A reader writes: “I recently met a man who is friends with a lot of my friends. I’ll call him James. We’re all in our twenties and have a tight-knit group of very nice people. I met him and we hit it off. I thought maybe it was going somewhere.
“Now, in this group of friends, I present as male, they use male pronouns, etc. But I don’t pass very well if you’ve interacted with me for longer than a few moments, as I haven’t started hormones yet. Despite that, though, all of my friends are very respectful and supportive of my gender identity, so it’s never really an issue.
“But James and I were flirting, and it started to go somewhere, and then he told me we needed to ‘have a talk’ before we could keep going. And his talk consisted mostly of my gender. He said he understands I’m trans, and he’s all right with that, but it brings up a big issue. He sees himself as straight. And even if he knows I’m trans, he can’t help but see me as a woman, and thus, he’s attracted to me.
“I told him that seeing me as a woman, I guess, is easy to do right now since I haven’t started hormones. But once I’m more masculine than that, I will (hopefully) pass much better as male, and I won’t appear female anymore. The entire time we had this talk, he was trying very hard to be as respectful as possible about it, and I’m grateful. But it’s also very unnerving. How do I go along with this? Do we continue on with our relationship, even if it means he sees me as a woman?”
I have an old boyfriend (right now, we’re both pretty old) who calls me from time to time. We haven’t been together for thirty-five years, and he’s seen me once in person since I transitioned. But occasionally, he’ll bring up the idea of hooking up, just for old times’ sake.
When I explained to him once that it just wouldn’t be the same for him, he said, “Well, you could put on some makeup or something.”
If that story sends a little chill down your spine, you might want to think twice about an ongoing relationship with this guy. But that’s my story. Only you can decide if you should keep seeing James or not.
I’m sure that there are many possible outcomes to this if you decide to continue the relationship. Here are a few that I see as possibilities:
1. You start taking hormones and begin to masculinize. Even though James thought he could handle it, he begins to realize that he no longer finds you physically attractive, because he is attracted to women. He ends the relationship.
2. You start taking hormones and begin to masculinize. James remains attracted to you, but fears that the world will see him as gay. His friends give him a hard time, and when you go out in public, you are treated as a gay couple. He can’t deal and he ends the relationship.
3. You start taking hormones and begin to masculinize. James continues to see you as and treat you as a woman, regardless of your appearance and demeanor. He uses female pronouns consistently, including in public. You can’t deal and you end the relationship.
4. Before you even start taking hormones, you realize that you can’t handle James seeing you as and treating you as a woman. You end the relationship.
5. You start taking hormones and begin to masculinize. James starts to realize that his sexual orientation is more fluid than he thought and that he is attracted to you as a person – or a man – rather than as a woman. It takes some time, but he begins to use masculine pronouns and begins to see you as a man. He is not concerned about how the public perceives you as a couple or what his “friends” might say. The relationship works out.
But no matter which of these scenarios (or possibly an entirely different one) plays out in the future, you still have to deal with now and starting a relationship in which James sees you as female. You are the only one who can decide how important that is to you. James has told you how he sees you. It is likely that it will be very difficult for him to see you otherwise until some physical changes take place.
You can’t force him to see you differently. His perception of you is going on in his head, and it can possibly be altered, but not by you insisting that it be. Something very concrete will probably have to happen in order for that perception to change.
I am always of the mind that, if there is something out there that you want, then go for it. There are never any guarantees in love or in life. There is no way to predict the future with regard to any relationship. One or both of you could wind up with a broken heart, but that can happen with any relationship – even one that appears to be without challenges, and this one has recognizable challenges before it even begins. You could also both wind up extremely happy.
But before you get too involved, you might want to ask yourself a few questions:
> Do I like this guy more than I hate being seen as female?
> Do I want to enter a relationship in which I am seen as someone other than who I really am?
> Can I tolerate being perceived as female, even for a brief period of time, by an intimate partner?
> Can I tolerate the idea that, when we engage in sexual activity, he sees himself as having sex with a woman?
> Can I handle the fact that his friends and family know him to be straight, and therefore will see me and treat me as a woman?
> Am I willing to enter a relationship that might have a better-than-average chance of ending sooner rather than later?
Only you know the answers to these questions. The heart wants what the heart wants, so if you decide to go for it, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have ongoing discussions about the state of the relationship and how each of you is feeling.
It also might not hurt for James to meet some medically transitioned trans men, if he hasn’t already, or to look at some before-and-after photos, because he might not have a realistic idea of what testosterone can actually do, both physically and emotionally (he might think it will do very little, when in reality, it is extremely powerful).
My opinion is that a relationship is successful for as long as it’s working. “Happily ever after” should not necessarily be the goal for every (or any) romantic partnership. You can always gain something from being with someone else, for however long you are with that person. And broken hearts mend.
But there will also be other men, and there will be men who see you as a man. Only you know how important that is to you right now, and whether or not you want to wait for that. I wish you the best of luck, whatever you decide.
Readers, what do you think?