I Can’t Tell You How to Love Trans Women

By Michelle Jones

Most people don’t know how to love trans women. And to be perfectly clear, I don’t mean that in a harmless, innocent way. I don’t mean like awkward virgins fumbling around in the dark, or jaded young adults who don’t believe in romance. It’s not natural or incidental. Our world has a vested interest in perpetuating the notion that trans women are unlovable.

As much as I want to write an article on how to love trans women, I really can’t do that yet. Far too many of you don’t even know how to respect trans women. You don’t know how to treat us with basic courtesy. You don’t know how to see us as whole, finished human beings, deserving of dignity.

There are plenty of examples we can look at. In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, when Jim Carrey finds out the woman who kissed him is transgender, he vomits. There’s a 10-minute long running gag in which he continuously brushes his teeth and gargles mouthwash to get the taste of her out of his mouth. Then, at the climax of the film, he humiliates her and sexually assaults her – in front of the police, no less – and it’s considered justified, because how dare she lie about being a woman.

The Crying Game has a similar “plot twist” when the protagonist is disgusted by the discovery that his love interest — who is played by a man, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation — is trans. The Hangover 2, Good Luck Chuck, and even the children’s movie The Boxtrolls all take advantage of transmisogyny to get laughs. TV Tropes has page after page of examples that range from crass jokes to overt bigotry.

Our culture has turned relationships with trans women into an ugly punchline.

Trans women, especially black trans women, are very rarely considered as valid relationship choices. Most often, we are fetishized, sought after by chasers, and treated like a category of porn to be consumed for entertainment — a problem trans sex workers face the brunt of.

Those who consider themselves “aware” and “conscious” enough to accept (or more likely tolerate) us are happy to sleep with us behind closed doors, but ashamed to be seen with us in public. To them, we’re a dirty little secret, and when someone starts a relationship in secret, it only ever means they’re already thinking about how to end it as cleanly and quietly as possible. When we do try to take back some autonomy and choose partners of our own, we get called ‘traps’ in straight circles and ‘predators’ in queer ones.

These issues are usually minimized by cis people, and sometimes even CAFAB trans people who often claim to be in solidarity with trans women.

“It’s just a joke, they didn’t really mean it like that.”

“Just because you can’t get a date, that doesn’t make it a real problem.”

“That happened so long ago, people aren’t like that any more.”

“Why does any of that even matter?”

 It matters because in 49 out of 50 American states, the Trans Panic Defense is still legal – that is, a person can claim that they were so shocked or traumatized to find out someone close to them was trans, that they couldn’t stop themselves from assaulting, killing or even raping them – and it works.

It matters because last year, two trans women were attacked and sexually assaulted on public transportation while onlookers did nothing to help them. It matters because in addition to all of the typical fears and anxieties surrounding dating, trans women also have the extra weight of that constant and persistent danger at the back of our minds. Even in openly queer spaces, trans women of color are ostracized and victimized more than any other demographic. Even while being perpetually victimized, trans women are always considered a threat. A threat to heterosexuality, a threat to masculinity, a threat to womanhood, a threat to society.


So I really can’t teach anyone how to love trans women, and I’m not going to try. But I will tell you how to start treating us with respect:

  • Do more than accept our gender. Acknowledge it and embrace it, unquestioningly and without hesitation.
  • Don’t insult our appearances, but don’t lie to us about them either. Don’t shower us with insincere flattery to placate your own guilty conscience. We know how to recognize fake compliments.
  • Stop asking us invasive questions. Full stop. You don’t need to know our birth names. You don’t need to know our medical histories. You don’t need to know how our parents feel about it. It’s not your business.
  • Educate yourself. Don’t make it our job to undo every toxic thought that anyone has ever put in your own mind. Do your own reading, do your own research, show us you actually care.
  • And most importantly, keep us safe, even from yourself. Show us you understand what kind of danger we’re in and do what you can to help us. You can reblog and retweet #LeelahAlcorn and #BlakeBrockington all day, but if you aren’t doing anything for the trans people here, still alive, still in peril, it doesn’t mean a thing.

For you to love us, you risk embarrassment and a few awkward conversations. For us to love you, we’re risking our lives. If you want us to care about you, then you need to prove that you care about us first. Prove that you’re worth it.

Suggested Reading:

GLAAD Media Reference Guide

“So You Can Fuck Us; What’s Next? Going Beyond Sex With Trans Women” Luna. Autostraddle 

*Featured Image Credit: www.huffingtonpost.com

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 12.23.52 PMMichelle Jones is a blogger and fiction editor from Central VA. You can find her on Facebook.


6 responses to “I Can’t Tell You How to Love Trans Women

  1. This article raised issues that I honestly had never considered before. That’s a good thing. What would be an even better thing is that we all realize that women, all women, operate at societal disadvantages. Respecting other human beings is definitely the first step and when achieved, the stated and unstated abuses will be eradicated.


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  4. I Can’t Tell You How to Love Trans Women:
    First, thank you for the article. Let’s start with the second paragraph, IN IT’S ENTIRETY. You make a hell of an assumption there. I treat every woman with basic courtesy no matter what their station in life. It is something that my Father and Mother taught their sons and it was well learned. Deserving of dignity…….everyone is deserving of dignity…PERIOD. EVERY being on the planet is “unfinished.” All of us are transitioning within ourselves in one way or another, be it physically, psychologically, emotionally, or any other number of ways. We are ALL going through changes. Transwomen are just as valid as a choice for relationships as are ciswomen. I was in a relationship, (nonsexual ) with a transwoman for several months before I found out she was trans, and it was a good relationship until the night we decided to consummate it and she bolted out the door. She was just a beautiful, wonderful “woman” as far as I knew. I miss her to this day, but to no avail. I have moved on, but learned so much about transwomen since then. The woman I am involved with now is trans also and I have introduced her to family and friends alike, with no reservation whatsoever. If they have an issue with her, I handle it. She is not a dirty little secret to be hidden, but my significant other to be honored and adored. Black transwomen are just as beautiful as their cis counterparts, some even more so due to the fact that they feel that they have to be more feminine than their cis sisters, when they actually don’t. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a staunch advocate for transgender rights. Having been unknowingly immersed into this strata of our society, I have become all too familiar with the fear, ignorance and hatred that this segment of society faces on a daily basis. It is no different than what I faced growing up in this idiotic, racially insane country in the sixties and seventies. I, personally will not tolerate it if and when I see it. I stand in the gap and make it known that I will defend whom ever is being wronged, no matter what the consequences. It has almost cost me my life a couple of times, but it is what MUST be done. The trans panic defense will soon go the way of the “twinkie defense.” I can’t tell anyone how to love a transwoman and I wouldn’t even try. I will tell you how I love the woman I am currently involved with. First and foremost I see her as a woman. She just happens to have the same genitals as I do. I guess that makes her a woman who happens to be trans. Coming out of a 32 year marriage to a cis woman ( wonderful woman) and ending up several years later in a LOVING and beautiful relationship with a woman who is trans, for me, is not an issue. She is a woman. She was born a woman. This is NOT a lifestyle for her…….this is her life. As far as the expected longevity of this relationship…..if it lasts, great. If it doesn’t, it will not be due to her being transgender. It will probably be due to something stupid either one of us did, lol. That’s how life is. But I will probably never have a relationship with a cis woman in the future. Because of their life circumstances and the insane shit that they go through, women who are trans have their finger on the deeper pulse, and for some of us it is that deeper pulse that we appreciate and live for. By the way, I am Black male, straight, 58, and happy as hell.
    Be smart, be safe.


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