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Another Trans person killed themselves last week. That’s another Trans person who died because of our society. Another Trans person to add to the thousands already dead. Another name to be read out on this years Trans day of Remembrance.
She wrote a suicide note. In it she talks about how she felt was ignored, and actively suppressed by her parents. That they tried to do something about it, because they thought there was something wrong with her identifying as Trans. Because, even in this time of greater Trans visibility, society still believes there’s something wrong with being Trans.
We are still seen as less than whole, not quite women, halfway men.

If you pass then things might be better, that is until the media out you, or someone finds out. Then suddenly you’re worse than if you were visibly Trans.
Go take a look at some of the articles about Laverne Cox, or Andreja Pejic, or Amiyah Scott. Take a look at the comments, that is if they haven’t been disabled because of the hate speech directed to these women because they also happen to be Trans.
I don’t know a single Trans person that hasn’t faced physical or mental abuse from another human. I don’t know a single other Trans person that hasn’t, at some point, been shamed, or attacked, or humiliated, for who they are, and how they chose to identify.

In her suicide note Leelah says

I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy.
Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

This is a wake up call for all of us. This is a person saying they give up. At 17 years old they’ve had enough. At 17.
I can’t think of a more damning indictment of society than this.

You can say that maybe she was wrong, that it does get better, but honestly, sometimes it doesn’t.
Imagine being denied your identity but the people that are supposed to be the one set of people that you’re told will love you no matter what.
Then imagine those people take you to more people, people in positions of power and authority that you don’t have the strength to fight against, because you’re a child, and they tell you you’re wrong, and that what you feel is wrong.
Imagine being told that, time after time, by the people that are supposed to be on your side, that are supposed to be there, to comfort, support and help you.

And then there’s society. Leelah writes about how she’ll never be happy with the way she looks and sounds. That she’ll never find a man who’ll love her.
We live in an society where misogyny is commonplace, and deeply ingrained. Ideals of beauty are fucked up, and seep into pretty much all aspects of life. I know, from experience how invasive and damaging this is.
I know I don’t conform to the beauty standards society places on women, and I know once people find out that I’m Trans it’ll be worse, because then I’ll be seen as “not even an actual woman” (and I quote that as a real thing someone said to me) and thus at best I wouldn’t really get it, and at worst why would I anyhow because I used to be a man, so how could it possibly affect me?
I think from reading other stuff I’ve written, you know how I feel about the way society’s dating attitudes towards Trans women affect us, but these transmisogynic attitudes are so insidious that even at 17 they’d filtered down, and added to the hopelessness that comes across so strongly in Leela’s suicide note.

When you have no hope, how can things possibly get better? When society, parents, the world, all say You are Wrong, and you have no way of challenging that, what can you do?

She ends here note asking that her death has to mean something, that we need to fix society, and she’s right.
We all need to start talking about this, because it’s our duty to, as the ones still here.
Yes, it’s hard, and finding the words is difficult. Talking about things like suicide, and death is complicated, and often upsetting. Trying to fix society, change attitudes, and stop things like this from happening may seem like the equivalent of trying to move a mountain with your bare hands.
That shouldn’t be a reason to not talk about these things though. Not having the words to know what to say isn’t a good enough reason, either for us, or for the people that have died.
We have to start a dialogue about this, as the people still here, and as the people this directly affects, we have to speak for our dead. We have to let them speak through our words and actions, with the dignity and respect they deserved whilst they were still alive.

We need to find the words to do this, because they no longer can.

These are some useful resources, if this has affected you, or you know someone that might need a lifeline..

Trans Lifeline A US/Canadian helpline, for Trans identifying people in times of crisis.

Switchboard A UK based helpline and support service for LGBTQ identifying people.

I know, from gigs to sexual health clinics. It’s quite the jump, yeah?
Never let it be said that I don’t like to keep you on your toes.

So, lets get our cards on the table. I’m going to tell you something, and you’re going to judge me.

I’ve never been tested for any STIs.

As I’m a big fan of context, allow me to explain.
Most of my life I’ve been in long term relationships, and when I’ve not been in said relationships, I don’t tend to sleep with lots of people, despite any impression I give off.
My thinking was that because of these things, the chances of me having anything would be slim to say the least.

I can hear the intakes of breath and the silent shaking of heads. I know, I know. I’m an idiot.

Anyhow, I realised the blindingly obvious fact that even if you’ve only been with a few people, you don’t know their histories, and it only takes one person, with something, to pass it on to you.
And that’s why I decided to get checked out.

