Undesirable Femininity | Dear Baby Maybe #14

Dear Baby Maybe,

We’ve talked a lot about love. We talked about relationships, and finding a partner. We will come to talk a lot about exes and sexes and people we’ve tried to be with. There’s a lot to cover in the love and sex department. But I want to bring up an unfortunate truth as we have these conversations. Not everyone is going to be ready for you. Our identity, our femininity, our lack of conformity is not something many people are ready to engage with in a romantic context.

You will find that as you discover and explore a more feminine presentation, many people are less and less willing to consider you as a romantic partner. There is a lot of talk around gender and representation in media going on recently, but not much being done about fixing the politics of dating. When so much around dating and finding a partner is coded in language of what gender people are attracted to, not having a gender can really leave one feeling left out. Even with dating apps (a tool you’ll learn to love to hate soon enough) being ‘inclusive’ and letting me check boxes that have words for my lack of gender, they’re not following through. After I fill out a form that says I’m agender, it asks if I want to be included in searches for men or women. And there’s not an option to click “no” or “both.”

Due to this flaw in the cistem, along with a myriad of other problems with the way our brains navigate desire and companionship, I find myself most often dating cis gay men but constantly running into a problem. See, gay men date gay men. So for them to think of me as a romantic partner makes them have to do one of two things: either expand their ideas around gender and attraction, or invalidate my identity. The easier (and more frequent) choice is typically the latter.

Too many people have their own underlying ideas and assumptions about the people that they meet in this world. It’s unfortunately human nature, to categorize and figure people out on your own. This is a survival tactic, a measure of attraction, a lifeline. The problem is that for most people, it can be really hard to let go of who they want someone to be. So when we, as trans people, go out with people who don’t understand our genders and make their own conclusions, the results can be pretty uncomfortable. I’ve had a series of cis queer men tell me some version of, “You’re too feminine for me. But I don’t mind it on you.” In which I hear “I’ve learned that femininity is a thing I’m not supposed to want, so I’m confused by my attraction to someone who celebrates it.” In reality, they’ve begun their process of registering me as a boyfriend, and take my identity as a compromise they’re willing to make.

The gay men who will see us as a boy first are stripping our identity away in order to make space for their desire.

You will find, as you come into your femininity, that you can be simultaneously desexualized and hyper-sexualized for the same exact thing. The gay men who will see us as a boy first are stripping our identity away in order to make space for their desire. However, there are people out there who very much will see us for our femininity. And they will love it. Sometimes too much. And they will assume things about it. And they will assume things about you. And you’ll learn how being sexualized as a woman is actually a horribly uncomfortable feeling. Because most often, the people who are willing to see those parts of us aren’t able to see the nuance of it. Very rarely is someone going to approach us and say “I’m incredibly attracted to you and gender plays no role in my decision to let you know that. Also I have a working knowledge of applying a singular they to everyday conversation and a minor in Gender Studies.” (Okay I’m showing my cards a bit but that would definitely be a pickup line to win me over.) Instead, in the romantic or sexual contexts, you’ll find that most cis people will see you as a man who’s a little femme or a girl who’s rough around the edges. When in reality we are neither and both.

Making this case for myself over and over becomes incredibly exhausting. Having to explain myself and my identity and my childhood and my desire every time I want to grab a drink gets really mundane, and I shut down pretty quickly. I will say there are diamonds in the rough. And there will be people who get it and know your language and don’t need to be walked through the basics. And there will be people who only ask the right questions and listen when they’re corrected and do better. But the rough around those diamonds is ROUGH. So I have learned with the people who don’t get it, it’s not our responsibility to make them get it.

We can’t be part of their process toward acknowledging who we are. That’s their own work to do. If they want to be with us, that’s their work. I need a partner who sees me and agrees with my version of me. I can’t be with someone who misgenders me, no matter how accidental or well-intended they may be. Because it’s more than words. It’s more than pronouns and labels. When someone calls me ‘he,’ that tells me that when they look at me, they see a man. I should be with someone who looks at me and sees me. I get that a lot of language around most romantic relationships is gendered, but if they are looking for a boyfriend they have come to the wrong place. If they want a someone, we can have that conversation.

But they need to see me.

Your Future,

Maybz

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Maybe Burke

Theatre artist and trans advocate telling the stories that haven't been told. Founder of The Trans Literacy Project. @believeinmaybe maybeburke.com