Brynn Tannehill

What It's Really Like Dating as a Transgender Woman

Filed By Brynn Tannehill | December 03, 2014 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ageism, BDSM, dating, dating while trans, fetishes, kink, marriage, queer community, transitioning

Author's Note: When I asked for input for this post on social media, I didn't receive enough responses from transgender men. I would love for someone within the trans masculine community to write a mirror article from that perspective.

incomplete-picture-puzzle.jpgA recent episode of "True Trans" with Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace addressed how being transgender affects relationships. Laura Jane's description of how it impacted her relationship with her wife in the first half of the episode was a very accurate portrayal of my own observations about the challenges of holding a pre-existing marriage together post-transition.

However, the second half of the episode -- which dealt with dating -- presented an incomplete or potentially misleading picture of what dating (or attempting to find a date) is like for transgender women.

Almost everyone interviewed about the topic was younger and lives in large metropolitan areas with significant queer communities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago). The reality of trying to date while transgender is far more difficult and complicated, however.

Check out the responses, after the break.

1.) Marriages that do survive are irrevocably changed.

The episode quotes a statistic that only 7% of marriages survive transition. While I cannot find the origin of this statistic, I do believe it is accurate. However, even if a marriage doesn't end, the statistic doesn't tell the whole story.

For most marriages I am aware of, transition is the end of sex. How individual couples deal with it varies. Some choose celibacy, others open the marriage up, others choose a version of polyamory. This lack of intimacy is usually a source of friction, and contributes to the sense of loss felt by both partners.

However, as some responses I received indicate, this friction can sometimes lead to self-discovery by both partners:

"During the first year of my transition I did discover that I have a growing attraction to men, something I never had before. I had by then been in a wonderful 11 year relationship with a woman who is still my partner today.

"Being newly minted with the label of pansexual and beginning to identify as polyamorous (legitimizing in a way years of consensual and healthy non-monogamy), I entered the dating pool primarily through online dating. - C, a 34-year-old pansexual transgender woman in the Los Angeles area.

"I don't love her because she's trans, or despite the fact that she's trans. It's not something I ignore or something that I focus on; it's a part of her. But she is trans. I've learned a lot just by being with her.

"I've learned to be grateful for things I'd previously taken for granted: My safety walking down the street, the fact that I can be reasonably confident of finding a job if I look for one, my assumption that others see me as I see myself with no need for me to constantly evaluate my behavior and others' reactions to it." - D, a 42-year-old cisgender partner of a transgender woman.

2.) Queer culture is an urban phenomenon.

In the video, Our Lady J states, "I found that it's easier to date people who don't really identify - period. There's just a fluidity that has to be there. And I think if you have a rigid definition of your sexuality you're going to have a hard time being open to someone who breaks that definition."

This is a fair definition of a queer orientation. Dating such individuals is indeed probably easiest; however, people with such attitudes are rare, and those who do possess them are nearly non-existent outside of urban centers with queer communities. As such, transgender women outside such areas struggle to find dates, much less partners.

"On OKC [OkCupid] some days I get upward of 30 messages. And some men just do not take no for an answer." - E, a 40-year-old queer transgender woman in NYC.

"I've had a fully filled out OKC profile for 18 months, and updated it regularly. I've listed myself as both bi and lesbian, but don't hide the fact that I'm trans. I haven't had a single unsolicited message in that time regardless." - J, a 38-year-old queer trans woman in rural Ohio.

"I turned to online dating (OKC), but in over a year now I've never actually gone on a date with anyone from the site. Overall, I don't get messages. Occasionally, I get a few responses when I contact someone, and then they disappear. It's a huge source of frustration." - N, a 31-year-old queer transgender woman in rural Wisconsin.

As a result, living outside a queer-friendly urban area can lead to nearly impossible odds for many transgender women.


3.) Dating in conservative areas is almost not worth it.

For trans women in the South, dating is both rare and dangerous for everyone, including would-be suitors.

