The Politics of Desire

About eight months ago, I was on a date at a little coffee shop near my house with a girl I met on Tinder. It’s worth mentioning I don’t go on dates much: I have two committed partners, so there isn’t always time for new people. But I was really excited to be there, and it seemed to be going well. We had been sitting there for hours, our coffee getting cold, and it really seemed like she and I were clicking. By the end of the date we had already made plans to go to dinner soon, and it seemed like she was genuinely interested in me.

It wasn’t exactly a “hot” date, so I gave her a hug at the end of it, then walked home. This is when the first doubts started to seep in. I’m always hyper aware of how I present myself on dating apps. I have to be. Between my gender identity, my disability, and my mental illness, there are a lot of things to turn someone off dating me.

Sometimes it feels like this date is every first date. I’m nervous all day. Shower too early. Have my makeup done way too long in advance. The date finally arrives, and maybe it goes fine. But then we both go home.

And I can’t help but imagine that this is the first time they’ve really thought about what it means to go on a date with, maybe even start dating, a person who walks with a cane. I can imagine all the scenarios through their head, think of all the things I can’t do. How we can’t go hiking. How if, maybe, in some possible future, who knows, we were to get married, could I carry them over the threshold, or even have our first dance?

If they’re cis, I always wonder if they’re wondering what will happen the first time they take my clothes off. What this means about their sexuality, what it means about their gender. In their book “Gender Outlaw,” Kate Bornstein talks about this. How in a cisheteronormative society wanting to have sex with a person with a penis (because our society deems that person a man) is only allowed for women or gay men. So what does it mean for them to want to be with me when I have a penis and I am not a man, or entirely a womxn?

In this case it meant no second date. She let me down easy, told me I was interesting but she was “too much of a mess to be dating right now.” I don’t hold it against her. It’s certainly one of the better reasons I’ve been given.

//

So, I’ve been thinking about redownloading Tinder. If your first instinct was to put your hands up, to shout warnings as if this is a horror movie and I am bumbling into the mysterious house from the first scene which genre conventions have set up as a place where I will almost certainly die, don’t worry. I am one step ahead of you.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be desirable, especially in a disabled femme body like mine.

It was before transition that I had the easiest time dating, as a fairly conventionally attractive, but not remarkable, white “cis man.” Especially within the gay community. The first day I downloaded Grindr was to get into a club free. I didn’t open the app all night, and by morning I had received over 100 messages.

Compare that to now. If you ask anyone about Grindr culture, you’ll probably end up hearing the phrase “no fats, no femmes, no Asians.” The two things I want to point out are:

  1. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about the politics of desirability. Three concrete pieces of who a person is that instantly eliminate them from consideration in the dating sphere. And these three are almost ubiquitous across Grindr culture. However, it is important that I address my white privilege here, because in the politics of desirability race, and to a lesser degree fatphobia, weigh heavily, and I benefit greatly from my whiteness and size. I will never know the romantic marginalization faced by trans womxn of color, and I don’t intend for my experiences to be seen as representative.
  2. While I wouldn’t use Grindr anymore (primarily because I identify as a womxn), I used to before really figuring who I was. And when I started to socially transition, when I became visibly femme, the messages very suddenly stopped.

//

So… I redownloaded Tinder… But okay, listen, hear me out. I need to meet new people, and maybe it isn’t the best way, but it can’t hurt, right? (I say as I stroll daintily into the slaughter room of the spooky haunted house you were warning me about earlier).

The problem is I only ever really match with four kinds of people on Tinder (if you read any of my past or future columns you’re probably going to notice a serious love of lists):

  1. Other trans people: which would seem like a no-brainer and also exactly what I want. Except that they are all within the 10-38 mile away range. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if I had a car, or if Orange County had the infrastructure to support anything more than a pathetically ineffective public transit system. (This is why I keep my Tinder set to a distance of three miles, even though all my best matches are outside of it).
  2. Chasers: this unique set of cis men, their admiration of trans womxn, their willingness to fuck me (as a fetish), their questions about surgery, fascination with my body’s relationship to a scalpel.
  3. Gay men: usually drag queens. The exact kind of guys who I am acutely aware would do a better job of respecting a drag persona’s pronouns than mine.
  4. Cis girls: A recipe for getting ghosted. They match with me thinking, “Okay, sure, yeah, h-she’s pretty cute. I’m open-minded. I could be in a relationship with a trans person.” And then I message, and wait. And wonder at what point they decided they weren’t ready to really test if they could see me as a womxn.

//

Okay, I’ve matched with four new people on Tinder, and all of them are trans. And I’m thinking that maybe I’m just cynical about this whole dating app thing. I might even ask one of them on a date. Oh, hey! I just got Super Liked, I wonder who it is?

Apparently a 38-year old man with no bio and a hairline higher than Willie Nelson on a weekday. You know what, I take it back. This is a horror movie, and I am stuck in the basement of the spooky house, severely regretting my decision.


torrin a. greathouse (they/them or she/her) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their poetry is published/forthcoming in Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, & Assaracus. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin’s first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017.

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