Navigating the dating world as a transgender individual

As if dating in college needs to get any harder...

Navigating the dating scene in college is always going to come with challenges. With all the dating apps out there, it may seem easier than ever. However, for transgender individuals, apps or no apps, the dating world is one that often feels perilous.

College students are still figuring out who they are as people. Having a full course-load to deal with and unlimited extracurricular activities at their disposal doesn’t make it any easier. Then you add in the complications of dating, infatuation, and the dreaded L word, and things can spiral out of control pretty quickly.

Now multiply that by a hundred and you may begin to understand what transgender college students are dealing with.

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Issues facing transgender college students

Television shows like Pose are putting transgender people in a more positive and mainstream light, giving them better visibility in the media. However, there is often a disconnect between what we see on TV and how we react to that very same thing in real life. In other words, just because someone watches and likes the TV show doesn’t mean they’re accepting and open-minded in their day-to-day.

The issues facing transgender college students run the gamut, from harassment and sexual assault to discrimination and phobia. STDs are another concern, particularly for transgender women, as they have the country's highest HIV rate.

While transequality is gaining ground in the media, the dating scene isn’t yet reflecting that, and a big part of the problem can best be summed up by one man’s essay in Salon magazine in 2013:

"The heteronormative world in which we live had successfully convinced me that being attracted to transgender women meant I had a fetish," wrote Thomas Matt. "I began questioning my sexuality and even my masculinity."

Perhaps we should adjust our views on heterosexuality and homosexuality. While many people probably identify strongly with one or the other, a lot of people may fit more into a sliding scale when it comes to sexual orientation. There are few absolutes in life, as the world has more shades of gray than any other color.

The reason for much of the hostility and prejudice towards transgender individuals may come from people who don’t have the courage to truly explore themselves. If you’re a guy who was raised to think homosexuality is wrong, the confusion over being attracted to a transgender person could easily lead to you perpetrating the kind of harassment and violence many are facing.

However, philosophies matter little when you’re a transgender individual struggling with the day-to-day of college dating. According to a survey by the Association of American Universities, one-fourth of transgender students experience sexual violence.

That same study revealed that three-fourths of those identified as TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, and questioning) experienced sexual harassment in the form of messages, photos, jokes, and remarks.

TGQN individuals also had the highest rate of being stalked at 12.8 percent and the highest rate of intimate partner violence at 22.8 percent. The greater problems are the mental and emotional effects this has on those individuals.

A 2016 study published in “The Lancet” revealed some shocking statistics. While 6.7 percent and 18 percent of the general population suffers from depression and anxiety respectively, those numbers jump to nearly 50 percent for transgender individuals. More shocking is that 41 percent have attempted suicide.

Unfortunately, much like the barriers to healthcare that the aging population is dealing with, so too are transgender people struggling with accessibility to care and acceptability from care providers, which means getting help for those issues is also tricky.

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Dating for transgender individuals

Many recent movies and TV shows are portraying the lives of queer people in more diverse and realistic ways, and thanks to dating apps, more of these people are having an easier time finding dates. However, this isn’t always a good thing.

Transdr — the world’s first dating app exclusively for transgender people ― is drawing criticism for using words that offend, like “shemale, ladyboy, and sissyboy.” It should be noted that in some places, Thailand for example, not only is ladyboy not derogatory, but mainstream views on them are much more welcoming and open-minded.

Transdr used those terms so they could be more easily found in online searches but decided to remove them due to the backlash.

One problem transgender people face is finding suitable dating partners. For most of us, there exists a large pool of people to choose from when dating, but this isn’t the case for transgender individuals.

According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 958 cisgender people (those who identify themselves as their gender of birth) were asked if they would date a transgender person. Only 12 percent said they would date a transwoman or transman, thereby seriously limiting the size of the dating pool for transgender individuals.

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True love does exist

Even when transgender people find a good partner, that partner many times feels a need to hide that relationship, which leads to feeling ashamed, according to trans vlogger Miss Ericka Kane.

"Dating is already a hard thing to do in society as it is," says Kane. "But being trans makes it ten times worse because you're being shamed for who you are." However, for Kane, her story has a happy ending, as she has been dating a man for four years who doesn’t feel the need to hide their relationship.

"I want to tell the trans girls and guys out there that true love does exist," says Kane. "Never give up hope on love because it may be right around the corner."

Remember when Rodney King famously said, “Can't we all just get along?” in response to racial issues? When it comes to issues of sexual identity, can’t we all just be known as human beings, and focus on who a person is rather than what?

How about also exercising a little empathy? While it’s difficult to truly understand what another person is going through, it doesn’t hurt to try and imagine, and ultimately ask yourself the most basic of questions: How would I want to be treated if it were me, or if it was my son or my daughter?

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