I’ve spent much of the last decade writing about trans woman exclusion and trans woman irrelevancy in queer women’s communities. You would think that by now, I would have little left to say about the subject, but this is not the case. In deciding what I would write about this time around, I wrestled with so many possible themes: for instance, discussing how my views on this issue have evolved over the years; critiquing the masculine-centrism of modern-day dyke communities; highlighting the need for heterogeneous queer spaces that are accepting of difference; explaining how trans male/masculine folks who claim a place in dyke spaces by emphasizing their lack of male genitals or their assigned-female-at-birth status royally screw over their trans sisters; or the misogyny inherent in the fact that the queer community loves it when trans female/feminine spectrum folks get all dragged up and lip sync along to some record, but when we speak in our own voices about issues that are important to us, nobody wants to take us seriously.
While these are all worthy topics, I couldn’t make up my mind about what I most wanted to write about. So I decided to take a different approach. Instead of figuring out what I most wanted to say, I asked myself: What do I most want to hear? What topic would I most like to see addressed? And the answer to that question is easy: dating. Unfortunately for me, this also happens to be the topic that I least want to publicly share my thoughts about, in part because I like to keep some parts of my life relatively private, and in part because I know some people will not like what I have to say. But I suppose that neither of these reasons has ever stopped me from speaking my mind before.
About two years ago, my ex and I split up after being together for nearly a decade. She was a cis queer woman who was supportive when I transitioned a few years into our relationship, and we were monogamous during the lion’s share of our time together. This meant that for the first time in a decade, I would be re-entering the dating scene. This could be somewhat disconcerting for any person, but there were a few compounding factors that made it especially . . . well, let’s say “interesting” . . . for me. First, this would be the first time that I would be dating people as a woman. Furthermore, while I had dated queer women before my transition, this would be my first time formally dating within the queer women’s community. On top of that, around this same time, after years of identifying as a lesbian, I came out as bisexual, so I also planned on dating men.
With regards to meeting queer women, it seems that traditionally much of this takes place in dyke bars and clubs. While I am sometimes in such spaces, I don’t feel that they are very conducive for me to meet potential romantic or sexual partners. This is partly due to the fact that I am generally read as a cis woman. While I recognize this is a privilege, as it makes my life significantly easier in many ways, it also means that any flirting, making out, or heavy petting I engage in will eventually lead to a coming-out-as-trans moment, which often leaves me with an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. While you would think that cis dykes (being more trans aware than the public at large) would take such coming outs in stride, this is not actually the case. Trans female friends of mine have had to suffer through cis dyke “freak out” moments, or even accusations of deception, that rival stereotypical reactions of straight people. For obvious reasons, I’d rather avoid this if I can.
The second reason why the bar and club scene doesn’t work for me is that I fall outside of the butch/femme binary, which is a central part of the San Francisco Bay Area’s dyke dating scene. While I identify as femme, I am not “high femme” or “sexy femme,” which are the only kinds of femme that seem to get read as legitimately femme in dyke spaces. Several of my trans female friends have told me that cis dykes began to take way more interest in them once they cut their hair short and began to dress more androgynously. While I don’t doubt that this is true, I have no desire to do this, as I am very happy with my gender expression the way that it is, thank you very much. Even if I did take that route, it wouldn’t necessarily solve all of my problems. One trans woman friend told me about how she recently met a cis dyke, and they were really hitting it off, until she realized that this person was misreading her for a person on the trans masculine spectrum. When my friend told the cis dyke that she was in fact a trans woman, the cis dyke seemed to immediately lose interest.
So, given all this, I figured that I would have better luck with personal ads, which are often driven more by shared interests rather than appearance or dress, and in which I can disclose my trans status beforehand. On numerous occasions I have looked over the “w4w” section of Craigslist, but it inevitably leaves me traumatized. There is so much trans hate speech on that site, and the very few ads that mention being open to trans are specifically looking for trans men or tranny bois, not trans women.
I had heard decent things about OkCupid, so I figured I’d give it a try. I listed myself as bisexual, and at the end of my profile, I explicitly mentioned that I was a trans woman. I got a significant number of responses from women as well as men. But in follow-up emails, it became clear that most of the women who responded hadn’t read my entire profile. At some point, once we started chatting, I would usually ask if they had ever dated a trans woman before (just to see what I was getting myself into), and suddenly—surprise!—I wouldn’t hear from them again.
