LEAH SCHEITEL — CAPILANO COURIER (CAPILANO UNIVERSITY) IN FEATURES, VANCOUVER (CUP)
Lynn Parker* is a striking woman. At 25, she is busy obtaining her education and career training, as well as working as a part-time model. She is successful and smart to the point that her friends say that she inspires them to read more books and learn more about current events. She is, by objective standards, a complete catch for any guy. But there is one hiccup in her dating life – she is a trans woman, and this has complicated her love life ever since she started dating at 19.
“I just think that somebody who supports me, is comfortable in himself, a guy that has a career going. Family-oriented isn’t necessarily something that is on my check list right now, but just a good guy who has got his life together,” Parker describes when asked what her ideal relationship is, “Like, c’mon, I’m not asking for much here.” And she isn’t, but because she is transgender, she faces larger hurtles in her dating life, such as an increased risk of violence, a heightened chance of rejection and more pressure to reveal very personal information about her life very early on in a relationship.
Dating is a difficult process, filled with numerous complications including timing, insecurities, sexual desires, past dating histories and emotional baggage. Trans men and women face added difficulties when it comes to romantic pursuits, the most difficult of them being the dilemma of when or even if to tell their history to their romantic interests. If they do tell, they risk the chance of rejection and if they don’t, they are hiding a huge part of who they are from their potential partners. It makes the muddy waters of dating even murkier.
A BETTER KEPT SECRET
No one goes into a first date with the intention of detailing every medical procedure they have endured. Generally speaking, no one discloses the nuances of a huge part of their lives and who they are over a casual coffee, but rather lets the information flow with the pace of the relationship. But for transgender people, they lack some of this luxury, and have to be more upfront about who they are, and how they got to be that way.
For trans-friendly counsellor, Melady Preece, sooner is better when it comes to being open about gender history. “Generally, I encourage people to be open and honest about who they are,” says Preece. She advocates people using online dating tools and platforms put it in their profiles. This is something Parker has started doing with her own profile. “Lately with online dating I’ve just been saying something right away, before we even meet up, because it just becomes anxiety inducing for myself to withhold that information and not entirely fair to the guy either,” says Parker. “I identify as straight, so the men that I date are heterosexual and it’s not easy when the time comes to tell them, and it’s something that I have really struggled with is telling them, and when the appropriate time to say something is.”
This decision is treated with such a high degree of caution because of how trans people are portrayed in the media. It doesn’t help transgender people are mostly regarded as a subsection of the general public, and not always portrayed in a healthy manner in modern culture. “A lot of guys, after I tell them that I am trans, it’s really hard for them to wrap their heads around the fact that they could have possibly been attracted to somebody who has been so negatively portrayed in the media,” explains Parker, “To me, it’s kind of trans phobic to be attracted to a woman and then once you learn of her status as trans, say ‘Oh I’m not attracted to trans women,’ but it’s like ‘Oh you were attracted to me until you learned that bit of information, so how is that not trans phobic? It’s like people who say that they aren’t attracted to Asian people, or not attracted to a specific race, and it’s like, ‘well have you met everybody from that entire race, have you?’ All you are basing that off of is stereotypes and troupes that you see in the media. People don’t actually know what trans people are like, they just have these weird images in their heads of who we are.”
With choosing to share that personal information comes the risk of violence or abuse. To combat this, Isley Reust, a transgender woman based in California, waits a little while to divulge her personal information to get a feel for how the person will react. “I’m really picky about who I am going to date. I try to judge their character beforehand, and if they are going to be accepting of it or if they’re a violent type. You can’t really tell a violent type by how they talk or who they are but I try to be the best judge of character that I can so I can keep away from that,” Reust explains, “So I will go two or three dates and then I will tell them.”
The violence against transgender women in particular is still a very real concern. Although 2015 is just three months old, there have been nine trans women murdered in North America. Closest to home was Sumaya Ysl, who was found dead in Toronto on Feb. 22. Her death was not treated as a homicide specifically, but police did release a statement in wake of online rumours that Ysl, who was just 26 years old, was a victim of a hate crime. But those rumours aren’t without merit, as almost one trans woman per week has been murdered in North America since the beginning of the year.
“A survey released in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found high levels of violence reported by trans or otherwise non-gender conforming Americans,” read a Feb. 24 article in the National Post “Of the 6,450 people surveyed, 61 per cent said they’d been victims of physical assault and 64 per cent said they’d been the victim of sexual assault. Forty-one per cent said they’d attempted suicide.”
These are harsh statistics and provide a bleak reality for trans women trying to date in today’s world.
