This is a dating guide for trans girls becoming women quicker than it feels like their hearts can survive the journey through the hands of men. As a young trans woman, the world has already taken so much from you. It has tied your wings even before you learned the feeling of flight into the world and your lover’s arms. You would think that men would be gentle with women who have had so much taken from them. You would think that they’d recognize your vulnerability to the elements of the world and put themselves in front of you, as protectors, instead of leaving you to weather its storms alone. You would think that others would not feel the need to create competition with girls who are most often not considered “real” women and who are killed in the act of un-naming them.
Even with these hard truths forging you in their fires along the way, there is hope. Your journey is one that ultimately fashions a passionate, resourceful, and fiercely self-loving woman. There is however the issue of survival against destructive forces. The intimate space that young trans women navigate in the exploration of romantic love with men is often a high-stakes game of minesweeper.
These are some of the trials and characters you may meet along the way:
Lipstick Alley Headline
Things may often seem very unfair. Cis people love to pass Black trans women's photos around the internet as a "warning" to men. They love to pass around a trans woman’s photo and perform a ritual to tear apart her beauty, nitpick her face and try to destroy her reputation and image. I pray for spiritual protection for all trans women. Pray with me. Our beauty is not defined by the cis tribunal. You do not have to feel shame for your desire and others’ desire for you. Do your best not to allow others' behavior towards you to define you.
An unending party of vibes and vaguery that never ends. There are many men who will not create safety for you or openly express their feelings for you, yet will try to push a sexual agenda on your body and place you in a dangerous space of ambiguity. They will try to turn a “vibe” into sex, without any communication or admissions of romantic affection. This can be extremely dangerous for a trans woman. It may work for cis people, as a moment of fleeting pleasure, but often you may find it just feels scary and unsure. Allow them to do the work for you. All girls deserve an admission of desire and an allowance of care. Allow him to establish a context of safety as a beautiful bridge into the erotic.
The Casual Criminal
It’s no big deal. Nothing is a big deal, even when you need it to be. There’s not much room for intimacy, only vibes. These are men who see you as one of the world's many buffet offerings for his perusal, as opposed to honoring your unique needs and vulnerabilities as a trans woman. You’re considered the same as everyone else in his circus, the only problem is you’re not. You’re not for men who don’t have the time to consider you, the offering of your vulnerability, or your safety. He may be using the idea of “sameness” to avoid intimacy and accountability and considers all of his work done for being “cool” about you being transgender.
Sometimes cool can be too cool. So cool, it becomes lukewarm, stale, and tepid. You don’t want boring. Hold out for a little passion. Be a big deal. You are one and you deserve it.
Completely disappears after the slightest moments of intimacy. Reappears when the chemistry fizzles out to keep the cycle going. Cycles of intimate rejection and painful revolving doors rarely end in the love you seek. You are the magician and your magic is in the craft of your heart, not disappearing it.
The Therapy Bill
Not sure why but you feel terrible after every interaction. He doesn’t create or encourage a context of safety or transparency. The longer they know you, the more increasingly psychologically complex they become in their emotional terrorism of you. You keep waiting for things to let out into peace and clarity, but instead of an ocean, it's a drain circle. If you have to ask your friends for too much advice to feel “okay” or if at every turn you are more disturbed and confused than the last, it's likely a negative cycle, not a deepening intimacy. Hold out for a man who is a friend to your mind.
You deserve more than men who target vulnerable women and use them as a kink. You are not a kink. You are a woman. You are easy to love and therefore you do not have to worship a man for finding you beautiful. Men who move through vulnerable communities of women for their own emotional and sexual pleasures are simply a different type of misogynist. And no one deserves an award for loving you. You are alarmingly beautiful and unconditionally inspiring of love.
