States of Independence
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The struggle is REAL for trans women who date

Public acceptance and private love – Original Plumbing columnist Arisce Wanzer on why the two go hand in hand

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Arisce Wanzer: "We crave the same acceptance and love that most take for granted" Photography by Fred Attenborough

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. This week, we take on the State of Sex, which tackles an all-encompassing look at sexuality, gender and all the flavours of the American rainbow.

Original Plumbing is one of the freshest magazines for the trans community, with an unapologetically honest (and pretty fucking sexy) perspective on queer issues. Amos Mac, the co-founder and editor of the quarterly magazine, takes us into the OP world with his manifesto for print and columnists Arisce Wanzer and Diana Tourjee talk love, sex and politics.

Love is a battlefield that far too many know too well – and trans people, especially transgender women of color (TWOCs), are often those most affected in that arena. Too long we've been the "butt" of the joke, the social pariah, the public whipping boy used as a negative example of human behavior. On television, we're either the confused crossdresser or the melodramatic street hooker. We're never assigned another layer – one that's relatable to the average person.

The stigma around us goes far beyond the ridicule and name calling, but affects our intimate relationships on a level many will never know. Society has made trans people a public enemy for many years, mislabeling us and judging the way we live and see ourselves. This can make it extremely difficult to find public acceptance let alone a private love.

"I want to be with a man who is proud of who we are and what we have! NOT a man who worries about how we're going to be labeled," says Victory 'Vi' Lee, the star of the groundbreaking documentary What's the T?. "At the end of the day, all that matters is what's between the two people sharing each other."

It's been said that love makes the world go round, but it's also known that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. When people fear the change that is the movement of the trans community, it completely blocks our chances at finding the love that every being is entitled to. Or, as trans entertainer Melanie Ampon puts it: "Men either treat us as sex objects or dirty little secrets. It's why I don't date much, I know I deserve real love, I know what I'm worth."

“I can't imagine a cisgender girl getting these disclaimers from a man she loved, unless maybe they were having an affair together”

It's a tale almost all trans people, including myself, are very familiar with: people living in fear of their loved ones' disapproval because they're dating someone who is different. Brian, a cisgender straight male, pursued me a few years ago with all of the charm and passion one could only expect from a Latino television actor. He wined me, dined me, called everyday.  We had something special until things had to move forward. We'd been dating for seven months and he wanted to fly me out to Argentina to see his life, what it was like. I was all for it until I got his list of rules:

1. Don't leave the apartment without me, someone might see you
2. You're only meeting my gay and lesbian friends
3. We are only going to gay and lesbian places
4. Make sure you look really feminine, pack dresses, wear make-up
5. DO NOT wear heels, we can't have you looking too tall
6. Don't answer the house phone, my family can never know about you

I can't imagine a cisgender girl getting these disclaimers from a man she loved, unless maybe they were having an affair together. But we weren't having an affair – on the contrary, he was my real life boyfriend. He was the man who professed his emotions to me in beautiful ways I'd never felt before; the one who cured my sadder days.

All of the good my guy had done just seemed like a haze, crop dusting over the truth of who he really was. How could he say those things to me after telling me he wanted to marry me one day? How could someone so close to their family even consider me for the long haul, if I never got to meet them? He'd always said he loved me just as I was, so why did I have to change myself for people he never even even wanted to see me? Why did he ever ask me out if he knew what the end result was all along? I knew the answers – I'd seen this movie already, I just hoped to god that Brian would be the exception.

For girls like us, the dates and relationships that regular couples experience can only be seen as a haunting daydream. Not because it's impossible, but because we don't have enough positive examples to prove that it is.

"We're all on this adventure, searching for gold. You know, quality stuff right?" says Mariah Hunt, a trans woman who works as a registered nurse. "You hope and dig, and mine and sift only to end up with lead more than ninety-nine percent of the time. Don't get me wrong, it's never boring, just always kind of disappointing when you get nothing."

We crave the same acceptance, love, longevity, good jobs, success and a sense of normalcy that most take for granted. We need those who love us to speak for us when we aren't around and to be proud of us when we are. We need the same love and support as any regular person. I hope I live to see the day where everyone is seen as a love entity, instead of a race, religion, sexuality, or gender. Until then, I wish all my trans sisters the best. Remember how far you've come and know that you are stronger than how you feel when you're alone. We all deserve the love that we need, so loving ourselves is not an option. I love you.

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