Graphic by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
Co-Written by Lorely Guzman (They/He/She) and Mia Riedel (She/Her)
Dating can be a messy experience, but when you’re trans, it’s a minefield. Even amongst the queer community, who tend to be more open-minded than their straight counterparts, transgender users on dating apps frequently report transphobic backlash. Here are five of the most common problems trans users face when finding relationships online.
1. Trans-exclusionary preferences
A survey of trans users on the HER app found that 35% have encountered trans-exclusionary preferences when dating online. The people who hold these trans-exclusionary preferences often argue that they are not transphobic and are the same as having any other dating preference. However, to exclude all trans people from your dating pool is to view them as separate from the cis people who share their gender, and othering them in that way is transphobic.
Some argue that these are preferences for sex characteristics, not an invalidation of trans people. But it’s incredibly invasive to speculate about a person’s body if they don’t choose to share that information, regardless of if they’re cis or trans. To assume you know what someone’s genitalia are based on their labels is transphobic. Plus, there are options for trans people to meet those preferences, including gender-affirming surgery.
In fact, this argument falls apart even when a trans person does meet that criteria. It’s actually common for people to react violently because they feel like they’ve been “tricked” by a trans person who fits their preferences that the “LGBTQ+ panic defense” is a legitimate legal defense strategy. The panic defense claims temporary insanity or diminished capacity caused by the “psychological distress” of finding out a person is trans, provocation because the trans person was making an “unwanted” advance, or self-defense against the trans person who they claim intended to harm them. It has been used in court as a successful defense for hate crimes against trans people, including murder. This violence occurs even when a trans person’s sex characteristics match what is expected of their gender; expectations surrounding trans people’s physical bodies cause real harm.
On the other side of the spectrum but similarly problematic, 26% of the users from that same survey state that they’ve been the object of fetishization because they are trans or gender non-conforming. While attraction to trans people is not a fetish, it becomes a problem when a person’s attraction to trans people is based on sexually objectifying that person solely because they are trans. These people are called chasers, and though they can objectify any trans person, they most commonly seek out trans women.
Chasers tend to fixate on the fantasy of a trans person and view all trans people as a monolith rather than as individuals. They’re not attracted to the individual, only to their fantasy of trans people (often fabricated by the increasingly popular “trans” category in pornography). They are known to ask trans people invasive questions about their bodies and about the transitioning process. If a trans person is in a relationship with a chaser, they can attempt and even succeed to control what changes the person makes to their body and how they express their gender through clothing and styling choices. If a trans person doesn’t conform to a chaser’s trans ideal, they can become of the targets of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment and abuse.
3. Anti-Trans Legislation
As of June 2022, there have been 166 anti-trans bills introduced in 35 states within the United States, according to Track Trans Legislation. These bills target trans students’ participation in sports, teachers that support trans students’ social transition, surgeons who perform gender-affirming surgery, and schools that allow trans students to use the bathroom of their preference. Of the 166 anti-trans bills introduced, only 20 of them have failed or been vetoed, while the rest have either been enacted or are still underway.
The terminology used in these bills perpetuates harmful language towards the trans community and overlooks the nuances of gender, furthering baseless myths and endangering both trans youth and adults. Some of these bills don’t require confirmation that a child is trans and allow accusations or suspicion to be enough to subject children to traumatic experiences, like medical sex checks that involve close inspection of external and internal reproductive anatomy and Child Protective Services investigations that can remove children from their family’s care.
Though trans youth are the primary focus of anti-trans legislation today due to the effectiveness of disguising transphobia as a desire to protect children, trans adults are still targeted by bills like Iowa’s H.F. 272 to remove gender identity as a protected class under the state’s civil rights act and Oklahoma’s approved SB1100 that bans nonbinary gender designations on birth certificates. This kind of legislation interferes with trans people’s ability to live an authentic life and perpetrates transphobic myths, causing them to face more discrimination in all spheres, including dating.
4. Lack of Understanding of Transness
Many cisgender people struggle to grasp what it means to be trans as it is an unrelatable experience for them. Cis people often pick up misconceptions from other cis people about transness and end up believing myths, such as all trans people having a certain “look” or that being trans is a choice that people make for a plethora of odd reasons from attention to sexual gratification. Several of these misconceptions are harmful and completely miss what it means to be trans.
For starters, being trans is not a choice; cis people don’t choose to be cis, they just are, in the same way trans people don’t choose to be trans. Cis people, think of it this way: when did you decide to be your gender? Was it when you went shopping and decided to buy clothes from the girls or boys section? Was it when you tried out for a girls or boys sports team? Was it when you used a girls or boys restroom for the first time? Which event made you decide to be your gender?
It probably was not any of those. Making the girls volleyball team didn’t make you a girl, buying a t-shirt from the boys section didn’t make you a boy, and which toilet you used did not determine your gender either. Was there ever a moment where you decided to be your gender, or were you just always it?
The same way you were always the gender you are now, so are trans people. Trans people did not make a choice, but rather had a realization.
There is not a certain look to trans people either. The trans community is too diverse to assign a certain look to transness. Furthermore, being trans does not come with a set of physical features, it just means that a person’s assigned gender at birth and the gender they experience do not match. Thinking all trans people can be identified purely by looking at them is simply wrong and a form of stereotyping. Cis people are notoriously bad at figuring out who is trans and have often been attracted to trans people without knowing it.
Some extra gender terms everyone should learn:
- Cis(gender): a person whose gender identity corresponds with their assigned gender at birth
- Trans(gender): a person whose gender identity does not correspond with their assigned gender at birth
- Trans Man: a man who was assigned female at birth; sometimes referred to as FtM (female-to-male) when referring to social or medical transition
- Trans Woman: a woman who was assigned male at birth; sometimes referred to as MtF (male-to-female) when referring to social or medical transition
- AFAB: assigned female at birth
- This terminology acknowledges that socially constructed notions of gender are pushed onto people at birth, rather than based on any inherent universal characteristics
- AMAB: assigned male at birth
- Same as above
- Nonbinary: an over-arching term for people whose gender identity is not solely male or female and/or lies outside the gender binary
5. Conditional Acceptance
Part of dating someone is loving them fully, appreciating them deeply, and caring for them unconditionally. However, a cisgender person who neither empathizes with nor understands transness and trans issues fails to even know a transgender partner, let alone love them. A cisgender person ignorant of trans issues cannot grasp the essence of a trans partner, meaning that they could only love bits and pieces of a whole picture. This toxic love can take form in only accepting a trans partner’s body if it meets the cis partner’s idea of what a trans body should look like rather than accepting what it is. It could also be a cis person closeting their trans partner by not allowing them to take certain steps in their transition or hindering their trans partners from making their own choices related to their gender expression.
This conditional acceptance minimizes trans people’s identities, putting them into a box that keeps them from accepting themselves and living authentically in order to please a partner. This damages the mental health of trans people and keeps them from finding love. Love is supposed to come with no springs attached, not expectations for change.
To our trans readers, remember that you deserve to be loved wholly and unconditionally, regardless of your identity, where you are in your transition, or how you choose to present yourself. The dating world can seem daunting for the transgender community, but know that you are not alone in your experiences. You never deserve exclusion, fetishization, or mistreatment for who you are. Joy and love is possible!
Authors: Lorely Guzman (They/He/She), Mia Riedel (She/Her)
Artist: Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
Copy Editors: Bella (She/They), Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
This article was written in collaboration with the team at HER.