RavenKaldera.org » Transgender Archive » TransPersonal Columns

Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents. They were written in 2000-2004. The terminology and vocabulary used dates from that era, and was acceptable at that time. The descriptions of people and their interesting customs are descriptions of the east coast transgender communities that I hung out in at that time. If it doesn’t look like what you know today, that’s because it isn’t. I refuse to rewrite these documents because someday it will be important to have them available for historical reasons. In addition, I do not claim to be an academic or scholar, and I do not claim to speak for anyone except myself and all the transfolks who have given me permission to speak for them, which is quite a few. Have a nice day.

TransPersonal #3

The Transwoman's Boudoir, And How To Get Into It
Originally published in Scarlet Letters, probably in 2001.

(Author's note: This column is the second of a two-part series that will be a basic guide to dating transfolk. The first column, available in the archives, covers the how-tos of dating female-to-male transmen.)

In the 1970's, when certain radical segments of the feminist movement began to realize the existence of male-to-female transwomen (MTFs), there was a certain amount of panicked talk about how men were more likely to prefer these "male women" to ordinary women. The theory went that since transwomen were "really" men, they would be more likely to accept male ideas of how women should be, and thus be more attractive than biological women, who were beginning to discover feminism and thus becoming "uppity".

A quarter of a century later, of course, these theories seem utterly ludicrous. Not only has such favoritism completely failed to materialize, but transwomen seem to be second only to the severely disabled in their difficulty as a minority groupto find appropriate dates and mates. Time and again I hear the same sad stories from my transwoman friends: Gay men who will deign to date them, but will slip and call them "he" all the time, and discourage them from getting vaginoplasties. ("You want to cut that off? But it's so beautiful!" My MTF wife refers to this as One-Less-Dick-In-The-World Syndrome.) Straight men who will date them only as long as they already have vaginoplasties and are willing to deny their pasts completely, or (more likely) won't date them at all, because "someone might find out". Bisexual men pretending that they aren't bisexual who use them as a stepping-stone to trying out "real" men. Straight women who want them to have sex like men once in the bedroom. Lesbians who scream as if attacked the second they walk into a bar or dance or bookstore.

There is a whole class of people - largely male - who are referred to as "admirers" in the drag bar community, but it seems that these guys have mostly fetishized the idea of doing it with a "she-male" and aren't really interested in trannygirls as actual human beings. I've often commented that this is the only community I know of where the term "admirer" is a dirty word. So-called "she-male" porn has been a jerk-off staple for so long that many people seem to expect transwomen to act like the girls portrayed in it, even at the grocery store. Add to this the huge amount of prejudice and hostility toward them in the areas of work, family, and even on the street - keep in mind that around one transgendered person per month is brutally murdered in this country, and most of those are transwomen - and you have a community of people seriously in need of self-esteem boosting.

The upshot of this sad situation is that many, many transwomen are both desperate and cynical. Far too many of the trannygirls I know will take what's offered to them, even if it's a substandard relationship. Others, desperate for expensive surgeries, will settle for being "kept" lovers on the side, or succumb to the sex industry when no one else will hire them. It's too bad, too, because certain of my transwomen friends are among the bravest and most intelligent people I know. Don't, however, assume that she's desperate in any way. Sadly, transwomen often are, for affirmation or even affection, but assuming that she is makes you a predator, not a knight on a white horse. It's not your job to "save" her, just to treat her with care and courtesy and enthusiasm.

In this article, I'm focusing on transwomen who have already transitioned - those who live full-time as women, and who are most likely doing things to alter their bodies. Dealing with drag queens, cross-dressers, and other folks of this ilk would take a whole different column. If your male lover is thinking about gender transition, that's a whole other ball game. Try the SOFFA list "FTMSOs" at YahooGroups.. They can also help you with a new flame who is struggling with question of whether to change or not. Get their advice. You are not alone.

Dating a transwoman will give you a surprising insight into what being male or female is really all about....and what it isn't about. That delicate thing across the table from you may be able to rebuild a car without breaking a nail. Depending on her age, generation, upbringing, and how she's been treated, she may be ashamed of her male past, and all the skills that she learned while living in it. It's best not to add to that shame by acting too surprised when you find out that she used to be - or still is - an HVAC installer or a union electrician. Instead, try telling her how much strong women turn you on, and you're glad to see one breaking job stereotypes.

Let's talk about bodies for a moment. You're all probably wondering, so we should get it over with now. First, there is an astounding array of differences among transwomen around how they view their bodies. Some have body dysphoria so severe that they cannot enjoy their genitals - or in some cases, even use them - until they've been surgically rearranged to look more feminine. On the other end of the spectrum, some are cheerfully able to use whatever equipment they have any way they can. There's a whole range in between; for instance, some transwomen I've been with preferred to call their pre-operative organ a "big clitoris" or "clit on a stick"; some were fine with hands or mouths but couldn't bring themselves to do that most male-perceived of acts, penetration of another with their big clits. One trannygirl friend, whose female lover was pleading for penetration, came to terms with the situation by tucking back her own genitals and donning a strap-on.

