Can fairytale romance exist for trans-women of colour?

By Lorelai Patnaik

Writer Lorelai Patnaik shares the experience of her foray into the dating world, and discusses the priorities inherent to her standards for romantic attraction as a trans woman of colour.

A while ago I wrote about what valentine’s day meant to me, as a trans woman of colour navigating the dating app Grindr. My experience can be summarised as a mixture of trans-misogyny and racism administered on the basis of my race and transfeminity. I was fetishised on the basis of being a South Asian Trans woman, where my identity and body were reduced to a mere category: an object to satiate the lust of white men. 

My policy to meet someone in person from the app was threefold. First, the person must show a picture of their face. Second, they must prove that it is them. Finally, they must agree to meet me in a public place. If these conditions were met, I would then agree to see the man on the date. Out of 3000 profiles I interacted with, only three white men fulfilled the conditions I had prescribed. And so the question remains: can Glasgow’s Lorelai Gilmore finally find, in any of these men, someone she is romantically attracted to?

The first guy I met was fresh out of uni, so a year younger than me. It was easy to like him: he was able to hold an engaging conversation on topics both of us liked, and we shared a mutual appreciation of fashion and aesthetics. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know him. Over a cup of tea, I discovered he was extremely well read, quick witted and intelligent. The conversation was anything but dull, each topic more intriguing than the last. After the tea, we decided to go on an impromptu pub crawl. I fondly remember posing like an old Hollywood star in a pearl necklace he gave me to wear, while he directed a photoshoot in the back of my local pub. Despite the charm and shared laughter, I soon realised it was more friendship than romantic attraction that I sought after. As a trans woman of colour, trust matters a lot – especially being able to trust that the object of my attraction is someone with whom I could build a stable future. Our conversation revealed he did not have a clear plan for the future, and was very much still figuring things out on a prospective career. At this stage in my life, a lack of vision for the future is really a deal breaker when it comes to forming romantic attractions. 

The second guy I went on date with was 28, and had worked in the merchant navy before becoming an archivist for the NHS. Upon encountering each other on Grindr, he immediately made me feel comfortable and at ease. He respected my boundaries, and over coffee I got to know him better, discussing our families and our mutual enjoyment of museums. Afterwards, we went for a nice stroll in the park, enjoying the winter sunshine before heading into Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, where he patiently listened to the trivia I spewed out ad nauseam upon discovering an interesting artefact or painting.

It was late afternoon by the time we left the museum, so a late lunch at a nice Italian diner was in order. On our way, we had an interesting conversation about what would have happened if we met in a different century, like the 1800s: him as a pirate, me as courtesan. Over dinner, the conversation continued to flow and we discovered a shared love for playing Age of Empires. Following what was a pleasant meal, he walked me back to my flat, and we parted ways with a kiss.

A conventional rom-com adherent response would have been instantly falling head over heels, what with this lovely date and parting embrace. But despite him making me feel safe and comfortable, and being a pleasure to talk to, he is not someone I could find myself romantically attracted to, because I needed to trust him at a deeper and fundamental level. Once again, I had encountered a supposedly suitable guy, except that he was still “figuring life out”. Without coherent ambition, I simply was not convinced that he could support my needs as a trans woman of colour, and that glimmer of potential for romantic attraction ebbed away,

I met the third guy a month later at a pub in Finnieston. Charming, polite, and just about the right level of flattering, he, too, went to law school. We both appreciated fashion and aesthetics, and were fond of cocktails, and the fact he was 31-years old simply floated into oblivion. It was nice conversing with him over drinks, and he was precise, to the point and honest in communicating what he wanted. He was in an ethically non-monogamous relationship, and for a polyamorous person like myself, that was definitely an encouraging consideration. However, once the date ended, I realised our life experiences couldn’t be more different. While he was ambitious and had a clear vision for the future, succeeding where past dates had failed, he had never been with a trans woman of colour before. Fundamentally, romantic attraction, and the trust necessary for it, could not manifest with someone who has never been around women like me. The age-old fears of being fetishsized, being seen as ‘exotic’, or to become another ‘conquest’, could always resurface imminently.

So, for me, as a trans woman of colour, romance simply cannot be like the fairytales we devour from books and television. Beautiful as they may be, many of my ideas of romance seem more practical, and are rooted in ideas of stability and trust. To trust someone with accepting my womanhood, in a world where my body and identity will never align to white cisnormative standards, is difficult. I cannot guarantee that someone will not demonise me or see me as an aberration because of my dysphoria, which is fundamentally integrated into my existence. I am fearful that no one will appreciate the systemic availability and non-availability of socio-economic opportunities for someone like me. Above all, I still cannot trust someone to not hurt me for being who I am. Until that changes, fairytale romance seems simply out of reach.


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