There are men who talk a good game about liberation and fill their bookshelves with the self-righteousness of their own literacy. Do not be surprised if they never apply any of it to relate to you. There are men who will learn just enough emotional depth and get in touch with their feelings just enough to use them against you. There will be sensitive poets and writers who ultimately only understand their own pain and the desire for their own freedom, while yours largely remains a theory or a cudgel to use against others. There will be many who define their own liberation as the right to quiet you.
When you explain your sufferings and ask for a reprieve from your pain, they will talk about how it's really them that's suffering. These men rarely actively address their own sufferings, merely use them as reasons why they should be able to abuse freely. Your job and your labor of love as a trans woman are to live the freedom he can only ever read about in books. Walk out of the pages and away from his hands.
Is this a date? Are we friends? Are we attracted to each other? What is happening? No one involved has any idea and so you float until there is finally heartbreak to free you. There are men who have no idea what they are doing and in the space of ignorance, they keep you at arm's length, while using you for whatever desires randomly emerge during a drunken night. There are men who are far too afraid to face their desire for you, yet they can’t let you go, so they keep exactly the information you need to make the best decisions for your own life. There are men who are criminally casual. In the face of stagnation and emotional poverty, pray and walk steadily from these lands until you find love.
There are unfortunately men willing to kill in order to preserve their sense of self and enact power over vulnerable women. Develop a practice of safety that serves your unique circumstances, honors your truths, and practice not sacrificing your own safety and body in the pursuit of romance or pleasure.
There is often someone trying to “clock” and “check” your womanhood. There is an impossible standard of beauty imposed upon trans women. Nothing short of perfection is ever enough for the naysayers and even a few of the well-meaning. No one has to be as beautiful as you to be loved.
Therefore, it may seem like everyone else but you can be loved. You will wonder what is the formula to be considered “human.” A change of hair, more hips, boobs, a bigger ass, lighter skin. When it comes to the dominant cisgender values on beauty, rarely is anything ever enough. You are always one shifting goalpost away from “enough.” You are always one hair out of place from being unmasked as “unreal.” The beauty that the dominant messaging tries to impose on trans women is a beauty of surveillance. You will often find eyes searching for a reason to unmask what they see as “the trick” of your womanhood. Especially if you are Black.
You may look around while you are hungry and notice a lot of instant noodle romance: Images of love that promise to feed you, but lack what you really need to feel nourished. Everyone seems to have come with the right ingredients in their cup to be instantly loved, ingredients that never seem to include the things that make up women like you. Love may seem instant for others, while yours seems like a longer reach from God. There are many men who may fight their feelings for you because you are far from a woman who is convenient to the status quo. Others may seem to have an easier time in love than you. It may reach them quicker, with fewer obstructions and more open desire. Yours is not a quick plate love, it is a slowly opening one. God’s love for you is flavored to the bone.
Your success in romance, will not come from contorting yourself to a man’s fantasy and avoiding his disapproval by trying to manage his emotions with a tireless performance of femininity. You are not responsible for a man’s emotions and feelings about his attraction to you. Men will often lay this burden at your feet and create a dynamic of constantly courting their approval. They enforce this dynamic through intimate partner violence, from the emotional and psychological to the physical. Men who date trans women often develop a habit of making their fear your problem.
Don’t let a man’s fear of you define you. There will be many men who are too afraid to openly face their desire for you. They will often see you as a shameful desire, like a porn category they can shut their laptop on when they’ve had enough. When they are ready again and the blood rushes to their head, they reappear. They are not reappearing for a better relationship with you, they are appearing for another hit. Repeated behavior without deepened intimacy does not get better, it’s a compulsion, not a relationship.
Men who act on compulsion for you, instead of connecting to you are adversaries to the self-realization of your own humanity. This is always the goal of a trans woman. Our goal is not to prove to others that we are worthy of love. Our goal is not to save the world, it is to remove the projections of inhumanity that society has placed over us and to constantly ritualize our own humanity back into our focus. Our goal is to recognize that we are beautiful, not because we align with images of what is “allowed,” but because we walk the path of life’s wild and unpredictable beauty itself. We are nature unfolding in the personal truth of rare shapes and intoxicating bloom.
