Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
As a queer demisexual trans man in India, my experiences of love and romance have been quite a journey. I have tried kink, I have been on online dating forums, and my love life has seen a lot.
It began with dating cisgender men in my teenage years (to minimise peer pressure), to now dating a queer feminist activist who identifies as lesbian. Being demisexual, I do not experience any sexual attraction unless I have formed a strong emotional connection with someone. I was always attracted to femininity regardless of gender, but I shied away from dating feminine cisgender men due to gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a distress that is caused when your gender does not match your biological sex which affects in various ways. And all of it has shown me just how diverse gender identity and sexual orientation are and how they differently they work.
I spoke with a few trans men from different cities to find out more about what dating is like for them. Based on our discussions, here are some issues concerning love in the lives of trans men.
Every trans man is different – some may be macho, some may be feminine in their gender expression, and some may just be your boy-next-door. People generally assume every trans man will be into women. Trans men can be straight, gay, bisexual, queer or of any other orientation.
“Society and partners are often confused and label us as lesbians because some of us still have long hair or dress as ‘girl’,” 25-year-old Yash Deep, who identifies as a straight trans man, told me. He had his first relationship in Class 9 and the second relationship for 6 months in Class 12. He tells me about how he first fell in love during his entrance exam preparation, and shared his first kiss. After his first breakup, he found someone on Facebook from Pakistan. It was a long-distance relationship that ended after two years due to compatibility issues. Now he is in love with an ex-classmate, but it is one-sided. None of his partners accepted his gender identity.
Our identity is an integral part of our lives and loving us would mean loving and accepting it too.
In trans discourse, language is important. Language is not just words but also body language or how you acknowledge the gender of a trans person in their presence and absence. Some questions are insensitive. For example, asking “Would you be able to be a father after surgery”, asking about assigned names, or misgendering in any form is never acceptable.
“We understand that at times, socially, partners might have to treat us like a girl, but in other times please refrain from treating us as a girl,” says Aditya, a 28-year-old post-operative trans man who identifies as straight. When dating a trans person, people should use trans sensitive language.
If you’re dating a trans man, you need to understand gender dysphoria. Every trans man experiences different levels of dysphoria. It can give us a lot of distress, and make us angry, anxious or depressed. We might want to talk about it or we might not. Give us that space. Dysphoria is already disturbing and a heartbreak can add to the distress.
“I was depressed because of gender dysphoria, break up on top of that made me suicidal and I tried to commit suicide on my birthday,” says Rohan, a 22-year-old straight trans man. He first fell in love with one of his relatives when he was in Class 12. They were in a relationship for four years and when the girl’s family pressured her, she started seeing a cisgender man. A girl flirts with him in office; however, he is wary of love now.
We are often compared to cisgender men by our partners, or by society. Socially accepted marriages and having biological children are seen as important and often many trans men feel that since they are not cisgender, they won’t be able to meet these expectations. This comparison creates vulnerability which in turn leads to the fear of rejection and inhibition in their love lives.
In Aditya’s case, he first fell in love with his classmate in school. The girl was supportive after his father’s death, however, after a couple of years she got married to a cisgender man because of family pressure. “If I would have been a cisgender man, she would have easily told her family about me,” says Aditya.
But because we are not cisgender, it is not right to assume that we won’t be able to satisfy our partners sexually or emotionally.
Finding partners or people to date becomes difficult for a trans man.
“Straight women would want to date cisgender men, and lesbian women would want to date other lesbians,” says Yash Deep. I have a different opinion about this. It might be hard to find dates sometimes, however, there are straight people and queer people who want to date trans men.
Yet another problem is that many women assume that just because we were assigned female at birth we will be able to understand women’s issues and their lives better. But that is not always true.
“What are they expecting out of you is a mystery at times,” says 28-years-old Ajay. But his is a hope-inspiring story. He met his girlfriend 10 years ago and they became partners in 2013. Today, they have entered a civil partnership in the UK.
We love the same way as anybody else, and heartbreak hurts us the same way too. Being in a relationship with a trans man in India can be difficult at times. But with a little understanding and patience from both sides, love and romance can be wonderful. Exceptions aside, we are amazing boyfriends, husbands, partners, fathers, companions and sons-in-law.