This more comprehensively covers the relationship and where I went wrong. I'm posting it here because I think some people can learn from my mistakes.
For the sake of brevity and to maintain anonymity in my writing, I will refer to my ex as Tiger.
When I first saw my ex-boyfriend, who is a transsexual man, I did not know of his transgender status. As a cisgender male who, up until that point, was particularly concerned about being straight (not sure what you would call me now), I was greatly confused by my attraction to him. I had only seen him in passing a few times, but I found him particularly good looking. While his face had relatively androgynous features, it was clear that above all else, he was a man. I did not understand why I felt the way I did, but the more I thought about it, the less I thought his sex or orientation mattered. This was a radical change from the way I perceived others and myself.
One night, while conversing with a cis girl I knew, I saw him walking by. The words that came out of my mouth to her were “I find that guy strangely attractive, and I don't really know what to do with that...” She called Tiger over to talk, and talk we did. The girl left after a half hour or so, but my ex and I kept on talking. We walked and talked, and finally I walked him to his dorm on campus.
After I got home, I couldn't get him off my mind. He was incredibly interesting. He was studying psychology, as I later found out, to help trans* people, his views on religion and politics intrigued me, and he trained in jujutsu. I was smitten with him.
As the days went by and turned into weeks, we continued to talk and spend time together- the combination thereof usually lasting between 12 and 18 hours of the day.
Once I found out that he is transsexual, the first thing out of my mouth was “Huh. When did you realize you're a tranny?” All I can say to myself in reflection of this is “Hey stupid! When did you realize you're a twat?” Tiger was offended, but calmly explained to me the origin of the word and how it was offensive. A word which I had only moments ago had no reservation about using suddenly had more meaning to me than my own name.
Tiger was in the process of moving out of his dorm and into an apartment close by, and we spent some time there together. In his bedroom, on his floor, sitting against his wall, I revealed my feelings for him, and explained that I had never been interested in another man before. Before long, we started cuddling with each other, and I later had the great fortune of falling asleep in his lap for the first time.
I felt comfortable with him, and he felt comfortable with me. The vivid nightmares that I had frequently throughout my life ceased with him, and he made me feel safe. Unfortunately, the support and acceptance he offered was alien to me, and I later lost the single most influential person in my life.
When we decided to start dating, I preferred to spend time at his place rather than mine. I was living with a homophobic convicted felon whose frequent company had spent time in prison for drugs and murder. He had been hooked on meth for about 15 years until prison forced him into a program for it, and was mentally unstable. I was afraid of him or one of his friends trying to kill me or my boyfriend.
I was also living with an ex-Army Ranger who had gone to and been shot in Iraq. He was an alcoholic, suffered greatly from PTSD, and was on steroids. He also displayed homophobia. He was relatively unpredictable, and had snapped one night when we were walking home (he was drunk) because he had forgotten his key. I had mine, and when he told me to give him my key, I asked why he didn't have his. He took me down to the ground and my head hit some concrete- I got a concussion and lost a fair amount of blood from my head splitting open, and damaged my coccyx. I was only moderately less afraid of him than of the felon.
In retrospect, I should not have been afraid of these men- I had somebody who I cared more than anything else, and the risks would have been worth not hiding that side of my life away- and there would have been alternatives to living with them.
My entire life I have been afraid of my image. This was due in great part to worrying about how I looked to my father and not fitting in with people as a child. As such, I developed a series of 'masks' which I wore dependent on who I was with. While in many ways this is typical of social interaction, when it came to Tiger, I didn't always remember to take the other masks off- but I will address this later.
This preoccupation with my image manifested most prominently at this time in our relationship as me not wanting to hold hands or be affectionate in public. I was afraid of “looking gay,” because I thought what other people thought of our relationship mattered. While I later explained the relationship accurately to both of my parents, and have since realized that the rest of the world doesn't matter if I have Tiger's happiness, I loath myself for my initial transgressions. As it stands, even in not being sure what to label my particular sexuality, I would proudly accept 'gay.'
As an aside, but also relevant, was that I had gotten off to a bad start with Tiger's roommate- a genderqueer individual who I will refer to as Blue. In the process of furnishing Tiger's apartment one day, Blue (who had done little carrying of the items) assigned us work with the intention of going to bed himself for medical reasons (which I didn't understand to be such at the time). I found this bothersome, and this is a foundation for something which will come up later.