So then I decided to try an experiment. I rearranged my profile to put the trans disclosure right at the top, and I changed my orientation from bisexual to “gay” (OkCupid’s category for exclusively same-sex) to ensure that I’d only receive replies from women. Over a four-month period, I received only five responses: one from a cis bisexual woman, three from trans women, and one from a trans man. Now one possible explanation for this is that perhaps there are four times as many trans people on OkCupid than cis queer women. But a quick browsing of OkCupid listings will show that this is certainly not the case. Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that while trans people and cis bisexual women are often open to dating trans women, the overwhelming majority of cis dykes are not.
While cis dykes have generally shown little interest in me, my experiences with cis men have in comparison gone rather swimmingly. We have all heard stories about how the only cis men interested in trans women are “tranny chasers,” who are creepy, closeted, and who wouldn’t be caught dead being seen with an out trans woman in public. And certainly, those men do exist. But many of the cis men that I have met or chatted with on OkCupid and other sites do not fall into that stereotype. Lo and behold, some of them are even kind, intelligent, interesting, and fun to hang out with.
When I asked the cis men who responded to my ad if they had ever dated a trans woman before, they didn’t disappear like the cis dykes usually did. Instead, most of them gave thoughtful answers. Some said that they found trans women more interesting, open-minded, and/or courageous than the average cis woman. Others said they had honestly not considered dating a trans woman before, but they really liked my profile, and they considered themselves to be queer-positive, so they didn’t consider my transness to be a big deal. Still others put it quite simply: They are attracted to women, and while most of their past partners were cis women, a few were trans women, and it really makes no difference to them.
When cis men tell me these things, it honestly makes me a little sad. I mourn the fact that I have not heard similar sentiments from my own cis queer women’s community. I also find it ironic that cis dykes—many of whom pride themselves on their progressive politics and subversive sexualities—tend to be far more conservative and conforming to our culture’s yuck-dating-a-trans-woman-is-gross mindset than their cis male counterparts, at least here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am also embarrassed as a queer for the fact that so many straight cis men have worked through, or are beginning to work through, their own issues regarding trans women, whereas most cis queer women refuse to even consider the possibility that they even have an issue.
I know first-hand that it can be difficult to confront such issues. I remember a time many years ago—I was either just about to transition, or I had just transitioned, I can’t quite recall—when I saw a short documentary about two trans women who were life partners. And I am horribly embarrassed to say that, at the time, I was somewhat squicked by their relationship. The irrationality of my reaction was not lost on me. After all, I am a trans woman. And I am also attracted to women. So what was it about the idea of being with a trans woman that bothered me so? Over time, I realized that on an unconscious level, I was still buying into the idea that trans women were somehow unattractive, defective, and illegitimate, and that being partnered to a cis woman was somehow inherently better, or more authentic. After much personal reflection, I had to admit that my reaction was profoundly anti-trans. And I eventually got over my internalized transphobia, just as I had to get over my internalized homophobia the first time I sexually experimented with a man, and just as I had to overcome my own fatphobia the first time I dated a differently-sized woman.
Sexual attraction is a complex phenomenon, and of course there is lots of individual variation. I certainly do not expect every cis queer woman to swoon over me. And if it were only a small percentage of cis dykes who were not interested in trans women at all, I would write it off as simply a matter of personal preference. But this not a minor problem—it is systemic; it is a predominant sentiment in queer women’s communities. And when the overwhelming majority of cis dykes date and fuck cis women, but are not open to, or are even turned off by, the idea of dating or fucking trans women, how is that not transphobic? And to those cis women who claim a dyke identity, yet consider trans men, but not trans women, to be a part of your dating pool, let me ask you this: How are you not a hypocrite?
I did not write this piece to vent about my dating life. I go out on plenty of dates, and I’m having lots of super-fucking-awesome sex, just not with cis women at the moment. My purpose in writing this piece is to highlight how cis dykes’ unwillingness to consider trans women as legitimate partners translates directly into a lack of community for queer-identified trans women. After all, queer women’s communities serve several purposes. They are places where we can build alliances to fight for our rights. They are places where we can find friendship and chosen family. But one of the most critical functions that queer women’s communities serve is in providing a safe space outside of the heterocentric mainstream where women can express interest, attraction, and affection toward other women. In other words, queer women’s spaces fulfill our need for sexual validation. Unless, of course, you are a trans woman. And personally, with each passing year, it becomes harder and harder for me to continue to take part in a community in which I am not seen as a legitimate object of desire.