Transgender Romantic Woes: Preference or Prejudice?

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Recently I got a response on an online dating site telling me how interesting my profile sounded and how pretty I looked in my picture. It ended, “too bad I’m not the transgender type,” before wishing me good luck.

That sentiment is shared by many. Attracting attention online with a profile that identifies me as transgender is worse than rolling Sisyphus’ stone uphill.

I’m not alone. In a recent poll on this site, more than three quarters of the respondents answered that being trans made their dating and romantic lives either “much harder” (50%) or “impossible” (28%). It’s no secret that being transgender greatly narrows an already difficult dating pool.

It’s tempting to dismiss these disheartening facts as unimportant. Millions find happiness without romantic attachments. Surely there are bigger fish to fry for a population with our economic, employment, and safety issues.

However, lack of romantic attachment is a contributing factor. By all studies and on all scales, members of romantic partnerships fare better economically and are healthier and safer. They suffer less stress, and often find it easier to hold and keep jobs. That is unsurprising. In a multi-person household, people look out for each other. They care for one another when they are ill. They accompany each other so neither need travel alone in areas that may be less than safe. They back each other up during times of personal crisis, lessening impact on work. They share expenses and act as a hedge against the financial risks of firing and layoffs. And, much as we wish it were otherwise, in many fields stable family attachments are seen as a sign of general stability and serve as an advantage at hiring time. Closing off our already vulnerable population to the benefits of couplehood makes a bad situation worse.

I was speaking with some cisgender friends, and I brought up that online dating response. I told them how angry the response made me, and I called it out as prejudice. I was surprised by their reaction. “Trans folks aren’t for everyone,” one said. Another likened it to not wanting to date heavy people or only wanting people of a particular religion. To them this was just another preference. People have their dating “types”, turn-ons, and turn-offs.

That cannot be disputed. Some people prefer tall, some short, some people want brunettes, some want slender, some want freckled, some want chatty, some want rugged. Isn’t being trans just another one of these turn-offs (or being cis a turn-on)?

The thing is, there are tall and short trans people, there are blonde and brunette trans people, there are talkative and shy trans people, there are worldly and down-to-earth trans people. Just about any trait associated with appearance, personality, lifestyle, or preference, can be found in some trans people and not in others. Trans people have as much variation as the general population. You can’t tell if someone is trans by looking at them, by talking with them, by spending time in their company, or even by knowing the details of their life. The only way that being trans figures into someone else’s preference is if they think being trans makes someone different.

That is the very definition of prejudice.

In fact, historically the line between preference and prejudice has been so fine as to be almost  invisible. Racially segregated neighborhoods, schools, clubs, and businesses were justified by “preference”. Being near black folks made white folks “uncomfortable”. It wasn’t that they were prejudiced. It’s just that they “preferred” their own kind. We all know where that led. Segregation resulted in inferior schools, employment opportunities, and living conditions. “Preference” became a pretext for the marginalization of black people, just as it became a pretext for excluding women from all-male privileged spaces. In our (slightly) more enlightened times, it is simply illegal to deny someone access to a public space because you prefer not to be in their company.

Of course, a date is not a public space, and there is no way to make it illegal to exclude transgender people from the general dating pool.

But make no mistake, refusing to see transgender people as fully a member of our identified gender for dating purposes is every bit as pernicious as refusing them our gender for any other purpose. No, it is not illegal for massive numbers of cisgender people to refuse to date transgender people who’d otherwise attract them. But it is an injustice. Unfortunately the remedies for this injustice are not legal, but cultural. Attitudes and understanding need to be improved. People need to learn that trans people are members of our identified gender in every way that matters. We are every bit as satisfactory a romantic partner as a cisgender person with similar looks and personality. When people understand this, when it becomes part of societal assumptions and heritage, dating for transgender people will become much less of an issue.

Getting there is the problem. How do we bring about new attitudes and understanding? Cultural change is often facilitated by legal change (for example, desegregation of schools and civil rights laws) and made much more difficult without it. Therefore in this case, we are short a primary tool of reform. But that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands in surrender. The journey is longer and harder, but that makes it all the more important to take that first step.

And the first step is to call exclusion of transgender people as eligible romantic partners what it is.

Prejudice.

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About Author

Suzi Chase writes about transgender issues through both fiction and non-fiction. She has had careers in teaching and software engineering and has raised two children.

18 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article, it’s an interesting read. I still have troubles accepting that not being attracted to someone because they are trans really counts as prejudice. As you said in the article there are any number of variations in what people go for. Do you know of similar surveys that ask how much tall/short/fat/thin/red headed/blonde/brown eyed/blue eyed feel that particular trait limits their romantic possibilities? It would be interesting to see how those numbers compare with the ones in the survey you referenced.

  2. Though I agree that it will probably reduce as attitudes change, calling it prejudice is as likely to gain as much traction as calling people homophobic for not having gay sex, and get people’s backs up even more, especially when you compare it to apartheid.

    • I understand your point about getting people’s back’s up. But has any oppressed group ever managed to end their oppression without first convincing people that their treatment amounts to prejudice?

  3. I think that “prejudice” in a dating sense is OK. For example, I am less likely to date certain people of certain ethnic backgrounds as they simply aren’t attractive to me and I don’t find our cultures compatible. Same thing.

