Even though I’m trans and queer and my sister is cis and straight, she’s the one my parents threatened to disown.
She was in her early twenties, stuck between her dreams and reality, and she was offered an opportunity for fame, an opportunity for love. She was offered a spot on The Bachelor.
My parents were outraged. Like most Americans, they were far more willing to watch other people’s daughters get plowed with alcohol and thrust into the spotlight than their own. They told my sister if she appeared on the show, she’d get kicked out of their house. And so, she declined the producers’ rose.
At the time, I was a high school boy far more concerned with the platitudes of the show than the show itself. I wanted to find my soulmate — in lieu of confronting my gender feelings. I was an unlikely candidate to ever appear on a reality dating show considering I wouldn’t even play spin the bottle with my friends. (I thought kissing should be saved for romance.)
And yet, I think I missed my calling. More than my sister, I think I was the one who was destined to go on a reality dating show. After I transitioned, my Venus in Sagittarius started to poke at my long-held beliefs and behaviors. After I broke up with my partner, I was eager to embrace the chaos I’d always ignored.
With the perfect mix of horniness, instability, strategy, and desperation, I was ready. If androgynous queer trans women were appearing on The Bachelorette in 2019, I would’ve been a star. But when you’re 25 and newly out and newly single, you don’t need a contract. Queer community is a reality dating show.
“My name is Amanda Grace. I’m 33, I’m originally from Denver, Colorado, and I’m here to meet some ladies.”
So begins the second season of HBO Max’s niche reality dating series, 12 Dates of Christmas. While The Bachelor ends in a proposal, the goal of this show is for the three leads to choose someone to take home for Christmas. The stakes are low — and even lower when you find out they film in March.
Season one had two straight leads and one gay man, but season two is queer queer queer. There’s still one straight man — of course — but he’s joined by a gay man and the aforementioned Amanda. Unlike The Bachelor, where, traditionally, all the love interests are there from the start, 12 Dates of Christmas has an ever-evolving cast of potential holiday loves. Just when our leads are starting to get comfortable, someone new arrives, dressed as an elf, ready to steal them away.
Amanda has a soft stud aesthetic, and she insists she’s open to a variety of presentations in her partners. “I have had an attraction to anyone from, like, really feminine to very masculine women,” she says. “Women are beautiful.”
The producers don’t bring Amanda any dates with a more masculine presentation than her, but they do bring her Hina — 24, Leo, music executive, TikTok star, nonbinary. Hina’s introduction will be the last time the word nonbinary is said on the show — and there will be no direct discussion other than their pronouns.
As Amanda falls in love with Hina, she will treat Hina the same as everyone else she deems more feminine than her. But because of their transness, because they’re a Leo, Hina refuses to be treated like everyone else.
“My wish for Christmas,” Amanda says, “is to meet a beautiful woman inside and out.” Not all wishes are meant to come true.
Before I tell my story, I have to tell another. Before I make my confession, I must bore you with excuses.
I transitioned in a relationship. We stayed together for another two years, and then I broke up with her and moved to LA — or, rather, moved to LA and broke up with her. I had never dated as a queer person or a woman, and now I was in a new city learning that being trans is harder alone.
The first people I met in LA knew very few — if any — trans women , and it was felt in every interaction. I remember one party that turned into a Q&A, a room of cis people asking invasive questions, me offering personal answers to please. This was the same party where a lesbian told me she hated penises and a straight girl told me The Silence of the Lambs was her favorite movie. I responded by chugging Moscow mules without lime juice or ginger beer — so just vodka in a fun cup.
This became a pattern. I experienced transphobia, and I responded by partying. As my blood alcohol content rose and my inhabitations plummeted, I became a sort of court jester. Step right up and ask the tranny a question! She’ll respond by making a joke at your expense or by flirting with your boyfriend. No one saw me as a person so I let my humanity go — I let the humanity of everyone else go too. They couldn’t hurt me, I couldn’t hurt them. Except, of course, neither was true.