Sexual Health Clinics are pretty much like every clinic I’ve ever been to. Looking around there are a few people, mostly looking fairly anxious, sitting on chairs.
I have to fill in a form, and I’m immediately on guard, because forms and trans people often do not mix well. Luckily, it’s relatively trans friendly, in that it has pronoun boxes, and a box to tick if you choose to identify as trans. It does still assume all male identifying people have penises and all female identifying people have vaginas though, which is a problem for me, and a post for another day.

I wait for a bit, looking around, listening to the radio that’s playing in the background. An advert comes on for a car insurance company called Drive Like a Girl. It’s probably the most patronising and offensive thing I’ve heard them play so far, and they’d just played Blurred Lines.

I get called by a nurse to come to a room, and it’s a man. I ticked a box saying I didn’t mind who saw me, but now I feel like I do mind. Suddenly I feel like my identity is under threat, as he’ll ask what bits I’ve got, and I feel uncomfortable about telling him, because he’s a man, and my experiences of men are nearly always negative.
I don’t know what to do, because if I say I’m not comfortable after all I’m going to feel like a jerk, and also, I’ve been waiting for half an hour now, and I can’t stand to wait any longer with that radio station playing its horrible songs and incessant adverts.

In the end I do what everyone would do, I go along with it. The commercial radio was the clincher if I’m honest.
We go to a room, and I start saying how I’m actually kind of nervous, and that I didn’t bring a friend, because I thought it would make for something good to write about if it was just me, but that now I regret that because I didn’t think it through, and how that is pretty standard for me.
He smiles and says it’s alright, everyone is a little nervous sometimes. He is reassuring and kind, and I feel like I let my preconceptions and past experiences get the better of me. Not for the first time I also think I’m an judgemental jerk.

He does ask me what bits I’ve got, but he does it in a way that’s so matter of fact, yet sensitive, that it’s okay.
He then asks me if I’d like to piss in a jar.

I’m very keen on this offer, as I’d been holding it in for about two hours now. He also took some blood, and did a throat swab, because well, y’know, oral?
We chat whilst this is all happening, and he tells me about how Syphilis is one of the biggest STIs affecting the area where we live. I have an overwhelming desire to tell him about how everyone thinks Henry VIII had Syphilis, but that actually there’s little evidence to prove this. I’m about to blurt it out in a oh my god I’m nervous so I’m going to say anything sort of way when he asks if I’d like a leaflet about it, and I forget all about Henry’s sti issues, and instead say it’s okay, I don’t need one, even though I’m interested in reading about it. I do this because I’m trying to be polite, and don’t want to put him out.
He gives me two Syphilis leaflets anyhow. This guy is good.

He asks me about the last couple of times I’d been with someone, and I tell him about the French woman I slept with once, and the friend I was with for a bit. For some reason I feel the need to go into detail about both these times. I have no idea why, but he seems to be happy to listen, and offer useful commentary on what I tell him.
It strikes me that I really misjudged him, and I did it entirely based on his gender. When people do that to me it really upsets me, and once again I feel like a jerk.

After all the tests are done we start to wrap things up. He tells me they’ll ring me if anything shows up, and text me if it’s all clear. I get up to go, and I want to give him a hug a say how lovely he’d been. I didn’t because boundaries but I wanted to. In the end he gave me a double hand shake, and I told him he was awesome and that I’d happily come back for more check ups if he did them. Maybe I need to work on verbal boundaries a bit more.
I leave feeling happy, and feeling that I’ve learnt something about my own preconceptions, and also about Syphilis.

A week later, as I was sitting in a cafe, being a writer, my phone buzzed. A text message from the clinic had come through with the all clear. I smile to myself, and think thought as much. Maybe I’ll hang onto those leaflets though, just in case.

There’s a narrative that goes something along the lines of Trans people have always known they’re Trans.
It’s nearly always one of the first things people ask me about when we talk about Trans stuff. I’ve been asked the question “When did you know?” more times than I can count, and when I answer that question, and tell people that I didn’t really know till I was a teenager, and that I didn’t fully form exactly what my identity was till I got to my thirties, there’s often an element of surprise in people’s eyes.
Sometimes there’s an element of judgement there as well. I can see them thinking, but if she didn’t know till then, how can she be sure now? Surely all Trans people just know?

Thing is, there are Trans people who haven’t always known, but that doesn’t make their identities any less Trans than someone who’s always known.
I sometimes think that maybe, if you have to ask, then asking “How did you know” is a more important question than “When did you know?”

