I had been aware of my bisexuality all throughout my entire time in college, but I was always uncertain about how to approach being with another woman, mainly due to the fact that I was smack dab in the middle of my transition from male to female. In later years, I realized that my reluctance to publicly acknowledge my attraction to women stemmed from some misguided notion that being attracted to women while being a trans woman somehow took away from my gender identity.
It wasn’t until I had graduated from college and had fully transitioned that I finally decided to act on my attraction to women, something that I had no idea how to do after so many years of only allowing myself to have sexual relations with men. Looking back, my fear of how to approach another woman was nothing short of sheer insecurity, but back then I felt that woman would have much rather been with a cisgender woman than with someone who was transgender, such as myself. For some reason, I felt more confident with men than I did with women. I rationalized thinking that in comparison to a man, I was far more feminine and he wouldn’t think twice about the fact that I was a woman, whereas, I felt that another woman would surely take note of what aspects of my body were more masculine than her own. Unfortunately due to the fact that I passed up four years of prime opportunity to explore my identity under the inclusive tribe of fellow LGBT individuals while in college, my options were fairly limited in the small North Carolina town that I had moved to in order to teach high school theatre arts.
Up until that point, I had regularly relied on Tinder to provide a steady stream of male suitors, and after nearly a year’s worth of frantic swiping in order to try to find a woman in the nearby area that shared the same inclinations such as myself, all I came up with were more men. The idea of trying to pick up someone at a bar seemed highly unlikely to me, and I didn’t know where else to turn so I called up my best friend from college, Nadine, who I had set up with an old friend of mine years earlier and someone who I considered to be the perfect lesbian. She was someone who I wanted to be like in each and every way. From the way in which she talked to other women at parties to the way she effortlessly rocked flannel button up shirts, she could do no wrong in my opinion, and she was just the person to turn to in a dire time of need. Nadine had several years’ worth of firsthand knowledge about how to find and retain the perfect woman, if she couldn’t help me, then no one could, I thought.
“Do you use HER?” she asked as though the three simple letters contained all of the answers to my romantic woes.
Her question greatly confused me. At the time, I had no idea about the dating app HER or the possibilities that it held. Nadine informed me that she frequently used the app when she and her girlfriend were on breaks in order to connect with other women, and that it was simply the best way to cut through all of the noise of social and dating apps that were initially designed for straight people.
After downloading the app, I uploaded several pictures that I thought highlighted my best assets, and crafted a simple personal statement. I was reluctant to broadcast my trans status right off the bat, and decided to do the same as I did when I hooked up with guys on Tinder, and simply disclose my trans status to the individual if I felt our conversations were headed in a promising direction. I had always been squeamish about including anything overly embarrassing in personal statement, mainly because I’ve always found blunt personal information to be tacky beyond belief, and thank goodness for my modesty considering what followed.
After less than a week of being on HER and a handful of pleasant conversations with women who lived in the closest metropolitan area, Greensboro, something concerning presented itself in one of my classes. The class mainly consisted of freshman and was the most rambunctious of the semester. On the particular day in question, I had the students circled around in the middle of the room while we were discussing Elizabethan theatre, specifically Christopher Marlowe, my favorite of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century European playwrights. For some reason, I found the life of the questionably bisexual young playwright to be far more interesting than the overexposed William Shakespeare.
Just as I was getting into all of the gritty details of how Marlowe was stabbed to death by a local businessman, I heard Taylor, a particularly high-strung student who loved to stir gossip, loudly whispering to several other students. At first I didn’t pay much attention to the content of her conversation. I simply urged her to stop talking and to focus on the passage at hand, and continued on with my lecture.
To my frustration, she only took my advice for roughly thirty seconds before returning to her previous state of gossip. I specifically decided to ignore her loud whisper instead of acknowledge it further, which I assumed would only ratchet up her defiance even more. As I tried to talk over her, I was able to make out some of the things she was eagerly telling to the other students around her. To my surprise, I heard her say, “Someone who works at the school is on HER.” My heart sank. I knew without a doubt that she was talking about me. She proceeded to inform the other students what HER was, specifically emphasizing the fact that it was predominantly a lesbian dating app.
Although in hindsight I probably tipped my hand by doing so, I quickly turned to her and asked, “Are you gossiping or listening to me?” As though the fact that she had something on me empowered her to do whatever she desired, she flashed a sinister look my way, and proceeded to pull out her phone and showed a screenshot of my profile to the students around her.
“Taylor,” I called out in my best rendition of an authoritative voice.
She then smiled at me with a knowing grin and said, “Oh I’m just telling them about a teacher that’s on a very interesting dating site.” I could tell she was trying to undercut me.
Unsure as to how to play the situation, I simply said, “Oh.” I tried to calculate the situation, taking into account my personal observations of her classroom behavior pertaining to a student who had come out as female to male trans earlier in the semester during a monologue assignment that I had given the class. The more I thought about it, I realized that she was fairly accepting towards other students based on all accounts that I could think of, but considering the fact that I was the individual in question, an authoritative figure who regularly had to call her out for her immature actions, I knew that she was out for blood.
“A lesbian dating site,” she added rather loudly, which garnered the attention of most of the class.
The last thing I wanted was for it to come out publicly in the middle of class that I was on a lesbian dating app, especially considering the state’s well-known track record of LGBT issues, most notably with HB2. Since starting teaching, I had managed to successfully conceal my trans status, and even though I thought the public knowledge of my attraction to women would have gone over far better than being outed as trans, I still feared that the relatively conservative town would have been up in arms over the fact that one of the teachers was a known lesbian, not to mention that she was actively pursuing a relationship. All I could think to do was come out swinging and to deflect.
“How do you know that someone who works at the school is on a lesbian dating app?” I asked her. “I guess that means that you spend a lot of time on lesbian dating apps yourself.”
The class erupted into a thunderous fit of laugher at Taylor’s expense. The minute the words slipped out of my mouth, I felt guilty for going after a student so strongly, but more importantly I felt horrible over the fact that I raised the notion that a lesbian dating app was something to take pause over, which of course they aren’t.
Feeling as though I had just managed to avoid a major catastrophe, I promptly took down my profile and decided to leave romance up to a chance encounter, which of course hasn’t yet happened despite all of the feel-good life lessons that my addiction to romantic comedies have engrained into my mind. Immediately following the class, I was terrified that I was going to receive a bunch of angry phone calls from parents or a visit from the overly religious principal as a result of word getting out that I didn’t fit the heteronormative cookie cutter mold that all of the other teachers at the school did.
Taylor and I didn’t dare mention our usage of HER or anything that didn’t directly relate to theatre for the rest of the semester. No one seemed to pick on her despite my snide remark. It was as though the whole class period had been one big nightmare because no one as much as whispered anything about HER in my classroom ever again.
Looking back, I now know that I should have taken a stand for both my identity and dating life. I shouldn’t have deflected away from myself only to out a student, instead I should have embraced the moment in the hopes that today’s youth aren’t nearly as judgmental as the people I went to high school with. I should have also kept my profile up, because who knows, if I had, I might have met just the right woman.