As the school-year came to a close, Tiger went to his home-state to see his family before coming back to my state for his summer job. Likewise, my father and I traveled to Montana (in part to look at property, in part to try to bridge some gaps between us).
During this two-week period, I couldn't stop thinking about Tiger. In fact, every time my father and I made a stop, I tried to find something I could bring back to Tiger which reminded me of him. The nights that I spent in Montana I spent talking with Tiger over skype. I missed his face, I missed his voice, I missed his scent, I missed his thoughts and opinions; I missed him entirely.
It was during this trip that I decided to tell my father that I was seeing a man- it is with a great deal of shame that I admit I didn't represent the situation properly. Rather than leave it at the fact that I was seeing a man, or even mention that I was dating a transgender man, I said that I was “dating a girl who feels he is a boy.” While I was trying to explain it in terms my father would understand, I did not do justice to the situation or to the person I love. I am ashamed of this, and have no words for the amount of regret I feel over the syntax of my words and their impact.
I think the entire world of Tiger. I was an arrogant man, and I behaved accordingly. This was especially prevalent in the words I used, and in the words I didn't use. The main issues were “cisgender,” which refers to somebody whose gender identity matches their physical sex, and gender-neutral pronouns. Because of my upbringing, I reacted poorly to adopting new terminology (or modifying my behavior) for the sake of others. While I knew semantics behind my syntax had one meaning, the syntax itself suggested otherwise. The things that I did say were hurtful and repugnant- regardless of how I meant them.
When I mention this, my mind wanders to a particular event after Tiger and I had both come back to the state we go to school in. Tiger was going up for his first level of brown belt in jujutsu, and I had gone with Blue to see him demo. On the way back to Tiger and Blue's apartment, I had started a discussion about something (I don't remember what). As we pulled up to the parking lot to the apartment, I had made a comment about “real men,” referring to cis* men. The term “real men” was both improper and hurtful, and when Tiger and Blue both reacted with “Real men?” I doubled down defensively and stated “Yeah, real men.”
With a single ignorant sentence, I had turned what should have been a joyous night for my love into one of anger and hurt. It didn't matter how I meant what I said, the fact of the matter is that what I said was damaging.
Tiger and I then had a heated discussion- I wouldn't back down and accept my error as it was. I had moved the conversation from the fact that I had screwed up to the disdain I had for Blue up to that point. What is worse is that I had no reason to dislike Blue, and certainly no reason to be defending the words I used on the way to their apartment.
I also said other hurtful things that summer- I made race-based jokes, talked about the foolishness of religion, made sexist jokes, etc. The worst part of this is, rather than recognize what Tiger tried to explain to me, that in saying these things, I was damaging the people I was talking about (we even had an argument because I felt entitled to say things about people if they weren't “immediately” affected), I used the fact that I was raised in a redneck town with racists, and that I was raised with a politically incorrect man as an excuse for my own behavior. If you can imagine this, I believe that, while simultaneously saying these things, I was a supporter and proponent of various minority rights. I have since come to realize that there is no excuse for such behavior- but it is a lesson I have learned too late.
In conjunction with this, I tried to make it a point to dissociate myself from the issues of people I didn't know. The way I saw things, if I could deal with my problems on my own, they could deal with theirs on their own. What was problematic with this is that I clearly didn't deal with my problems very well. The distance I put between myself and other people was a construct of my own making, a defense mechanism to convince myself that I didn't need or want 'people' in my life. This certainly wasn't a good perspective to have, and had a negative impact on Tiger and his opinion of me (for good reason). While I have determined to not be this way, again, the lesson was learned too late. It is important to care about other people and the impact you have on their lives.
During that summer, I was working in a place which had many conservative and particularly religious individuals working there. The face that I wore in this sphere was either one of indifference to generally offensive language, or one which participated in what was said.
My boss and his cohorts scoffed and mocked the idea of trans* people on many occasions. I endured statements like “It's nonsense” and “Until he has his dick removed, there's no fuckin way he's going to use the same bathroom as my wife.” I was weak, and I was afraid. I was afraid of being judged, and I was afraid of future prospects of getting a job there being hindered by me revealing I was dating a man (trans* especially). When there was something about my ex that I was proud of, like when he earned his first level brown belt, and I wanted to tell someone at work, I avoided using pronouns, either excising them completely, or referring to “my other half.”
