T4T: When Trans People Date Each Other
Trans4Trans or T4T are terms that originated in Craigslist personals in the early 2000s, and have recently seen renewal and growth within the trans community. While romantic and sexual interests and relationships between trans people are nothing new, the terms and the idea have been popularised and mainstreamed within digital trans community spaces. While some trans people have started to use the terms to refer to general intracommunity relationships, including those that are not romantic or sexual, they still generally refer to trans/trans romantic and sexual relationships, and it’s these kinds of relationships that I want to discuss.
For some background, I’m a trans man, I’m bisexual (pansexual or queer are fine too), and my romantic relationships have primarily been with other trans people, of a variety of genders. I have slept with and dated cisgender people in the past, but moving forward, I’d prefer to just date other trans people. I don’t think I’m particularly unusual- I have quite a large friendship group, and while many of my friends aren’t as exclusive in their T4T relationships as I am, there’s very few of them who haven’t dated another trans person, and none who would be unwilling.
I think the fact that there are trans people willing to date other trans people (let alone trans people who prefer to date other trans people!) is something that still shocks a lot of cisgender people. In fact, the existence of trans/trans couples seems to be something that’s newsworthy, with trans male/trans female couples especially seeming to make headlines pretty regularly. In my own experience, my otherwise very supportive family have been genuinely shocked that my partners are other trans people.
Part of the marginalisation of Trans4Trans attraction is that, for a long time, what has been (and to an extent, still is) considered a valid expression of trans people’s sexualities has been shaped by access to medical care. Trans4Trans relationships aren’t a new thing- Roberta Cowell and Michael Dillion had a notably public, intense, and destructive affair in the 1950s- but what is new is that these relationships are allowed to be more public. Straight trans people were historically the only community members allowed to access healthcare, with this straightness only validated in the context of relationships with cisgender people. Gay and bisexual trans people and/or trans people who sought relationships with other trans people were considered to have ‘less successful’ transitions at best, and completely denied access to gender affirming healthcare at worst. Trans people seeking out medical care have very literally “lost points” for not being (or pretending to be) straight and exclusively interested in cisgender people.
Even though this framework of what makes a successful transition has been rejected in many places, this hasn’t crossed over into cultural awareness. As a trans man who is normally read as a cis man, a lot of the reaction I get to mentioning that I date other trans people is a mixture of confusion and pity, the pity coming from the fact I have had to “settle” for some kind of “fellow freak”, and the confusion coming from the feeling that I shouldn’t “have to” “settle” in this way. Many cis people assume that I am looking for validation through my relationships, that my goal should be to date a cis straight woman or cis gay man to “prove” that I’m “really” a man, and that because I do “a good job” of “looking like a (cis) man”, I deserve to have this “validation”. And that is, quite frankly, a crock of shit.
This political aspect is not the main or only reason that many T4T relationships or people exist. It may be one of the reasons to be T4T for some, especially for those who view T4T as an aspect of trans liberationary separatist politics, but even for those of us who engage in T4T relationships for other reasons, this political context still impacts those relationships. This political context makes it harder to find sexual health information that applies to T4T relationships, with even sex ed directed specifically at trans people tending to focus on trans people who primarily sleep with cis people, for example. Even T4T relationships which are not directly influenced by any of the other aspects I talk about in this article, will be impacted by this political and historical context.
So what are the reasons might make somebody want to specifically seek out relationships with other trans people? I can, of course, only speak from my own experiences and the experiences that people have shared with me, but one of the major factors is that dating other trans people is, in many ways, easier.
I don’t mean easier as in ‘the process has less struggles’. While it’s true that many cis people aren’t willing to date trans people- a recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found only 12% of their sample were willing to date a trans woman or man- this doesn’t mean that cis people who are wiling to date trans people don’t exist, or that T4T dating can’t be incredibly difficult in areas with low trans populations,. Even in areas with higher trans populations, finding other trans people can be difficult. What I mean by ‘easier’ is that there is (generally) less work to do. If I’m dating other trans people I, for instance, do not have to try to figure out the best time to disclose my trans status to avoid violence, I do not have to introduce the concept of dysphoria, and I do not have to serve as an ambassador to trans-ness for them.
For me, this ease is one of the major reasons that I seek out T4T relationships. T4T relationships feel organic to me, in a way that my relationships with cis people never have. I slip into relationships and sexual interactions with other trans people smoothly, never with the jolt of remembering that my cis partners have never interacted with a body like mine, and that the way they interact with me is coloured by the cultural conversation around trans bodies and people.
What do I mean by this? Well, remember that study I mentioned earlier? In that sample, 3.3% of cis straight men and 1.8% of cis straight women were open to dating a trans person, while 11.5% of cis gay men and 29% of cis lesbians were. By contrast, a study of 4,000 people (mostly cisgender straight people) in the book Tell Me What You Want found that around 33% of men and 24% of women had fantasied about a transgender partner before. This is an example of how the cultural conversation around trans people impacts how cisgender people interact with us. Because trans narratives in culture aren’t controlled by trans people, because few cis people believe they know a trans person, and because a lot of cis people have their first exposure to the idea of transness through porn, they view trans people as potential sexual partners, but not as viable romantic partners.
Another reason my friends who date other trans people cited when I asked them what they specifically got out of this style of relationships was a reduced feeling of loneliness. It’s no secret that trans people (and cis LGBQ people) often surround themselves with friendship groups made of people who share their marginalised status. Trans people are a small minority, and having relationships (platonic as well as sexual and romantic) with other trans people can have a special significance because of this. I, personally, just feel less alone in relationships with other trans people, and in my friendships with other trans people. There is a place of understanding that, for me, makes intimacy with other trans people easier than intimacy with cis people. I can, for example, offhandedly mention just the name of a UK newspaper that had a particularly transphobic headline that morning, and my partners will understand. Not only will they understand what I’m referring to, but they deeply understand the way that this makes me feel, and why.
I don’t want my writing to imply that T4T relationships are the only kinds of relationships that trans people should want to have, or that they cannot be without fault. I’m not interested in demonising trans people who have relationships with cis people, and I’m also not interested in pretending that there are not T4T relationships that are unhealthy, or that cis/trans relationships can’t be healthy, loving, and intimate. I’m not a separatist, and my interest in discussing T4T relationships is not to posit these kinds of relationships as the only valid ones. Instead, I want to explore trans/trans relationships as one of many kinds of valid, perfectly normal relationship styles. I want to discuss why these relationships are desirable to some trans people and normalise them, in the hopes that one day, the idea of two trans people deciding to date or get married will not be considered so unthinkable.