By the time I met a better group of queers, I’d been deep in these patterns for months. There was a difference between these new friends and the people I’d been spending time with. But being a trans woman in our world is being a trans woman in our world, and if you want to feel like a victim, you can. If you want to pretend to be invincible, you can. If you want to believe your actions don’t have consequences, you can.
It was in this moment I fell. And then fell again. Not in love, but in crush — the greedy, desperate kind. Two new friends, two older women, two seasoned lesbians too powerful to worry about. I didn’t realize they were people with their own lives and their own feelings. I didn’t realize they were already in a relationship — with each other.
From the moment Hina arrives at the 12 Dates of Christmas cabin, they call out the charade. Dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, they hand Amanda a basket of cookies and joke that they were up all night making them.
Hina is a 24-year-old queer on a reality dating show centered around Christmas that films in March. It’s not that they don’t seem eager to make an actual connection — or, rather, connections — but there’s a limit to how seriously they’re going to take it. It’s a game and they want to win. But it’s still only a game.
The first episode ends with Hina making out with Krissi, another love interest. We see footage of Hina sneaking into her bedroom late at night. Throughout the rest of the season Hina will say Krissi kissed them, and it’s unclear if the footage we’re shown is just the producers crafting a narrative or if Hina is trying to soften their actions with lies. Either way, who cares? As Hina says, “Even though Amanda is the lead, we all came here for the purpose of finding love.”
And why shouldn’t Hina explore other connections, especially when the lead is struggling? Amanda spends the season overwhelmed by the attention she signed up to receive. Her hesitance to flirt and desire for something serious make her a better candidate for lesbian OkCupid than an off-brand Bachelorette. She seems totally lost on the show and totally lost with Hina.
“Have you ever taken someone home for the holidays?” Hina asks. “I have but I’ve never taken a woman home for the holidays,” Amanda replies, oblivious. “Oh I see,” is all Hina says before the producers cut away. Maybe Hina addressed this in real life, or maybe they let it go like trans people so regularly have to let things go.
It’s true that Hina is sometimes enraptured with Amanda, sometimes apathetic. It’s true that Hina plays the game using other love interests as her pawns. It’s true that Hina starts to pull away whenever Amanda finally opens up. It’s also true that Hina is a 24-year-old nonbinary person and Amanda is a 33-year-old cis woman. It’s also true that they’re on a reality show being manipulated by substances and producers.
I struggle to judge Hina’s own potential manipulations when they’ve been brought onto a show that slapped pronouns under everyone’s name and called it a day. Queer representation is rare enough on dating shows, let alone trans representation, but that small victory doesn’t mean it’s fun for the person doing the representing. At one point, Amanda asks Hina if they would carry a child without any consideration of Hina’s transness. A lot of people on the transmasculine spectrum want to carry children, but that’s still a very loaded question to ask someone unless you view them simply as a woman with different pronouns. (One could argue it’s a loaded question to ask a cis woman too.) “I don’t know,” Hina says. “Part of me feels like no, just because I’m already so uncomfortable with the way that I perceive my own body in a lot of ways.”
Maybe off-screen, our Christmas daters discussed gender and race and other important aspects of their identities. Maybe it’s just that these topics are more important for dating than they are for a dating show — especially one on which people pet reindeers. But on-screen, there is none of it. On-screen, it’s unaddressed that Hina is the only one of Amanda’s dates that also wears a suit instead of a dress.
And so, when Hina creates chaos and encourages chaos in others, I couldn’t help but cheer.
That cabin wasn’t made for you — burn it down.
My crushes didn’t date for much longer, and I soon found myself in the middle of their breakup.
Only one of them lived in LA, and we became close. Let’s call her my friend and the other one my friend’s ex. My friend and I had so much in common, I felt like a younger version of her. Sometimes I took this as proof we were destined to be together. Other times, I decided this meant we were better as friends. There are so many different kinds of gay crushes, and my crush on my friend was never quite sexual. I was attracted to her. I wanted to kiss her. But I couldn’t imagine kissing her. I had her on such a pedestal that I could only imagine us together in a distant future.
