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 hearing from Mike, a 21-year-old bartender in New York. He asked VICE to withhold his last name in the interest of protecting his privacy.
I was born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in a loving home that was conservative, Christian, and homophobic. As a first-generation African Caribbean immigrant, my parents have always expected me to be exceptional—as a student, an athlete, and a man. Growing up, I excelled in academics, placed into a majority-white school for gifted students, and played sports like basketball, football, track, and tennis. I’ve always been an athlete. And I’ve tried to be the man my family expects me to be.
The first time I realized I was attracted to trans women was while watching porn at the age of 13. I realized, like, damn I really want this in my life at some point. I saw trans women online and they were beautiful to me. So as a teenager, trans porn became my sexual routine. I felt ashamed in my own way, but it was also easy to hide. No one asks you if you’re into trans women when you’re a straight man. Because it has been so easy to keep this secret, I never thought that it weighed heavily on my heart. But maybe it does.
My parents are from Jamaica and Barbados and their experience growing up was very different from mine, being raised in New York City. They didn't have the same opportunities for success that they were able to provide to me. So they always expect a little bit more of me because they accomplished so much with so little. But as much as I’d like to, I don’t meet all of their expectations.
I stopped going to church every Sunday when I was 16, after I started smoking weed and gaining independence. I don’t know where my beliefs are today with God, but I only went to church to please my mother. I’m not in college right now. I work as a bartender, I smoke weed; these are not the things that my Caribbean parents want me to fucking do right now. My parents know all of that, but they don’t know that I’ve been attracted to trans women since I was 13, and they never will. I’m not the perfect son, and I’m OK with that, but I could never let them know that I’m not the man they think I am.
As a teenager, I felt like something was wrong with me. I figured out I am into trans girls and I felt like, that sucks. Can I change this? What can I do about that? Is there anything I can do to change this and make this go away? Can this please go away? That was my mindset: As if I'd caught this thing I need to get rid of. I’ve never dealt with those feelings before—this is the first time I’m really thinking about them deeply. Back then, I knew that I could keep it a secret.
I know that’s messed up. I wanted to make my feelings go away because of beliefs that my society and family have, even though I don’t agree with those beliefs. Ultimately, it boils down to the sad fact that people would see me as gay if they knew, and people I love would look down on me because of that. I’m not gay. I accept people of all sexualities, but as fucked up as it is, people would see me as less of a man. I hate that. I feel bad about myself, like I should be better. But I’m also too insecure to face it. My mom loves me and my dad loves me. They would probably try their best to accept it, but I won’t risk losing them or their respect.
I hooked up with a trans woman for the first time when I was a freshman in college. I'd seen her in a store one time, and then I found her on a dating app. I went to college out of the city, where people are even more homophobic. So meeting her wasn’t easy. I was scared people would find out. But one day I was hungover as shit, skipped a class and decided to just go for it. I felt like this was an experience I needed to have. As turned on as she made me, I wasn't really able to enjoy the experience because of fear that people would find out.
Since that first time, I’ve hooked up with trans women regularly. I’ve even gone on dates with trans women, but only when they pass well enough that I’m not anxious someone will know. I’m not proud of that. It’s hard to admit, because I know it isn’t right. I know that trans women are women no matter what they look like. If someone is visibly trans, and whether there’s parts of themselves they’d like to change but can’t, or they’re perfectly comfortable the way they are, who am I to judge that? There's certainly things about my body that I'm not in control of, so how does it feel for trans women to hear this? I feel guilt.
So here I am, at 21, and I’ve decided that this will be a secret for the rest of my life. My family will never know. Even though I don’t know any men like me, I am sure they’re all around me. At work for instance, as a bartender, there are absolutely men who are having sex with trans women. I’m sure that’s true throughout my industry, simply because, if you're at a bar and there's straight men there and trans women there, shit is bound to happen.
I don’t know how to change the situation for men in my position. In part, that’s because as an individual, no matter how mainstream my sexuality became, my family isn’t changing, and they’re the people I’m making this decision to remain discreet for. I've never seen a man who's openly attracted to trans women in pop culture or in the media in any way. I know that there are men out there that exist, I just don't know them.
I’m sure it would be helpful for society if there were men like me visible in pop culture. But honestly I think it would make my personal experience harder, because it would force me to look at myself, and ask myself, like, Why can't you be that support to trans women? Maybe other men would benefit if they saw a pro-baller, or some other respected cultural icon publicly loving trans women, but it would just make me feel worse about myself.
There's a shame that you feel that you can't run away from. Shame may not be the best word. You could use guilt. You could also use pain. I can’t get this off my chest. I never will. I’ll live with it alone. But I don't allow the pain to affect my day-to-day life or my mood. This is just my secret, to share or keep private. It’s always in my head, but for now, I'm chilling.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.