Ray Ajemian (he/him)
“I’m not transphobic, I just couldn’t date a trans person.”
It’s not at all a new or shocking take. In fact, it’s the norm; the vast majority of people — 87.5 percent according to a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships — say they wouldn’t consider a relationship with a transgender partner. In a trans renaissance of X’s on licenses and nine-dollar gender changes, it seems that certain things never change. With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s time to ask: why the adamance?
In some cases, it’s easy to tell; the same study found that religious people were less likely to consider a trans partner than non-religious folks. Additionally, only 3.1 percent of cis heterosexuals would consider dating a trans person, compared to 88.9 percent of trans people (whose sexuality was not considered). The more cis- and heteronormative one is, the lower the odds of trans acceptance. One might expect, then, for LGB people to be more willing to date a trans person, yet the vast majority are also exclusionary (11.5 percent of gay men and 28.8 percent of lesbians said they were willing). Bisexuals are the only group of cisgender people in which over half were willing to date a trans person.
The disparity between lesbians and gay men is particularly striking. Striking, that is, unless you’re familiar with the gay online dating scene. Gay men are notorious for putting demographic criteria on their dating profiles, usually (but not exclusively) on the basis of race. Everything from “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” to “whites only” can be found on Grindr profiles according to Jason Garcia, a nonbinary person interviewed by Global News. A disproportionate unwillingness by gay men to date trans people may be explained by this phenomenon. The fact that most don’t even bother to list “no trans people” as a so-called “preference” is especially poignant, as if such a thing goes without saying.
That isn’t to say that cis lesbians don’t have their own issues with trans partners, even in hypothetical terms. Lesbians tend to put down trans women in particular, meeting the suggestion that they remain open to dating trans women with accusations of homophobia, manipulation, and “borderline rapey” behavior, even from lesbians who recognize trans women as women. Likening the desire of a fiercely oppressed group to be seen as desirable with in their own community to rape is especially troubling given the unsubstantiated rhetoric that trans women are sexual predators (not to mention incredibly inconsiderate toward victims of actual sexual assault). It’s no coincidence that trans women are at such a high risk for violence, nor is it any coincidence that this all comes alongside the rise of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical “feminists”) and the alt-right.
Regardless of the reasoning, the statement “I don’t date trans people” has problematic implications in itself. A romantic relationship, at least when it’s first starting out, has very little to do with what’s under someone’s clothes, and as any asexual can tell you, sex isn’t always part of a romantic relationship. It therefore makes more sense to say “I don’t have sex with trans people,” but even that has it’s issues, because it assumes that sex with a trans person looks a certain way — that is to say, that trans bodies look a certain way. Trans bodies, however, have just as much variety as cis bodies, including trans bodies that show no evidence of their transness. Someone who is “stealth” does not openly disclose their gender history and, though it presents challenges, may be able to have sex without their gender being questioned. These assumptions about anatomy also fail to account for the existence of intersex bodies, trans or otherwise.
In response to the perceived threat of accidentally having sex with a trans person, many have argued that trans people should be required to disclose their transition history with partners lest they be charged with rape. On top of being another excuse to punish trans people for existing, it dangerously redefines consent, suggesting that an act between sober, willing adults can constitute rape if one person regrets it after the fact. It is not coercive to want to have sex, find someone who is willing to have sex, and go through with it with your body in plain sight. To claim otherwise undermines the seriousness of the crime of rape, and too many people refuse to take it seriously as is.
There are more immediate reasons trans people are reluctant to disclose their transness to potential partners. Trans people are at high risk for intimate partner violence; in particular, trans women are three times more likely than others to experience sexual abuse according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Another study, this time by the Urban Institute, found that 88.9 percent of trans youth experienced physical dating violence. To vilify trans people for wanting to hide their transness from partners, potential or actual, is to vilify them for protecting themselves.
This grim, long-winded explanation is really meant to say one thing: don’t preemptively disparage an entire population based on a single shared trait. Transgender people, like any group, are incredibly diverse. To mark us all as undesirable on the basis of our transness can only be described as bigotry given the infinite range of bodies and personalities among us. Every relationship has its uncertainties — someone you want to start a family with may be infertile, someone you date may not be ready or willing to take the “next step” with you, and, yes, someone you love may come out as trans or have been trans the whole time. If someone isn’t for you, they aren’t for you, and that doesn’t mean they should be arrested or beaten for it. This is not a call to add a trans person to your romantic repertoire; it is merely a call to consider where that gut reaction against us really comes from.