By Amanda Torres-Lantz
Two years ago, I would have told you that I was afraid of not being an informed enough ally to date a trans person. When I started dating someone who identified as trans femme, I didn’t even know what that term meant. When I asked, they described it as “I’ve always sort of felt girly.” I thought that sounded pretty simple to understand, and I was very interested in them for so many reasons. We flirted online and ended up going on a couple of dates. What was intended to be a short-term fling on my part ended up being over a year of casual dating and friendship because we really ended up enjoying each other’s company and having great chemistry. Here are some things I’ve learned from dating her, some of them because I’ve gotten things wrong at times and some that are just the basics.
- “Transition” is the process a person goes through to align their body and experience with their correct gender. It can mean many things for different people. Also, people will have different definitions for when they’ve “transitioned,” i.e. completed their gender transition process. Some things this may include are: hormone replacement therapy (HRT), voice coaching, changing clothing, learning hair and makeup styling, facial feminization surgery, gender/sex reassignment surgery, and therapy.
- Dead Names. If you haven’t heard this before a dead name is the name a person went by before they chose a name that aligns with their correct gender. “Dead naming” someone is bad. It hurts and sucks. Make a special effort to get this right every time.
- Transition is hugely emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing. It’s a full-time+ job all on its own. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been through it to even fathom how many areas of life transition directly effects. Everything is changing and it’s all based on their own effort. It’s hard work.
- Going out in public or into spaces that are not known to be trans friendly can be emotionally taxing. She may be constantly worried about how the people around her are seeing her, or even if she is safe. There are also plenty of triggers out in the uncontrolled environment. From catcalling to side eye and even something like seeing another trans woman who is homeless can spark fear for her future.
- Some trans women want to “pass” as their correct gender to the public. Some trans women think even the idea of “passing” is transphobic. Neither one is right or wrong, and as a cis person you don’t get a say. Support the trans people in your life in whatever their goals are.
- Referring to someone by their preferred pronouns is just basic decency. If you’re not consistently doing this, I don’t know why you’re even trying to date a trans person. If you know someone through their transition process, it can sometimes be hard to shift as things change, for example from they to she. Pronouns show how we see a person, and if you’re not seeing them as their correct gender, that hurts.
- Don’t try so hard. Performing your allyship on someone and trying so hard to get everything right that you lose your sense of humor and connection is othering in and of itself. This isn’t an excuse to be hurtful and careless; just be an empathetic human.
- Admit your mistakes, apologize, and learn. It’s likely you’ll screw up, and when you do don’t blame the other person, and don’t just brush it under the rug. It’s more hurtful to try to justify your mistakes with why you made them.
- Trans people are more than their gender identity. Do you like her because of her interests and tastes? Your chemistry together? Do you have shared activities you’re into? If you only like someone because they’re trans, that’s called fetishization and it’s weird and gross.
- “Cis women deal with that too” is not a great response. Yes, all women deal with struggles and discrimination based on their gender, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that trans women struggle more. I know you’re trying to relate, but find something better to say. Try starting with, “That really sucks.”
- As in other relationships, learn to listen instead of problem solve. So she’s struggling with clothes shopping? If she wanted you to go with her, she’d ask. Stop trying to fix it and just empathize. Learn more about active listening.
- Hormones affect sex drive and preferences. If you expect to have the same chemistry and flirtation style throughout hormonal shifts, you’re in for a bad time. Be prepared for change, especially if you’re dating someone currently going through transition using HRT.
- Being a trans person affects everything. Work, family, friendships, relationships. They’ve probably experienced more stress, heartache, and trauma than you can imagine or truly empathize with. They’re stronger than you know, and you have so much to learn from them. However. …
- Trans people are not responsible for educating you. A list like this is a good place to start educating yourself. If you have a trans person in your life or want to create safer spaces for trans women, keep reading. Read forums and articles and even books. Read trans writers. Some things may make you really uncomfortable. It’s up to you to figure out why and work on it. This is called confronting your cis privilege.
Amanda Torres-Lantz is a poly, bisexual/queer woman, writer, and Mama from the Seattle area. She lives with her husband, one daughter, and two cats, and fills her life with lots of love, friends, and family.