For a few years I have watched young Trans+ folks flock to the feet of the three media figures the media readily gives us access too; Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Carmen Carrera to ask questions regarding disclosure and intimacy. Sure, we have other figures in pop culture like Caitlyn Jenner, but she’s built a Trump-Like wall around herself, both via her own counter-productive political actions and- more likely- to avoid further embarrassing herself. After we witnessed the debacle that was her reality series, no young Trans identifying people were going to Caitlyn for answers.
I remember watching Carrera do a facebook live video sitting on the floor with her friend as they casually spoke to viewers and someone asked; “When do I tell my boyfriend I’m Trans.” And her response left me absolutely astounded. “You don’t” She said. “It’s not his business.” Maybe she was being flip. Maybe she was being sarcastic. Who knows. When I called her on it, she both unfriended me and deleted the video.
Here’s the reality; Everyone is going to tell you something different. They’ll tell you how they do it, how their friends do it, or how they think you should do it having never lived your experience of having to do it at all. Lucky them.
I’m just going to share a little advice with one thing in mind: Your safety.
Your safety is paramount. You come first. Your dignity is not negotiable.
When I’m asked that question, and although I don’t have the profile of the illustrious aforementioned media figures, I say this; “Tell them immediately.”
If you’re just flirting harmlessly in a dive bar, there’s no harm in keeping your personal body design just that; personal. If they give you their number, take it. If someone you’re with expresses anything beyond benign flirtation or asks you on a date? Tell them. “Thanks for asking, It’s not going to be a problem that I’m trans, is it? Just double checking.” It’s an innocuous question. It isn’t springing something on them over dinner- sadly I know of trans people who have been on dates and casually disclosed over the main course only to find their partner for the evening excuse themselves to the restroom never to return.
In my personal opinion, it should never get to the point where a trans individual has a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t know their status. By that time, there’s deep emotional involvement, and if rejected, a greater sense of betrayal and much more severe reaction.
Your status is not embarrassing. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Disclosing it to a potential partner gives them fair and equal opportunity to either proceed with their pursuit or comfortably withdraw without feeling deceived.
Too many women have had their lives taken in a brutal manner because they literally chose to disclose at the bedside of their intended lover. We’ve seen the men who have murdered these women given leniency by Judges with a bias who sympathize with them as they claim “Trans Panic.” They argue that they were in “Shock” and flew into a “Blind rage” which resulted in the death of their partner- sometimes ever after a sexual act.
Never allow anyone to create a narrative that you actively attempted to mislead or entrap them. Not disclosing to a potential sexual partner removes their agency and typically creates a great deal of heartache and anxiety for the trans individual who simply wants to have a normal courtship without the excess baggage. We envy those who never have to worry about telling someone they like that our body parts alone may be their deal breaker. It’s completely normal to dread telling someone, as we are all too familiar with the ignorance that many subscribe to upon learning of our Trans body; “I’m sorry, I’m not gay.”
I can’t tell you how many times a man has attempted to make advances toward me and I’ve stopped him and said “Listen, before you go any further, I’m a Transgirl, and if that’s an issue you need to stop now.” I say it with a disarming smile; Not an attack, not an abrasive form of scolding, but politely and with the intent of either continuing the conversation or moving on with my evening. Sometimes, the response has been “Oh! You don’t look like a man, I’m so stupid!” or “Ah, I didn’t realize. I’m not gay, but you’re really pretty. Cheers!” And off he goes on the hunt for someone more his ilk.
I call it “Weeding.” I never let any sort of discussion wherein I recognize someone’s interest grow in my garden just because it feels nice to receive compliments or gives me some form of validation. Reality check: I can’t afford the consequences of letting weeds grow where there’s room instead for bountiful relationships with people to whom my body design is irrelevant.
I have, in the past, heard many trans folks fall head-over-heels in love with someone who doesn’t know their trans status. They live with the constant gnawing from their insides- a palpable fear of losing that person when that inevitable moment arrives where they have no choice but to tell them. They avoid it. They dodge it. They put it off for as long as possible. By the time the moment comes, they’re crying as if they are confessing something unholy about themselves; Something so vile and grotesque that their tears are riddled, not with anxiety anymore, but with shame. Their partner either embraces them with consolation or, more typically, leaves the situation feeling duped.
Dating as a trans individual is not easy. Many trans people who use dating apps make it clear on their profiles that they are trans, a vested effort to leave no room for those awkward moments of disclosure. It would be great if more people actually read profiles rather than simply judged a random selfie for a half second before swiping right only to leave the trans man or woman find out days or even weeks later that their online suitor never procured that information from the “About Me” portion of their profile. Some people even use Trans-Centric screen names to avoid accidental connections. Often, even that goes unnoticed. Not always, but often enough to make even dating apps a difficult terrain to navigate for those who are gender diverse.
A friend of mine actually got to know several men during one of these voyages across the landscape of dating apps. Her screen name was one that immediately indicated she was, in fact, a trans woman. Men would agree to set up meetings with her at a local diner or a corner pub…
… and then they’d never show up.
It didn’t happen once- not even twice, but three times in as many months. Most men still are uninformed, despite their attraction, with regards to trans women specifically. It’s just the social constructs we’ve built around defined masculinity and the implications of sexual attraction. Indeed, there are men who find trans women attractive. For some of those men, when that becomes clear, they respond with anger and sometimes violence. It’s as if we have threatened their coveted status as a ‘Man.’ As their Father’s son. As a dude who loves Nascar and women in thong bikinis. They feel reduced.
That’s not our fault, but it is our problem. It becomes our problem when a man approaches a trans woman and initiates an intimacy. Our responsibility to ourselves- and to them- is to immediately give them the choice to stay or to go. Upon disclosure, the ball is in their court and we never have to suffer the harsh realities of our family hearing: “I was so shocked, you Honor.”
This is you taking immediate control of your identity, with the pride we rightfully deserve and allowing those in our orbit to self-eliminate. No awkward confessions on the third date, no teary eyed apologies for not being up front, no complex emotions to untangle.
Protect yourself. There’s only one of you, and you are not replaceable.
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