What it’s like to date as a trans person in 2022
"Love feels better when you can give it to yourself, too."
If dating is a shit show for queer men, then dating for people of the trans experience is a shit opera. Every time I talk to trans people in my community about their romantic lives, I learn there are hurdles they have to navigate that never even cross my mind. For one, it’s not always a given that they’ll be affirmed in their gender identities by someone they’re dating — aka the bare minimum. In fact, a University of Michigan study published last year found that trans youth not only reported high instances of being misgendered by romantic partners, but also said they encountered rampant transphobia on dating apps and experienced high instances of intimate partner violence, according to Them.
Although we live in a time when attitudes toward the trans community are improving, many continue to see trans folx as a threat to our social fabric and no one has borne the brunt of that animosity more than trans people of color. Movies like Billy Porter’s Anything is Possible are finally affording visibility to the ways in which cultural attitudes about a group of people have a tendency of spilling into the most intimate parts of our lives, and yet, listening to trans people talk about their dating experiences makes me think we don’t talk about it nearly enough.
But of course, that’s only part of the story. There’s tremendous joy and revelations to be found in dating as a trans person, too. I asked people who are navigating the dating world right now about the good, the bad and the wtf of dating while trans.
Dawn Hennessy Dawson (She/Her), 24, Miami
Fetishization and the dominant culture or gender and sex are the biggest battles I currently face when thinking about the idea of dating. It is very disheartening when you become more yourself and the world around you shifts in a way where it seems as though you are being punished for that. In my case, men find me attractive and want to be with me, but either in the shadows or in a way that feeds their hidden desires instead of understanding that we are humans and fully actualized and want that for all realms of our lives, especially love and dating. Dating, for the most part, seems like a fantasy that I cannot afford unless there are conversations at large around toxic masculinity and what it means to be a woman in the eyes of everyone. In terms of triumphs, there is a form of internal healing that is done when being your true self and having men see that.
I have known love since the beginning of my life, and I still am love, regardless of what the dominant culture says about whether or not I deserve it. I would tell young Dawn that she is a guiding light of love, and sometimes that power can be daunting on people because to love so fiercely is rare these days. Dawn, you will find intimate love and eventually find someone who loves just as fiercely as you. You are a fairy tale and your knight in shining armor is you. Someone will see that love and want to share that with you, and you are going to be ready with open arms.
Claude Christopher (He/Him), 46, New York City
Dating has not been easy. I am attracted to women. I basically have become a full on heterosexual male. It gets tricky because I think a lot of 'straight' women aren’t interested in me because I'm trans. I think the most difficult part is explaining that I'm trans to someone I'm attracted to but who doesn't have a clue what that really means. On the flip side, I am more happy and comfortable in my body than ever. I'm happy and I love sex.
Atlás Kidvai Alvarado (They/Them), 26, Providence
Dating now that I’m stepping into my gender identity has brought a lot of clarity to who I feel I am through relearning/questioning what it means to love as I let go of what the world has visually shown me of what dynamics “should'' look like. Meanwhile, living in a city that's heavily white and being in a community that’s mainly gay, I find myself questioning how “fem” I can present. I wonder how much I default to my masc clothing because I get to blend in.
Dating other trans folx has changed the way I feel about sex. I feel safer, more understood, and feel that I am gently held in a space of infinite sexual possibilities. Love feels better when you can give it to yourself, too.
Avery Vyvyan Avanti (She/Her), 21, New York City
It’s weird how I’ve stepped into this binary gender role now. The expectations around how I act have changed. I’m expected to be small, petite, and submissive. For example, one of the first questions I’m asked is how tall I am. I get more attention, mostly undesired attention, from creepy men who are too old for me, now that I look more feminine.
The most anyone has “attempted” to date me was a man who had a sketchy profession and was on the DL. I’d always told myself I don’t do DLs, but alas. His attempt was pretty pathetic, as he just wanted to FaceTime me but not actually see me. He prioritized cis bodies over trans bodies and had a discomfort with interacting with certain parts of my body that I wanted to be validated in the bedroom. Really shitty guy; all my friends are glad I left him.
One of my biggest challenges that I’m trying to overcome is approaching guys in person. My trans girlfriends and I have a knack for finding trans attracted men, I call it our ‘trade-ar.’ I’ve been trying to move away from online dating platforms because I’ve personally found them to be exhausting. The scariest part about this though is my fear of physical violence. I’m pretty open about being trans from the start. If a man’s not trans-attracted and one of us approaches him, he can just say “no thanks.” No one’s forcing cis men to date us, but we do have the right to express our interest, just like cis women.
Angèl Avinea (She/Her), 21, Wisconsin
I really hope I don't sound like a pessimist but personally I haven't had any triumphs while dating. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with my age. I just turned 21, and I’ve never had a successful relationship, or any relationship, period. I don’t say that to throw myself a pity party; I’m young and things can always change but as of now, this is my truth. Our dating pool is increasingly small with a bunch of variables that make it even smaller for someone like me. I’m not just trans, I’m also pre-op, I’m Black and dark skinned.
There was a point in my transition where I thought I’d have to look hyper feminine to get any respect as a woman and it wasn’t till recently when I felt completely secure in my womanhood. I also garnered a lot of new friendships and when I’m with these people I’m not the hyper feminine trans friend or the overly masculine trans friend; I’m just a friend existing with other friends having a good time. They saw me before I even saw myself. Before I met them, I never realized how important friendships were to a person’s journey.
Dezi Tibs (She/They), 24, New York City
Girl, I couldn’t tell you the amount of times a hookup with someone becomes a dissertation on the dynamics of gender in reference to sexual orientation. Like, I would love it if I could just talk to someone without them explaining how the idea of men wearing makeup doesn’t make their dick hard. I do not care.
I feel like as a non-binary (not nonbinary but not-binary) trans person, I don’t fit into a lot of people’s images of their ideal partner. Not femme enough to be perceived as a woman or masc enough to be perceived as a man, both of which are boxes that I’m trying to free myself from, but I feel that dating is always trying to shove me back into them. I encourage cis people to investigate how the perception of gender affects what they look for and how they act. Just because you aren’t using slurs and love to say “SLAY” at a drag show doesn’t mean that you aren’t upholding a harmful gender standard with your actions. And tbh that’s not even just for cis people. I’m so often catching myself reciting transphobic rhetoric that was ingrained. We all have a lot of work to do.