I can’t tell you that I like you

Have you ever wanted to swipe right on a dating app, or tell someone who makes your heart beat faster that you like them, but stopped yourself because you’re too scared of being rejected – not because of how you look, act or think but because of what you are? I have, and I think quite a few other trans people have too.

This tweet, by YouTuber Mia Mulder, struck a chord with me and many others: it’s been liked more than 3,500 times.

Any other trans women out there feel scared of expressing any form of attraction ever, even to actual current partners, for fear of seeming predatory or seem “male aggressive” to the point of absurdity?

My answer, like many other trans women’s answers, was “all the time.”

Here’s the writer and playwright Harry Josephine.

yeah sex is good but have u tried being a transfem n thus so fundamentally alienated from your desires n so relentlessly problematised in all social space that instead you just stay at home and read a book???

If you think a trans woman likes you, you may be right. But she may be far too scared to tell you. I certainly am.

Here’s why.

I’m under no illusions about who I am: I’m a giant, excitable puppy in a dress, an overweight, middle-aged trans woman who likes women and who hates her body.

But I’m scared that you see something very different. Someone who’s a deceiver. Delusional. Mentally ill. A mutilated man. A pervert. A predator. A fetishist. A fraud. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A fox in the hen house.

I could go on.

I worry you’ll think that because that’s what we’ve been told since childhood, and because you’re still being told it today in the newspapers you read and the social networks you use. Again and again very vocal and often vicious people, many of them with high profile media jobs and/or thousands of social media followers, tell us that trans women cannot be trusted. They tell us that trans women are predatory, damaged, dangerous men full of male entitlement and male aggression, that we go through what we go through purely so we can prey on vulnerable women. The decades of mocking and shaming our appearance weren’t enough. They want you to be scared of us too.

So we’re scared of you.

And if we’re not scared of you, we’re scared of the people you know. I worry that even if you don’t think that I’m a fake, a fraud, a fetishist, your friends or your colleagues or your family members will.

So I don’t swipe right. I don’t tell you that I like you. I stay home and read a book.

I don’t swipe right or tell you that I like you because I believe that if I do you’ll be horrified, that you’ll think I’m just being predatory. And if I’m wrong about that, if you’re not horrified when we match in an app, you’ll be horrified when  you hear my voice or see what I really look like compared to my carefully chosen, better-makeup-than-usual selfies. And if you’re not horrified then, you’ll be horrified when you see me without my makeup, or when the question of what bits I do or do not have comes up. And if you’re not horrified by that and we see each other again, your friends, your family or the people who just see us talking in a restaurant will make it clear just how horrified they are on your behalf.

Better not to swipe right in the first place.

Don’t worry, I’m fine. This isn’t a cry for help. But on this, the last day of trans awareness week, I wanted to write about this because it’s something I don’t think many cisgender people are aware of – probably because we don’t like to admit to any kind of weakness in case bigots try to weaponise it against us. But you’d have to be pretty tough to survive decades of being mocked and shamed and demonised without internalising any of it. I’m neither pretty nor tough.

This will change. It’s already changing. Young people’s attitudes are completely different than my generation’s were; the bigots are on the wrong side of history, which is one of the reasons they’ve become so vicious. But while I’m happy to see progress, I’m sad that it came late for me. The lake is being drained of poison, but I spent forty years swimming in it.