by Steven Allison

Navigating the tricky terrain of romance as a trans person

Think dating is tough? Try dating as a transgender person. Steven Allison speaks to two people about their experiences in the world of love and explores just how different those encounters can be.

Navigating the tricky terrain of romance as a trans person Subscript
Those three words we all want to hear…but it is even more difficult to find love as a trans person?

Today’s world of dating is a terrifying minefield. People are more brutal than ever, willing to take no prisoners in their search for “the one”, able to be as cruel as they like behind the protection of their smartphone screens.

Dating apps – those ‘virtual human supermarkets’ – offer rejection or acceptance at the swipe of a finger. The aisles of Tinder and the like are lined with towering shelves, always fully stocked with such a wide selection of goods, that making a choice seems like an impossible task. When a person can be coaxed into actually meeting face-to-face (oh the horror), they’re more often than not one of the following: a narcissist; a desperado; incapable of banter; ten years older than they said; or a different person altogether – this last one actually happened to me once.

Yes, it’s all horrific and sounds like it couldn’t get worse. It can, though, if you’re transgender.

‘The minefield of dating can be even more treacherous for trans people’

We live in a time when the conversation about non-normative identity is louder than ever, and thank goodness for that. Yet the status quo continues to prevail, with dated perceptions of what is and isn’t “normal” all around. For that reason, the minefield of dating can be even more treacherous to navigate for trans people, with extra potential explosions of disappointment around every corner.

Whether personal identity is raised before meeting, on the first date or later down the line, many trans people are forced to deal with a level of cruelty generally unheard of elsewhere. They can be called a host of ugly names, part of themselves irrationally torn to shreds, all in a feeble endeavour by a small number of hateful, misguided idiots to safeguard “the norm.”

Sarah Davies, a trans woman from Toronto, says that she’s had a lot of insults fired at her in the past, with “an abomination of nature” and “fucking freakazoid” being the most egregious. “They’re never original and always laughable, but they still hit you like a bullet,” she admits. Yet, experiences vary widely. Nixon Brathwaite, a trans man from Bristol, hasn’t encountered anything comparable. When he came out, his partner at the time was “incredibly supportive,” making sure that he “felt extremely loved.”

Navigating the tricky terrain of romance as a trans person Subscript
Nixon Brathwaite, who has had mostly positive experiences while dating in Bristol, UK

However, few people – even those who consider themselves as liberal thinkers – are keen on the idea of dating a trans person. A 2018 study of 1000 cisgender people found that only 12% would date a trans woman or trans man. Sarah believes that people are “mostly held back by a fear of public embarrassment and by shocking friends and family.” The results of the study clearly indicates that, while awareness of trans as normal is increasing, the widespread perception of trans people as equal is still a distant speck.  

Then there are those open to dating trans people – but what about their motivations? Trans is simply a non-issue for some. At the top of their agenda is getting to know someone, what they do for a living, how they spend their free time, etc. For them, gender doesn’t necessarily need to be part of the equation. Nixon finds that folks like that generally leave it to him to bring up his transness in conversation: “I’ll usually gauge whether I feel ok to go there, but if I’m asked questions guided by the right intentions, I’m happy to share.”

Others actively seek trans people, driven by an established fetish or by a curiosity. Nixon, admitting that he might just be “a cynical bastard,” sometimes worries about being an opportunity “to try something new.” At the same time, some trans people state on their dating profiles that they are happy to be treated as an ‘experiment’. Nixon is on the fence with this, suggesting that it’s a little “sad.” Sarah has been told that being trans is “hot or sexy” and that to be with her would be “such a turn on.” This sort of response makes her “want to run.”

‘Some trans people state on their dating profiles that they are happy to be treated as an ‘experiment”

The dating experiences of both Sarah and Nixon seem worlds apart in some respects, and so wildly different to other accounts that I’ve read online. I can’t help but wonder if this has anything to do with a disparity in attitudes between Canada and the United Kingdom; or even between Toronto and Bristol, more specifically.

Alternatively, it may just boil down to individual circumstances. Like the study quoted, the experiences of these two individuals are by no means representative of all trans dating. I hope that Nixon’s future doesn’t hold the same negativity that Sarah has faced and that his life turns out to be great for him. And the same goes for all trans people out there.

Dating sucks at the best of times, so I wish you well on your quest for love (or even just a roll in the hay).

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By Steven Allison

Freelance writer, editor and proofreader

Steven is a Scottish freelance writer and editor living in London. You'll often find him in a cozy corner of some coffee shop or other working on an article or his first novel. He also loves to learn French, sketching, and bake in his spare time.