COLUMN: The danger of dating outside the gender binary

Dating without a binary is a struggle.

I’ve been out as non-binary for a few months now. In that time, I have continued all the parts of my life that were important before I came out, like cooking, living, learning, working, etc.

I want to be able to report back that nothing has changed.

But even with the pushing of trans and non-binary awareness during Pride this year, things are a struggle. We live in a seemingly liberal town but there is still hate. There is still crime.

A big thing that has changed for me is dating. I have continued to actively date and try and meet new people in romantic contexts. What I think people forget sometimes is the politics inherent in dating.

In queer contexts, dating can be a moment for genuine connection. Unfortunately, sometimes it can also be a place for a failure in one’s own community. I can get to know someone who sees me and knows me or I can be turned down in dramatic, often hurtful, ways by someone I thought was “on my side.”

There aren’t a lot of options of non-binary people in terms of accurate gender expression while dating. Most dating apps are divided by gender. On Tinder, the only options are man and woman. Grindr exists for gay men only. And most other options are sparsely populated.

Dating IRL is just as stressful for multiple reasons. I always feel like I have to come out quickly. Partly because I don’t want to get mispronounced, I don’t want to “surprise” or “trick” anyone, and partly because I don’t have time to date someone only to find out later they “aren’t OK with it.”

Though being looked at on the street in confusion or disgust for wearing leggings, nail polish or lipstick is obviously infuriating, I’m almost always more deeply hurt when someone whom I’ve formed a romantic connection with later reveals themselves to be unable to cope with the flux of my gender.

Just because I am coded as masculine trying to look feminine doesn’t mean that I have all the experiences or traits of masculinity, and certainly I don’t have the traits of manhood often apparent in the gay dating world.

I was recently dating someone who understood the meaning of “trans femme” and found an art performance I engaged in with lipstick, nails, etc. as one of confidence and power.

The fact that someone could respect and enjoy me for this wholeness of self was a shattering 

This served as a stark contrast to people who won’t talk to you, won’t address that part of you, or ask invasive and rude questions before even getting to know you. It served as a reminder of my own worth and lovability. Dating’s a struggle and not always worth it, but the moments of transcendence are beautiful.

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