Author’s Note: In this essay, I use the term “masc” to refer to masculine-presenting women — people assumed to be women at birth who do not identify or only partially identify as women and are masculine in their presentation — as well as transmasculine people who do not identify as men.
In 2020, I met a heterosexual woman through a mutual acquaintance. Gradually, we became cordial to a point where she could leave her children in my care when she had to work extra shifts. I wouldn’t describe our relationship as a close, but in between pickups and drop-offs, we would talk a bit. That’s how I learned she’d just ended a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, who was also the father of her children. In one of those conversations, she revealed that her ex had refused to play an active role in his children’s lives. Then she said, “You know I already consider you family? So I’ll need you to step up and be a father to these kids.”
I laughed at the absurdity of the statement — because how could it be anything other than a bad joke? I’d known her for about three months. When her proposal did not elicit the response she was expecting, she ambushed me a few days later with a declaration of love. I explained the feelings she had were not mutual and apologized in case I’d done or said anything to give the impression that they were.
I knew right away that this woman was not in love with me — she only liked what I represented. I imagined the number of men in her life, the friends or relatives she could ask to be a father figure to her children. I thought of the heterosexual women she had known for years who would be better suited to co-parent with her. I thought about how offended she had been when I turned her down, almost as if she thought I should feel grateful for her romantic interest.
She had looked at me — a masc lesbian who was good with her kids and probably not emotionally closed-off like the man she’d just left — and assumed I could fulfill her emotional needs and offer the support she was lacking. By that logic, if I “dressed like a man” and was attracted to women, then I should have no problem playing husband and father to her children.
I hear a lot of people talk about how mascs are widely sought after in the queer dating scene. In my own circle, some of my femme friends argue that masc folks get more attention, but I’ve never heard them interrogate the reason behind that demand. When I was dating as a masc person in Nigeria, I found that masc folks are often expected to fulfill the role of men as laid out by our heteropatriarchal society. This means that masc people are expected to take charge, to be the provider, to be handy around the house and to be dominant in sexual interactions. And people project other male stereotypes onto us, too.
I’m a lawyer, and when I went on dates in Nigera, that fact surprised some people — there was an assumption that masc folks never have stable jobs. One date told me she didn’t get into serious relationships with masc folks because we’re usually broke “fuckboys” who bring nothing to the table other than their sex appeal. She said she liked casual flings with mascs because we’re good at sex. That day I thought about the many laws criminalizing queer people in Nigeria and how gender nonconforming people are often targeted for harassment and discrimination on the basis of our perceived sexuality. I thought about how being nonconforming in one’s presentation makes it harder to get jobs, housing and other benefits. I thought about the assault and verbal harassment I and other masc folks face in most corporate spaces and how this has translated into not being able to work in those spaces.
In my experience, dating while masc is to have people seek you out for your aesthetic, assign a role to you based on your presentation and then turn around and criticize you for the material things you lack — without considering the ways in which society makes it impossible for you to attain a certain level of comfort.
I have also come across people who insist masc folks are not in touch with their femininity and think of themselves as men. Those same people are weirded out by the slightest display of femininity from masc folks. Many of the same people who see our masculinity as a rejection of femininity or womanhood fail to realize that masculinity is not a gender, and for some people like me, gender as a whole is a performance — I have no desire to be perceived as either this or that. I balance my femininity and masculinity effortlessly, and I am equally attracted to masculinity and femininity. I have no desire to be a man, to be assumed as one or to be treated as one, yet some of my partners have assigned me that role. In one of my previous relationships, my partner suggested I medically transition so it would be easier for her to take me to her family. She had zero consideration for my feelings about my own gender identity or how medically transitioning could affect my ability to navigate Nigerian society. I have also met people who wanted to be in romantic and sexual relationships with me but did not want to be seen with me or denied knowing me in public — my flagrant nonconformity raised questions about their own sexuality. That’s just one example of how even in some personal relationships, masc folks are expected to bear the brunt of homophobic violence. And sometimes dating as a masc person means satisfying a demand bordering on fetishization and being reduced to a commodity that’s only wanted by a certain group.
When I lived in Nigeria, my queerness and gender presentation were the major parts of my identity that stood out when navigating society and personal relationships. But when I moved to the UK, I gained a new identity as a black person and consequently had to navigate race in my personal relationships. If dating as a masc person in Nigeria was hard, dating as a black masc person in the UK was twice as hard.
