You could say I tricked him into sex.
It was 3:00 a.m. and I was in the front seat of his off-duty cab. He was taking me home from the party we had met at. He was gorgeous. Eastern European, solid and muscular in a way that comes from work, not the gym.
He flirted politely, and I coyly expressed disbelief that anyone as attractive as him didn’t have a girlfriend. He works seven nights a week and never has a chance to meet girls, he told me. It was an opening and I knew it. I put my hand on his arm with a compassionate touch, but with that barrier broken, I could feel the charge run through him.
He soon pulled over into a parking lot and we started making out, our hands reaching across the front seats to explore each others bodies. When he pulled my skirt up and ran his hands along my thighs, my heart pounded.
We were in a dark lot on the west side of Chicago in the middle of the night, and I hadn’t seen any other cars on the road. If he kicks me out of the cab, I would be stranded. More sobering, with his size and strength, he could easily kill me. Race and geography had largely protected me from such danger, but I knew I was crossing a perilous line.
Up to this moment I would have sworn to you that trans women never hook up with men without disclosing, if for no other reason than we are the ones most aware of the risks we face. I certainly had never done anything like this before. So what brought me here? Yes, it was late and I was both aroused and in an altered state. And he was incredibly sexy, and more importantly, available. But that’s not why I chose not to disclose. It was because I was angry.
Exactly one week earlier I had been on a flight to New York City. I was seated next to a father, Jim, and his teenage daughter, whom he was taking to look at colleges. He was a literal daddy. We started chatting and hit it off, quickly moving into “Are you single?” territory. By time we landed his daughter had rolled her eyes at our obvious flirtation and we had exchanged emails. Over the next week we wrote back and forth several times before I finally said, “Are you ever going to ask me out or what?” He did, for Friday night.
One of my skills that I personally find most remarkable is my ability to talk to someone for hours without ever mentioning I’m trans, despite almost all my work being heavily engaged in trans issue. The occasion that affords me the most often practice is flights, and so it was that I had never actually told Jim that I was trans.
This was my thinking at the time: He must know I’m trans, but he’s being polite in not bringing it up. I mean, I look trans, right? Whenever I looked in the mirror I just saw a palimpsest of gender, with craggy peaks of vestigial masculinity. Surely he knew just by looking at me. Also, I was wearing a “trans” button on my jacket. He must have seen that! And the final assurance, in my willfully naive brain, was that he mentioned how much he loved Joe Biden. The vice president had just spoke out on trans rights, so I was convinced that this was Jim’s way of letting me know he was down. He knows. I know he knows, and he knows I know he knows, so we’re fine.
Come Friday, I’m getting ready while joyfully singing and dancing around my apartment. This feeling, that anticipation when you’ve met someone you like, was one I didn’t think I’d ever have again after transition. Maybe being trans wasn’t going to be as bad as everyone says.
One hour before we’re to meet at the restaurant, I get an email from Jim. It read, in its entirety: “I just googled your name. I didn’t realize what you were. I have no interest in that.”
I don’t know how to express what that feels like. To this day, I don’t know what to compare it to. The closest I’ve gotten is that it’s kind of like disclosing that you’re in recovery from some kind of addiction. Like that, being trans is one piece of information about who you are, mostly about your past, that isn’t evident upon first meeting. It’s says a lot that the best comparison I have is to a disease that destroys and takes lives.
My first instinct was to apologize to him, which embarasses me now. “I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything. I thought you knew. What don’t we just have dinner and talk about it?” I may have written back to that effect. Over the course of the night my feelings shifted to hurt, and then to anger. Clearly he does have interest in “that.”
I went to a friend’s party and distracted myself as best I could. In very unhealthy, but temporarily effective, ways. When it got late and I needed to head home, my friend mentioned this cab driver he knew, who gives him rides in exchange for drugs. My first and only question was, “Is he hot?”
In some part of my addled brain I had already decided I was going to fuck somebody tonight, and I wasn’t going to bother with these bullshit disclosures that only lead to pain.
And so I found myself in a situation that I knew to be mostly be a fiction of straight male anxiety. I was “tricking” a guy into sex. I wish I could say that I was at least telling myself the same old rationalization, that he knew but wasn’t saying anything, but I really didn’t care in that moment. Because fuck him. Fuck Jim. Fuck all the assholes who had ever made jokes about killing trans women, or made vomit noises when they saw me, or spit on me, or laughed at me, or beat up my friends, or executed poor black girls just a few miles from me. Fuck them all. It didn’t really matter if you disclosed or not, if you were passing or not, if you did everything “right” or not. There was no winning, so I may as well just have some fun.
I pushed his hand away from my crotch, muttering something about my period, and then went down on him. He couldn’t believe this was happening. I know this because he kept saying, “I can’t believe this is happening. Is this really happening?” I finally had to tell him, “Yes, this is happening. Now shut up and enjoy it.” He finished and then drove me home. I demurred when asked for me number, and I never saw him again.
I don’t feel bad about what I did. It was incredibly stupid and dangerous and, most of all, self-destructive, but nothing in the world will convince me I owed him anything. As far as he’s concerned, and will undoubtedly tell his buddies, he got a great blowjob from a hot chick he was driving home. That’s the only truth.
In the web series I co-wrote, Her Story, a trans woman, Paige, played by Angelica Ross, chooses not to disclose to a man she’s met, James. In an earlier scene we see a man leaving her bedroom and evading Paige when she asks if he wants to grab dinner. She responds, “It’s cool,” with practiced nonchalance. She’s accustomed to straight men who want to hook up with her in private, but not be seen with her in public. On her first date with James, she’s about to disclose, resigned to the likelihood that the evening will end right there, but she’s disarmed by James’ charm and, almost on a whim, she chooses not to.
Because of this choice, she finds herself going through a process that most people can take for granted, but she had always been denied: falling in love. In a deleted scene, Paige tells her friend Violet, also a trans woman, “I just wanted to be a girl on a date.” It’s a simple line, but it’s the simplicity of such an ordinary longing that breaks my heart.
Later James finds out, through someone else, that Paige is trans and tells her, “You should have told me.” Rather than apologizing or running away, Paige counters, “Should I have?” It’s a moment I’d never seen on screen or in real life, a trans woman challenging the conventional narratives around disclosure. James, in what I think is the most important line of the series, confesses, “I have a gambling problem.” After a pause, he further admits, “I’m just trying to understand, when would have been the right time to tell you that?”
It’s an aspirational moment, but an honest one. James recognizes that we all have disclosures, and there are no simple rules about when they should come.
My encounter with Jim and the cab driver took place years ago, when I was still figuring out who I was and struggling through the trauma of transition. I’ve never since been intimate with a man who didn’t already know I was trans, but I also no longer feel it’s anything to apologize for or be ashamed of. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of the ways that being trans opened my eyes to all kinds of inequities. Mostly I’m proud that I share some small thing in common with powerful people I admire, like Janet Mock, Bamby Salcedo, or Gavin Grimm.
Nonetheless, I still don’t feel that anyone can tell me when and to whom I should disclose. That’s my business, and it includes considerations and complications that cis people can scarcely conceive. More often than not I think this: Until men have to disclose to me that they’re assholes, I don’t have to disclose anything at all.