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Dating can be difficult, especially when it’s time to tell someone you’re trans
In 2008, when I came out as a transgender person, I made several big changes in order to achieve my transition. I moved back to Missoula to go back to school and get a job so that I could pay for my transformation. I started practicing outing myself to my friends and family in my head, repeating, “I’m changing my name, taking testosterone, and living as a man.” I had chest surgery to remove my breasts, and I grew a sweet beard. People started calling me “sir” and I was ecstatic. These steps were part of my five-year plan to cover all possible contingencies during the change. I thought I had everything covered. I began to feel like the person I was supposed to be.
There was only one problem: I forgot about dating.
Who the hell forgets about dating? And that’s my point. I didn’t forget about it as much as I avoided it like the steaming hot pile of poo that it sometimes can be. I mean, here’s this skinny brown-skinned guy with reasonably good looks, a career, a house, a dog, and who literally runs away when other reasonably attractive people ask him out or say “Hi.” Rather than deal with dating I stayed at home much of the time. I deleted and revised my online dating profile, repeatedly. I masturbated, a lot. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the actual date itself. I was afraid of the reveal.
I’m pretty open to people knowing that I’m a trans guy. I’m not afraid of people knowing that I was born female. Obviously, if somebody has a problem with it, I’m pretty sure that’s their issue. I’ve been on so many panels and attended so many workshops and conferences to talk with complete strangers about how I’m a guy with a vagina that I could probably write a thesis paper at this point titled, “Awkward Conversations About My Trans Status.” Woo-hoo! Break out the marching band! Now leave me alone. All I’m trying to do is watch football while I bake muffins.
The problem I have with dating is probably the same problem that many single people deal with—feeling comfortable when the relationship reaches the moment when two people spend more time together, usually naked. This doesn’t even cover the issues associated with a random hookup. With those, an almost endless stream of scenarios plays out in my head like terrible reality television—like, “Tommy Lee Goes To College” terrible. And don’t even get me started on the challenges associated with the incestuous microcosm that far too many of us have dipped into, better known as the “Missoula dating pool.”
A couple of my really good friends, folks who have known me for years, always joke with me, saying, “Dude! How is it that you’re so confident in other aspects of your life except for this part?” Then I say things like, “Well, I’m waiting for the right person.” But in all honesty, I’m waiting for someone to make it easy for me. I’m foolishly waiting for some imaginary character to come up to me and say, “Hey, you’re trans? I don’t care. I want to date/make out with you because I find you interesting and I want to get to know you better … biblically.” I know, I know—it isn’t that easy for anyone. Except this one time, it was actually that easy.
My roommates and I were at a bar downtown and hanging out with some roller derby girls after their practice. It was a tough time for my roommates and I, as we were dealing with the death of a friend. The only thing that felt good was getting drunk. I automatically volunteered to be the designated driver. (Special note: When I volunteer to be DD it’s actually a carefully crafted strategy that allows for an easy out if I ever find myself in a potential hookup scenario. I have seen all manners of bar hookups, but I’m usually not involved with any of them. I prefer to go home at a reasonable time, cook an elaborate meal and eat my feelings. But like I said, this night was different.)
I was sitting at a table with two women I had just met and some guy who had made it painfully obvious he was trying to hook up with at least one of the two women we were sitting with. This gave me the distinct impression that I was interfering with his chances of getting laid. I carefully kept my conversation as neutral as possible so as to not give any signs of competition. He seemed increasingly intent on grabbing the attention of the shorter of the two women, yet she pointedly ignored him. In fact, she made extra effort to engage me in conversation. My roommates had just ordered another round and were not ready to leave, so I suppressed the urge to blurt out, “I have to work in the morning,” and duck out the back door.
As quickly as my fear had come, it left—and so did the other dude with the other woman. I was suddenly aware that I had been comfortably talking with someone I had just met at the bar, and she liked me. I felt like I was somebody else, like somebody with some sort of magical hookup confidence. That’s when the feeling of dread hit me. I would have to tell her that I was trans.
I began to feel like my same old insecure self. Then she asked me for a ride home. I agreed and told my friends that I would be back. I remember one of my roomies pulled me aside and slurred, “Dude, now’s your chance. Don’t worry about us. We can make it home okay.”
I gave my new bar friend a ride home. The make-out session that occurred once we arrived at her studio apartment was amazing, to say the least. She was amazing. She was smart and funny and I started feeling queasy. I actually felt ashamed of one of the best make-outs I’ve ever had because I knew I needed to tell her that I was trans so she wouldn’t feel like I was trying to trick her or that I was a liar or whatever it is people think about trans people. I decided to get the potential rejection over with right then. I stopped kissing her and she asked me what was wrong. I managed to stammer out, “I’m trans. I’m a trans guy.” I closed my eyes and waited for her to call me a freak, punch me in the face, tell me to get the fuck out, anything. But nothing happened.
She said, “I know. I want you to come in anyway.”
Sheepishly, she said to me, “I may have stalked you on Facebook. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”
At that point I seriously felt like I was in my own private version of Say Anything, except I was the lovable underachiever and the short woman I met at the bar was Ione Skye. She went to kiss me again and still I hesitated.
“Thank you,” I said. “I really needed to hear that and I would really, really like to come in, but I left my friends at the bar and I want to make sure they make it home okay.”
I could just imagine my roommates face-palming themselves in disgust. In reality, though, I went back to the bar and picked up my drunk and grieving friends and took them home. I felt better for it, more than my “almost” hookup could ever know. She moved to Michigan two weeks later.
Acton Seibel is co-editor of Out Words, the newspaper that serves as “the voice of Montana’s LGBTIQ community.” (Acton Seibel)