• The rigidity of masculinity and male gender roles has always deeply affected my romantic relationships. (Supplied. )Source: Supplied.
How could I possibly feel safe as a trans person if my own partner didn't see that as important or empathise with how much transphobia affected my emotional well-being?
By
Bridget Harilaou

9 Sep 2021 - 7:20 AM  UPDATED 9 Sep 2021 - 1:20 PM

My partner and I have been lying in bed, arguing with each other for what felt like hours.

"I just don't feel safe in my gender with you," I said tearily.

"It really hurts my feelings that you would say that," he replied.

We've all had those fights that feel like they will make or break a relationship. When your partner does something that is so contrary to your values, you wonder if you can ever look at them the same way again. This was one such fight - it was about wanting my partner to stand up for trans rights publicly on a Facebook group and his refusal to do so. 

This is a conversation I never thought I would have with a romantic partner, but there I was, absolutely gobsmacked that somehow (yet again) raising how I felt was hurtful to him.

He had a litany of subpar excuses but at the end of the day, the fight ended by me declaring an ultimatum that he post a comment in support of me and trans rights, or we were breaking up. Even though it took me many more months to finally end things, deep down in that moment I already knew it was over.

When we started dating, I was just another straight cis woman.

Of course I empathise that my trans identity would have been a complicated and difficult thing to understand in the context of our romantic relationship. When we started dating, I was just another straight cis woman. However, his inability to grow with me as I came to terms with who I had always been, spelled the end of our relationship.

I started identifying as pansexual and then non-binary quite gradually. At the time, it didn't seem like it had anything to do with my partner. I have mostly dated straight cis men and while in the beginning this didn't seem antithetical to my blossoming queer identity, eventually it began to become a flashpoint of tension.

The rigidity of masculinity and male gender roles has always deeply affected my romantic relationships. From feeling completely unsupported by one partner in my emotions, to struggling with another's untreated depression and refusal to seek help, I have often felt like there was a third player in my relationships: patriarchy. 

Conflict often never felt truly resolved because my straight male partners would provide empty apologies without any changes of behaviour, which just created ongoing resentment. Communicating my concerns became something to dread because I always became the bad guy for raising them in the first place. Many women have similar experiences in their romantic relationships: constantly having their feelings denied, and doing twice the emotional work just to keep things afloat.

Communicating my concerns became something to dread because I always became the bad guy for raising them in the first place.

Finally, my relationships with straight cis men reached a tipping point when the person I was dating didn't understand that standing up for trans rights was a fundamental part of being my partner.

How could I possibly feel safe as a trans person if my own partner didn't see that as important or empathise with how much transphobia affected my emotional well-being?

In the end I had to choose between my transition and my partner. I chose my transition. I chose expressing myself authentically and surrounding myself with people who saw me for who I really was - not who I used to be or who they assumed me to be.

It also made me prioritise dating within the queer and trans community. I don't think I could ever take a straight man along a journey of queer identity, so now I exclusively date other queer and trans people. 

On dating apps, in choosing preference settings that reflect this, I also learned about the decision of other trans people to do the same with descriptors like T4T or Trans4Trans. Many other trans people have made a similar decision to only date other trans people because of how much simpler and less stigmatising these romantic relationships can be. 

This has opened my world up to the beauty of queer relationship dynamics. My trans partners have been more emotionally literate and communicative, open to feedback and conflict-resolution, and most importantly have fully understood and supported my gender identity.

I remember the moment a trans non-binary partner and I reflected on our shared sense of simple understanding in our gender. It wasn't something we had to talk about or explain because we both just got it and it was a relief to finally be validated and treated with respect around our non-binary identities. This wasn't something we could have necessarily articulated to previous partners.

It wasn't something we had to talk about or explain because we both just got it and it was a relief to finally be validated and treated with respect around our non-binary identities.

Sometimes I wonder what it would take for me to date a straight man again. I think he would have to see dating me as more similar to dating another man, than anything else. He would have to see our relationship as a queer relationship and recognise how that will impact his life and his identity. He would need to engage with the LGBTQIA+ community with ease and become a part of it, even if he didn't take up a new label for his sexuality.

Ultimately however, I've come to feel it is not a healthy dynamic to force a cis man to identify as queer purely because of their attraction to you as a trans person. Many men who have sex with other men identify as straight. Sexual behaviour does not define identity and this must be respected. 

The difficulty straight cis men have navigating dating a trans person could be rooted in so many things. While some men might choose not to identify as queer because of internalised homophobia or because they are paralysed by their own ideas of manhood, I have decided that it is not my place to engage with this in my own romantic relationships. I have felt so much more deeply understood, respected and well treated since making the switch. I honestly don't see myself ever going back.

Bridget Harilaou is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who writes extensively about politics, queer identity and race. They tweet at @fightloudly

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