I fantasized of getting a full time job there after college, making it past my 1-year probationary period, and being able to say to my boss “You know, I'm dating a transsexual man, I don't think HR or my union would look too kindly on the things you're saying. I certainly don't.” Foolishly, I thought that I would be able to maintain a relationship with Tiger long enough under the circumstances I created to see this come to fruition.
Amongst my regrets at the stupid, hurtful things I did in the relationship, I also regret not standing up for what was right and for who I loved when I had the chance.
At one point in the relationship, I confronted Tiger with an issue I was having- that I was having trouble seeing him as the man that he is. This was a stupid thing to say, and a stupid way to feel. I was trying to reconcile with myself a past experience with the situation I now found myself in- and though I knew I would get over it, I confronted Tiger anyway. As you can imagine, this hurt him, and to this day I cannot forget the impact and folly of my action- especially in light of the fact that I now want that very quality in him as badly as any other aspect of him.
In many ways, I tried to buy Tiger's love. In the relationships that I had (friendships, romances, familial), the only way I knew how to relate with other people was by the respect of the items I had, and with the giving of gifts to make me someone worth keeping around.
I bought Tiger many things; I took him out to dinner and a movie every weekend, bought him dvds, etc. He once said to me that I ought to try to “earn [his] love, not buy it.” It was a hard concept for me to understand, and I wish more than anything that, with all of the other wrongs I committed, I had rectified this sooner.
Generally, I was a negative person for Tiger to be around. In tandem with what I have mentioned above, and as a result of my social interactions up until I met Tiger, I was incredibly pessimistic and critical of many things (especially of myself, as you have seen throughout this message, though I have reached a point where I am using it constructively). If you have seen the SNL skit “Debbie Downer,” you could easily apply that to me and not be far off- except that my real name isn't Debbie.
This problem with this is that, while that is how I verbally express myself, I was silently more happy than not. I found somebody who accepted me for who I was, who did little things that I appreciated infinitely (Tiger cooked me home-made pepperoni pizza one time because he knew it was my favorite, for example), and whose bravery and courage inspired me.
The template of behavior I had maintained rarely let these facts surface. I never told Tiger when we were together how the prospect of talking to him online after work got me through the day, or just the thought of him smiling made me smile. I only told him once how proud I was of his courage in face of the hardships of being a transgender man. I never told him how he made me happy above all possessions I owned (the first time anybody has meant that much to me), and I never properly expressed how his happiness gave me meaning. Though I have tried to tell him these things recently, I am too late.
While I was proud of him, and had a vague idea of what he went through in dealing with various aspects of oppression and the social impediments he had to face, I never took it upon myself to make his issues my own. The research I did into trans* issues was limited at the time to sex-reassignment surgery, and what post-gene therapy trans men looked like. I did not look into other personal and social aspects the trans* community faces in general, or the social and political limitations they face. While I am in the process of learning about these issues, I realize that I am a day late and a dollar short when it comes to Tiger.
In the middle of August, Tiger confronted me with the fact that my offensiveness and negativity had taken its toll. I was wearing him down, and he didn't find any joy in being around me. He dumped me, and though we decided to remain friends, I was hurt. For a short period, I tried to push away the feelings I had for him, just as I had with most other instances since my early childhood. After a significant amount of reflection, however, I realized just how much he meant to me. Every hurtful thing I had done to him stings me to know that I did that to him, and I can never take those things back.
I cried for the first time (in any significant fashion) in around a decade when Tiger came over to my house a few weeks ago- and I haven't gone 24 hours without shedding tears since. This man means enough to me that every wall I constructed to protect myself from emotional strife disintegrated with my loss of him as a romantic partner.
Every day that goes by that I have to live with the fact that I have lost someone who truly makes me happy is agonizing. Every memory I have where I hurt him or pushed him away is another heart string come undone. As I once wrote to Tiger after we split up, life presents an individual with few opportunities, and fewer worth-while people. Tiger is so far beyond just worth-while, the fact that I will probably never have the chance to be with him again to make him happy causes me despair I've never previously known.