"I live in Tennessee and had to wade through legions of creepy mouth breathers before I got to meet someone who treated me like a human, much less a woman... The biggest problems I've had dating revolve around location and culture. Southern culture shames the f**k out of anyone queer. Folks on the West coast might get to act like it ain't no thing, but around here not passing could actually get you seriously hurt.

"Naturally this extends to cis people with trans attractions, especially cis men. You have to really expand your scope, lower your standards, and have zero f***s to give in order to date as a trans woman in the rural south." - J, a 38-year-old straight transgender woman in Tennessee.

"I've dated around, but I have very few options, and with each person I date I feel like I am running out of opportunities for finding anyone, since I am not in a big city and the idea of dating a trans woman is kind of new and scary for a lot of women, I think. I mean, the dates were good, at least I thought, but they ghosted and disappeared. - K, a 26-year-old lesbian transgender woman in eastern Tennessee.

4.) Dating men has unique (icky) challenges.

Transgender women are often fetishized by straight men, resulting in a very skeezy-feeling experience.

"I find a lot of men fetishize trans women in a way that they don't other women. I often hear statements that no man would ever say to a ciswoman. For example: "I've always been curious about sex with a transsexual. Can you tell me what your penis is like?"" - E, a 40-year-old queer transgender woman in NYC.

"After reassignment surgery, it seems that the chaser pool dried up and I haven't had much luck with dating. The one time where I almost had a date post-surgery, after disclosing to him he of course had an existential crisis and cancelled." - J, a 30-year-old straight transgender woman in East Lansing, Michigan.

5.) Dating women has its own challenges as well.

Transgender women often have trouble finding safe spaces or acceptance in both gay and lesbian circles.

"I met two educated, professional women through OKC who identified as lesbian. I got immediate responses after coming out as trans to them: 1.) "Ann, I'm no longer able to communicate with you," and 2.) "Sorry I have to cancel our call tonight, something's just come up." - Ann, a 64-year-old lesbian transgender woman in Palm Springs, California.

"I've been comfortable going to gay bars since my early 20s, but now feel ignored and out of place, and in more lesbian spaces, it feels like I'm seen with great suspicion." - G, a pansexual/queer transgender woman in her late 40's, living in rural Maine.

"I identify as a lesbian, yet I have no idea how I would be received in a lesbian-only space. The hate-filled messages from trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) make me question how I would be received in a lesbian space, and even more so as a potential dating partner. I have zero confidence I would be welcome." - G, a 45-year-old lesbian transgender woman in San Francisco.

6.) Younger people are more accepting, but age is still a barrier.

Older transgender women -- particularly those attracted to women -- find a lot more acceptance among Millenials. However, age differences are still challenging.

"What I have found is that I see more interest from 20-something ladies. MUCH more interest, where my past seems to be greeted with acceptance. That being said, I do find it difficult to accept a relationship with a 23, 24, or 25 year old. Life experience and station in life mean something. Age is NOT just a number." - M, a 43-year-old lesbian transgender woman in Orlando, Florida.

"The few, the very few experiences I've had in the past 4 years have been with much younger cis women (20-25 years younger). One identified as queer and the other as bisexual. They both know me very well and know I'm trans." - G, a pansexual/queer transgender woman in her late 40s, living in rural Maine.

7.) Transgender people often end up dating other transgender people.

For many transgender people, it is easiest to find acceptance with other transgender people. This can make it even more difficult for people living in areas without a substantial queer community, and long-distance relationships are common as a result of the Internet.

"Thankfully, the love of my life is a transman with who I would trust with my life." - Anonymous

"In learning to love who I am through transition, I learned that I could be attracted to and love other women who are like I am. I suspect that my last statement may be true for many other trans women. We share a history with and understand each other in ways that few others can." - J, a 58-year-old lesbian in Seattle.

