaces, with other gay men.

I have a unique situation wherein I have a long-term relationship with Sky, a long-term relationship with a woman who identifies as queer, and an SM relationship with another man, who I’ve been with for ten years. Sky and I have been together for twenty-five years, and my girlfriend and I have been together for fifteen years. Sky’s the first person I met who I could see growing old with, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve stayed together. We’re able to talk to each other and confide in each other. And the fact that we’re polyamorous; the freedom to have other relationships has made our relationship stronger.

One of the hardest things in terms of transitioning was the difference in personal space. When I was perceived as female, there wasn’t a lot of touching . Women don’t get into each other’s space. When two women are attracted to each other they don’t immediately put their hands on the other woman’s body. It’s not considered appropriate. Whereas the way men cruise, there’s about two seconds of eye contact, and then an approach, and either hands on your chest or hands in your crotch or some other type of immediate physical contact. I started out with a lot of insecurity in terms of my body, insecure about myself, and it has taken time to build confidence. Part of it is I lucked out: I wanted body hair, I wanted facial hair. I got it in abundance! I fit right in to the bear community; I’m short, bald, chubby, and hairy. It’s a niche for me. Realizing that someone was attracted to me, that I deserved positive interaction, that I deserved being seen that way, has taken some work. So getting used to or comfortable with that dynamic, getting comfortable with myself, was what this journey was mostly about.

I don’t have any concerns about aging, per se, because I don’t think our issues are terribly different from anybody else who’s aging. I think the greatest fear for me is the greatest fear for anybody who’s in a couple, that my partner will pass away. I’m also worried about the lack of nursing homes and long term care facilities geared toward our community. Right now, if something happened and I needed to be in a home, finding a place where I would be comfortable would be a challenge. I’m hopeful that in the next twenty years, something will change, preferably sooner rather than later.