Trans people face plenty of the same challenges as cisgender folks, but some of those challenges are extra-tricky. In all relationships, there’s a getting-to-know-you period, when you’re sharing the most vulnerable parts of yourself with the hope of forming a deeper connection. As a transgender woman, there are added layers to go through in order to feel comfortable coming out to a potential partner.
Personally, I’ve always been comfortable going on dates, both pre- and post-surgery, but being open with my physical transition has been hard. Because I’m “passable”—meaning my outsides appear as feminine as my insides feel—I’ve been able to date like any cisgender woman my age; I would even say my dating repertoire matured quicker than most.
When my mom and I decided it was time for me to transition, I was 15 (read more on that time in my life here). By the end of high school I was going on dates with boys my age and men older than I, and presenting full-time as a girl. Once I had gender affirmation surgery at 19, I lost my virginity and that allowed me to start dating more freely. Through dating men of various ages, I learned a lot about the qualities I need my future partner to possess. This guide is based off of over half a decade of dating experience as both a stealth and an open transgender woman.
Be Honest But Careful
Because of the general knowledge on gender identity today, it’s best to be honest about your transition and how far along you are in that journey. This does not mean you have to divulge your gender identity right away, but if you feel you can’t be open with someone from the get-go, they’re probably not right for you. (Silver lining: It’s a quick eliminator.)
Remember that some people can be extremely triggered to learn that they’re on a date (or in bed) with a trans woman, and that your priority must always be to protect yourself physically and emotionally. This is much more important than being fully honest. When I was pre-operational, I didn’t tell my dates that I was transgender. I’ve been in situations that were nerve-wracking but have never been beaten, or worse. That is not the case for all transgender women. In fact, in 2016 there were 23 deaths of trans women in the U.S. due to violence and in 2017 there were at least 28 deaths from gun or other means of violence. Play it safe, and if your gut is telling you the person is not safe to come out to, don’t.
Your priority must always be to protect yourself physically and emotionally.
Tell Them Before You Have Sex
I wouldn’t advise having sex without telling your partner you’re a trans woman. It’s not to avoid “tricking” him or her; rather, it’s because you want to be as comfortable as possible when you have sex, and that goes for everyone. I had to learn this in the past few years. After graduating college, I was still stealth with most people I knew, and only started to become comfortable telling guys my trans status on dates when I moved to New York and then Los Angeles.
Eventually, Try the First-Date Rule
When you’ve reached the point of your transition where you feel physically complete and you want a serious partner, you should be more upfront about being transgender. This still doesn’t mean you have to say anything prior to or on the first date, but personally, I now want guys to know I’m transgender before the end of the first date. I don’t want to waste my time. Being out is scary in a different way: You don’t really know how a date will respond; you can gauge it pretty accurately, but you never know about a person or what sets them off (another cautionary mindset my mom instilled in me), and I consider this when coming out to someone new.
I’ve realized it just makes life easier to be authentic.
Be Prepared for Initial Defensiveness
Because I date men, and male egos are so sensitive, they feel the need to defend themselves when their manhood is questioned, but being with a trans woman does not make a straight man gay. Period. Trans women are not men, and they are most definitely not gay men. If a trans woman is attracted to men, she’s straight; if she’s attracted to women, she’s a lesbian. It’s that simple.
I’ve found that it takes time for men to wrap their head around all this, and they all react differently. Some get sad about what I “have and will always go through,” some get angry and back away; some ghost me when they find out via Instagram or my writing; some want to learn more but not continue; and the unicorns want to keep progressing with our relationship in whatever capacity that may be (see more about unicorns here).
Never Apologize for Being Authentic
Although I felt more safe having a vagina, my fear of being “found out” and knowing what could happen to me in dating and sexual situations did not subside. I was still very careful with who I met up with, whether through an app, at school, or in the city. In the past, I felt one night stands didn’t need to know and that I didn’t owe them anything—because why should it matter, right? Through reflection, I’ve realized it just makes your life easier to be authentic at all times. I now know that I don’t want to date anyone who won’t accept me, be open to learning more, and take things further based on whether we have a genuine connection. That’s what everyone should want—nothing romantic should ever be forced.
Being open about your true self is rewarding. It erases stress, makes life simpler, allows you to grow in new ways, and eventually will lead you to the person who is right for you.