When I was a kid and had yet to learn about transgender people, I would sometimes visit chat rooms and tell everyone I was a boy. Meeting people there was a harmless, liberating exercise that allowed me, for a few hours, to be who I truly was. But inevitably, after three or four conversations, I would feel a friendship was becoming too intimate to lie to the other person. Telling the truth often led to their confusion and anger, and it was never a good feeling for me, though at least it wasn’t happening face-to-face.
Fast forward to right after college, when I still had the body, voice, and name of a traditional female person. I was just starting my social transition, the period of time when I asked my friends and family to start using my new name and gender pronouns, but hadn’t taken any steps to transition medically. The people who were romantically interested in me were lesbians who didn’t see me as a man or bisexuals who didn’t care as much about my gender. A year into my transition, I dated a woman who became angry when I started taking testosterone. The hormone would make my voice deeper, my muscles bigger, and my appearance more masculine. She was devastated that people wouldn’t recognize us as a queer couple, and I realized I needed to be with someone who was as excited as I was about my transition.
I can’t pinpoint a certain moment when I started “passing” — that is, looking more male than female. Once, while I was working in a shop, two customers approached me almost simultaneously, and one called me “ma’am” and the other called me “sir.” But as I began passing more often, I also started feeling more confident in myself. I realized that I wanted to share the love I was cultivating for myself with a partner. Up until then, I had only dated women within the queer community. If I was going to let people see me for who I really was, I needed to open myself up to dating women who were predominantly attracted to men.
I knew from my past experiences — remember the chat rooms? — that I had to be myself from the start if I wanted to truly connect with someone. When I joined Tinder, I was thrilled to see I could identify as transgender. Although I believe trans people should be allowed to exist without constantly disclosing personal information, I also know that it can be dangerous to put yourself in the position of someone finding out on their own, especially in an intimate setting. Not only was I trying to be as honest as possible, but I also wanted to root out anyone who wasn’t emotionally capable of or interested in dating a trans person.
I didn’t match with many people at first, which hurt my self-esteem (my therapist told me it’s quality, not quantity), but I persisted. When Georgi came up in my stack, I noticed her radiant smile, complete with the most gorgeous blue eyes I had ever seen, a sense of humor that permeated her pictures, and a sweet, humorous bio.
She sent the first message, a compliment, and I was completely surprised. In my nervousness, I made sure she knew I was trans right away (despite my profile saying so), and she reassured me that she understood what she was getting into. We waited about a week to meet up but grew our connection first by texting every day.
That’s when it became real that dating as a trans man is not as simple as dating as a cis man. Georgi wanted me to take off my clothes; I wanted to become invisible for the rest of my life.
I’ll never forget sitting at the bar waiting for her to arrive. I was excited, but I was also afraid that she wouldn’t like me because I wasn’t masculine enough or that I would say something embarrassing. When she walked in, my nerves disappeared. She was even more beautiful than her profile suggested. Her eyes were hypnotic. We talked for hours. I, however, remained skeptical that a straight woman could truly understand what she was getting herself into. I asked, “What made you want to date a trans man?” She responded, “I just thought you were cute and didn’t worry about it too much.” I was reassured for the moment. When we kissed goodnight in the subway station, I already couldn’t wait until our next date.
About a week later, we had a second amazing date, this time eating handmade pasta and drinking wine in a cute little Italian restaurant. Georgi’s teeth were stained black from squid ink pasta; I took a bite, too, and we smiled at each other with coal-black teeth. When she invited me back to her place, I was both terrified and ecstatic.
This is when it became real that dating as a trans man is not as simple as dating as a cis man. Georgi wanted me to take off my clothes; I wanted to become invisible for the rest of my life. I kept my binder, a tight tank top that keeps my chest flat, on until it was time to actually sleep. It was around 3 a.m., and I really wanted to just go home rather than take it off in front of a woman I’d only known for a few weeks. But I was also tired, eager to cuddle, and really value my sleep. I made her turn around before I pulled it off quickly and covered myself with a t-shirt and blankets.
As we lay in her bed that first night, I felt comfortable, safe, and understood. I learned later that before she met me, Georgi researched how to make a trans date feel comfortable. Her work and accepting attitude went a long way in making me feel secure.
It’s been two years of dating, and I still feel understood and secure.