Most people don’t know how to love trans women. And to be perfectly clear, I don’t mean that in a harmless, innocent way. I don’t mean like awkward virgins fumbling around in the dark, or jaded young adults who don’t believe in romance. It’s not natural or incidental. Our world has a vested interest in perpetuating the notion that trans women are unlovable.

As much as I want to write an article on how to love trans women, I really can’t do that yet. Far too many of you don’t even know how to respect trans women. You don’t know how to treat us with basic courtesy. You don’t know how to see us as whole, finished human beings, deserving of dignity.

There are plenty of examples we can look at. In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, when Jim Carrey finds out the woman who kissed him is transgender, he vomits. There’s a 10-minute long running gag in which he continuously brushes his teeth and gargles mouthwash to get the taste of her out of his mouth. Then, at the climax of the film, he humiliates her and sexually assaults her – in front of the police, no less – and it’s considered justified, because how dare she lie about being a woman.

The Crying Game has a similar “plot twist” when the protagonist is disgusted by the discovery that his love interest — who is played by a man, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation — is trans. The Hangover 2, Good Luck Chuck, and even the children’s movie The Boxtrolls all take advantage of transmisogyny to get laughs. TV Tropes has page after page of examples that range from crass jokes to overt bigotry.

Our culture has turned relationships with trans women into an ugly punchline.

Trans women, especially black trans women, are very rarely considered as valid relationship choices. Most often, we are fetishized, sought after by chasers, and treated like a category of porn to be consumed for entertainment — a problem trans sex workers face the brunt of.

Those who consider themselves “aware” and “conscious” enough to accept (or more likely tolerate) us are happy to sleep with us behind closed doors, but ashamed to be seen with us in public. To them, we’re a dirty little secret, and when someone starts a relationship in secret, it only ever means they’re already thinking about how to end it as cleanly and quietly as possible. When we do try to take back some autonomy and choose partners of our own, we get called ‘traps’ in straight circles and ‘predators’ in queer ones.

These issues are usually minimized by cis people, and sometimes even CAFAB trans people who often claim to be in solidarity with trans women.

“It’s just a joke, they didn’t really mean it like that.”

“Just because you can’t get a date, that doesn’t make it a real problem.”

“That happened so long ago, people aren’t like that any more.”

“Why does any of that even matter?”

 It matters because in 49 out of 50 American states, the Trans Panic Defense is still legal – that is, a person can claim that they were so shocked or traumatized to find out someone close to them was trans, that they couldn’t stop themselves from assaulting, killing or even raping them – and it works.

It matters because last year, two trans women were attacked and sexually assaulted on public transportation while onlookers did nothing to help them. It matters because in addition to all of the typical fears and anxieties surrounding dating, trans women also have the extra weight of that constant and persistent danger at the back of our minds. Even in openly queer spaces, trans women of color are ostracized and victimized more than any other demographic. Even while being perpetually victimized, trans women are always considered a threat. A threat to heterosexuality, a threat to masculinity, a threat to womanhood, a threat to society.

So I really can’t teach anyone how to love trans women, and I’m not going to try. But I will tell you how to start treating us with respect:

+ Do more than accept our gender. Acknowledge it and embrace it, unquestioningly and without hesitation.

+ Don’t insult our appearances, but don’t lie to us about them either. Don’t shower us with insincere flattery to placate your own guilty conscience. We know how to recognize fake compliments.

+ Stop asking us invasive questions. Full stop. You don’t need to know our birth names. You don’t need to know our medical histories. You don’t need to know how our parents feel about it. It’s not your business.

+ Educate yourself. Don’t make it our job to undo every toxic thought that anyone has ever put in your own mind. Do your own reading, do your own research, show us you actually care.

+ And most importantly, keep us safe, even from yourself.Show us you understand what kind of danger we’re in and do what you can to help us. You can reblog and retweet#LeelahAlcorn and #BlakeBrockington all day, but if you aren’t doing anything for the trans people here, still alive, still in peril, it doesn’t mean a thing.

For you to love us, you risk embarrassment and a few awkward conversations. For us to love you, we’re risking our lives. If you want us to care about you, then you need to prove that you care about us first. Prove that you’re worth it.

Suggested Reading:

GLAAD Media Reference Guide

“So You Can Fuck Us; What’s Next? Going Beyond Sex With Trans Women” Luna. Autostraddle 

Michelle Jones, the author of this post, is a blogger and fiction editor from Central VA. You can find her on Facebook.

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