By and large, I’ve given up on dating apps. I can’t say I regret it, though sometimes I wonder if now, after being on T for about a year, that I look less like pedophile bait if I’ll finally start to attract guys who aren’t on watch lists.
If I don’t date, why bother writing an article like this? Well, let’s be honest. I’m willing to bet that at least some of you, if you’re taking time out of your day to read this particular column, are a) single, b) on some kind of dating/hook-up app, whether that be Tinder or Grindr and c) interested in dating someone trans.
If you’re interested in a trans partner, whether as a hook-up or a long-term beau, let me just get this out of the way: don’t be like those 99% of the guys who used to message me on Grindr and similar apps (i.e. the type who are probably on some kind of watch list for whatever reason). If you do fall into that 99% or you’re a 1%-er who wants to avoid falling into that 99%, this column is dedicated to you. I want to help you learn how to be cool to your trans partners without being what we here in the trans community call a chaser (but I’ll get to that in a moment).
As a side note, this could be a very general piece. Most of what I’m about to say isn’t anything limited to just cis men dating trans men like me- it could just as easily apply to people of any gender identity and/or persuasion who want to date trans women or non-binary people. But because I’m a trans guy and I prefer to date other male-identified/aligned people (sorry, ladies), I’m using language and references that reflect that. So don’t worry if you’re a lesbian who has a trans girlfriend- feel free to switch around pronouns, terms, and so on.
But with that being said, I really do hope you take these pointers to heart. Your dating life will be all the better for it.
Don’t Be Creepy
I wish this was self-evident. Going off of my Tinder/Grindr history, it really has to be said. Dating while trans (and perpetually baby-faced) is an exercise in the macabre. For some reason, I’ve attracted some of the creepiest guys imaginable. Blood fetishists. Guys who take after Jackie Earle Haley. The list goes on.
Please don’t send messages straight out of Ed Guin’s Tinder. You know the kind. “hey baby it’d be hot to see you pregnant”. “I wanna tie you up with zip cords in the back of my truck”. “your skin’s so soft I’d love to own it”. I’ve actually gotten two of those messages verbatim. One’s a lie. I’ll leave which is which up to your imagination.
Basically, if your would-be date has any reason to fear for his safety and/or chances of coming home tonight just by replying back to your message, you’re doing something wrong.
Don’t Be a Chaser
Anyone in the trans community can tell you, at length, about their experiences with chasers. Trans chasers? Y’all are the worst. But if you’re new to the concept, it’s anyone who specifically pursues someone for a particular trait. So you have chubby chasers who fetishize fat people, Asian chasers who fetishize Asian people, and so on.
Sure, it sounds flattering from the outside. Who wouldn’t want to be desired? I can already hear what a lot of y’all are already saying: “Well, I’d love it if someone wanted me for my dad bod.” But here’s the thing. It’s not flattering to be wanted just for one little trait. In fact, it’s creepy to chase after a string of people just because they happen to belong to one shared category.
Imagine if you dated someone who specifically chased after men who had dad bods. And it’s all he ever talked about or really found desirable about you. He doesn’t seem to care about you as a person. At first, it feels good to be wanted for something personal about you. But you know that your life doesn’t revolve around your body. Your partner, on the other hand, acts like it’s the only thing important about you.
If you’re dating a trans guy or want to, don’t pursue trans men just because they’re trans. It’s okay to say that you’re open to dating someone who’s trans. And I’m not saying that you can’t find his body, no matter what stage of transition he’s in, sexy and attractive. But don’t let this be the sole thing you compliment him on or desire him for. Let his trans history be one small part (ideally, as incidental and non-important as his eye color or the tenor of his laugh) of him, as it should be.
I’ve hooked up with chasers. Hell, I dated one for almost two years. When you’re on the other side of it, it’s empty. I’m not going to lie, at first it was flattering to be desired for something that I often felt self-conscious and dysphoric about. But after a while, it becomes empty. A little lonely, dare I say it? When all I was ever noticed for or complimented for was the fact I was trans or that I was pre-op, it perpetuated my dysphoria and made me wonder if I’d be wanted at all if I was a cis male or post-op (as it turned out, I wouldn’t have been).
Hold Off On Asking About His Transition Status
Transition looks vastly different from person to person. That’s the beautiful thing about transition- it’s personal. Some trans men may elect to start testosterone, have top surgery, and eventually bottom surgery (which is also broadly defined- there’s at least three different procedures that qualify as bottom surgery- hysterectomies, phalloplasty, and/or metoidioplasty). Others might only go on hormones and have top. Still, others may never go on hormones or have any kind of surgery at all. This doesn’t mean that the guy who goes the latter route is less of a man than the guy who had phalloplasty. Trans men are men. They’re as male as any other guy- whether cis or trans.
That’s why when you ask a trans man if he’s “had the surgery” or “has had a full transition” it’s not a 100% accurate question. And frankly, it’s offensive to ask someone that before you’ve had a chance to know them and understand if those kinds of questions are personally appropriate or something he’s willing to answer.
Plus, see the last section. When asking about his transition status is one of the first questions you ask him or the first thing you’re concerned about, it sends a clear message: that’s the only reason you’re curious about him (even if, in truth, you’re not).
