As a gender non-conforming person, navigating most spaces can be a nightmare, especially when it comes to dating. The majority of interactions with people outside of trans-affirming spaces means someone will look at your body characteristics to try and determine your gender and, often, what they see will tell them how to identify you before you ever get a word in.
For these people, physical characteristics ascribe gender. But ultimately, it's what's between your legs, right?
Wrong. Gender is not genitalia. In fact, gender can be everything and anything (including genitalia), but it has no singular definition. Those who fall outside the standard construct are often "other," and "other" is usually trying to gauge which label they should claim while trying to safely and respectfully maneuver into an engagement with another being that feels sexy and fun, or at least worth a drive across town.
When I am looking to date, I feel I have a lot of explaining to do or like I have to make excuses for one part of me or another. What attributes will I claim? What gender will I choose from the two options? Or will I tell the truth? How will we navigate the individual consents of our bodies? Will we do that at all? How can I look or be seen in these spaces when mine is an error in the cis-tem; an anomaly?
Inclusion can be mind-blowing. Throughout the ripple of trans visibility, some of us have achieved opportunities to participate in normative society. It's almost like the popular kids talking to the band kids: It looks good in action, but it's difficult to trust it.
Between old-fashioned ways of physically co-existing and speaking to strangers in public and online dating—where we swipe and scroll our way around an attraction to heavily constructed digital selves in hopes of potentially meeting in real life—being non-conforming sometimes means a lot of negotiation; sometimes, as in Santa Fe, options are limited.
Meeting for dates, hookups or hangouts already seems a struggle as one ages, but the bigger the intersectionalities of identity, the more complicated these tasks become. Recently, many online dating sites have expanded offerings to serve the transgender community, both binary and non-binary alike, with Grindr currently all the rage for opening the gateways for other genders to peruse the site. (But really, they were already doing it anyway.) Non-binary shares its category with others like non-conforming, queer, crossdresser, (…), and, lastly, custom non-binary.
Pronouns: they/them/theirs; my pic and words. Etc.
Things one might say on their profile: AFAB, non-binary/non-conforming queer seeks (…).
If I get a like, a swipe, a message—great. But we'll likely get 99.9 percent close to meeting before a last minute flake-out completely obliterates this option. Usually, the messages start out like, "Hey," or "Trans?"
Neutral. Then it's on.
One message I recently received seemed promising. This apparent "boy" asked if I had facial hair, to which I responded, "Yes, of course!" because I can say that now and it's thrilling! (He had no idea how I have waited to answer that.) He gave me his number, I text him and, finally, I received:
"Hey/I'm so and so/I'm discreet/Would you mind shaving your facial hair?"
I sent back a line of typed out laughter.
I asked if he wanted to compensate with some money.
I asked if he was looking for more of a girl, because this is clearly a queer scenario and I am maybe into it. He said no. That he only used Grindr for blow jobs but since I "still had a pussy and tits I'm all down." In the end, I learned he was straight and cruising the formerly gay-only space to net thirsty young queers who perhaps didn't care. Suddenly, no matter what my identity was or how non-conforming either of us were, I was a fuckable woman.
"Got tit pics?" he asked.
"Oh you prolly want some smooth titties huh?" I asked. "My titties is hairy honey, lots of body hair from that transition and I suspect you might be a bit squeamish."
"Yeah if you want more girl then I'm not gonna do it for you—transgender doesn't mean clean-cut this or that."
The messages stopped. Another dissatisfying interaction. Forever in this awkward duckling stage, I keep moving forward. Deactivating and redownloading, half-heartedly swiping left and right. I can play along with the narrative anytime I want, be whatever I want to be, determined by my consent within the moment.
My inclusion is meant to open expanded options for all, but even though I may find myself ready to be included in those spaces, it seems a lot of people are not ready for me. What if I miss out on the love of my life because I refuse to answer whether I'm a man or a woman? But the kinds of people I want to engage with would never ask that question, and would identify across the gender spectrum themselves.
Ultimately, I cannot say how I will find them. Maybe not in a dating app or hookup app or singles gathering downtown. The kind of person I want to engage with is going to come out of nowhere, when I least expect it. For all of my complexity it'll take a little luck, many no-thank-yous and a whole lot of magic.
While Santa Fe feels like a queer desert, devoid of young and reasonable pursuits for a my type of gender non-conformity, I get by instead with the curious experiences I accumulate in the City Different.