Parker believes that there is a level of misogyny embedded into the prejudice against trans women as well. “Women are more understanding and women aren’t threatened by challenges to their sexuality I guess, whereas men are. Men are very — if you throw a stick in their spokes, they don’t like it and they react angrily,” Parker says, “And there is internalized misogyny with that because trans men are almost more readily accepted by society in that, ‘Well why wouldn’t you want to be a man?’ whereas trans women, who transition as adults anyway, are giving up male privilege, and a lot of people say ‘Why would you want to do that? Like it’s so great being a man, and you must be weak,’ when it’s quite the opposite, trans peoples are some of the strongest people I have ever met.”
Even though Reust and Parker try to understand a person’s character and how they will react to the situation before divulging it, it can be difficult to know exactly how someone will react.
“You can never predict how somebody is going to react. I’ve had very conservative people be very fine with it, and I’ve had people who identify as liberal be not fine with it. So, it’s honestly, impossible and you have to take it by a case-by-case basis,” explains Parker. Preece echoes this sentiment, saying that she has known many women to marry men before understanding how violent they can really be.
A TRANSITIONING RELATIONSHIP
Aaron Jacobson, an animation student at Capilano University, started his transition just under a year ago and was in a steady relationship with his girlfriend when he decided to come out as a trans man. Because of it, the dynamics of their relationship have changed along with his transition. “I find that, less from her, but more from the outside world who perceive us, like before when we went out to eat or whatever, they would approach both of us and start talking, and now they very much approach me when we are sitting down and eating. The dynamic has completely changed,” he explains.
Jacobson’s girlfriend, Emily Thomas, noticed the change too, and says it was interesting to get used to. “It’s funny because I think for me, there’s a little bit of losing a certain sense of queer visibility,” she explains, “I’m not somebody who is often read as queer or bisexual or coming from that kind of background or experience in life. I’m read in often times – not always – as very straight,” she says, explaining that she was losing a bit of her identity going from a homosexual lesbian relationship to a heterosexual one.
Throughout their relationship, Jacobson has gone through some major changes. He started taking testosterone, which has lowered his voice, altered his body structure and increased the amount of hair on his body, among other changes. Thomas admits that she needed to recognize and mourn certain aspects of Jacobson that were going to change forever.
“I still connect very emotionally to somebody’s voice. That’s what I connect to. I will never hear his voice in this particular way again. That was a total emotional hit to me, and I had a really hard time with it,” Thomas explains. She describes it as a mix of emotions, because she is happy for Jacobson for becoming who he has always seen himself as, but is saddened by the loss of certain ideal. “I’m happy and supportive, but I’m mourning a set of ideas, a set of future projections, a set of understandings — I’m mourning all those visions. It’s not like I’m mourning your choice, or who you are, because I’m not. I’m mourning my own ideas, my own hopes. There are these new ones, but I have to acknowledge that there is a change and I’m letting go of all of these ones before I can have these new ones.”
Jacobson is aware of what Thomas misses. “She really enjoyed my voice before, and she knew that was going to change. That was really hard for her. We used to sing a lot together, and now, I can still sing, but my voice in the middle of transitioning still so it’s very cracky and kind of struggles with that, “ he says, “She really misses that – not to mention everything that’s changed. My face has changed, my body structure has changed. When you date someone, you love like the little things about them that make them who they are. A lot of those have changed for me, so she heavily had to relearn who I am, so it’s kind of amazing that she stuck with me through all that, and continues to stick with me through all that.”
IT’S ALL IN A DAY OF DATING
Gender preferences and sexual preferences are two very different concepts, and even though someone might identify with a different gender than what their outward appearance provides, it doesn’t mean that they have to follow heterosexual rules. “Sexual orientation and gender are two completely separate concepts,” explains Parker, “So to say heterosexual trans relationships isn’t all there is. There are gay trans couples, there are all kinds of different trans couples, so gender identity and sexual orientation aren’t mutually exclusive.”
For Reust, who started her transition in 2010, dating just made sense and clicked after she became a woman. “I never really dated and had long relationships or anything. I would date gay guys, but it didn’t feel right, because I wasn’t a gay person, like a gay man, so that didn’t feel right,” she says, “So then I was like, ‘should I date straight girls?’ but that didn’t seem right either for me, so I pretty much kept to myself. So once I started transitioning, I was like, ‘Okay this feels right’ and I knew what I wanted.”
Transgender people really don’t want anything different than what everyone else is looking for. They have the same romantic ideals; same desire to find a partner and are in the same dating pool as everyone else. And, as Preece points out, it’s beneficial for everyone to be inclusive of trans people. “It greatly increases the size of your dating pool,” she says. Her wish for society is for people to let go of the stereotypical and binary ideas about sex and relationships. “Most people run around thinking that there is one way to have sex, you insert tab A into flap B, and that’s it,” she says, “We do this because it’s fun, there’s no rules, if both people are into doing it.” Really, to Preece, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. “We all have the same nerve endings and when you rub them together, it feels good.”