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 Shawn, an artist, advocate, and member of the ballroom community in Baltimore.
In my 35 years on this earth I have experienced a lot of pain. When I was a child, people who were supposed to protect me chose to hurt me. I live with the repercussions of that abuse every day. My journey has brought me to the streets, driven me to build community organizations to end homelessness, create art, and love. I am an artist and an active member of the ballroom scene here in Baltimore. Part of my story includes loving women that the world has thrown away.
I learned that trans women exist right after graduating high school. I had just been arrested for fighting a cop, was out of jail, and came across two young men on a bus. We got to talking, and ended up hanging out the rest of that day. By the evening, we ended up at a club. The first person to speak to me that night was a girl named Breona.
Eventually, we all ended up at her house. I still had no clue she was trans, but once we started talking, she opened up to me about her gender identity. And I had no problem with it, at first. For a while, it worked with Breona. We were dating, and I was introduced to the ballroom scene, a world I came to love. Back then I went to balls, sold drugs, made money, smoked and drank with House brothers and sisters. Sometimes I’d even walk a category.
But at this time in my life, I was also heavily involved with Christianity. I was happy with Breona, but my Christian friends rejected our relationship. They thought it was sinful, and pushed for me to break up with her. It was a difficult position for me to be in.
I trusted my Christian community, but Breona was one of the first people in a long time to show me that she loved and cared for me without hurting me. My grandfather physically and mentally abused me. Kids in my neighborhood were cruel. I was molested. When I was placed in foster care, I still had to sleep on the street, because my foster home was not safe. Despite the resources I was offered, I was forced to basically find a way to survive on my own, to build my own life, my own reality. Along with my struggles I created a drop-in center for homeless youth that is still running to this day.
My church convinced me to leave Breona, and that decision messed with me for years. I didn’t know then, but our time together marked the start of my journey into a world that I would grow to love and one day return to.
I live with a number of physical and mental illnesses that have made it hard for me to enjoy the simple things in life, from trying new food to being able to travel. I used to sing in a choir. I modeled. I choreographed dance. But life got in the way. I have had to make difficult choices to survive. I sold drugs and learned to live on the street. These are things I didn’t want, but that I had to do, as a man, to survive. Life’s difficulties took me away from who I really am. But things keep changing. Today I am trying to fall back in love with the old parts of my former self that I left behind: the dancer, the artist. I am focused on completing what I already started.
After I rejected Breona, I went on a detour in my life, but eventually returned to trans women. After a few years, I realized that when the church instructed me to end my relationship with Breona, that institution was being hypocritical. Christianity says to love your neighbor, but I was made to feel bad for loving someone who was trans. That just didn’t make any sense to me anymore.
So I returned to that underground ballroom scene, which drew me in for a few reasons. Not only is that environment filled with a bunch of beautiful women both cis and trans, but everyone had some of the dopest fashion I have ever seen. The trans women that I have been with over the years have made me feel comfortable, safe, and loved. The people who have supported me at my lowest moments have all been trans women.
You may think that in the ballroom scene everyone is loving and accepting. Unfortunately you can be judged in any community. Some people have labeled me gay, and some men who are gay have gotten angry at me when I tell them that I am only interested in trans women. Cis women have told me that I am nasty, or a fag. One cis woman tried to get someone to fight me after I told her I was interested in trans women. There are pros and cons to being open about who you are.
I refuse to limit myself to what other people want me to be. This is my life and I choose to be happy. But there’s always some sort of struggle to overcome when you love someone special.
If you're a cisgender man who is attracted to trans women and want to share your story, contact firstname.lastname@example.org (you can keep your story anonymous).
Life can be lonely. I don’t have many friends. My family situation is painful. My mom has mental illnesses that she has dealt with for years. She was put up for adoption, so I don’t really know her family, and my father passed from cancer years ago. I don’t know most of his family. But I talk daily to those that I do.
I wish I had known that men like me existed when I was growing up. After all these years, there’s only one man that I can relate to in my life. I call him my Pop, or Godfather. He’s built like a football player, but is one of the nicest, pure-hearted guys you would ever meet. I just wanna be like him as I get older, maturing as a transamorous man. Being able to open up to Pop is an amazing feeling. I cherish it, because I couldn’t do that with my dad. We need mentors.
Too many men selfishly use transgender women. And of course, many men that are attracted to trans women hide their sexuality due to the amount of ignorance and hatred that society tends to project at people who are different. People have wanted to fight me because of who I love. I have seen other transamorous men get talked about negatively, and almost attacked, simply for dating trans women.
Trans women need to be respected, not looked at as a secret or a fetish. She’s a person that deserves love, just like everyone else. I hear cis men or women talk about trans people. They never have anything positive to say. It’s time to make a change.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.