'I Am Cait' Highlights the Biggest Issue Trans People Face While Dating

August 30th 2015

Sunday's episode of "I Am Cait" was billed by E! as the one to talk about dating while trans. (Does that sound like a crime—like driving while intoxicated? Dating while trans? More on that in a moment.) And the show did discuss it, with multiple conversations between star Caitlyn Jenner, her trans posse, and even her stylist's boyfriend throughout episode six.

What did we learn this week? That dating is hard, really hard. That Candis Cayne may be beautiful and successful, but that she has been in a string of bad relationships. The show's producers are shipping a Jenner/Cayne pairing, which they really want us to believe, and that trans women share many of the same fears and concerns that cis women do about finding love.

But we also heard about something fundamental to the transgender community's experience that is singular to trans life: being seen as deceptive for living our gender authentically. It starts early in the episode, when Jenner asks her assistant Courtney Nanson's boyfriend Johnie if he would date a trans woman.

Nanson's beau responds, "Like, how soon into the relationship does that come up? Because I believe that's something that should be upfront, otherwise it's sort of deceptive."

In a moment of unscripted awkwardness, he pauses and they press him for details. What would he do if Nanson told him that she was transgender?

Johnie answers honestly, saying that they wouldn't continue dating but that they "could choose to continue to be friends." His reasoning hinges on his "perception" of her, which he says would change on learning about her transition. This prompts Jenner to exclaim, "He would dump you like a hot potato, girl!"

The biggest issue trans people face while dating

While this painful reality is true for many trans people who enter the dating scene, the trope of the deceptive transgender person is definitely not confined to the realm of relationships. One only has to look as far as the Twitter feed for ABC's "Pretty Little Liars." The original post has been taken down by ABC, but fans of the show have preserved the graphic, calling out the blatant transphobia:

Referring to the trans character in the now-deleted tweet as "he/she/it" is obviously problematic. Worse, it also happened on the season finale of the show, encouraging viewers to misgender the trans villain, Charlotte DiLaurentis.

To understand how this language relates to the misconception that trans people are deceptive, think about the premise that underlies with mixed pronouns. If a transgender woman tells you that she identifies as female, using female pronouns for her is a sign of acknowledgement and respect for her identity. Moreover, it implies that the identity she presents is the truth—one that you mutually accept. Reverting to male pronouns suggests that you believe in a greater truth, that her original maleness supersedes any information she's given, and that you know something that she doesn't about her "real" identity: that she's actually a man.

An everyday problem

Outside the realm of television, transgender people can encounter these same assumptions by people at work, school and home.

Henry Brousseau, the transgender youth who attempted to win the right to use the high school restrooms that correspond to his gender identity earlier this year, ran into this when the Kentucky Senate Education Committee decided that they knew his gender identity better than he did. The bill (SB 76) declared an "emergency" regarding "the physical privacy of students," and despite Brousseau's testimony, it moved forward with the intent of only allowing students to use facilities that correspond to their "chromosomal sex." The assumption? Brousseau's gender identity was not factually-based and that allowing him to use male restrooms was catering to a deception.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also perpetuated this stereotype when he joked that he'd pretend to "fe[el] like a woman" to get into female locker rooms if laws to protect transgender youth had existed when he was in high school:

A high profile, international court case against U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is accused of murdering a trans woman in the Philippines last year, has also raised how violence occurs more frequently against trans people. Pemberton recently admitted to strangling the victim, Jennifer Laude, who he met and had sex with while on short leave because he felt "scammed" upon learning that Laude was trans. This would seem like an open-and-shut case, except for Laude's gender identity, which could lead to a reduction in the charges against Pemberton.

This would happen, according to the New York Times, "If his lawyers can persuade the judge that there were complicating circumstances, like [...] deception regarding the victim’s gender, the court could lower the charge to homicide."

If it is more acceptable to murder a transgender person because they do not disclose that they have transitioned, does it make 'dating while transgender' into a crime? It's a horrifying question that should prompt some strong feelings.

Trans discrimination in the workplace

On the less grotesque side, I have personal experience with the charge of deception, too, only in my case, it was in the job market.

I almost lost a job offer in 2011 when I disclosed to my would-be employer that I was transitioning after receiving my offer letter. (The employer apparently felt that it was "deceptive" to not tell them in my interview. I responded that my transition had nothing to do with my job qualifications and only became relevant when they sent me a job offer letter that used misgendering pronouns. Apparently, 'seeking employment while trans' is also a crime to some individuals.)

Like many other trans people, I have experienced others telling me that my gender identity is somehow deceptive, and I thankfully still can't fathom being murdered over it. I don't think that Cait can either, which is why the show unfortunately continues to sidestep some of these larger violence and societal issues, while brilliantly addressing others. (The reappearance of Jenny Boylan and her speech to Cait breaking down the basics of feminism was a real treat in episode six.)

Although I continue to be happy to see trans women as normal celebrities—driving expensive cars and seeking the help of high profile matchmakers to assuage their dating woes—I am still hoping for a bit more reality in my reality TV. We'll see what happens in episode seven.

Here are the rest of Aron's reviews of 'I am Cait.'

Episode 1 - Why I was Dead Wrong About 'I am Cait'

Episode 2 - Caitlyn Jenner Just Confronted a Harsh Reality About the Trans Community

Episode 3 - Caitlyn Jenner Is Going Through a Phase of Transition That's Often Ignored

Episode 4 - The Word That Divided Viewers of 'I Am Cait' This Weekend

Episode 5 - 'I Am Cait' Tackles a Major Part of Transitioning

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