When a Man Loves a Transgender Woman

06/16/2015 02:20 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

How may we anticipate what other people might not understand?

A few months after my Being Transgender - Naked project had been up and running, a TV producer contacted me inquiring whether I was in a relationship with a "straight man," and, if so, whether we would be willing to audition for a reality show she was casting.

I happened to be dating The Musician at the time. What the hell, we decided, let's see what she has in mind.

The Producer wanted us to put together a video that she could shop around to networks. She presented a number of questions and wanted us to "bring it" in answering them on screen.

"Zoe: Explain being a woman. You may have been born as a man... but you are all woman. Give an example about what makes a man a man and a woman a woman."

As if I could know.

For me, divining how "a man" or "a woman" feels is impossible insofar as neither concept exists. Each is an abstraction.

I cannot identify even my own feelings as male or female in particular. Society confers maleness or femaleness on me from the outside, regardless of my desires, based on - ironically - what the perceiver has internalized.

To The Musician, the producer said: "Explain how you're a straight male in love with a woman who was once a man. 'No, I am not gay.' Explain."

The question here is why a man who loves a transgender woman would have any explaining to do at all. When affairs of the heart are allowed to operate without regard to prejudice, the explanation is a story of romance, beyond the reach of justification.

Not the mention the practical matter of a vagina.

To us both, the Producer wrote: "Explain the conflict and struggle you have with family and others who don't understand your relationship. If they do understand your relationship, then explain the common misconception."

In all candor, my family are just happy when I meet a guy who seems nice and I get to have a relationship for a while.

Besides, social identity grows lost in intimacy. I had become oblivious to the "common misconception" until it came up not long ago in a conversation over tapas with another lawyer, who inquired what kind of men I like.

My turn-ons - adventurousness, intelligence, physical fitness, perspicacity, enthusiasm for outdoors activities, compassion, and so on - were not the response she was looking for. Like the Producer, she wanted to know: gay or straight?

A few seconds of silence.

"I had surgery like a decade ago," I said.

Inside, I wondered: where do such misconceptions about transgender people and sexual attraction come from?

In my case, once I transitioned and started dating straight men - a roller coaster ride I write about in a forthcoming book - The Cinderella Syndrome set in.

It went this way: on the surface everything was bananas - I could get all dressed up and go to the ball, I could mill about among the crowd and dance along with everyone else, and I could drift up close to a man and let go.


There was always the Clock of Transgender ticking overhead, and, when it struck Disclosure, the dream I was living shriveled up. My gown turned to rags and I was covered in soot - and no glass slipper could change anything back.

Life is a fairy tale in which being transgender forms either a barrier or a filter, depending on how I look at it. Yet in the Pandora's Box that disclosure opens, even a drop of hope means the glass slipper is not empty.

While we were together for a spin on the dance floor in love, The Musician and I made a video about our feelings for one another. We sought to capture the reality of the fantasy we lived.

What people might not understand is nothing more than an assumption of bias that undermines a truth: I may expect of society only what I ask of it for me - acceptance face-to-face, and individually.