So, how did I know?
There were two essential things that let me know what it meant to feel what I felt.
Language and knowledge.
Seems obvious right, if we can communicate how we feel, then we can understand what it is, and find out what we need to do.
Today it’s pretty easy to find out what it means to feel things, the Internet changed everything when it comes to freedom of knowledge, and with that change came greater visibility, and with greater visibility it became easier to find others that feel how you feel. Yeah Internet!
Thing is though, it wasn’t always like that. I grew up in the seventies and eighties, in the last century. (Sounds dramatic when it’s put like that doesn’t it?)
There was no internet then, there was virtually zero visibility for Trans people, and so I had no reference point as to how I felt. As a teenager I genuinely believed I was the only person alive who felt like this. Imagine my absolute fucking surprise when I found out I wasn’t.
That’s when I really started to form my identity as a Trans woman, once I had the knowledge and language, once I discovered I wasn’t alone.
Even then it took a long time. It’s only really now, thanks to a ton of reading, a reasonably large amount of therapy, and the support of truly amazing friends and family that I’ve really got it pinned down.
This is why asking a Trans person when they knew isn’t helpful, or in any way insightful to understanding what it means to be Trans. Knowing that I started understanding that I was Trans when I was a teenager doesn’t give any context to that fact. All that most people get from this is that it doesn’t fit with the narrative of always knowing.
Ask me how I knew though and suddenly things have context. There are reasons, emotions, and ultimately understanding.

The preconception, that all Trans people have always known, is ultimately damaging. It doesn’t help anyone, and that should be reason enough to stop doing it.
Maybe though that isn’t enough, maybe you need more reasons?

How about the fact that it also devalues the identity of those who haven’t always known, and it stigmatises an already stigmatised identity even more.
Or that it creates a hierarchy of validity, which is incredibly destructive, and hurtful to many, many Trans people.
Oh, and yeah it can also divide communities, and damage personal identities, both of which are fundamental to our existence in this world.

Yeah, that’s probably enough reasons.

I have, and will, sleep with people on first dates. I don’t always do this, but given the right situation, it is something I do.
There is a preconception that women who do this are somehow, less valid as people, even the words used, things like promiscuous, easy, predatory, are all demeaning and negative.
This we all hear, and this we all know, a woman who sleeps with people early on is somehow less valid than a man who does the same.

As a trans woman the validity is diminished even more, as in societies eye I’m already less valid anyhow, in that I’m often seen as less of a woman, and this reflects in how I’m perceived when it comes to sex.
Now this is entirely based on my own experience, and as I’ve said before, it may not be true of everyone, but I find that as a trans person, the pre conceptions of being promiscuous, easy and predatory are often there even before I sleep with people.
Trans women in particular are sexualised, often fetishised, and nearly always othered (as in ‘not one of us’. There’s an excellent piece explaining this more here.) in films, television and popular culture. Popular culture is just that, popular. It sinks into people’s minds, it creates impressions of what to expect when we come across particular situations, and in the case of trans women, those impressions are often pretty fucked up.
I’ve spoken a bit about this before, in regards to mental health issues, but these preconceptions are there when it comes to sex as well.

From my own personal experience, these preconceptions are most obvious when it comes to internet dating, which I’m guessing is because of the detachment the internet can create. In real life it’s less likely a stranger will approach you with an offer of anal sex whilst dressed as a maid, because the consequences are more real, whatever way it goes.
The internet absolves us of meaningful consequence, it detaches us from reality, and allows us to show another side, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

There is of course a degree of generalisation here, not everyone has these preconceptions, just as not every Trans person will object to fetishisation.
However, by applying labels such as promiscuous, or predatory, by detaching ourselves from seeing people as people, we are dehumanising an experience that is one of the most human things we can do, and that can’t be a good thing.

It’s easy to generalize, and stereotype people. We all do it, intentionally or otherwise. It doesn’t mean that these stereotypes are true of all people in that group, and I know this, having been stereotyped many times because of being a trans woman.
I think it’s important to state this, as inevitably, when I’m writing about personal experience, as I do, the people I interact with, will, on occasion, do shit that is classically stereotypical.
Let’s take men, for instance, because well, this is what this piece is going to be about…..

