Why sometimes self-love is the first step to finding love

BY FREIYA BENSON

It’s 6.30pm, and I’m sitting in a pub waiting for my final date to turn up. I say final here, because I mean I’m pretty much done with dating, and honestly, if this doesn’t work out I’m considering just calling it quits.

There’s a bit of me that hopes my date will turn up, but there’s also a bit of me that just wants to go to bed and watch Netflix. 

It always feels so complicated. As a trans woman, I’ve always felt like I was putting myself out there, and although I’d try and convince myself that it was all fine, most of the time it really wasn’t. 

Constantly having to out myself was tiring and yet what else could I do? I have to tell people at some point; I want people to know. I’ve worked hard to be proud of my identity, but at the same time, I know that once it’s out there, fewer people will want to date me. 

Thing is, I don’t even want to date the people that can’t deal with me being trans – why would I ever want to? 

Except it sort of still matters. It matters because it’s not my fault. It’s nobody’s fault and yet I’m still going to be rejected by people because of it. I’m still going to have people tell me that I’d be perfect if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m trans. I’m still going to have people tell me I’m not worth it because of something I am. That matters.

If I did get any dates, I’d have to drink beforehand just to steady my nerves, because what if it went well, and then it led to sex? This filled me with such conflicting emotions. On the one hand it felt like an affirmation that I was attractive and desirable, but on the other, the messy combination of my transness, poor self-esteem and feelings of not measuring up to other people just made me hate myself. It was not ideal. 

I’d sleep with people despite this, of course, because in the end, my need to feel wanted, desired and normal over-rode everything else. It led to some poor choices on my part, which I’m sure is both no surprise, and also kind of relatable. So much of sleeping with other people is tied into how we feel about ourselves. We’re all looking for something: a connection, a feeling, a sense of letting go, or a sense of belonging and acceptance.

We are often so starved of it that we’ll regularly settle for anything, even if it’s not working out or is bad for us.  

It doesn’t help that my sexuality ebbs and flows like a meandering river. Sometimes all I can think about is sleeping with someone; other times I’d be quite happy with just a nice cake.

When the desire to have sex and poor mental health align, then bad decisions are nearly always on the horizon. I’ll go out, and drink and dance and smoke, I’ll hook up with exes, go home with randoms, and regret it all in the morning because, although it feels like my need to be wanted and loved is being met, it never really is. Validation from others never really sticks when you don’t have it from yourself. 

Because that’s the thing here, really. Looking for love, for belonging, for acceptance and validation from others is fine, but it’s never going to really work unless you also care for and love yourself. 

If I really wanted to sort this out, I needed to start showing myself love. I needed to make myself the person I actually liked. 

I’m not saying it was easy. It’s a tricky thing to love and care for yourself. We all want to feel like we belong, that we are loved. But for some of us that’s a hard fought battle. Once you start to care, then things start to change. Love and sex are still fraught with rejection, contradictory feelings, and potential pain. It’s just that once we start to love who we are, we get some extra armour to protect that thin skin.

Dating, sex, relationships: these things are all hard. As trans people, we will all have different experiences of this, just like everyone else. Sometimes though, it feels like the issues we bring with us are insurmountable. Sometimes I struggle to understand how my stuff, my being trans, is so difficult for other people to deal with, but then I remember how long it took me to deal with it. This doesn’t make the rejection feel particularly better, but it does give it a degree of context. That’s a start, right? 

And I remember that we all have these things that others may find complicated, be that because we’re trans, a single parent or introverted, for example. In our own unique ways, we are all complex and diverse, and we’re all in it together.

I hear the pub door go behind me, and my date walks in. They scan the room, and smile when they see me. They start walking over, my heart skips a little beat because they look amazing, and I think to myself, “Maybe this last date might be the best one yet”. 

This article first appeared in the March 2020 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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