Dating is hard for everybody. However, the challenges of courtship are exacerbated tenfold for many of the gender minorities in our community. Troubles like gender dysphoria, sexual shame, anxiety, and depression are all hurdles that many trans and non-binary people must overcome before throwing themselves into the dating scene.
When a cisgender person is dating a trans or non-binary person, the frustrations, complications, wants, and needs of their significant other can sometimes get lost in translation. Despite being romantically interested in a person who is a gender minority, cisgender people can become intimidated by the “learning curve” that they may have associated with dating that person. While no two people have the same needs, I have compiled some tips that can help you alleviate the discomfort your trans or non-binary partner may feel in a dating environment. You’ll see that there are plenty of simple things that you can do to make your partner feel more comfortable, valid, and happy.
Be mindful of your language and anatomical terms
Gender dysphoria is a cruel beast, and for many gender minorities, being called by the wrong name or pronoun can completely ruin their day. When you start dating, be sure to ask your partner what their preferred name and pronouns are. You should also ask them how they prefer to be referred to: do they like the term “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”? Or would something less gendered, like “partner,” feel more appropriate?
When things start to get intimate, you should also ask your partner what kinds of things make them feel comfortable and uncomfortable in the bedroom—including what words they use to refer to their genitals. In these cases, it’s always better to ask than to assume.
When learning new things, people tend to make mistakes. Naturally, this is also the case for the learning of unfamiliar names and pronouns. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself slipping up when speaking to or about your partner. While these mistakes aren’t ideal, they are very typical. To keep things moving as smoothly as possible, try not to linger too much on any mistakes you make when speaking about your partner. It’s best to correct yourself quickly and then move on rather than draw more attention to the mix-up.
When you do make errors, make sure you reassure your partner that you respect and acknowledge their identity and that your mistakes are not reflective of them, they are only reflective of your own learning process.
Your partner is not your educator
It’s not your partner’s responsibility to explain and describe to you all the difficulties and intricacies associated with existing as a gender minority. They spend enough time explaining and advocating for themselves throughout their day-to-day lives. The time they spend with you should be a break from all of that!
Instead, show your partner how much their unique experience means to you by taking the time to educate yourself on the subject. There are plenty of excellent books, articles, blogs, and online forums designed specifically for this process!
Be aware of sensitive spaces and situations
The sad reality is that some places and scenarios could pose a real threat to your partner’s comfort levels, and ultimately, their safety. Public restrooms can be challenging areas for non-binary and trans people, as people in these spaces may be inclined to badger your partner about their identity and even about what’s between their legs. Moreover, due to the secluded, private nature of public restrooms, transgender and non-binary people are sometimes assaulted in these spaces by transphobic people, so they may be fearful of using binary public restrooms. The same may go for public changing facilities.
It’s important to remember that your partner may have come out to some people and not to others. Perhaps your partner’s family doesn’t know that they are a gender minority, and they would like to keep it that way. In those circumstances, you would need to communicate with your partner about behavioural expectations specific to these groups of people.
How you treat a trans or non-binary partner should be based on the same pillars that you would apply to anybody you date. Be respectful, be open to communication, be considerate, and educate yourself on the things that are important to them. Dating somebody who has a different relationship with gender than yourself should be enlightening, rather than daunting.
Editor-in-Chief (Volume 50); Managing Editor (August-November, Volume 50); Copy Editor (Volume 49) — River recently completed his HBA in Political Science. He is deeply passionate about social justice and law and is always learning more by connecting with members of the UTM community. In his spare time, he can be found playing video games and jamming out on the guitar.