[Content warning: Sexually explicit language]
I’ve written quite extensively about my experience of dating cis people while trans — specifically, while being a female-assigned-at-birth boy, with a vulva, who is sexually and romantically attracted to men. I’ve tried on and tolerated several labels for who I am: gay trans man, trans fag, and during my more desperate, crude hours on online hookup ads, “Twinky, fem, bottom FTM boy with a pussy he was born with.” It’s a weird combination of speaking the language of the oppressors for their approval and giving a middle finger to the world by saying, “What’s wrong with being that anyway?”
Reclamation? It’s a messy business. Particularly when you are a sex worker, or have sex addiction and need a fix. Consequently, I ended up fucking with a lot of people who did not respect me.
I had two realms of “dating”: strict hook-ups, sometimes for money, usually intoxicated and dissociated. And then regular dates, which were rarer, where a guy met me for dinner or coffee or something. The men of the first category were straight or bi and usually on the down low. They were often unstable and disrespectful. The men in the latter group were gay, bi, queer, pansexual cis boys who might have wanted to get to know me. They terrified and bored me. And often, they were equally offensive.
When I was in high school and my early 20s, I dated girls. That was when nobody saw me as a boy. Once people did, my sexuality seemed to do a 180. My first real boy-crush was on a fellow trans guy in college. We never “dated,” by his choice. We instead had a tragic Brokeback Mountain-esque affair; he had a girlfriend he was cheating on. When that ended, I was cured of my naïve illusion that two trans boys would be the perfect solution to all my angst. After that, I started with cis men, and similarly, it was usually a disaster.
After leaving college and coming back to Syracuse, I became pretty jaded by my repeated interactions with insensitive and clueless cisgender men. But my perspective has broadened. I now think about dating while trans in terms of how I treat others — in addition to how they treat me. I look at my own actions and don’t just see myself as a victim of other people. I’m not saying that I haven’t faced a lot of abuse. But currently, I’m more interested in writing about a new perspective, one that comes out of my year-and-a-half long serious, monogamous relationship with a trans man named Joey.
Suddenly, with Joey, the tables were turned. I found myself having to watch what I said and apologize for cissexist comments. As a trans person, I was not exempt. The pivotal moment for me came on our trip to Boston. It is hard to write about, because I do not come off looking good. But I feel it’s important.
Drunk and messed up after giving a triggering reading at an open-mic, I said to my boyfriend, who I love dearly, that I wished he just had a big dick to fuck me, and that it was easy. It was a drunk, misguided attempt at flirtation, believe it or not.
I knew he wished this, too — and it wasn’t exactly a secret that I was a bottom and physically enjoyed such things. Nevertheless, I shamed him for his body. And in the same night, I texted an old abusive cisgender ex to ask him “what was up.” Luckily my phone died, and I confessed to Joey what I’d done. But this situation led to many big, difficult discussions and a lot of tears. We came pretty close to the end of what had been a great, loving relationship. I had admit to myself that I’d acted like a jerk. And I had to decide whether it was really Joey’s body that I had a problem with, or whether it was the messages I had received about my own body and about what it means to be a real man.
I realized that it wasn’t fair to put that on him. If I was going to love him, I had to love him for who he was, even the parts he didn’t love. It wasn’t my place to make matters worse. I had to get to know him and learn what language made him comfortable. Just because he didn’t identify with his body didn’t mean I could freely insult it. And so it took holding two seemingly opposing truths in my head at once: I love Joey, and his body, just as he is. And at the same time, his ideal image of his body is more sexually appealing to me.
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But is it really just trans people who deal with this? The more I thought about society’s influence on how we engage sexuality, I realized I didn’t have an investment either way in Joey’s body. I just wanted him to be comfortable. Whatever changes he made, I wanted it to be for himself. I realized my judgments weren’t even my own, and that my perception of male beauty wasn’t even my own. And actually, Joey is attractive to me — in the present tense. And that was why I wanted to date him. It was that simple.
As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, I tend to be very blunt and honest and sometimes unaware of other people’s feelings. Recently, I’ve realized that I’ve avoided looking at myself by always dating jerks. If I was the one being hurt, then I didn’t have to worry about the responsibility for how I acted. But now, I’m with someone who treats me right. And, with few exceptions, I treat him right, too. But it was a hard fact for me to face that I have, on occasion, been abusive to him, even if I didn’t mean to be. I’m not saying he’s perfect, either. But this was my first real grown-up relationship. And it matters to me a lot. So I’m in therapy. I’m working on myself, because I want to be the sort of person who is a good partner. The oppression I’ve faced in my life has made it harder for me. But it’s my job to fix it.
Sex is hard. Both of us are also survivors of repeated sexual abuse. We both carry a ton of baggage. We both have extreme body image issues. These issues are the hard part of our relationship as well as the source of its strength. We get each other. We support each other and can talk things through.
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Dating while trans isn’t just about other people discriminating against us. It’s about learning to dismantle our own internalized discrimination and not inflict it on others. It’s about treating others as you want to be treated. And I can see how it must have been for those people who dated me. Because honestly, it’s not always easy to date trans people. We often have issues. It isn’t our fault, but it’s true. And personally, it’s taken a lot of self-work for things to improve.
But all relationships take work. Isn’t that what they say? I believe that Joey and I are both becoming stronger versions of ourselves by loving each other. So, for the first time, on this subject, I am not all doom and gloom. I am trans, and I have found love. But it wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t. It takes constantly checking in with myself to see whether I’m being treated okay, and it takes constantly checking in with myself to make sure I treat my partner okay, too. For me, it wasn’t just hard to find love and trustworthiness in a partner. It was hard learning to how to love and be trustworthy as well.
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[Headline image: The photograph features the author on the left and his partner on the right. The author appears in profile and is kissing his partner on the cheek. His partner has his head tilted slightly back with the hint of a smile on his face. They are sitting in the front seat of a car, with the steering wheel visible.]