I don’t remember the first time I kissed a girl but I do remember the first time I kissed another lesbian. It wasn’t too long after I transitioned, in the early summertime as lockdown eased and cases rose but no one seemed to care.
I remember it not because it was a particularly life-changing or even memorable kiss but because, afterwards, I became immediately aware of a pair of eyes glaring from behind the bar.
The bartender finished pouring a pint and after releasing his grip on the tap, made his way towards the table. Cupping a pink Post-it pad in his palm, he asked for one or both of our numbers. I told him to do one, but that didn’t stop him from sending a waitress over to ask again on his behalf. Presumably, she wasn’t aware this was his second shot. She said he was a creep.
It was the first time (to my knowledge) that my sexuality had aroused someone entirely incidental. I didn’t like it.
I’d been hoping and saving for transition for a while.
The opportunity that lockdown presented to me last year — just a few months alone, indoors — was too convenient to let slide. There’s a joke among trans people that in pre-pandemic January 2020, one person made a wish that they could transition in complete privacy – a wish that would come to pass but with disastrous consequences for everyone else on the planet. I like to joke that that girl is me.
As any trans person can tell you, the process was long, drawn-out and largely administrative: a far cry from the liberating, thank-god-that’s-off-my-chest experience that straight cis people understand by ‘coming out’.
Because as soon as you do come out, the real work begins. Researching private providers and therapists to secure your care, hitting up other trans girls to find out what — and what not — to say to make sure that medical professionals didn’t lock me out of lifesaving treatment, all while navigating an unprecedented, media-driven moral panic.
Throughout lockdown — planning my triumphant return to the world — I began bracing myself for change. I was expecting to be harassed by those who think it’s fine to objectify women. I had foreseen the onslaught of ‘chasers’ — men who understand their attraction to trans women as a fetish.
In Torrey Peters’ 2021 novel Detransition, Baby, trans woman Reese — who has resigned herself to dating these men — thinks to herself: "It’s a mark of prudish inexperience to think that being fetishised and objectified isn’t the hottest thing going on in the bedroom."
Why bother convincing insecure men that you’re a viable date when people (albeit the worst ones) already know you’re hot? The conclusion Reese draws is to sleep with them. Mine was to avoid at all costs. Luckily my interests don’t lie among men, I thought to myself. The obsessive types would be a problem for a straight trans girl!
The rest of my lockdown was spent in and out of clinicians’ offices, or alone, scrolling through Depop or Twitter, watching the world get worse.
It was to escape that doom-scrolling and in search of some fun that I found myself in a bar in central London, having just been kissed by a woman who likes women, with a pink Post-it pad in my hand, jotting down random digits’, rounded off with a cursive "Prick :)".
Throughout all that time I spent alone and ruminating during lockdown, considering how others would read my sexuality only really extended as far as knowing I’d be on the receiving end of homophobia.
Men seeing me with another woman and reading it as an invitation is something I knew could happen but it was not a thought I entertained much while on my own during lockdown. In 2017, a now infamous study claimed that same-sex relationships among women only exist because they turn men on. It’s a ludicrous suggestion and the fact that the study surveyed just 1,509 people — none of whom were gay — indicates that we shouldn’t give it any credit. But it does reveal what a significant proportion of those men think: lesbians are hot. That won’t come as a surprise to any women who have been out for far longer than I have — many of whom have been sitting opposite me, stone-faced, as another man makes his move.
In a video posted to her YouTube channel last year, trans creator ContraPoints discusses the moment she realised she is a gay woman, after getting with a close friend of hers she refers to as Joanne.
"Joanne had a boyfriend at the time, but he didn't care. A lot of men think girls kissing is hot, but they don't take it seriously," she says in the video. "They don't think it could ever mean anything or lead to a real relationship. Gal pals."
Although they weren't part of my predictions about post-lockdown living, the existence and intrusiveness of these men hasn’t changed anything. If dating is an opportunity to share yourself with someone, transition is an act of self-love: to see how the world reads you, to want to change that, and to make it real.
Of course men won’t change who I choose to date. My relationships are real, my gender is real. I won’t let them reduce that.