Hidden Dragons: the invisible scars haunting a trans woman’s heart
I’m a perpetually single, queer, 37-year-old trans woman. While I frequently experience deep emotional connections with other girls, I never dare to date anyone. The reason is pretty straight forward: I’m asexual. If you don’t experience sexual attraction, then why would you go out and seek it? Life is so much simpler when you are alone anyway, everybody would always tell me.
Except, it’s a lie. While I have identified with being asexual for most of my life, sometimes I crave something different — something new. That’s when I start to worry. What would happen if my biological clock suddenly started ticking? Will anybody love me and my unique body? Is it even possible for me to be more than the undesirable, temporary girl that I feel like I permanently am?
The truth of the matter is, most transgender women are completely shut out of dating circles that don’t involve girls like me. Cisgender men won’t date us because they think we are homosexual traps. Cisgender women are reluctant to romantically love us because they believe we were once men. All of it has to do with being a woman who was born a “penis.” This fact about our bodies makes girls like us unattractive, incompatible, and not safe enough to be intimate with.
For me, the complicated part has always been that well-meaning cisgender people essentially get it. Many cis women completely empathize with my plight of being born with the ‘wrong’ plumbing. They even seemingly understand how hard this would make a girl’s life. But still, most people continue to assume that there is something about my penis that makes me different from them. It makes me different enough to not be a partner, lover, or worthy of honest, wholehearted friendship.
So here I am, writing this, hoping to create room in your heart for more than empathy.
There was a point in my life when I tried to be a boy. I was 19 and desperate to find some resemblance of normalcy. I knew I was different from a very early age, but transitioning wasn’t really an option. The world wasn’t very kind to trans children back in 1987, let alone 1997. Being an invisible girl was, at the time, my only option for survival.
So I did what everybody else around me was doing. I forced myself into a heteronormative relationship with a sweet, cisgender girl. We made out, held hands, and talked on the phone for hours. She was nice, we enjoyed our time together, and being emotionally close to another girl my age was cool. Life was…. okay. I was okay. I was almost even happy.
But then everything changed.
I remember that night a lot. We were in this cottage behind my mother’s house. The bed was nice, I suppose. There were lots of pillows. My girlfriend told me she loved me, and then something terrible happened.
I was on top, but she was in control. I just did what I was told. That’s what I did back then; that’s what I do. In… and out. In and out. The bed moved a lot. At first, she made noises of pain; the kind of pain that’s uncomfortable but you want it anyway. Somewhere in the middle, it became a burst of happiness for her. And I felt myself dying.
I often describe that moment, the moment when my penis was in her vagina, as the day my light went out — when the candle in my soul almost faded away. Close your eyes and experience it. What would it be like to have a body, but not be in it? To feel your lifeforce slipping through your fingers? Can you imagine the unbearable emptiness slithering into the deepest corners of your broken heart? Would you feel helpless? Would you even know how to save yourself?
Even though this happened nearly 18 years ago, I still think about it all the time. I think about it every time I enter a queer space and witness a sea of cis women with their trans men partners, and not one trans woman among them. I think about it when I look at OKCupid and see “NO TRANS” on every profile. I think about it when I ask a cis lady out for dinner and they tell me, “You are so sweet, but we’re just not compatible. You should find somebody more like yourself.” I think about it when I look at my own body, on those rare moments when I actually want sex, lesbian sex, or just the touch of somebody that loves me. I think about all of this, all the time, and it breaks my fucking heart. It never stops breaking my heart.
When cisgender people make assumptions about how I have experienced my body — at any point in my timeline — all that does is silence the never-ending, unnecessary suffering that I have lived through by being a girl who was accidentally assigned male at birth. And while I can’t blame anyone for not knowing how painful my life has been, I can definitely be resentful when somebody tells me that I’m not attractive because I have (or had) a penis. As if I even wanted one to begin with. As if they had any fucking clue what nightmare that “penis” has put me through.
So the next time you think about how a trans woman experiences sex — how she experiences her penis — please consider what I have said here. Think about the dragons in her heart. Think about your own. All of us, cis or trans, are equally deserving of love and acceptance, regardless of ability, shape, color, or build. Please ask before you make assumptions about how somebody’s story has unfolded with their body. Give her that gift. We’re only on this planet for less than 100 years. Let’s try to be good to each other.