"My girlfriend is also trans. We live 2000 miles away from each other. Fortunately, we are sufficiently well-off that we can visit each other every four to six weeks, with phone and Skype filling in the gaps between. Dating a trans woman eliminates the doubt that I will be rejected because I was assigned male at birth, and ensures that we have a common experience." - G, a 45-year-old lesbian transgender woman in San Francisco.

8.) Dating other transgender people also poses significant challenges.

Getting through transition -- and losing friends, family, and relationships as a result -- leaves a mark. So does dysphoria. Sharing the same hurts isn't always a good thing.

"Looking into our lover's eyes is like peering into a looking glass, but a distorted one. Because we see all the signs of what our society has taught us is 'imperfect' and wrong with us. There is almost no way to look into that mirror and not project our own fears and desires of what we would like our body to look like.

"It takes a strength that on many days can be too great for us. Days when we've been mispronouned, misgendered, harassed, ridiculed for our appearance, it can be hard to come home and see those same things in your partner. Some days though, coming home to someone who knows what it is like to go through those things can be a source of strength.

"In this way, loving another transgender or gender-variant person is a double-edged sword, and it is unpredictable which side we may find ourselves on depending on the day." - K, a 29-year-old queer transgender woman in Washington, D.C.

9.) Race/education/religion can make a difficult situation nearly impossible.

When you add racial, religious, and educational barriers to transgender ones, it can greatly narrow the available dating pool even further.

"It's very difficult to find friends, much less someone to regularly date, being a trans woman of color. I've found that the same class and race bias that people have before they transition are what they keep when they start living as their target gender.

"I live in complete isolation today. Not by choice. The support groups for trans here are almost entirely white and middle-class. We have almost nothing in common. The black trans people I've met can't relate to another black with education and [who] comes from a successful career." - A, a 57-year-old queer transwoman in Mesa, Arizona.

"Since I am Christian, not a lot of guys in church are ready to date a trans woman. Nothing in the last five years." - M, a 40-year-old straight transgender woman outside Chicago, Illinois.

"I'm 70 and Jewish too. Think some mumser gonna look at me?" - S, a 70-year-old straight transgender woman in Florida.

10.) The kink and BDSM communities are often accepting.

Some transgender women find an accepting environment within the kink/BDSM communities. While these are more common in urban settings, they also exist in places with much smaller queer communities.

These are groups of people who have already opened themselves up to a greater range of romantic and erotic possibilities, and transgender often just adds to the smorgasbord. However, the risk of being just another fetish remains high.

"I find the BDSM/kink community to be extremely open-minded and welcoming in every way; it is a place of sexual liberation. This includes of alternative genders running the whole gamut from part time cross-dressers to full-time trans girls and trans men to gender-fluid types, as well as alternative religious beliefs and alternative relationship structures.

"For what it's worth, I have found acceptance from both lesbians and straight men. But in all cases they've been specifically 'trans-interested' rather than generally looking for a woman and agreeing to date me because they see me the same as a woman.

"I would like to be seen as no different from a ciswoman. But I find more advantage and companionship through embracing that I am a creature apart. In life, we all do better when we own our uniqueness, and while for a transwoman this can be difficult because it may feel like a failure of transition, it may be better in the end." - E, a 40-year-old queer transgender woman in NYC.

11.) Despair is a common theme.

Many transgender women who transitioned later, and lost marriages in the process, despair of having a relationship again. They see the odds and circumstances as being so stacked against them that they no longer try.

"So, really if you are older than 30 let's say, and your current relationship fails when you come out as trans your prospects are dim at best. You also seem to have diminishing returns the older you get. A life of dysphoria, then rejection, then loneliness ... great." - A, a 39-year-old lesbian transgender woman in Southwick, MA.

"At this rate, I do not hold out much hope for finding my love. I've tried all the dating sites with not much success. I do actually feel at this point that it is highly likely I will live out my remaining days alone despite being 'amazing' as my friends describe me. What I feel is amazingly lonely." - M, a 43-year-old lesbian transgender woman in Florida.

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