My friend’s ex was a totally different kind of crush. Her pedestal was paired with real feelings. I saw us together even though people warned me she was just a flirt. I didn’t care. I’m a flirt too. Flirts still fall in love. The more we got to know each other, the better our banter became. I had never been so attracted to someone, and I daydreamed about her like an obsessive teen. Due to her breakup, I wasn’t in a hurry, but I could clearly see us together. For now, I was happy to become her friend. Even if that’s all we were ever going to be, I was happy to be her friend. I told myself that at the time, and I hope I wasn’t lying.
I only saw my friend’s ex once that summer, so that fantasy was allowed to metastasize via text while my relationship with my friend grew. They both talked to me about their breakup — the ex even talking through me when she assumed I was with my friend. I knew it was messy. I liked that it was messy. I felt like I’d wandered into my own episode of The L Word. I didn’t think my new friend might be upset I’d fallen for her ex. I didn’t think my new friend might be upset I’d fallen for her. All I knew is neither of these lesbians had ever been with a trans woman. All I knew is the few other trans women around us warned me not to try. I felt too inconsequential to cause harm. I felt too powerless to worry about anyone — including myself.
But as the summer waned, my invincibility went too. My friend’s ex was sometimes effusive and sometimes cold. I started to wonder if the warnings had been right. I started to wonder if she was even my friend or just, well, my friend’s ex. Instead of realizing both of these crushes were misguided, I decided to pivot my focus exclusively to my friend.
Drunk at the finale party of another queer reality dating show, I crossed the line I’d been circling around all summer. I didn’t try to kiss her — thank God — but I said an aggressive flirt. I was too drunk at the time to remember it now, but what I do remember is the way her face dropped. What I do remember is asking, “Do you want me to stop flirting with you?” What I do remember is her saying, “Yes.”
I sobbed from embarrassment the entire Uber home.
While the gays are processing feelings and providing reality TV gold, the 12 Dates straights carry on as usual.
Danny, the straight male lead, seems even more lost than Amanda. He says he’s looking for a wife because that’s what he’s supposed to say, but I’m not sure this man has ever even known what he wants for dinner.
Early on, he’s taken with Nicci, a fitness coach, as traditional and overbearing as his mom and sister she’ll soon meet. Nicci is 28-years-old and ready to get married. She’s everything Danny is supposed to be looking for, and he seems relieved to have his decision made for him.
Unfortunately for Danny and Nicci, their date is interrupted by a cute little brunette carrying a chainsaw. This is Brooke, 26, a script supervisor too genuine for reality. Brooke is so pretty it’s almost boring, but she’s fun enough to make it alluring again. She’s the TV version of the girl next door, meaning most of the girls we grew up next door to looked nothing like her.
She’s one of Danny’s last love interests, and the final few episodes will find him in shambles as he’s torn between the person who makes the most sense for him and the person he actually has chemistry with.
It’s unclear why Danny is so reluctant to pick Brooke, it’s unclear why Hina seems to be on Team Nicci, it’s unclear who Hina is talking about in the finale when they tell Amanda they’re interested in pursuing different connections from the show. At least, this was all unclear until after the show aired.
Three weeks after the season dropped, Brooke came out and revealed that after their time at the cabin, she and Hina briefly dated. Unfortunately, this was not shared on her own terms, but in response to another cast member threatening to out her. While Brooke shouldn’t have had to come out, this reveal does recontextualize the whole season.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Hina’s focus on Amanda waned when Brooke entered the house. Whether consciously or unconsciously, Danny was choosing between a straight girl eager to get married and a bi girl just figuring herself out.
Hina’s chaos didn’t just affect other lives — it affected other storylines.
During the fall, my connection with my friend solidified, and my connection with her ex nearly vanished.