I find men attractive. Not all men, because there’s loads of them, and I am but one woman, but none the less, I am interested in them, in a sexual way.
It appears that they also are interested in me. Up to a point.
I know, I hear you, what is this point you speak off? Well friends, I think you know don’t you?
Men, in general, can’t deal with me being Transgender. They can deal with me being hot, and judging from the messages I get before they find out I’m trans, they deal with that just fine, thankyou very much.
But as soon as I disclose that I’m trans, everything changes.
So, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why not just keep it to yourself, don’t tell them yeah?”

Here’s some reasons why that’s not an option for me…

  • I’m proud of who I am, and that I’m trans. Why should I hide that? I may be the reason people can’t deal, but ultimately the issue is with them, not me.
  • Sex. If it got to the point where there’s nakedness going on, we’d need to have a talk anyhow.
  • If we meet, and they realize I’m trans, then I don’t know what would happen. I have to ultimately put my personal safety first. Aside from anything else, it would be humiliating, even if they just walked out on the date.

So yeah, not an option.

Once a man finds out I’m trans, all bets are off. If I’m lucky they’ll just block me immediately. That’s the good option. The worse options include verbal abuse, objectifying language, and expectations that I’m up for anything, because y’know, all trans women are kinky nymphomaniacs right?

And then there’s another response. It nearly always starts with the phrase “I don’t have a problem with Trans women…” ,which if you type into Google translate* comes back as “I’m a ‘nice’ guy, I don’t have ‘problems’ with trans women, as long as you don’t actually want to sleep with me, or meet up, that is, although if asked I will now be adding you to my list of minority groups I’m okay with, just so everyone knows I’m a ‘cool’ guy, yeah?”

These guys, they, if anything are the worst. My latest interaction with a ‘nice’ guy involved him telling me that “I don’t have a problem with people like you, but I’d only be sleeping with you out of curiosity, so you’d only get hurt.”
Thanks friend, thanks for protecting my feelings so well. You’re a real gent, no mistake.
This was the same man, that previous to this, was waxing lyrical about how gorgeous I was, and that he didn’t even have to think about whether to message me or not. Bet you’re thinking now eh?

So, what’s a girl to do? I find myself thinking this a lot. I could just not date men, and stick to women, which is fine, but I do identify as bisexual, so why should I have to curb my identity to fit with society?

As I mentioned at the start, to a degree, the men I’ve interacted with so far have been stereotypes and extremes, I know not all men are like this, because well, I know some that aren’t. I do think that they are a minority though, and that many, many men can’t get their heads round what it means to be attracted to Trans women.

That though friends, is a post for another time….

*It doesn’t translate it as this, I’m being facetious to make a point, it’s like my super-power.

I’ve been using various dating sites for a while now, and experienced the many aspects of this new frontier.
Often however these aspects are kind of bad, and it’s led me to thinking, what could be done to make things better for Trans people, when it comes to online dating.
From my own experiences, I’ve come up with six things people can do that might just make the experience a better one for everyone.

1. Read people’s profiles if you find them attractive and want to message them.
(Actually this goes for everyone, Trans or otherwise). Not every Trans person wants to be visible, but some do, and if they do it’ll be in their profiles. I make a point of putting it there, and honestly it blows my mind how few people bother to read my profile and then freak out when I have to double check they know.

2. Don’t assume that everything you think you know about Trans people is right.
 Here’s the thing, the stuff you read in Newspapers about Trans people is quite often not true. I know, sounds far fetched right? After all the media are renowned for their honest and non sensationalist reporting amiright?

There’s a narrative that all Trans people are messed up, deviant, sexually repressed freakshows. If someone where to say that about everyone with blue eyes you’d know it was bullshit right? So why believe it about us? In the immortal words of Biff Tannen, “Think McFly Think!”

3.When you find out someone is Trans, Don’t be a dick.
 Examples of being a dick include

  • blocking me without a word
  • insulting me
  • sharing my profile among your friends like it’s a godamn circus show
  • saying it’s cool and then not ever messaging again
  • using the wrong pronouns
  • basically showing absolutely no respect for another human being.

4. Don’t agree to meet and then not show up, or ever get in touch again. 
This one kinda goes for everyone if I’m honest.

5.Don’t sleep with a Trans person just because you were curious/wanted to tick it off some sex bucket list, unless it’s consensual.
There’s two ways to approach this.

Way one is sleep with me, and then the next morning let me know it was only to see what it was like. This way is BAD. It makes me feel like shit, and makes you look like a shallow jerk.

Way two is to message me, say you’ve never been with a Trans person and don’t know what to expect, but that you find me attractive and you’d like to sleep with me.

