Independent Lens

Transgender People Trying to Find Love

In the Independent Lens film Real Boy [premieres Monday, June 19th at 10 pm on PBS; check local listings], transgender nineteen-year-old Bennett is touched to find his reluctant mother by his side as he undergoes a double mastectomy as part of his transition. As Bennett’s mom waits for him to finish the procedure, she worries aloud about his prospects for finding love. “I hope [he] will find somebody,” she confides.

For many of us, romance may be a swipe away via dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid, but it’s often more elusive for those who are transgender.

We asked a few trans individuals to describe their experiences looking for love.

J Mase III:

J Mase III is a Black/trans/queer poet based in Seattle, by way of NYC. He is the founder of awQward, the first ever trans and queer people of color-specific talent agency. As an educator, J Mase has worked with thousands of community members in the US, the UK, and Canada on the needs of LGBTQIA youth and adults in spaces such as K-12 schools, universities, faith communities, and restricted care facilities among others.

It’s hard for us to know who and where other trans or queer folks are, or people who can identify with or empathize with us in general, so when we do find someone decent who is attracted to us, we latch on to them so quick. And as much as it’s nice to appreciate the small things, as queer folks, we often hold onto and put so much stock into signs of intimacy that are supposed to be basic foundations of a relationship such as holding of hands, eating dinner together, which is understandable because, unfortunately, we rarely have access to that kind of affection. We become so grateful for those small things, which becomes dangerous and why we fall into such abusive relationships, or a lot of relationships where we overlook the bigger picture and larger signs like, “Does this person affirm me or validate my identity? Do we have similar goals? Is this healthy for me? Do they share the same intimate capacity of trans liberation movements as I do?”

Katrina Goodlett:

Katrina Goodlett, aka Kitty Bella, is a comedian, writer and the host of a web radio series, The Kitty Bella Show, highlighting the often overlooked voices of trans people of color. She has interviewed Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, DarkMatter, J Mase III, and others.

I went on a date in June, my first date post-breakup. I was excited like “OK, making progress. This is me moving forward.” The guy knew I’m trans because I put that in my profile like, “Full disclosure: I’m a trans woman.” That’s another topic that gets into a lot of discussion in the community – whether or not it’s necessary to disclose your gender on your profile ‘cause, I mean, what do you put or click on when these apps are catered to cisgender[1] heterosexual folks? On an individual level, I disclose for my personal safety ‘cause if you’re going to date me, I need you to know who I am right from the start. So the guy I was going on a date with, he was definitely aware of it.

 

The dating app Tinder recently expanded the number of gender identities to select for a profile.

So this is the funny part — this guy can get past me being trans, but even then you still end up discovering they’re a horrible person. Get this, he was two hours late. And we were texting back and forth about how he’s running late but then he suddenly stops responding to me for like 40 minutes and I’m waiting at the bar like, “OK. I’m done.” So I’m about to leave and he calls me like, “I’m here! I was having issues but now I’m here.” And I thought to myself, whatever, should I go back? OK, why not.

He was a pretty cool dude, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that he was doing this thing that a lot of [heterosexual] cis-men[2] do — which is what I date — with trans women where they set up a date and look from afar to see if you really are what they are comfortable with, if you know what I mean.

So we did two and a half to three hours of drinking and I said, “I hope to see you again,” and he says “Yes, of course!” So I thought, OK, he’s still interested. And then he goes, “OK, well let me know,” and I’m thinking like, um, no, you should check up on me. He didn’t even text me asking if I got home safe. He didn’t send me any other text message or phone call ever again. Ghosted[3].

Jes Tom:

Born and  raised in San Francisco and now established in New York, Jes Tom is a fresh voice in standup comedy who has been honored to share stages with rapper Awkwafina, gender theorist and  cultural icon Kate Bornstein, and  comedians Aparna Nancherla, Jenny Yang, Fortune Feimster, Judy Gold, Marsha Warfield, Naomi Ekperigin, and Rosie O’Donnell.

When I was on dating apps I would put my pronouns very prominently on my bio so that people knew what they were getting into by going on a date with me so that I don’t get dismissed as a trans person. My partner is femme and genderqueer and she has gone through many different gender presentations. That’s something I’ve never done or experienced, but at least I know she understands to some level how I’m feeling about my body as a non-binary person. I think that’s why we see each other for who we are, which is something that was so difficult to do in my past relationships. We have fewer hurdles to jump over to be able to see each other. That’s why there isn’t “a way” to date a trans person, just like how there isn’t a way to date any person.

Kavi Ade:

Kavindu “Kavi” Ade is a poet, activist, and arts educator of Afro & Indigenous Caribbean descent. Their work confronts the many manifestations of violence perpetuated against their community. Through art, they create transformative dialogue and space for healing. Kavi is a 2016 Leeway Transformation Award Recipient, Brave New Voices Alum, Watering Hole Poetry Fellow, and International Slam Coach at the Philly Youth Poetry Movement.

Even in some Queer relationships there’s a reliance on black-and-white ideas of gender and what those expectations entail. I [once] dated a queer cisgender woman, and she used to say things like, “Oh, I’m the woman, so I’ll get the groceries.” She’d expect me to walk on the outside of the street which comes from this antiquated idea of masculinity and who is “the protector.” As a Non-Binary/Agender Trans person I felt confined to this rigid performance that didn’t reflect who I am. With my partner now I feel completely loved, validated, and appreciated as I am. We paint each others nails and split everything 50/50 cause it’s like — who cares? My [current] partner and I just really make sure to steer clear of imposing any sort of gender norms on our relationship.

Kavi and their partner got engaged a week after this interview was conducted.

 

[1] cisgender: a person who identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth (DEBBY HERBENICK PHD, ALETA BALDWIN; The Daily Beast)
[2] cis-men: those who were assigned male at birth and identify as male (DEBBY HERBENICK PHD, ALETA BALDWIN; The Daily Beast)
[3] ghosted: cutting off contact with a partner–current or potential–completely, ignoring their texts and their calls, and not providing an explanation for ending the relationship (Business Insider)