    However generally I tend to avoid online dating because it is much more of a “meat market” type of thing. Girls will usually only date guys who are taller than 6ft and on online dating they can weed out shorter guys easily.

    In the end it is best for both partners to be compatible and agreeable. We can’t force people to love us. We have to be lovable and hope that they overlook the fact that we are far from perfect.

    • Kate, I agree you want partners to be compatible and agreeable. But is saying “I won’t date transgender people know matter how attractive I find them or how well we get along” making that easier or harder to attain?

  4. I understand the struggle and I get where the article is coming from. But I think that depending on where a trans person is in the process it can be a VERY big ask to expect someone to date them. Take a trans woman who is pre-op; It might be very difficult for a straight guy who is attracted to females to date someone who is in the process of transitioning. There’s potentially extra bits or missing bits involved that a straight guy won’t know nor want to deal with. Take a pre or even post op trans man; now we have extra and/or missing bits that a straight girl who is attracted to men (and their bits) to live without. That is a very big ask and we need to respect that, in my mind it would be much better to get the no upfront that to date, generate feelings and then go “hey, btw….”. Calling it prejudice to not date a trans person seems harsh to me. I know love conquers all, and when you love someone you can overcome all sorts of differences and there are people out there who are willing to make those concessions and I tend to think they would like to know upfront what they are getting into.

    My nephew is a trans man btw.. and he’s attracted to straight girls. I think the potential ladies he dates should know what’s up early on before things get heated.

    • Kerry, I agree that genitals can be a major obstacle, but assuming compatible genitalia, I’m not ready to say asking a straight guy to date me is a “big ask”. Actually, I think I’m rather a catch, and I’d make a very good girlfriend.

      • I agree that genital compatibility aside there’s no reason a straight guy couldn’t or shouldn’t date a trans lady. I do think that at some point the past has to be revealed and that hopefully people are able to see the person inside and love them for all that they are. I think the point I was trying to make is full disclosure early on is an important step.

        And Suzi, I’m sure you’d make a fantastic girlfriend to a very lucky guy 🙂

    • Instances of trans people dating doesn’t mean there isn’t prejudice, right? I mean there are quite a few transgender people in successful careers, but I hope we would all agree that there is widespread employment discrimination against trans people. Does the existence of people who’ve managed to overcome prejudice disprove the existence of prejudice?

  5. I guess I don’t get what you’re driving at. We can’t point at people, say “Date me” and label them prejudiced if they don’t. Dating is all about meeting someone who meets your (both individuals) preferences, if that’s prejudice, then we are all prejudiced.

  6. So by that same logic are trans-attracted individuals that prefer relationships with trans people prejudiced towards cisgender individuals?

    I think this is silly IMO. I choose not to see it as prejudice. It’s not my call to judge why a person doesn’t want to be with me. It’s dating, people are going to have preferences. And yes, being trans weighs in and is a deal-breaker for many. It kinda really sucks for those of us that are trans. But you know what? I don’t want to be someone that isn’t going to like me for the authentic person I am. So the sooner I know they aren’t interested the better.

    What I do see as prejudice is the way many in society will shame a person for being with someone who is trans. If you are going to speak out against prejudice in trans dating then speak out against that. The sooner society is accepting of cis being with trans and not thinking twice about it the better. That would actually go a long way towards wiping out internalized transphobia and increasing the size of the dating pool available to us.

  7. I agree with you that it’s an injustice. However, sometimes people find trans bodies don’t always match up with what they’re attracted to. People assume that most trans people still have their biological genitalia, and even when they don’t there’s the “fake factor,” that is, they fear it won’t be realistic enough. As a pre-op trans man I can’t force a gay man to sleep with me if he finds vaginas disgusting. It’s still so unfortunate that potential partners are often quick to turn us down, though.

  8. Hiya,

    I am a post op girl from the uk , I pass 100% and am considered attractive although that is subjective I guess.

    I recently tried my hand on a online dating site , for women who like women , and I didn’t state on the site , my trans past as I don’t like being judged because of it, I chatted to one girl we hit it off , exchanged numbers chatted over the phone , then Skype she then asked me on a date , at which point I told her my past , her response was Oh really , and she cut all contact , this has happened a few times and it leaves me feeling very hurt. I have tried stating my past on sites but all I get is what a shame ur trans cos otherwise I would have been interested.

    I do feel that maybe another trans women may be my best option, but I don’t really have any links to the trans community where I live.

    • That is very unfortunate and sad Nicola! I get that your situation is the basing for Suzi’s post here. It is sad that people can’t see who you are, and especially after getting to know you online a bit. The right person is out there for you, sometimes it just takes a while to find them. Best of luck!

  9. I’m afraid it is in fact a preference.

    The article implies that a trans person is interchangeable with a cis person in terms of bodies, but that just isn’t the case.

  10. “Refusing to see obese people as fully a member of their identified body size for dating purposes is every bit as pernicious as refusing them their identified body size for any other purpose. No, it is not illegal for massive numbers of fit and healthy people to refuse to date obese people who’d otherwise attract them. But it is an injustice……People need to learn that obese people are members of their identified body size in every way that matters. They are every bit as satisfactory a romantic partner as a fit and healthy person with similar looks and personality. “

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