I was single by choice for years before I felt the dating itch again. I took to OKcupid and, on the rare occassion someone actually responded, met up with a stranger. Without fail, we would realize we lacked chemistry, and never see each other again. After each dating failure, I felt a mixture of sadness and relief. A failed date meant I didn’t have to worry about physical intimacy. It meant I didn’t have to worry about taking my clothes off in front of another person. It meant I didn’t have to face the chance of, at best, another Teachable Moment regarding transphobia, or at worst, mortal danger.
I lose no matter what. Giving cis partners the Trans 101 talk is exhausting. When dating other trans people, I still feel gross because of my body. I’m pre-op and very uncomfortable about my genitalia. It’s hard for me to get off even just masturbating. I have to cover myself in blankets and touch myself just right so my anatomy feels like it’s configured the right way. Sometimes I’m ok using my current equipment, but even then it feels weird. It’s just weird in a way I can enjoy.
At least when masturbation does work, I know exactly what buttons to push. I know just the right way to jiggle the door handle, the right twist to turn on the faucet. Teaching that to someone else takes time. It requires a partner who is willing to listen, and who can handle freakouts when my body upsets me. The stars have to align just right to find a partner like that. Dating is a crap shoot for anybody, but for me the odds are stacked even higher.
The stars did align recently, though. I’m seeing someone new, a wonderful cis girl I will call Kate. (Disclosure: Even though I exclude identifying information, I asked her permission before writing this article, as it includes personal details of our sexytimes.) In Kate I found a partner who not only thinks I’m sexy, but understands my body issues, and is willing to learn all the quirks involved in getting me off.
Our first physical exploration involved cuddling. Cuddling is amazing with her. It usually takes a long time for me to warm up, but with her I get turned on almost immediately. Once I try to move beyond cuddling, however, I freeze. My first time with her, I was reluctant to take off my clothes. I was scared of rejection and felt mortified about my body. I also felt alone. Profoundly alone, in a way that’s hard to describe.
Cisgender people have representation everywhere in the media. Images of them dating, making out, and getting dirty are on TV, movies, books, commercials, billboards, just about everywhere. Mainstream representation of women like me, on the other hand, is rare and usually follows a predictable script: cis man unwittingly goes out with trans woman, cis man finds out she’s trans (always in the form of a joke at the woman’s expense), cis man vomits and/or kills her.
There is no romance for trans women in the media unless the plot involves a tragic ending. We are either a punchline or a Very Special Episode of Blossom. We can’t just fall in love, get in normal fights, have hot makeup sex, or any other romantic activity cis people take for granted. In mainstream porn, we are made into fantasy creatures that exist only to fulfill the taboo fantasies of cisgender straight men. There aren’t widely-known cultural stories and dating norms that include trans women. We are always on the frontier, and while that can feel exhilarating, it’s also alienating.
The first time Kate and I had sex, I was too nervous to orgasm. It wasn’t for lack of support, either. She was a caring, listening lover. She eagerly learned the ways I like being touched, and what to avoid so I don’t get dysphoric. Our second time together, as I reached the same impassable plateau, I asked her to stop and lay there crying. Dysphoria and anti-trans baggage won out. I felt disgusting. She wished she could do something to help. We sat on the bed and chatted for awhile. To pass the time, I showed her my strapon harness and my porn DVDs. Trans Grrrls in particular caught her eye. As the night ended she reassured me, “You don’t have to apologize.” For anything: for my body issues, for crying, for feeling insecure.
Kate and I fell head-first into the infatuation phase of our relationship. The next day during work, she told me over Facebook that she was reading through my blog, because she just couldn’t get enough of me. That scared me, because I’ve written a lot about my dating frustrations as a trans woman, and the ways cis people have hurt me. Would she get offended by me talking about cis people in a negative light? Would she think I’m too angry? I was convinced she would find a reason somewhere in my blog to hate me. But she still made plans for our next date. This time, I was sleeping over.
At her place we cuddled and immediately got turned on, like our previous times together. It was our third time together in the sheets, and my anxiety levels were increasing with each encounter. Surely, that night my transness would ruin everything. I was too broken and strange for anyone to love.
“You wanted to watch one of my DVDs, right?” I asked. I’d brought several, but out came Trans Grrrls, the subject on the tip of both our tongues. We lay together, bodies wrapped around each other, and watched the opening scene with Chelsea Poe and Maxine Holloway.
“That place looks familiar,” she said.
“They filmed the opening part at the Dyke March last year.” We both lamented having missed the march.
“It’s so hot that they’re actually doing it right there in public,” she said. I agreed, mostly by moaning, because at that point her hands were traveling all over me.
Then the scene cut to an apartment, and Chelsea and Maxine tore off each other’s clothes. There on the screen was someone like me, having sex with someone like Kate. They were both happy, enthusiastic, and into each other. No “surprise reveal”, no horrified reaction shots, no cis gaze ruminating on how a trans partner might affect a cis person’s feelings about their sexual orientation. Just two women fucking.
It made me feel human. And naked, even though my clothes were already off. A layer of psychic armor hardened by slurs, stereotypes, and violence melted off my body. It felt like the universe said to me, “We have a place for you. You belong here.”
I said to Kate, “In a little bit you’re going to find out something I love about Maxine.” Maxine laughs when she comes, and it is so adorable. Kate agreed. Sometime after the second scene of the film, I had an amazing orgasm, all thanks to Kate. The isolation I felt during our previous encounters washed away. That orgasm was a revelation, a moment of healing, and I laughed like Maxine through the intense torrent of emotions. That was the first time I’ve ever laughed while coming instead of crying.
I regret to say I had a hard time paying attention to the rest of the film. By the end of the night I was completely exhausted, in the best way possible. I didn’t think the evening would end with me lying in bed with her, catching my breath, but there we were.
“I read in your blog that cis women scare you,” she said. Oh no. The exact words in my blog were, “Cis women scare the shit out of me.” Their bodies make me feel inferior, masculine, fake. Their mere presence can feel like it’s erasing my identity.
“Yeah,” I said, hiding my face in her boobs like I’d suddenly forgotten object permanence.
“Does that mean I scare you too?”
“Sometimes.” I didn’t want to say it, but I wasn’t going to lie.
She was supposed to get offended. Supposed to say, “We’re not ALL like that, you know!” Supposed to dismiss my problems as whiny hypersensitivity, like countless people before her. Instead, she cooed and petted my hair. She said hopefully she can be less scary. She kept holding me. She wouldn’t let go, and I didn’t want her to. I belonged there.