Freiya Benson reflects on what it’s like to date as a bisexual trans woman in her early forties, and how her writing on sex and relationships turned into an anthology of trans experiences of love in all its guises –  Trans Love.

Trans Love in its earliest form wasn’t an anthology. Back then the idea I originally had was more a sort of dating guide for trans people, and the people that date us.

The idea came about after a few years of me being single, and the trials and tribulations that come with that particular territory. I think that anyone that’s ever been single for any amount of time will have wished for some sort of help with all the complications of dating and the feelings that come with this. It certainly felt the case for me, as a bi trans woman in her early forties.

I can remember so many weird, awkward and just plain surreal experiences. There was the guy who tried to music shame me into not liking the White Stripes because back when he ‘discovered’ them they hadn’t sold out to ‘the man’ and how their music was much better when they were poor and only the ‘real fans’ knew about them. All I said was that I quite liked their latest album.

And then there was The Captain (his choice of name, not mine). I met him on a popular dating app, where he was pretending to be a semi famous Japanese actor, because apparently women wouldn’t talk to him if his profile was actually him. Unsurprisingly this slightly problematic tactic, whilst successful in the short term, wasn’t really working out longer term.

After one too many bad dates my flatmate offered this pearl of wisdom.

“Why don’t you just leave if it’s not working out?”

She then told me about her last bad date, there was no chemistry, it was really awkward and so she just said upfront

“It’s been lovely to meet you but this isn’t working for me so I’m going to go okay? Good luck for the future, thanks for coming along, see you!”

This pearl of wisdom was exactly the sort of advice I’d been looking for. I needed advice about love, I needed to know what to do. So I started looking for dating guides, but although there were a lot of them out there, none of them spoke to me and none of them were written for people like me. Yes, there were bits I could relate to, awkward firsts dates, complicated one night stands, how to know if they’re the one (or even if ‘the one’ is actually a real thing), but no one was talking about the trans stuff.

No one was writing about when’s the best time to disclose your transness, or even if you should at all, if that’s an option for you. No one was speaking about what you can do to stay safe out there, or how to manage the rejection you feel after someone tells you they ‘don’t do trans’. Where were our voices? It felt like no one was writing about my experiences, and the experiences my trans friends were telling me about.

So I started writing about how I was feeling, my dates, both good and bad, and what it was like for me as a trans person. Some of those pieces are up on the Huffington Post, and I even got my first published piece of work in Diva magazine, about my experiences when it came to dating other women.

Although, at the moment, the trans dating guide hasn’t materialised, over time and because of all the writing I was doing around sex and relationships, what it did evolve into was the anthology that we have today, Trans Love.

Dating, and sex by association, are the first things we often think about when it comes to love. They dominate a lot of what’s out there, and it makes a lot of sense that this is the case. As humans there’s a fundamental need in a lot of us to have a closeness with other people, and often the easiest way to achieve this is through relationships.

When I thought about making an anthology about love, sex and relationships dominated my thoughts as well. Thing was though, the more I started to think about it, the more I started to realise that love is so much more than just this. Love is everywhere, in the relationships we have with everything, be that family, friends, our pets, our beliefs, even (sometimes) with ourselves.

I wanted to talk about all this, and more. I wanted to read about our triumphs, as well as our failures, because when I looked, the only narratives I could find were always centred on rejection and darkness. Why is it that when we do hear about trans people and love it’s always about being rejected? it’s almost become the standard nowadays, even though this isn’t actually always the case.

I had friends that were trans and in happy relationships, whose families saw their transness as a beautiful and powerful thing, and who’d found wonderful and loving communities of people they called their friends. And that’s not to dismiss the tough times we as trans people face when it comes to love, but also, there are good times, and it felt to me like we all really needed to hear a bit about that as well.

Of course the idea is always the easy bit, finding people to write for the book is where it gets tougher. Reaching out to others isn’t something that comes naturally to me, I’m your classic introvert, so putting myself out there isn’t always that simple.

Luckily, it turned out that other people had a lot to say about being trans/ non-binary and how love intersects with that. The work that people sent in was unique, empowering and remarkable, and it felt like a real privilege to read the pieces as they came into my inbox. Themes started to emerge, some people wrote about sex and relationships, others about family, or friendships, and the book slowly but surely began to take shape.

A lot of putting it all together reminded me of how back in the nineties I used to make mixtapes for my friends. It felt like some pieces just naturally slotted into each other, and over time I started to see the shape the anthology was going to take, which was both a real joy and a massive relief, as there’s always the worry that it’s not going to come together in a way that works!

Putting together an anthology isn’t easy. I would rank it as one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long while, both in terms of the amount of work involved and the actual emotional energy you invest in it. Each piece of work that goes into the book is a new facet of the whole, and each piece has to fit within that whole in a way that works to create something bigger. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is so worth it in the end.

The finished book is something I’m proud of, it’s a thing of beauty and power, and a testament to all the people involved.

Knowing it’s out there, and that I, and everyone in it have made our marks, drawn our lines in the sand, and said what we wanted to say is a powerful and remarkable thing, and really, what more could you honestly want if you’re a writer, than to leave your mark in the world?

Follow Freiya Benson on Twitter

Trans Love is out now and available to buy here.

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