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L.A. Affairs: I’m a trans woman. And, for once, I wasn’t fetishized

A woman holds dear a letter she wrote. Flowers rise up from the envelope.
I spiraled into “What if this is all taken away?”
(Magda Azab / For The Times)

As a trans woman, I feel like a fling, a phase, a passing interest for someone to explore before they settle down — with someone else.

Or at least I did — until I got a boyfriend.

We met on Hinge after exchanging Leonard Cohen references.

He was cis and straight, but I tried not to hold it against him. Our first date was at a comedy show in Hollywood. We were late (my fault) and, as a result, got terrible seats. But we still managed to have a great time.

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In honor of LGBTQ relationships in Los Angeles, here’s a roundup of our favorite L.A. Affairs columns.

On our first night together, thanks to a broken AC, we expelled equal parts sweat and vulnerabilities. From then on our courtship was slow but easy. My boyfriend was sweet. My boyfriend was hysterical. My boyfriend always told me how much he loved me. When we would have sex, my whole body felt worshiped, cared for — nurtured, even.

For once, I wasn’t being fetishized.

For once, I wasn’t the subject of someone’s violent curiosity. For once, my identity wasn’t the forefront of every discussion.

He never expected me to “teach him” anything — but was always willing to learn.

I was only 5 years old when a caretaker’s nephew began to sexually abuse me. He made me pinkie-promise not to tell. ‘I do this because I love you,’ he’d say. For years, I would carry this lie — that abuse was a form of love — into my other relationships.

When COVID-19 hit, my boyfriend lost his job working at an escape room in Los Angeles. He hated the gig, but getting laid off was the first moment that the virus felt serious to us. We tried our best to ignore it. He tried to use the time to have fun and forget: We gorged on takeout, tried role-play sex and watched comedies.

He lived in an apartment in South L.A. with four other guys — an alcoholic with a thing for cowboys, a printer salesman with anger problems, a guy who routinely ordered Popeye’s — at 9 a.m. And one who once left a plastic bag in the oven (after turning it on). My boyfriend was a fresh college grad at the time, the rent for his room was cheap, and they all seemed “nice enough.” Two weeks after losing his job, my boyfriend’s roommates revealed “it wasn’t working out” and signed a new lease — without him. As I shrieked and hollered, my boyfriend brushed it off. “They all suck anyway,” he said.

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But I grew concerned. He had no job, no family close by, in one of the most expensive cities in the country. With every “Good morning, beautiful” text or joke from Twitter that he sent, I spiraled into “What if this is all taken away?” We were quarantining across the city from each other. When I asked about his plans, he simply replied, “Don’t worry about me babe, I’ll be OK.” My anxiety and his nonchalance worked against each other. I decided I would not pester.

Instead, I tried to convince myself that if he left, that if I were alone again, I could handle it.

Adding an extra adult to the mix feels like I am disturbing all the perfectly balanced, precariously spinning plates of my life. Maybe having a boyfriend and a kid is just not possible after all.

For as long as I can remember, showers and bathtubs have always made me uncomfortable. I grew up covering my genitals when I bathed, just so I wouldn’t have to look at them. By the time I came out, my gender dysphoria was so severe I would cry when I reached for the faucet.

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My internalized transphobia made me view my body as a pair of socks you get for Christmas: a bad thing you have no use for, that you’ll hide later.

During one particularly bad bout, right after I had come out, I was sitting in the shower, staring at the metal spigot running with hot water. Without thinking, I touched it and burned my finger. As it throbbed, I thought about all the pain I was feeling, and everything I would come to feel, as I watched a blister develop on my finger. When it finally went numb, I made a pact with myself: Anytime I felt pain I would let it metaphorically soak into my finger and be done with it.

In the moments I wanted to break down over my fears about my boyfriend, I would think: “No tears, you already made the promise.”

I was divorced twice by the time I was 26. That was before I learned how to pick a mate for life. So I’m sharing my secrets with you now.

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When I couldn’t take the uncertainty anymore, I called him and pressed him to talk. “I can’t afford to stay here any longer,” he said. I heard the hurt in his voice; he felt he had no other option but to go back to the East Coast to stay with family. I thought about asking him to move in with me, but it was just too soon.

So it was all coming true. I was going to be alone again.

I cried and squeezed my finger, but it was no use. My heart was breaking. And I couldn’t touch him or kiss him or even hear him say “I love you” in person. A few weeks later, we decided to break the quarantine. It was my birthday. He came over with a freshly baked pan of lemon bars and a wet kiss. We ate Italian food and avoided talk of the future. I was the big spoon that night, and what tears my eyelashes didn’t catch fell on his shoulder blades. His cries still stick with me.

We decided to write letters to each other to read later in private as permanent mementoes of our relationship. On our last night together, he insisted I not lift a finger, so he made dinner and decided on “The Matrix.” “The movie is a trans allegory,” he said with a big grin. When it came time to say our final goodbyes, we both cried. When I pulled out of the driveway, I stuck my head out the window and screamed, “I love you!”

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The first line of my letter to him read, “While it may sound ridiculous, to love a Trans woman is revolutionary.” For the next two weeks, I could not bring myself to read his letter to me. It just felt too painful. When I called my mom and told her, she said we never truly lose people we love; the memories of them are something that can’t be taken away — that I should relish those memories. I read his letter after my mom and I got off the phone.

Before I got a boyfriend I would lie awake and think, “What would possibly make someone want to stay with me?” I saw myself, and everything that came with who I am, as something to deal with. Trans people are always made to feel that we should be lucky someone wants us, that we should be grateful. Before my boyfriend and I were official, after every date, I would think, “Well that’s the last time I’ll ever see him.” And when he did call or text or show up, I remained skeptical

Even now, I wonder if our relationship was a one-time thing, a lucky break I happened to catch.

My ex-boyfriend and I still text and talk and for now are great friends. If he ever comes back to L.A. ... well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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In the midst of my worst depressive bouts, I blame myself for not trying to make it work long-distance. On days when my anxiety is raging, I picture myself as an old woman whom everyone pities, sitting all alone at my niece’s wedding.

Yet on my best days, I stop relying on my fingertip, let a tear fall, and read the last line he wrote, “Take care of yourself, that’s an order!”

It’s not a new promise to keep, but a reminder of what I deserve.

The author is a storyboard coordinator at Netflix Animation and a contributing writer to Merry-Go-Round Magazine and Atwood Magazine. She is on Twitter and Instagram @sinister_taint.

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L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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