The Glitch in the Matrix
Be wary of men who loop. When men perform repetitive cycles of shallow engagement, they are tuning into you as an object of erotic fetish, not a human being. They are extracting pleasure as a means of avoidance and ego, rather than engaging in acts of care and protective love. You will likely find a certain type of guy who enjoys the attention of young trans women but withholds deepened relationships with her.
When asked to clarify attraction, commitment, or intention, this man will withdraw and make the trans woman feel punished. He will reappear when enough distance has been created to restart the cycle and enough time has passed to “forget” your needs. You may think the reappearance means that he is prepared to meet those needs. It does not. He repeats the cycle of rejection and reappearance if you ask again. Over time, the trans woman learns that asking for her needs to be met will be met with withdrawal and abandonment.
When the black cat of a man’s ego appears twice, choose yourself.
The Backseat Driver
There are many who will demand perfection from you that they do not even demand from themselves. There will be people who will say that we deserve to die for not navigating relationships with men according to their idea of “perfection.” Always choose your own safety as you learn not to open where you cannot reveal the truth of your body and your own experiences. Having access to you is a secret menu that many just cannot afford and they do not have the special passwords.
“Perfection” will likely be a huge theme in your life. Lack of perfection for a trans woman can sometimes mean harm or even death. It is not your job to be perfect, it is your job to be “love.” It is your job to live, according to your own needs, not the projections of others. You may face many disappointments in love and with them will come learning. A lot of women struggle with self-blame when relationships end or become destructive. I think a better way to approach a painful relationship is not “what did I do wrong?” but “nothing in that relationship was conducive to me succeeding.” You likely were not set up for success. Dispense with guilt and shame. When you are set up for success, you don’t have to be perfect.
There is room for you and your learning. This includes your romantic life. If you are not supported away from the self-blame of overthinking and being invited into care, you mistake performance of goodness for connection. If you have to fix things all on your own, by lashing yourself with a constant demand for your own perfection, the connection demands too much of your own blood and suffering to be safe for you. If the connection dissolves when you discontinue this practice, it was not of love.
There will be many men who are just not for you. Even if they want you, they ultimately just cannot make the leap across what society tells them they can and cannot have. Only the one can make the jump. Hold out for a “Neo.”
The Concern Trolls, the Bad Faith Actors and Finally, You
There are many people who wish for you to remain in pain and for sadness to reside permanently in your heart. As an act of political and intimate necrotism, like when Colombus set dogs upon queer Indigenous people as his first act of setting upon their land. You do not have to live that way. You do not have to live in competition. You do not have to live in fear. You do not have to waste time fearing for your life, merely let go of the loves that do not become you. You do not have to live in lack, you simply have to practice sumptuously in your prayers. You do not have to argue talking points about your humanity, you simply have to orgasm in the privacy of your templed hands.
If the men do not show, as often they do not, make worship of your love for life in the approach of their death. My advice to you is to live and always forgive yourself for the hard acts against you. Dear young, Black trans woman, we used to follow the stars and night for freedom. Now we follow the Sun.
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A Black Trans Woman’s Coming Of Age
I am a foreign woman, in every definition of the word. I am all of the things that it evokes in feeling, memory and sound. I am a womanhood that exists on the outside of history, record, country, marriage and love.
In this blank space, at the edge of the world, I peered over. This is where I began my journey into more than womanhood, but into the creation of a new world, a place where women like me are loved.
The chasm in between the two is where I found myself, though it required a bit of a fall. I grew up thinking that the world was a place of great freedom. I came of age thinking that the world was one of great lack. How did we get here? Girls and little queer kids with eyes full of bright possibility at the wonder and mystery of life turn to women who recoil from living. If I had a daughter, how would I save her from the brutality of being shamed into acts of humility that deny her life?
