Daniella McDonald is a trans woman who is attracted to men. The Californian and medical student says dating straight guys was a “freak show” at first, but for the past two and a half years, she’s been in a steady relationship.
In an interview with BBC gender and identity reporter Megha Mohan, Daniella McDonald tells her story and says she believes straight men may be slowly becoming more receptive to the idea of dating trans women. Check out his story below.
Josh and my dad were fishing side-by-side on a lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California (United States). It was part of a family program, in which we went camping in the Mammoth Lakes, a fascinating region for its great mountains, clear water lakes, winding trails and the unpolluted sky.
Until Josh turned to me and smiled. In that moment, I felt not just that relief in realizing that her boyfriend effortlessly fits into the family. As I looked at the two men in my life side by side, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
It’s because a while ago, I couldn’t imagine a scene like this. Before Josh, dating was a freak show.
Like many people my age, I used dating apps.
I’m pretty conservative when it comes to what I want in a romantic relationship: monogamy, companionship, someone I can take turns making breakfast with, someone who supports me through the long hours of studying at the medical school at the University of California in San Diego…
So my profile on the app reflected that. I wrote a standard description, except for the first two words: “transgender woman”.
I don’t hide my gender identity. I’m always direct, from the beginning. I started physically transitioning at age 26, but I’ve lived like Daniella for years.
Despite living my life as a woman, I have never connected with the debates about trans people in the media.
My trans friends and I don’t endlessly argue about which bathrooms to go to or which pronouns to use. We talk about what most young people talk about: relationships.
As a woman who is attracted to men, I wanted to be with a man who was attracted to women.
But I wasn’t prepared for the behavior of some men on the app.
Most of the messages I received were horrible. I would wake up to direct messages calling me a “transvestite”, my phone would display the words “you are a man”. I received death threats with long paragraphs detailing how I was supposed to be murdered.
Less extreme, but still worrisome, were men who had a perverse interest in trans women.
They saw me as a temporary exotic experiment and didn’t set respectful boundaries. Our initial conversations already focused on questions about my genitals and what kind of sex we would have.
And there were also kind men who wanted to be with me, but dating them was still a challenge.
Men who presented themselves legally and respectfully were embarrassed to be seen in public with a trans woman.
These men would not introduce me to their family or friends. Some said they would lose their jobs if their employer found out they were dating a trans woman.
To me, it all really felt like internalized homophobia: they couldn’t think of me as a woman and they didn’t want the people in their lives to see them as gay.
Those experiences were difficult for me, a lot.
Maki Gingoyon runs the dating site My Transgender Date in the Philippines along with her cisgender partner Cyril Mazur. Maki says that when the project started in 2013, 1.5 million profiles were created right away, but few people actually actively used the site.
A lot has changed in the last eight years, she says. The number of members routinely using My Transgender Date has increased from a few hundred to 120,000. A growing number of straight cisgender men looking to find trans partners now feel confident posting their photos, and more people in their 20s and 30s have signed up, lowering the average age.
“We created the site in 2013 because we wanted a decent, safe place for trans women and cisgender men to find meaningful romantic relationships with each other,” says Maki.
“Flirting as a transgender person can be a vulnerable position, online spaces can be overly fetishized. Trans people find comfort and a sense of community in virtual spaces, but these can also be demeaning spaces. However, things are changing. confident that relationships like this (between trans and cis people) are on the rise,” she adds.
I remember once being picked up from my house and taken on a date at the cinema. I was so excited! As he bought the tickets, I thought, “Wow, this man is so cute and we’re on a ‘typical’ nice date.”
So as we sat in the dark room and the trailers started to roll by, he turned to me and said, “I just don’t think I can do this.” He got up and left. I followed him to the front (of the theater), where he got his tickets refunded and walked away, leaving me to make my own way back home.
I was devastated. It was a constant cycle of humiliation where I felt like there was something wrong with me, something fundamentally unlovable.
And then I met Josh.
He texted me on a dating app, and things were different.
Josh is five years younger than me and is in the US military. He comes from a large, loving Filipino-American family and told them all about me — including my gender identity — when he saw that we were in a serious relationship.
There was some surprise when they came to terms with the fact that their son was with a trans woman, but they were always kind.
Josh’s sister was the first member of the family I met, and I could see the happiness on his face when he introduced us and it soon became apparent that we hit it off.
Over the months, I got to know Josh’s entire family. The first thing Grandpa said when he saw me was, “Josh, she’s so beautiful.”
I once asked my boyfriend how he could be so open and different from many other straight men. He replied that a trans woman is part of the circle of friends and that he has never seen her just for her gender identity.
The power of just meeting a trans person has opened him up. Josh said he saw no difference between dating me and dating a cisgender woman. For him, we have a “normal love”.
That was two and a half years ago and we’ve been together ever since. Josh and I have the same challenges and discussions about our future as any other couple. And although I have a big circle of friends queer that welcome all types of relationships, I’d say ours is pretty traditional (whatever that is).
The biggest obstacle now is the time we have to spend apart because of our careers. Josh has to spend months on end in military training and I’m in med school 12 hours a day.
But I also have another ambition. With my friend Avi Manullang, who is also trans and a nurse, I want to launch a dating app for trans and non-trans people who are open to accepting people with different gender identities.
Trans women suffer disproportionate levels of sexual violence, so we are working on mechanisms to ensure safety. Everyone should have the right to live and love with dignity.
I’m hopeful for the future. When I was a kid, the only trans people I saw on TV were made fun of on shows like Jerry Springer. Now we have young actors who are openly trans. People like Hunter Schafer from the series euphoria, who are very open about their identity in a cool, low-key way. That didn’t exist when I was growing up.
As people get used to seeing different gender identities become themselves, I know that minds will change and that there will be more relationships like mine and Josh’s.
I’m definitely not saying that everyone needs to be open to dating trans people. In no way am I saying this. But more people need to be open to the idea that cis-trans love exists and that’s okay.
My relationship these days is the exception to the rule rather than the rule, but I think it’s getting better, especially with Gen Z being able to feel more comfortable with gender diversity and being open about it, in public. two
There are over 3.7 million views on hashtag cistranscouple (“cistrans couple”) on TikTok. And I’m really excited about it.
Have you watched our new videos on YouTube? Subscribe to our channel!