Some transwomen who still have their birth genitalia are saving money and working towards a future vaginoplasty. Some would like a vaginoplasty, but are leery of the medical problems; not everyone who comes off the surgical table still has the kind of orgasmic capacity that they went in with; they are waiting for better technology. Some are happy with their own genitals, and don't feel that having a big clit detracts from them being a girl; one said to me, "So I'm a woman with an outie instead of an innie? I'm still a woman." If you cannot think of her as one, you shouldn't be inflicting yourself on her.

If the transwoman that you're interested in is post-vaginoplasty, keep in mind that her vagina is a little more fragile than a biowoman's, and doesn't self-lubricate; gentleness and lube is in order. And for the record, I've never met a post-estrogen trannygirl who was not proud of the breasts that she had grown herself at great cost and effort, and didn't like to have them admired and touched by a lover.

For the list that follows, I interviewed many of my transwoman friends on how they didn't want to be treated on a date. The thing most-quoted, of course, was simply, "Don't treat me any differently than you would treat a biowoman." However, some things need to be spelled out, so here's the winning list of Date Tricks To Hate.

Things Not To Say (Or Do) To A Transwoman On A Date

1. "I want to treat you like a lady," especially "the lady you really are/dress like/want to be," with the expectation that this is enough to get a transwoman to melt into a pool of liquid sex. If you have no idea how to treat someone like a lady, then don't even say it. You will be called on it, sooner or later. If you do know how to treat her like a lady, then shut up and do it.

2. "But that's so unfeminine!" Or, "I'm getting male energy from you." First of all, women in general are penalized and called masculine in this culture for being assertive and even tough. Not only may your transwoman not necessarily want to give up the useful lessons she learned from living as a man, she is also at risk of an appallingly high level of murder and rape, and assertiveness may well keep her alive. Second, if she's trying her best to be culturally feminine, and she just slipped for a minute, it will only embarrass her and raise the tension level.

3. "You know, you'd pass better if you..." This generally comes out of people who think that they are trying to be helpful. Somehow, transwomen often attract total strangers who think that they have the right to turn into a Wardrobe Counselor or Acting Coach, coming up out of nowhere and telling her how she should be walking, talking, or wearing her hair. Such criticism is not helpful when it is unsolicited and comes from someone who is not a close personal friend. If it's really so important to tell her this, wait until you get to know her a lot better. Even then, she may not want to hear it, and you'll just have to deal. Again, if you wouldn't do it to a biofemale, restrain yourself.

4. "What was your real name?" It'll serve you right if she tells you it was Tiffany. Don't follow this up with a list of transpeople that you know and all their former names, either. She will not be interested.

5. "So do you have a dick, or what?" I don't care if Hothead Paisan got away with saying this. There's this assumption that the crotches of all transpeople are a public spectacle, and that everyone has the right to ask what we've got down there. You don't get to ask that question until she has made it abundantly clear that she wants to do the mattress dance with you. Actually, you don't get to ask that question ever. A better way to ask what equipment you're going to be dealing with might be: "I know that some transwomen only like to be touched in certain ways. Could you please tell me how you like to do it before we start, so that I won't make too many mistakes?" This will let her know that you genuinely care about her body issues, and give her the freedom to talk about her anatomy with less discomfort. If you're trying to find out about her anatomy so that you can decide whether or not you want to do it with her - i.e. if you only want her if she has a cock, or if she doesn't have a cock - then maybe you shouldn't be hitting on her at all. She is much more than her genitals, and no one wants to be rejected for what they have or haven't been able to afford to do with their bodies.

6. "Did they cut off your dick?" OK, this is another too-personal and inappropriate question. And for the record, a vaginoplasty does not involve cutting off a penis. It's more like gutting it and turning it inside-out like a sock, and putting it up inside her. Some transwomen cannot achieve orgasm with their vaginas, as surgery isn't perfect, and they may feel some shame around this. Don't give her trouble about it; don't quiz her as to whether she came. Ask instead, "Does this feel good?"