I vastly underestimated that some people use a deeper understanding of you, not to love you more efficiently, but to hurt you more intimately.
When I first embraced myself and openly embarked on the journey of womanhood, albeit a queer one, I was excited about the prospect of what a more modern world would have to offer a Black trans woman. I kicked off the weight of my teen years -- experiences that rendered me both invisible and hypervisible -- and fearlessly led with exploratory pride in my multilayered identity. I truly believed that the only barrier the world had to loving women like me was a lack of understanding and misplaced memory. I believed that if I spoke truthfully enough that I could help set the world on the course of miracles. There was a robust history of women who had done the same and now was the turning point. This wasn’t untrue, however I vastly underestimated that some people use a deeper understanding of you, not to love you more efficiently, but to hurt you more intimately. And therefore, I learned to use discretion in where I place my energy.
This is a lesson I learned both romantically, professionally and in my own personal activism. Slowly, I began to realize that there is no convincing someone to love you and anyone who pretends that there is, by demanding the education of your pleading, is exploiting your need.
Whether it be people who love to watch you labor for love in the interest of their own validation, at best; or collective movements that are hellbent on misunderstanding you for nefarious political ends, at worst. You especially cannot convince the many people you meet as an “othered" woman, who waffle back and forth between obsession, desire, need and refusing you their heart because you are the "wrong type" of woman. Ultimately, there is freedom in not being able to convince anyone to love or accept you. Only then can you put down your arms and allow love to blossom wildly, where it wishes, rather than trying to bend the earth where its brutality denies you.
Venus, in fact, was teaching me: How not to pour my offerings into the plates of other people and their gods, but to pour the best of myself first in the temples of love in my own heart.
For so much of my life, it really felt like Venus, the Goddess of love herself, was really coming down to tell me, “You are just not that girl.” Slowly, I learned that Venus, in fact, was teaching me how not to pour my offerings into the plates of other people and their gods, but to pour the best of myself first in the temples of love in my own heart. Within this temple, I found my heart atop an altar rather than trying to find value within romantic relationships that finally validate the social markers of my womanhood. It is a grueling lesson in love, but one that each of us must learn in the journey back to our own humanity.
The biggest lesson I learned was that not even a legacy of colonialism and its present imperialism can deny my humanity. It can create material conditions that threaten my life and disrupt the systems that are for my survival, but it can not move me out of my own body and lay claim to my soul or birthright as a divine being on this planet. I do not have to fight for love. It endures within me. I do not have to shrink from desire, it is an expression of my hunger for living and emboldens me to be more alive. I do not have to carve acceptance out of my own blood, because I am never forgotten or alone, as long as I do not forget or abandon myself.
I do not have to fight for love. It endures within me.
Now, as a slightly more experienced woman, my values are the same. They are just more embodied. Being Black is more about the moments of private comfort that I truly embrace myself and find peace, instead of trying to bend the world to my will and shout it into loving me. Being a transgender woman is more about the recognition of what it means to be alive, instead of forcing myself into a static and restrictive ideal, and therefore receptive to the mystery of the feminine; to be trusting enough in that mystery to remain open, while confident enough to enforce boundaries without the fear of being abandoned for expressing human needs and desires. In this space life gives to me, though I don’t always understand or know what the final fruit will yield, I give life back with my offerings of creation in response to it.
My moments of embodied womanhood and humanity are now about looking at myself, not through the eyes of what is considered to have social value, but through my own eyes before I learned any of those things.
In the blossoming of this new world and in the creative act of opening its door, I invite you into more love. I invite you into seeing yourself, not through an imagination of lack and competition, where you “are” because others “are not.” I invite you into new eyes. I invite you into a feeling of “enoughness.” I invite you into strangeness, a place that never denies the contradiction of your need in response to the harshness of the world. I invite you into embodied being, a place where women like you are always loved because it is an undying act that will always find its way back home.
Read all of the stories in the Issa Rae: She Comes First editorial series here.
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