‘She’s not going to be into you: she dates men.’
Let’s be clear: there are many possible reasons that she is not into me.
It could be some combination of my winning CV – I have an awkwardly intense personality, a rapidly receding hairline and I recently emerged from a long-term relationship.
It may have nothing to do with me. She has thoughts, feelings and desires that I am not privy to. I cannot speak to what is in her head or heart.
It could be anything, really. And that’s okay. I can be into her, and she can be not into me. She certainly does not owe me an explanation as to why she is uninterested.
What’s not okay is that a mutual friend assumed it would be the one thing it’s not, the one criteria I actually fill.
I am a man, after all.
I medically transitioned from female to male in the safety of a long-term monogamous relationship. I never had to question how people see the intersection of my gender identity and my sexuality. Or perhaps more pointedly, how they see the intersection of my gender identity and their sexuality.
My partner bore the brunt of that emotional labour. She was the one who had to negotiate unwelcome questions about what my transition meant for her sexuality. The answer (‘Not a lot, really’) was never very satisfying for people. The desire to know what someone else is doing in the bedroom is seemingly insatiable.
This voyeuristic urge is never more palpable than when you are newly single and fielding suggestions from friends about who you might date.
It is supposed to be a good time to be single and trans. We’re hot property, after all – the flavour of the month. We’re on magazine covers and winning civic and cultural awards. We’re mostly allowed to use the bathroom in public, and you can even marry us in any number of uncomplicated ways.
I certainly find it easier to come out now than I ever have. The combination of my own ageing and the activism of others has made my life much easier. I still never seem to find the right moment or the right method to come out, but people are very eager to express solidarity when I do.
While this perpetual outing can be tiring, it tends to relieve my major remaining anxiety – trying to figure out exactly when someone will realise I am trans and what it will cost me when they do.
I cover this anxiety with a series of well-worn jokes about the potential benefits of sexual relationships with transmasculine people. For starters, if it’s a penis you want, you can choose ours. The technology is getting quite good and increasingly affordable.
With transmasculine people, there’s no danger of an accidental pregnancy. We are generally aware that there are ways and means of giving pleasure that do not begin and end with sticking our penis somewhere. We have often been socialised to put the needs of others first – an endless potential benefit to a sexual partner.
As funny as I may think I am, here I am succumbing to the exact trap I am trying to outrun: reducing my own sexuality to the benefits or otherwise of my gender identity.
I’ve been trying to locate the centre of this knot. Unsurprisingly, I think a lot of it starts and finishes with the oppression of women. The ultimate assumption seems to remain that the only thing a female-identified human is seeking in a romantic or sexual relationship is a penis. Their sexual and romantic agency is reduced to this hunt. Never mind the many and varied complexities of a woman’s own desires – the only possible reason she could possibly reject a man is the absence of an adequate member. This unyielding belief erases the complexity of sexuality and conflates biology with gender.
This is reflected in the limited nature of the gains that have been made for trans people. The rights and freedoms of trans people are largely only guaranteed as long as we fall within a socially accepted margin of error on the gender binary. If I ask you to call me ‘him’ you will likely at least try; if a non-binary person asks you to call them ‘they’, your head might explode.
I enact all of these complex relationships every day. I have to learn, and learn again, to change and challenge behaviours that the world expects, encourages or at least condones from a straight white man. The bar for male-identified humans is very, very low. It is very easy to sink that to that level and harm others.
I’m lucky that my risk largely begins and ends with disclosure. Transfeminine people face much higher risks of violence than transmasculine people. For those folk the complexities of dating are less whiny opinion piece and more life and death. Non-binary people face these issues in an ongoing and systematic way, whether it is connected to romance or their day-to-day lives. Little has changed for people who exist further outside of the gender binary than I do. For those whose complex experience of gender coexists with their experience of racism, the battle is barely beginning.
For me, the simple fact remains that the tolerance of my trans self does not extend to the dating world writ large. Conversations with those outside the queer world about my gender identity and sexuality remain complex and fraught. It is depressing, although unsurprising, that the real targets of these discussions are not transmasculine people like myself, but the female-identified people I may want to date.
The realities of attraction – the cocktail of timing, intellect and physicality – are far more complex than we will ever understand. I will have feelings for many more people who feel nothing for me. And this will not be because I am a trans man. It will be because of the strange and unknowable alchemy that exists between us.
Image: Mechanic /FFCU