Media coverage of the trans community often focuses on the disproportionate amount of violence leveled against it. While it is vital to recognize such violence as utterly unacceptable — we're not yet two months into 2015 and, horrifyingly, at least six trans women have been murdered — it is also essential to remember that trans-identifying individuals are more than marginalized victims. They are, of course, humans beings, with human needs and the human capacity for love, just like everyone else.
On Feb. 12, Trans Pride NYC gathered a vibrant group of trans-identified story tellers and creatives to share their experiences with love during an event entitled "Kiss Me, I'm Trans." The evening was a moving testament to the ways their experiences are uniquely shaped by the various meanings given to and perceptions of their bodies, as well as by the consistent threat and reality of violence.
Several of these performers shared their insight into what it means to be trans and in love with Mic. According to them, this is what love in the trans community really looks like:
1. Identifying as transgender has no bearing on one's sexuality.
The performers noted that many people believe identifying as transgender is related to one's sexuality. In reality, gender and sexuality are distinct, and one's gender identity does not impact one's desires in a romantic relationship.
Mashuq Deen, a theater artist, said that one of the biggest misconceptions he has faced is the idea that being trans is a choice, and that a person "becomes trans" in order to identify as straight or to enter a straight relationship. But those who identify as trans exist on the same spectrum of sexuality as does everybody else. Sasha Alexander of Black Trans Media told Mic that it's "binary misconceptions" about "what a man is supposed to be and what a women is supposed to be ... that plays into the violence and miseducation about what trans love/any love are all about."
Trans individuals identify as such because it is who they are, not in order to fit into society's norms or to be with certain people.
2. Trans individuals do not date only within the trans community.
Another misconception trans individuals face is that they only date within the trans community. Olympia Perez, also of Black Trans Media, observed that there is a common myth that trans people "come together because no one else is willing to be with a trans person." In reality, she continued, "Trans people loving each other is not the result of rejection from cis people, but another form of celebration."
Some trans individuals reject dating within the trans community outright, and Alexander was once one of them. "When I first came out as trans I was not open to dating other trans people because I felt a lot of the internalized transphobic misconceptions most people did," they noted. "I used to feel a lot of pressure from within the trans community to date outside of the community — to 'prove' myself. I had mostly dated cis women because I wanted to feel like I could 'fit in' or 'hide.'"
"Trans people loving each other is not the result of rejection from cis people but another form of celebration."
Once Alexander felt more comfortable with their changing body and gender identity, though, they began to date other trans individuals. "It made so much sense and was so healing, to be with someone like myself in whatever way," they told Mic. Now, Alexander and Perez — both trans-identifying individuals — are happily married. "To be black trans and in love with my black trans wife is just a dream come true," Alexander said.
3. Violence directed at the trans community impacts personal relationships.
"We live in a world where trans* people are not afforded the same rights, face violence and are often not accepted by their families," Deen observed. "This affects how a couple lives in the world."
While Alexander notes that it's impossible to ignore violence in the trans community, he refuses to let the threat of violence significantly impact his daily life. "[The fact that my] life, my wife could be taken, that makes me love even harder," they said.
Perez agrees that not only does this threat augment love in this way, but further makes loving trans individuals — especially trans individuals of color — an act of bravery. "Most fail to realize the power behind loving a black trans person," she told Mic. But choosing to love trans individuals while recognizing the reality of violence against trans folks is, she noted, an act of "courage embedded with resilience."
4. Intimate partner violence can manifest uniquely in trans relationships.
Vanessa Victoria, counselor and advocate for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, notes that while the cycle of abuse manifests in largely consistent ways across relationships regardless of the gender and/or sexuality of either partner, there are unique factors at play when one or both partners are trans identified. "Trans women may have special needs from our partners," she told Mic. "We may need them to understand our history, where we have come from and where we're trying to go."
Sometimes, she observed, these unique demands cause partners to become defensive — especially when individuals haven't previously dated a trans person. Should their trans partner attempt to leave, their partners may resist because they feel they have "done all this and [have] put it out there for everybody to see," according to Victoria.
Violence, she said, can also take unique forms. A cisgender partner "may hide hormones from their trans partners," she said, or might threaten to out their trans partner if they're not out to their friends, family or employers.
5. Media messages impact trans individuals' relationships.
There are many harmful media messages sent about trans individuals. "I think most people think we are too 'dangerous' or complicated to love because of the misconceptions in media and communities that we are deceitful or lying about who we are," Alexander noted.
Trans individuals may internalize media messages as well. "Imagine your whole life you were told that no one would love you because of who you are, that no one would love your body because you are trans, that not only will no one love you but someone may try to hurt you," Alexander said. "The media made me feel that trans people didn't get to be loved, trans women were treated as jokes and comic relief in hateful ways, and trans men and gender non-conforming people were mostly invisible ... In the past I thought as a trans person it would be hard to find love."
"Imagine your whole life you were told that no one would love you because of who you are ... that not only will no one love you but someone may try to hurt you."
6. Gender stereotypes also influence trans relationships.
Perez said that society's views of femininity have impacted her relationships: "I felt like love might come only if I was able to have other people acknowledge and celebrate my womanhood."
Gender stereotypes may also result in the partners of trans individuals being shamed. Victoria recalled that when she first started dating her now-fiancee, his masculinity was called into question and he was constantly asked ignorant questions about his sexuality, such as, "Are you gay now because you're with her and 'she' used to be a 'he'?"
These various forms of ignorance and their effects are undeniably psychologically taxing. "Those tolls affect the couple," Deen said.
7. Love in the trans community is not just romantic.
Bryn Kelly, who emceed "Kiss Me, I'm Trans," noted during the performance that while romantic love in the trans community is certainly a worthy topic of conversation, love between friends and community is also essential.
"I think policy changes are going to help us and policy changes are going to save us, but we're going to have to save each other, too," she said. "It's going to take remembering people's birthdays, it's going to take making soup for people when they're sick, it's going to take remembering to call somebody when they're sad or when they're heartbroken, it's going to take checking up on somebody you haven't heard from in a while, it's going to take picking up that phone call."
She then quoted Cornel West's beautiful sentiment: "Justice is what love looks like in public."
8. Love is human, not gendered.
"Love has always been a matter of my heart, never a matter of my gender and certainly not a matter of my genitals," Deen told Mic. "I suppose some part of the world said because I was different, I didn't deserve love, and I did think I'd never meet someone who would love me. But that never stopped me from giving away love to another. And lots of people feel unloveable, I don't think it was because I was trans*. And like everyone else who feels that way, I was wrong."
Victoria agreed, telling Mic that "love can be different for everybody. It's a language — everybody speaks it differently," regardless of their gender or sexuality.
"I did think I'd never meet someone who would love me. ... And like everyone else who feels that way, I was wrong."
"We are not waiting for anyone to say its OK to love us, we're loving now!" Perez told Mic. Love in the trans community "is a courageous and resilient love" she continued, especially "when we look out onto the streets and see ourselves murdered in cold blood and no one flinches, love in the trans community is powerful beyond measure."