7. "Why won't you fuck me with your dick? That's what it's for, right?" This is the sort of thing heard all too often from porn-fed losers who are still fantasizing about a luscious she-male with tits like a woman who will bang them like a man. It's not that this sort of transwoman doesn't exist - they do, and should be treated like the goddesses that they are - but not all, or even most transwomen are comfortable with using their big clits like a man uses his penis. Some can't even get erections any more after years of estrogen, and prefer less direct and more sensuous forms of stimulation. No matter what her preference, it should be respected and appreciated. She does not exist to fulfill your fantasies, and she has the right to mentally reframe her body any way she wants. If you only want a transwoman for fantasy purposes, then you might think about putting out a personal sex ad...and being prepared to shell out for the privilege. Oh, and while you're at it....leave that term, "she-male", at the door. Don't even let it pass your lips unless she uses it first.

7. "My god, you look like a real woman!" Since she may well think of herself as a real woman, this is not a compliment. "You look beautiful" is safer.

8. "How can you say anything about feminism? You grew up a man, with privilege." Yes, but she lost it really fast, as soon as she transitioned. In fact, if she doesn't pass perfectly, she is at more risk than even a biowoman for discrimination and violence. Many formerly-privileged transwomen discover feminism awfully quickly, after they get a good taste of sexism from the other side. They'll have to deal with it for the rest of their lives, and it's today and tomorrow that count, not yesterday.

9. "You're the best of both worlds." Be careful with this one. Some transwomen do consider themselves something in between male and female, a divine androgyne, a sacred two-spirit, and would be complimented by that. Others consider themselves women, work very hard to be accepted as women, and would take great offense. Best not to say it until you're certain which variety you've got.

10. "I know this sex change must have been hard for you." Really? How do you know that? For some people, transition is the best thing that ever happened to them. If your transwoman wants to bring up her emotions about her TG-ness, she will do so when she feels safe enough. Don't assume you know how any of it feels. Often, when people say this, one senses that it is they who are having a hard time with our sex changes.

11. Don't write letters or emails that say things like "I'd like to cum see you," or anything else that reveals you gained your literacy from Penthouse Forum at best.

12. Don't pull out a porno mag or Fredericks' of Hollywood catalog and make suggestions about what kind of underwear she should get or that you'd want to buy her. Transwomen are not Barbie dolls, spending their lives dressing up in stuff to please porno mag subscribers. If one wants to give gifts of that nature, try to find out what she actually wears or prefers. Remember, think of her as a person first. (Corollary: Don't ask about what kind of underwear she actually has on, either.)

13. Consider that the more transwomen dress according to other people's kinky desires, the more real risk they place themselves in. Your kink; her dignity and very life. You do the math before you open your mouth. And if your date for whatever reason risks being flamboyant, tell her how brave she is, and be prepared to leave immediately if she says, "Umm, I think it's time we got out of here, right now."

14. Don't act as if you are ashamed of being seen with her. This includes sneaking her to some out-of-the-way place and then ducking into the rest room when someone you know walks in, or otherwise refusing to be seen with her in any public place. If you can't be proud of being with her, don't do it.

15. Don't assume that transwomen all want to be 1950's-type women, be it pinup bimbos or Donna Reeds. There are some, usually older or raised in places that might as well be the 1950's, who may experiment with old-fashioned ideas of womanhood, but it's just as likely that she's young, politically aware, and savvy about a woman's place in the world. She is usually caught in a double bind....if she dresses as unisex as most women can acceptably get away with, she may be read as male. If she dresses culturally feminine enough to pass as female, she's accused of being stereotypical. Be cognizant of this dilemma, and her individual response to it. If you're attracted to the idea of dating a transwoman because you're dreaming of an old-fashioned 1950's girl, or you're turned off to dating one because you're assuming that they all have outdated ideas about womanhood, you may be in for a surprise.

The greatest gift that you can give a transwoman on a first date is to find subtle ways to sincerely express that you do, indeed, see her as feminine. First and foremost, get her name and pronouns right, every time. Don't slip. If you do slip, don't make a big profuse deal of it; just say something like, "Damn, I screwed up. It won't happen again," and change the subject. Refer to her as "my girlfriend", "my lady", and so on, as soon as it's appropriate to do so, especially when introducing her to people who don't know her. If they make a pronoun mistake, you correct them. It'll show that it's important to you.

Being in a relationship with a transwoman may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it can be extremely rewarding. I say this from the perspective my ten-year marriage to my MTF wife and partner. Our relationship still continues to surprise me and stimulate my growth as a human being to this day. When you lie with the image of God/dess, you will come away forever changed. Believe it.

Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents. They were written in 2000-2004. The terminology and vocabulary used dates from that era, and was acceptable at that time. The descriptions of people and their interesting customs are descriptions of the east coast transgender communities that I hung out in at that time. If it doesn’t look like what you know today, that’s because it isn’t. I refuse to rewrite these documents because someday it will be important to have them available for historical reasons. In addition, I do not claim to be an academic or scholar, and I do not claim to speak for anyone except myself and all the transfolks who have given me permission to speak for them, which is quite a few. Have a nice day.