If a trans man has come out to you as trans on his dating profile or in private message, he’s already trusting you with something incredibly personal. Wait until you’re both comfortable enough to exchange below-the-belt pics before you start asking questions typically reserved for doctors (and even then, you probably don’t need to know when he had top surgery and the exact date, down to the second, he started testosterone). Make sure he’s comfortable with talking about his body before you demand details. And, above all, don’t make him feel like he’s supposed to be your trans cultural liaison. This brings me to my next point.
Do Your Research
Just by reading this article, you’re already a much better, more aware guy than most of the guys I’ve ever dated or messaged. So I really have to commend you for getting this far. Believe me, I’m not here to drag anyone through the mud- I just want to make sure that when you do date a trans man, you’re being respectful to him.
So part of that involves doing some research. Much as I somewhat admire guys who want to better understand what it means to be trans, it used to irritate me beyond belief when I’d get a message like “So, I don’t know anything about transgenders. Can you explain things to me?”
And sure, I know that messages like that don’t come out of malice. People ask because they (hopefully) want to better understand something they haven’t necessarily been exposed to. But listen. It’s beyond annoying for trans folks to constantly have to play cultural liaison for you. Research ahead of them. If you had, you’d know that calling trans people “transgenders” is pretty offensive (transgender is an adjective, not a noun).
While a quick Google search might not be very helpful (it’s hard to know what’s good source or not just with one keyword), there are loads of resources out there. One place I’d start? Check out National Geographic and Katie Couric’s documentary Gender Revolution and the companion magazine issue. Very comprehensive and a great way to get a sense for how diverse gender can be.
The National Center for Transgender Equality has a web page (www.transequality.org/about-transgender) which lists articles and Q&As about what it means to be transgender and what you can do to be a better ally. The best part? Some people have shared personal stories about their own transition- a wonderful way to get a feel for what life as a trans man, woman, or non-binary person is like.
There’s plenty of books out there too. One that I personally recommend? Manning Up, which was published by Transgress Press. It’s a collection of personal stories by trans men and nb transmasculine people.
Granted, I’ll confess- it’s hard to find books and resources out there specifically about gay and bisexual trans men. Which is why I also recommend looking into Matt Kailey’s work. The late Matt Kailey (he passed away in 2014), a gay trans man, wrote extensively about his own transition and sexuality. He was one of the first writers I shined onto when I was first figuring out my own gender and sexuality. His blog Tranifesto, which is up at his website (www.mattkailey.wordpress.com), is also a wonderful place to learn about the basics of what being trans is like.
Don’t Demand That His Body Fit A Mold
Remember how I was talking about how personal transition can be? Let’s jump back there for a second. Transition’s a personal process. And, of course, how trans men relate to their bodies and what they want their bodies to look like/do is just as personal as transitioning is.
Say you’re in a relationship with a trans man and he’s considering top and/or bottom surgery. It’s normal and okay to wonder how things will change in your relationship. What’s not okay? Demanding that he not look into either because you think his body should look and act a certain way.
I could really subtitle this guide: How Not to be My Ex-Boyfriend. I wish I was kidding. When I first started dating my ex, I hadn’t been out as trans for very long. In fact, I was pre-T, pre-op, and pre-even legally changing my documentation. At the time, I was hesitant about surgery.
My ex was a chaser, as I mentioned above. He fetishized trans men. Unfortunately for me, he also expected his partners to all look the same- no top surgery and no bottom surgery. Whenever I would bring up the idea of getting top surgery, even though my chest was something that made me uncomfortable and dysphoric, he’d complain that I was being “unfair” to him because I was “sadistically chopping off something” he “loved and played with”.
When I mentioned potentially getting phalloplasty, he would Google it and deliberately find photos of early-stage healing results. If you’re not familiar with phalloplasty, which involves constructing a penis, the procedure involves multiple surgeries. While the resulting penis looks amazing after it’s had time to heal and all stages have been completed, it can look a little gnarly early in the healing process. He would find photos of early-stage phalluses and literally laugh at them. If I were to obtain any kind of bottom surgery, even phallo, I would be “mutilating” myself.
Even a hysterectomy, which involves removing the uterus (often paired with an oophorectomy, where the ovaries are removed too), was off the table. He fetishized pregnancy and thought the idea of a pregnant man was a nut-buster.
Transitioning can be a multi-faceted and lengthy process. It’s also, as I keep saying, very personal. It does no good to demand that your trans partner’s body look a certain way. His body doesn’t belong to you. His body isn’t your fetish and he’s not your sex doll. He’s a person with agency. Respect that agency and love who he is. Not every trans man will look like, or will even want to look like, Buck Angel or whichever trans male porn star you’re idolizing this week. Just like any other group of people, we’re diverse. And that should be a beautiful thing.
Celebrate his transition, no matter what shape it takes, alongside him. Why demand your partner look a certain way when you can have a partner who actually loves how he looks and feels comfortable in his own skin? Transitioning isn’t about change. It’s about coming into our own.
Communication and Respect Comes First
But above all else, communication and respect come first. Really, it’s the cornerstone of just about any relationship between people, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. If open communication between you and your partner doesn’t exist, what’s the point? Be open to communicating your needs. And that openness should exist for your partner. You don’t need to be a Communication Studies major (unlike moi) to get the idea.
I guarantee you that practicing effective communication will help you avoid falling into some of the pitfalls I’ve talked about above.
With all that, please do remember that trans men are, just that, men. We might have a trans history but we’re men first and foremost. By being mindful of the above, you’ll be a much better partner to a trans man (or, well, to trans people in general). Who knows? If more of y’all knew how to do any of this, I might consider dating again.