When I started using dating apps like Hinge and HER, a good number of the likes on my profile were from white women, and it was mostly white women who commented on my melanin or the way my skin glowed. I hated these kinds of comments — it should not be hard for anyone to say I look good without comparing my skin to chocolate or commenting on how melanated I am. The awkward part was talking about these comments and watching the other person get confused — they just didn’t get it. I quickly learned dating while black means you are never sure when someone might make an offhand comment on the texture of your hair or your skin as a way to disguise their own colorism or racism.
All of likes I was getting from white women on dating apps made me think of the narrative white media has created: blackness is seen as more dominant and dangerous, and black people — no matter what bodies we’re in — are sexualized. Consequently, blackness and masculinity, when put together, leads to an assumption of hypersexuality and promiscuity, which, in turn, leads to objectification on all fronts. When I see these likes from white women, I’m never sure if I am about to become a sexual experiment or someone’s first taste of the forbidden fruit to see if I fit the existing stereotype.
Somehow these stereotypes have been internalized even within the black queer community, where there is still an assumption that mascs are sex-driven and promiscuous. Generalizing black and/or masc folks as hypersexual is not only dangerous — it’s simply untrue — and this perspective doesn’t consider the masc folks who do not even experience sexual attraction. Because of the stereotypes associated with black masculinity, most people make assumptions about me, my sexuality and my sexual preferences. Thus, I feel the need to be upfront about my asexuality before an interaction with someone else gets too serious.
When I start talking to someone new, I try to explain what asexuality is — that is, the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or no desire for sexual activity — up front. I explain asexuality as a spectrum that manifests in different ways for different people. Personally, I experience sexual attraction towards people only after I have formed an emotional connection with them, and even then, I have very little or no interest in sexual activities. When I share this information about myself, most people either don’t know how to act or they’re disrespectful, making comments like, ”Just say you’re a prude” or “Maybe you just don’t know how to fuck.” And some people I’ve dated have centered themselves, insisting there must be something wrong with them or our relationship that would make me uninterested in sexual activity — because after all, I’m masc, and masc people are infamous for having sex on demand.
In my last relationship, I had explained my asexuality to my partner and what that meant for me. I had explained that activities like cooking a meal together, going on dates or taking naps together were just as intimate for me as engaging in sexual activities and that sometimes I forget sex is something that could happen and rarely initiate it. My partner assured me they understood, and for the first few months, everything was fine. But eventually, they started interpreting my behavior as me trying to punish them, and they insisted I wasn’t attracted to them.
The most challenging part of my asexual identity is dealing with people who do not respect my boundaries. In navigating relationships with allosexuals, honest communication about sexual boundaries and needs is key. Everyone has a right to prioritize their own sexual needs, so I let people know it’s fine to not get into a relationship with me if they feel we would be sexually incompatible. I encourage my partners to be open about whether or not their needs are being met and to share how their needs can be met while also understanding my boundaries. Unfortunately, sometimes people confuse their sexual needs with sexual entitlement and automatically expect sexual pleasure from me — because again, people often assume that masc folks should give sex. As a black, masc, asexual person, I am continually sought out for my assumed hypersexuality. When people don’t get that from me, they automatically assume a flaw, forgetting there are other forms of intimacy within their reach.
One of my former partners stated plainly that we were not having as much sex as new couples should be having — she had expected more from me. How do you even go about quantifying the appropriate amount of sex necessary for a relationship to be considered valid? Eventually, she resorted to initiating sexual activities while I was asleep and too out of sorts to say I didn’t want to have sex.
Not all of my relationships and dating experiences have been bad. I’ve had fulfilling relationships built on mutual respect and honest communication where I genuinely felt seen. I have also experienced emotional and romantic intimacy with partners who communicated their needs, interests and boundaries for romantic and sexual interaction properly. But I cannot deny that my many intersecting identities makes it harder to navigate the dating scene. At the end of the day, I just want to be with people who desire and respect me as an individual — not as an idea I represent according to mainstream media. Masc people have varying identities and needs, and each one of us deserves to be seen outside a lens of attraction that’s colored by stereotypes.