Personal Essays Dystopic Online Dating Spaces And Trans Women

Dystopic Online Dating Spaces And Trans Women

On regular dating sites, cishet men often interpret trans women as "traps" misfits in the world of their desires
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It all started with a right swipe!

X hastened her way out of her college gates, excited to meet her date. 

The guy is kind of sweet. He claims to be a straight man but has assured her in her DM that he has had flings and situationships with women like her in the past. 

It kind of seems obvious that they would probably get under the sheets, but X is going to leave that to the moment. 

As her bus speeded towards the destination, X felt a giddy excitement building up within her. 

Meanwhile a “Where are you?” followed by a string of other questions inundate her DM. 

The bus screeches to a halt. X hastily makes her way out of the goddamn vehicle so that she does not have to make eye contact with her fellow passengers. 

The guy has asked her to not pull down her mask when she is in his neighbourhood. X strictly adheres. It does not seem too unfair of a demand to X. She is a trans woman after all. She cannot afford to have her head in the clouds. 

When X is close to the location, she rings the fellow and he asks her to greet herself as he has left the door open. “Smooth!” she thought to herself. 

He suddenly appears from nowhere and hurries her into a room at the end of the hallway. She is asked to stay put while he leaves to lock the front door of the house.

X is not disappointed because at least he looks like his pictures and she has not been catfished. She unmasks herself.

As she was sliding her bag down from her shoulder to make herself comfortable, he was back. He reminds her that she has to leave by the time his parents wake up in the next room. 

Source: FII

Both of them keep staring at each other with an awkward silence, which is interrupted by the guy pointing out that if she were a real woman, she would be in his arms by now. X grows tense, running out of retorts which are typically second nature to her. Her feisty demeanour seems to have evaporated into an unfamiliar despair. 

Before she could collect herself, he legit exclaimed “You’ve got a beautiful face, but…”

Not contrary to X’s expectations, he is now pointing to her 5 o’clock shadow and telling her that if she had gotten her face lasered, he would have probably given her a shot…This seems like a narrative that X has played out in her head many times before already. She is not surprised, only numbed by the uncanny certainty of the dating narratives that she had played out in her head. She cannot believe she is living through one right now.

She tries to explain that she is saving up for her facial laser treatment. Inside, she was fuming! 

She was cursing herself under her breath when her date pointed out that he legitimately did not know what to do with her. The poor guy has never seen somebody like her, with such a level of sophistication, let alone someone who attends college. He was bewildered regarding how to approach this and his common sense seemed to fail him.

He sits far away from X and prods X that she has to take the initiative to arouse him and make him comfortable. X hesitates and feels awkward. She does coax herself to take the lead. But he recoils and X promptly realises what a waste of time it has been. 

Meanwhile, an hour has passed and his parents are about to end their afternoon naptime. He quickly rises from his seat to check on them in the next room and persuades X to leave. He also asks her if she would like to give him a quick head, reaching for his zip. 

Nauseated by the proposal, X heads out without turning back and blocks him on her WhatsApp immediately. 

Source: FII

Some odd days later, just when she changes her WhatsApp display picture, she hears from an unknown number. It is that guy wanting to meet her again!

You must be screaming along with me, ‘Not again!

If this tale strikes you hard during Valentine’s month, know that it is just the tip of the iceberg. 

For a lot of trans women who want to be in heteronormative relationships (myself included), dating can be a remote dream or a legitimate nightmare. Add India to the equation and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.

Only some days ago, I recall one of my trans sisters sharing how her date wanted her to show up in women’s clothes because he could not kiss her otherwise. The girl’s parents however want her to keep ‘boy-moding’ till they can come around to her transition. Imagine spending a Valentine’s month like that, in a land of in-betweenness, not belonging anywhere to be precise! 

When it comes to online dating sites, it is even harder to pin down where you would ideally seek dates. So, the dilemma starts very early on, right from which platform to choose for dating. 

dating apps for trans people

On regular dating sites, cishet men often interpret trans women as “traps,” a misfit in the world of their desires, tricking them into a romantic/sexual and “turning them gay.”

What you are left with then are dating apps primarily targeted at queer (read ‘gay‘) men, where there is a niche audience for trans women: straight men who are ‘looking for fun.’ Most of them in my experience have this bizarre fantasy of trans women in their minds and are actively looking for ‘panty surprises.’ They are heavily brainwashed into pornographic depictions of trans women without bottom surgery and dehumanise them into objects for fetishization.

I have heard countless tales of sisters and peers grossed out by vividly graphic text descriptions of what these men want to do to them, regardless of their comfort. 

In addition, I have encountered some of the weirdest interactions with straight men on dating platforms. It starts with a decorated conversational dissection of all of my body parts as if I were an object in a museum. If conversations proceed post that, a bulk of them are surprised when I say that I am working at a mainstream establishment. They are met with wide-eyed wonder when they learn that I am not a sex worker and do not engage in paid sex. Their surprise mounts to a crescendo when I tell them that I live with my family in a ‘respectable‘ neighbourhood. And the classic comeback? – “Oh, you are not like them! I can go out with you.” 

These interactions reinforce the stereotypes of transgender women as objects for sexual gratification, essentially disenfranchised of mainstream social entitlements and suited for derision, pity and sympathy. I am reminded of one of the haunting refrains that surfaces many times in the dating woes of trans sisters who would lament how they have many men wanting to get into their pants, but none to make a home with. 

When I was younger in my years, such online dating interactions were glaring red flags for me and I had zero enthusiasm for egging myself on to pursue them at length. However, age probably makes you a bit less rigid. Only recently, I have been tempted to foray into the sentiments that cisgender heterosexual Indian men on dating apps hold towards dating trans women openly.

image depicting a protest for trans and gay rights
Source: FII

In doing so, I realised that a sizeable proportion of them are victims of social abandonment and isolation, with their desires branded as abnormal and unfit for civil society.  Many of them are afraid to face their desires and the catastrophic meanings those desires might carry for their sexuality, family honour and social prestige. This perfectly contextualises some of the phrases often hurled at me like, “I am mostly straight, you know,” “Please tell me I’m straight,” and “I would anyway marry a real woman,” to name a few.

I have a hard time figuring out whether they are for me to respond to or for them to reflect on. I end up being very concerned about society’s attitudes towards cishet men who love trans women and how cornered they feel to never own up to these desires in public. 

And in a landscape of glaringly sparse representation, mainstream Bollywood films like Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui push us further into the corner by normalising these knee-jerk reactions of straight men to transness. The lead in the film, a staunchly self-proclaimed cishet man, whose love interest turns out to be a trans woman, is seen as scrubbing his entire body vigorously and puking his lungs out to absolve himself of the horror of being in bed with a trans woman. Given how widely hooted at the film was, no wonder the men who ‘love‘ us know no better!

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