But on the eve of winter, my friend’s ex visited LA and the feelings came rushing back. At first, I thought we could just be friends. Then she hugged me, holding on more than a beat too long, and her pheromones made other plans. When she told me — in front of my friend — that she knew I had a crush on her and asked why we hadn’t kissed yet, I lost any attempt at a new boundary.
I wasn’t stupid. Whether on purpose or not, I knew my friend’s ex was trying to make my friend jealous. I’d talked to both of them about their relationship enough to know things weren’t quite settled. I called my friend’s ex out on this, and she said she just wanted to kiss me. And so, I kissed her. My friend, her ex, could have come out of the bathroom and seen us at any moment.
I spent the whole week stealing kisses with my friend’s ex, pretending like the silences weren’t filled with her lingering feelings for my friend and my friend’s lingering feelings for her. At one point, I tried to explain to my friend’s ex the intense, complicated feelings I had for my friend. It felt good to watch my friend’s ex process that she wasn’t the only one. It was chaos, but when I became overwhelmed, I told myself it was better to be chaotic than like those other trans girls who hadn’t tried.
One night when my friend’s ex and I were expected at my friend’s house, we snuck away and had what I’d call trans sex and what she would call our most intense make out. By the time it was over, both of our phones were filled with texts and missed calls from my friend.
When we finally got to her house, I made up an excuse. My friend looked me right in the eyes, her own glassy with drunk. I felt the sadness in her voice as she softly spoke one word.
By the time I shared all this with my friend and my friend’s ex, the drama had continued without me. I realized I was a singular chaos agent in a story that started before me and would continue long after. It still felt important to be honest, apologize, and receive apologies, as needed. I admitted that for a lot of the previous year, I hadn’t really been friends with either of these people — at least not a good friend — but I wanted to be one now.
I don’t know the timeline of events for Hina and Brooke, and I’m hesitant to speculate on a situation already more public than desired. But what I can say is that Hina experienced a fantasy that every queer I know who watches The Bachelor has proposed. What if I got on the show and then fucked one of the straight girls? It’s fun to imagine sticking it to heteronormativity in such a straight space. But straight people have feelings. That newly bi girl has feelings. My friend had feelings. Amanda had feelings. My friend’s ex had feelings.
The people in our stories have stories of their own. The people in our fantasies are still people.
I absolutely don’t think Hina is responsible for all their chaos wrought — nor am I. Dating is messy, and I understand why I wanted to lean into that mess according to my own rules. But within that chaos, I realized I was still playing other people’s games. We hurt people, because we feel hurt. We hurt people, and we feel more hurt ourselves.
If you’re trans, there will be plenty of people who are equipped to date you — from within our community and outside of it. If you want to live in a reality show, go ahead and sow chaos, but if you’d rather have a romcom, you have to let go. Let go of the need to control the narrative, let go of the need to be the main character, let go of the risks that aren’t risky at all.
When you find real love, you won’t have to play the games. The chaos will vanish, the answer will be clear. You’ll know exactly who you want to bring home for Christmas.
Slow Takes is a series of “belated” reviews by Drew Gregory of queer art released last year that Autostraddle didn’t cover.
“When you find real love, you won’t have to play the games. The chaos will vanish, the answer will be clear.”
Spot on! Except for a fast-forwarded binge watch of 90-day Fiance (the horror!), I don’t watch reality dating but dang, Drew – your writing elevated the content, illuminated these humans, and struck true in so many ways. My 20-something self feels validated and at last, I have some tenderness and understanding for her! I dare say, experiencing the chaos actually helped me to recognize when I’d stumbled on my greatest romance.
Drew, I love this!! I might have to watch the show, now, too, mostly so I can watch for all the moments mentioned in this essay/review and think about all of this more deeply.
Wow. Fucking wow. Thank you, Drew. I’ve been the girl at the party, deflecting by drinking and saying too much, in order to fit in. I’ve quit drinking, but I haven’t learned the lessons.
Like all good articles, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Cheers!
Thank you for this beautiful take.