Cis men who love trans women are all around us. They’re our coworkers, our friends, our family members. And yet they’re rarely represented in the public view. The secrecy they keep has only led to misunderstanding, and in the worst cases, violence, as cis men often fear their masculinity is at stake. We’re breaking the silence and telling their stories.
Today we’re talking to Dave Whitt, a 34-year-old white man from eastern Michigan. Whitt is a known figure in his local music scene, and recently made the decision to stop keeping his attraction to trans women private, to help himself and others.
I'm a lifelong musician living in a small town. I love this place—most days anyway. There's the same level of ignorance and intolerance here as anywhere else in the United States, but there's also some of the most talented and considerate people I have ever met. At 34, my children are the only real family I have, but I've been blessed with the best circle of friends you could ask for in life. It’s easy to feel fortunate; when I decided to be open about my attraction to trans women, I was met with love and support.
I first realized that I am attracted to trans women three years ago. I was running a record store and music venue and there was a regular customer who caught my attention. She was trans, and the more we talked about music, the more I found myself attracted to her. I had no idea back then how common it is for men to feel this way, so I didn’t let myself acknowledge my feelings right away. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, and I didn't think I had many people I could talk to. I didn't want to be treated differently by the people closest to me, and I didn't want to be asked a bunch of questions about my sexuality either.
Then I met a cis woman who I developed a deep emotional connection to. She and I started dating–we had an open relationship. I began to confide this part of myself with her, speaking about it for the first time. With her support, I started to accept the feelings I was having and became more comfortable with pursuing my attractions. She helped me embrace this part of me I didn’t want to face, and encouraged me to speak out. I told my friends about my attraction to trans women this February. It’s no longer a secret.
I’m fortunate, but I know that many people in my social proximity will inevitably crack jokes and be insensitive to trans issues generally. That being said, I don’t worry about my safety. I'm a 6’5”, 240 pound, white guy. I don't foresee anyone accosting me. Other men might not be so sure of their safety, but regardless, the fear of people seeing you differently, like less of a man, is enough to keep you silent.
People in my immediate social circle are very considerate even if they need help in their terminology occasionally. However, my small town community at-large can be very ignorant and judgmental about anything trans. I hear negative things or just general hurtful "humor" from otherwise morally equipped cis men on a daily basis. Sometimes it's ignorance that requires education and sometimes it's outright bigotry.
That’s why I need to tell my story. Even though I’m scared to, I’m doing it to help end the secrecy and the false belief that men like me don’t exist.
In retrospect, I realize that after I started talking to that cool girl in the record store, my perception of myself, and the values that society had taught me to have, as man, collided. I was scared of how I felt toward her, because I was ignorant, and sadly still programmed to believe what society taught me about trans women, and about me, being a man.
I wasn’t even conscious of it—that’s how insidious transphobia is, like all of society’s ugly bigotries. It could have been so natural. I met a girl, and realized I like her. Instead, the moment was distorted by what I had learned a long time ago about sex and gender, old from society that are repeated throughout life. So rather than responding to reality, I responded to an out-of-date and irrelevant social script that told me two things: That only cis women are real women, and real men are straight.
Most importantly, to anyone in my position or otherwise, understand that trans women are real women. If you’re straight and ever liked a trans girl, don’t worry, you’re still straight. Really. On a separate note, I also want to say that being straight isn’t what makes you a real man.
Social conditioning causes men like me to experience severe self-loathing, shame, and embarrassment because we’ve never had to question the authenticity of our manhood before. We need to accept that trans women are real women, that liking them doesn’t make us gay, and we also need to end social messaging that idealizes heterosexuality, telling men to be straight— or else.
I was scared of being treated differently by other people, and I think that’s what other trans amorous men fear, too. I know people who will go on a date with a trans woman but they don't go to the places they would usually go, because of fear. Whether it's friends and family distancing themselves, or gossip that affects your career, the main fear is being treated differently.
It doesn’t help to know that those fears may not be wholly irrational. We live in a culture still muddied by bigotry and prejudice. There’s realistic potential to be mocked, publicly accosted, or socially rejected because of this. That can feel really scary, and it can even feel dangerous, depending on who you are and the circumstances you’re living in. But trans women suffer much worse, and we’re all worse off when men are hiding.
It took a lot for me to be public about my sexuality, and I realize I have a huge journey in front of me. But I also know that I’m less alone, and less afraid, today than I was before I started being honest with myself and other people. It’s nice to not feel so alone anymore. I've had three friends come to me in private about it since I said it publicly. We’re real people. I don't know if I'm the right person to tell this story, but if it could potentially help, I'd be doing the community a disservice by staying silent.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.