My first love was a bisexual boy I met on Facebook. I was 15 at the time and hadn’t transitioned in any meaningful way, but most people in my life — including my boyfriend, Jason*— knew that I identified as a girl.
Because Jason had a friend who was transgender, he always knew how to validate and support my identity.
Language isn’t just a tool; it’s our revolution.
I didn’t realize how much of a blessing it was to be with someone who understood trans issues until we broke up and I started dating as an adult. And now I will never take it for granted.
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that an uninformed cisgender person will unabashedly ask a transgender person what their crotch looks like.
“How do hormones work?”
“How far are you in your transition?”
“What even is trans?”
These are just some of the endless questions with which transgender people are inundated the moment people discover our identities.
You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? Let me break it down for you.
When it comes to first dates, all the average cisgender person has to worry about is being probed about their occupation and credit score. The average transgender person has to prepare themselves to be treated — at best — like Wikipedia or — at worst — like a freak show, subjected to a series of questions pertaining to our identity, transition, and culture.
One time I had a guy ask me how breasts form when you’re on E (estrogen). Then he proceeded to ask me if he could “cop a feel” once I had been on hormones long enough.
To you, asking questions may be innocuous; your curiosity comes from a genuine desire to be informed, to make an informed decision and be supportive. But to us, it can make us feel as though we’re a spectacle. It can feel like we’re being graded and that having all the right parts is the key to passing and being worthy of love.
This line of questioning is not only annoying; it’s also exhausting and downright humiliating.
Another question and area of concern is the “does it make me queer if I like someone who’s transgender?” chat. This has been an ongoing popular debate for a while now, with liberals claiming that you remain straight and conservatives claiming that you’re gay.
The truth is, I can’t answer this question for you. No one — gay or straight, cisgender or transgender — can answer this question for you.
Not only is sexual orientation a convoluted subject on its own, but how one experiences their own sexual orientation is ultimately up to them.
Finally, the stigma that comes with dating a transgender person is something most people don’t anticipate.
Most people are aware that existing as a transgender person requires a thick skin, but they aren’t aware that dating a transgender person requires the same. This is especially compounded if one or both parties is not only active on social media, but an influencer of some sort.
Transgender influencers such as Maya Henry and Dawn Marie have both been transparent about the harassment their partners experience.
But the stigma isn’t just limited to randos from the internet; it can come from loved ones, too. Plenty of trans folks I know have disclosed bigotry from their partners’ families and the partners’ inability to mediate or set appropriate boundaries.
Overall, the stigma faced by the partner of a transgender person can be overwhelming and can cause the person to act in ways that make the transgender person feel unsafe in the relationship.
On the surface, the issues I mentioned may seem trivial, and perhaps individually some of them are. But collectively, they create an experience similar to that of an out and proud gay man dating a fresh-out-of-the-closet gay man.
I have liked people and seen the potential to know love with them, but because they were so uninformed, dating them would have felt like taking steps backward on my journey to self-actualization.
To many trans folks — from baby transies to mature ones — dating someone who has never dated a transgender person or who has no awareness of transgender culture can feel like a burden. Often, it’s a load too heavy to bear.
So how can you learn about transgender culture without placing all of the labor on trans folks?
What it all comes down to is doing your own research. Any question you have, you can ask Google — while also remaining open to each individual’s experience of whatever the issue is.
Why do pronouns matter so much? What pronouns exist? Should you ask about someone’s transition? What’s appropriate to ask? What’s not appropriate to ask? All the information you need is accessible and free.
At the end of the day, while it is my responsibility to teach people how to love me in ways that feel meaningful to me – like what my love language is – it is not my responsibility to teach people everything there is to know about being trans.
A thoughtful person wouldn’t just ask a friend who’s dealing with grief how they can support them, they would do their own research.
Transgender people exist, and we’re not going anywhere, so you might as well pick up a book and educate yourself. If not for a transgender love interest, then for the transgender friend or coworker you’re yet to meet, who I bet will be grateful that you took the time to do so.