He told me once that there is a minutia of a chance that if I can show him in both word and deed that I have become the better man I have vowed to become, that I might have another chance with him. I want to stress that he may have simply been saying this to spare my feelings, but as long as I have a slim chance, it is an aspiration I will stop at nothing to one day achieve.
I have promised him in word that I am sensitive to his issues and that of the trans* community, but the reality I face is that, as I am graduating in 4 weeks, I do not have the time to adequately show him in deed. In fact, I get the sense that my persistence for his affection once more is burdensome to him.
While I have since embraced who I am because of how I feel about him, Tiger does not feel the same way he once did, and I have no body to blame for this but myself. If I could, I would erase the entirety of our relationship and start anew, but that is not an option I have.
The purpose of me writing this is so that other people, cisgender people in particular, can learn from the mistakes I made.
This is not a position you want to be in- to have somebody who you care about more than anything else in the world to be hurt by you such that they are all but completely disinterested in you. You do not want to be in a position where you have somebody of such significance within an arms reach, yet completely out of your grasp. Nothing is so disheartening as knowing you have lost someone who makes you happy, and who you will likely never have another chance at being with; to right your wrongs and to make them happy in return.
Without Tiger, I hurt greatly. I see him in my dreams, and when I wake up to realize that that is the most I will see him that day, my heart sinks. The 'stuff' which made me happy- movies, games, technology, etc, provide no joy. I had a chance at happiness, but I squandered it.
What frightens me now is not what others think of me for how I feel, but the prospect that I will miss out on Tiger's life. I was crushed when I heard that he earned his second level brown belt and I didn't get to see it. I experience a great deal of anxiety at the prospect of not being any part of his life or seeing him succeed, let alone being an active supporting factor for him. The longing I had for him while I was in Montana has been multiplied several fold, yet I cannot change what I have done.
There is no way for me to show him that I don't care what loving another man makes me, that I am done wearing faces for people in the hopes that they will accept me, or that I've put the offensive person I was behind me (essentially, I'm done being spiteful toward the world), or that I am becoming learned on the nuances of trans* issues- I had my chance for that when we were together, and I have lost it all together.
Where I stand now, aside from the above, is in an awkward position. I want what I can't have, what I know deep in my heart of hearts I won't have again- Tiger. While I want another shot, nobody changes overnight, and their actions cannot be undone. As such, and because I can't get into his head, I can only guess at his reservations. My only option left is to try to keep my distance as much as possible while maintain my availability as a good friend who he can rely on.
With that said, and while I'm certainly not perfect, and yet have a long way to go in bettering myself, I have resolved that, should I ever be given another chance, I would immediately enact the following behavior, priority above all else (this isn't a perfect list, and tailored to myself, but some good principles to follow if you care about someone):
1. I would inform my friends and family, unashamedly, that I was dating a man and proudly be gay for it (celebrated with a date)
2. Contact my boss and inform him of my gay relationship (as he said many transphobic things)
3. Verbally express my appreciation of him, and pride in his accomplishments- BE A SUPPORTING BOYFRIEND
4. Unashamedly display my affection publicly (Facebook status as well), if the world has a problem with two men together, tough noogies.
5. NOT make offensive comments of race, sex, etc- I am not that person.
6. Forget trans* as a facet of his character- a man in mind is a man the same as any other.
7. Be interesting- do fun things and show the relaxed me- it's okay to be accepted by someone who cares about you.
I'm sure the grammar in that list is terrible, but the idea remains. While I don't expect to be able to put that to use, it's good to have handy, just in case.
I am now in a position which I think others can benefit from in learning from my mistakes. It is important to be mindful of the things you say to and about people- even if those people aren't there to hear it, hurtful words are oppressive. If you want someone to be happy, earn their affection through what you do and how you act, rather than what you can buy them. Be honest with yourself and the people you know about who you are and be proud of the person you are dating. Stand up for what is right when others espouse what is wrong, and have no fear of the consequences. Educate yourself on the issues they face every day. Do not be afraid of your sexuality or how it appears to other people. If you have somebody who means the world to you, as I did, you already have the most important opinion on your side. If, in the end, things don't work out for other reasons, let them not be issues of arrogance, fear, or stubbornness.
While I cannot undo what I have said and done, I can certainly make sure it never happens again.