It’s okay to be curious, sleeping with new people is always going to involve an element of exploration, and this is very much okay. The Key things here are consent and full disclosure. If I choose to sleep with you, I know what I’m getting myself into, and you’re being honest with me. Everybody Wins.

6. Open your mind a little. 
I’m not asking you to exclusively date trans people, I’m asking you to stop, and think about this one simple thing. I find this person attractive.  You’re messaging me because you’ve looked at my face, you’ve (hopefully) read some stuff about me, and you’ve thought I’d like to get to know this person. Just because someone happens to be trans and you find them attractive it doesn’t make you weird, it doesn’t make you gay, straight or anything you don’t want to be. It just makes you one person who finds another person attractive enough to want to get to know a little better.

That is all. (Unless you can think of anything else, in which case, that is nearly all)….

So, I’ve been using online dating services. You know the ones, Tinder, Okcupid, those guys, and their friends.

Thing is, I’ve not been having a huge amount of success, and I think it’s me, or at least a major aspect of me, that’s putting people off.

Now, I’m not unattractive (and I realise that by writing that I’m immediately putting myself in the firing line regarding said attractiveness), I’m pretty funny (again with the firing line) and I’m a good person with an only slightly dubious moral compass. All good things, yes? So what could it be that isn’t what everyone is looking for, what terrible thing could be so off-putting?

Well, thing is, I’m also Trans.

I know, plot twist.

How do I know it’s to do with me being transgender though? Lets run though the things I’ve discovered to back my theory up shall we…..

I get way more interest when I don’t mention the Trans thing.

When it comes to making a profile on a dating site, we’re all faced with a decision as to how much information to give. In my case, the major question is shall I put that I’m a trans woman?

In the photos I have of myself it’s hard to tell. In fact, from personal experience, most people don’t realise at all. I’m blessed with a photogenic face, and an androgynous figure, so unless I let you know, chances are you won’t realise. (and once again, ready your metaphorical guns for the firing line I seem so fond of putting myself in front of)

When I don’t mention that I’m trans, I get a fair amount of interest. It’s all hey, how you doing, you’re hot, sit on my face, (no, really. Some people have like no boundaries) you know, the standard really.

However, when I put that I’m trans in my profile things really change. People still look, but that’s it. To make sure it’s not anything else, I’ve even used the same writing, the only difference being that I mention that I’m trans in one.

When I do mention the trans thing people can’t deal.

So what happens when I mention that I’m trans after we’ve been chatting for a while? Normally two things. Firstly people always say that it’s not a problem, or that they don’t care about it, because hey, it’s only gender right?

Secondly, they then never message me again.

There could be a few things going on here.

Firstly, maybe people feel tricked, or deceived. Generally people don’t like to feel this, so maybe they’re all “fuck you, don’t need this shit”. However I take issue with this, in that everyone has something they don’t tell immediately, because it could be seen as a negative. If we all ran once we discovered that people are complicated then there would be a lot less of us than there are now.

The other thing that happens is that people think about it. I know right? Unbelievable!

By think about it, what I mean is they think about what it means, and what they think they know about trans people, and what the people around them think they know about trans people.

I’ve been in a few relationships with Cis people, and when they told their friends they were dating a Trans person the response was pretty much the same.

“Trans people have a lot of mental health issues ( or as one person put it, Trans people are fucked up), do you really want to take that on?”

“But if you go out with a Trans person what does that make you?”

“Are you really a lesbian then if you’re dating a trans woman?”

“What are you going to tell your family?”

and of course the old classic, “So how do you fuck/what bits does she have?”

As you can see from these responses, there’s not much in the way of positive there. As you can also imagine, its sort of hard to stay upbeat about dating in the wake of all this negativity.

So, Whats a girl to do? At some point I have to mention it, because a relationship built on a lie is never going to work, and also, more importantly, I’ll be damned if I’m going to hide who I am for the sake of a relationship.

On the other side though, until I do mention that I’m trans things often seem to be going pretty well. Is it possible for a trans woman to find someone who isn’t bothered by it? More importantly is it possible for this trans woman to achieve that?

 I know it’s a battle, and it’s a battle where the odds are stacked against me, because I think that if the majority of people were honest with themselves, they’d have to think about whether they’d date a trans person or not.

So really, I don’t know, can I have a relationship? Am I too complex for other people? Are other people just not complex enough for me?

All I do know is that when things are against you, and it looks unlikely that you’ll get what you’d like, a victory is all the more sweeter for it.

Freiya Benson

Writer & Photographer.

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