Getting Irritated with Dating
Dear Patrick: I am a transman who is having trouble dating heterosexual women. It seems to me that women who have sex with men don’t like them very much. Is that possible? I have had girls I am dating speak to me in a condescending way, as if I was literally five years old. They reprimand me for being sexist and then turn around and expect me to behave like a very conventional man. If I don’t know how to change a flat tire or I don’t want to “protect” them from a guy who hits on them in a bar, my masculinity is called into question. Women don’t express their sexual needs then get mad if they are not fulfilled in bed. In general, they play a lot of games about whether they are available or not, etc. Yet I finds women very attractive. I want a girlfriend. Eventually, I want a wife and a family. Dating lesbians has not worked for me. Sooner or later, they always revert to using female pronouns, and it becomes clear to me that they never saw me as a man, but only as a sort of super-butch woman. I never want to go through that kind of heartbreak and humiliation again. Do you have any helpful suggestions for negotiating this minefield?
Dear Getting Irritated: Your letter won’t be news to any of the cis-gender men who read this column. I don’t think there are very many guys, of any gender status, who enjoy having a woman refer to them as “little boy” or talk down to them. Like you, I have experienced the contradictions of getting yelled at for opening a door, but then I am expected to pick up the check for dinner. I’m told that the patriarchy is a terrible thing (as if I wouldn’t agree), but then if we are in a social situation where she gets unwanted attention, I am supposed to behave like a Neanderthal to get other men to leave her alone.
Some of these issues are not the fault of women or men. We live in a crazy time in which we have both male domination and feminism. We have an obsolete social structure that is not falling apart quickly enough, and it isn’t clear what will replace it. There is also enough anxiety about a catastrophic collapse of the social order to prompt many women (and men) to reach for the security of a more authoritarian way of life. Who are we, as human beings? Our Stone Age ancestors, not to mention the more recent Victorians, tell us one way to behave while modern technology offers a whole different set of options and values. It would be nice if men and women could sit down and behave like allies and friends, and figure this out together, but the groundwork has already been laid for a ton of hostility and mistrust between genders.
You have to be clear about what your own boundaries are. What are or aren’t you willing to do to please somebody you are dating? I personally prefer to think of myself as a gentleman. I don’t always date women. But if I am, I want to go out with someone who, in public at least, behaves like a lady. A woman who is insulting to me won’t get a second phone call because I don’t want to date people who despise me. I will not be baited into fighting for a woman’s attention. That’s just a little too dangerous and ridiculous. Most trans people have swallowed enough insults to last us a lifetime, so we should not be expected to put up with any more abuse.
It really is okay to say to a woman, “I like you. I know we don’t know each other well, but I’d like to get to a place where we can trust each other. We can’t do that unless you make up your mind that you want to try. I hope you’ve had as much fun tonight as I’ve had with you. I’m going to take you home now. Let me know what you decide about a second date.” A calm, focused declaration that gets right to the point is one way to tell her: (a) what you want, and (b) what has to happen for things to get to the next stage It is 100% reasonable to ask her to buy into the process of creating something together. A relationship is not something you do TO her; it is a joint project. If things seem to be going well, you can make a similar statement telling her you are ready to make a commitment to her if she is willing to do the same. If you aren’t sure what a commitment might look like, ask her to have a serious discussion with you about what has gone wrong in her other relationships and what she would like this one to become. If she can’t focus and be serious enough to answer you respectfully and have an adult conversation about these issues, move on to somebody who is more sober and able to be serious. Party girls are fun, but they won’t let you pin them down about the future. You seem to have made up your mind that you want to devote your life to a wife and family. So don’t waste a lot of time on women who are only interested in a guy who will pick up the bar tab.
The same thing is true of sex. It has to start with desire in a context of trust. Women understand that they are vulnerable during sex. They often don’t understand male vulnerability. Little girls carry on as if their daddies can never be hurt, and that’s okay because they are so small. Grownup dad just laughs and tosses her around, catches her, tickles her, and it’s fun for both of them. But adult women are quite capable of wounding their men, even putting an end to them. I have sometimes been brought to the point of asking, “Do you realize you are powerful enough to hurt me?” Traditional male vulnerability has to do with things like sexual prowess and the yardsticks of success in business. For a transman, there is an added issue around qualifying as a man in your woman’s eyes. How does she really see you? A lover who upholds you as her man is worth her weight in precious stones, in my opinion. But a lover who holds your masculinity as a hostage to her spite is the worst sort of enemy to your peace of mind.
Your decision to avoid dating lesbians makes sense on one level. You want a woman who is able to love and desire men. On the surface, being a lesbian would seem to be at odds with that. But let’s give credit to the way that identities can flow and shift over time. I’ve met many FTMs whose wives or girlfriends are lesbian, bisexual, or queer-identified. She doesn’t have to love all of mankind to be your biggest fan and ally—she just has to love YOU. And I really doubt that lesbians have any sort of monopoly on name-calling as a way to get even when they are hurt or angry.
Whatever you decide about your parameters for dating, I hope you will take some time to think about what kind of man you want to be, and how you want to communicate that to potential mates. Being a good man is not an old-fashioned goal. It is actually one of the best things you can do with your life. One final piece of advice: Being a good woman is not an old-fashioned goal either. So if you want a peaceful, happy life, don’t pursue the one woman in the room whose first and last name is Trouble. You will recognize her on sight, and probably want her as well. But if she is always your first choice, well, that’s why your dating life is a hot mess, dude.