DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: First, let me say that I love reading your articles. Your down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach to dating advice is refreshing, and while I’ve not applied a lick of it because college work takes up nearly all of my time right now (silly engineering school), I am looking forward to a day when I can get myself into dating and find somebody to spend my life with.
That being said, love is a fickle mistress, and she’s not too happy with being put on the back burner for so long. Settle in for a couple paragraphs of back story, because this is more involved than a Spanish soap opera.
So, I’m in sort of my fifth year of college, because I had a bit of a mental break and had to take a year off. Now I’m back for a quarter to finish my degree, and I get to catch up with my fraternity and what I’ve missed for the time I was gone. Turns out, in that time, two of my brothers have come out as trans women. We’re all supportive of them, let em know that they’re still our “brothers” (as it were) and we’ll love ’em no matter what. So that’s all fine and good. One of them happens to be one of my best friends, so I get to have a crash course in understanding and accepting what it means to be trans (Christian upbringing, it’s never come up).
Time goes on, and my feelings kinda change. As she (the one who is among my best friends) continues to transition and presents more and more as female, I have my initial connection of “we like the same things and talking with you is awesome and you’re an amazing person” merging with “you know, you’re actually kinda cute, and the fact that you’ve transitioned has flipped the binary ‘is this person a possible mate?’ switch in my brain” and after some incubation time I’m head-over-heels (that phrase is so strange).
So here I am in love with my trans femme fraternity brother… partner… something. Terminology gets weird here. Anyway, this throws me for a loop, and I start questioning my sexuality, my own gender, etc. etc. etc. and eventually come full circle to “this just is what it is.” So, somewhere along here (actually before the questioning starts) I tell her pretty directly that I’m romantically attracted to her. We had a rather long talk one night that mostly consisted of me being all “I’m pretty sure I’m accidentally in love with you” and her responding “well, I can’t say I feel the same way, and I’m only into girls, so…” That’s possibly what sprang my gender-search thing. I’m not actually sure yet if it’s more something real or something of me wanting to adapt so that I can be with her.
Now then, let’s add another layer of “forget this whole situation” – SHE has a thing for the OTHER trans woman in the fraternity, and they are still kinda feeling out where they are with that.
Take all this and combine in that I have no damn idea how to handle this, and I end up making a scene on a regular basis with my frustrations and taking them out on punching walls and such when I think nobody is looking, and go through regular cycles of ending up in this painful ‘catch 22’ state of mind, and unfairly expecting people to understand and somehow comfort me. I’ve told a lot of my brothers about this, and they want to be helpful and supportive and crap, but they have no more clue than I do.
So, here I am writing this letter. What do you think would be a “good” course of action? A big part of me wants a relationship, and another big part of me doesn’t wanna lose one of my best friends, and yet another big part just can’t take the pain of being so-close-yet-so-far all the time.
DEAR REALLY CONFUSED: OK RC, I can see how this would be confusing to you, especially since you’ve never really known anyone who was trans.
All of these major changes to your status quo came in rapid succession, so I can completely understand how all of this can throw you for something of a loop.
But one of the things that it’s worth remembering is that sexuality isn’t binary; in fact, it’s pretty damn complicated; somewhere between a sliding scale and a four-axis graph.
For example: there’s the whole idea of the Kinsey scale with strict heterosexual attraction on one side and strict homosexual attraction on the other and a wide, wide range in between. There’s also the fact that sometimes people will have that one person who flips their switch, despite the fact that this person isn’t the type or gender that they’re normally attracted to. You may be as straight as the day is long, but there’s just something about Ewan McGregor that gives you sweaty dreams at night. Or you may be gay, but there’s that one woman who stirs up interest when no other woman does. Call it single-target sexuality: it’s not about their gender or your orientation, it’s just something about THEM, specifically. It happens to folks more often than you’d suspect and it makes ’em all go “Woah, what the hell?”
There’s also the fact that gender, like sexuality, tends to be more of a spectrum than a binary. Some folks are more fluid or gender-non-conforming, some folks are trans, some are intersex. If it’s not something that you’ve encountered before, it can seem a little disconcerting at first. Particularly if you meet someone who makes you question your assumptions about yourself and your sexuality.
But honestly, in your case I suspect it’s pretty simple. You and your best friend have always had chemistry – otherwise you wouldn’t be best friends – and affection for one another. It’s just the nature of that affection has changed because your perception of her has changed. But when you get right down to it, she’s the same person you’ve known all this time. It’s not that she’s suddenly changed into a woman; she’s always been a woman and now she’s finally able to make her exterior match who she is inside.
That’s why your switch got flipped. Before, while she was presenting as male, you accepted her as male and weren’t attracted to her. Now that she’s transitioning and she’s finally becoming her authentic self, you’re seeing her with new eyes. In a way, it’s almost like you’re being introduced to someone new and familiar at the same time.
That chemistry and affection is still there in the mix and now that you see her as a woman – the one she’s always been inside – you’re responding to that.
So yeah, RC: you’re still straight. No question there. You’re attracted to women. Your friend’s a woman. You’re just starting to realize that your definition of “woman” is a little wider than you previously realized.
So what should you do?
Well, that’s going to be the part you aren’t going to like.
Unfortunately, the best thing you can do is, frankly, learn to let go of your romantic feelings for her. She may be living her truth after finally coming out as trans… but that truth also includes the fact that she’s a lesbian and that’s not going to change any time soon.
(And to forestall the obvious comments: no, she wasn’t a straight dude who became a woman. She was always a queer woman; she just was assigned male at birth. Her sexuality didn’t change, she’s just finally able to confirm her gender.)
Add to the fact that she’s currently exploring a relationship – possibly even one that’s been building for years – and well… I sympathize with you, but you’ve fallen in love with someone who just isn’t going to love you back. Not in the way that you hope she will, in any case. It would be exactly the same if she were a cisgendered lesbian rather than a trans one.
You’re frustrated and angry, which is understandable. I mean, being stuck in a situation where someone you love doesn’t love you back sucks. But the way you’re dealing with that frustration is self-destructive at best and kind of terrifying to people around you at worst. No amount of lashing out is going to change the facts on the ground, but it WILL guarantee that you’ll lose your friendship and push people away from you.
If you don’t want to lose your friendship, you’re going to have to learn how to channel and re-direct those frustrations NOW, so that you don’t lash out at HER. Punching walls has a nasty tendency to start turning into punching people and destroying property in anger is a GET THE HELL OUT SO FAST YOU LEAVE A HUMAN SMOKE CLOUD BEHIND signal to others.
And honestly, even if we could guarantee that you’d stick to hitting things that you’re allowed to hit — literal punching bags, say — bouts of rage that end up with hitting things aren’t productive. Expressing anger and frustration like that tends to make you even MORE angry and frustrated. You’re just reinforcing an already ugly cycle.
Instead, you might want to consider exercise as a way of venting the angry energy that comes from that pain; throwing that frustration into running or weight training is going to be a hell of a lot healthier all around, and the physical exertion is a great way of turning your brain off for a while. Getting lost in the physicality of your own body and letting the exhaustion sap away your ability to think about anything other than getting a shower and collapsing is a great way of not constantly dwelling on your broken heart.
You may also want to talk to a counselor while you’re still in school. Getting some professional advice on how to handle your anger in a productive way will go a long way to making your life better over all.
The other thing you’re going to want to do is to get some distance. After all, if being around her hurts you (and, I want to stress, it’s a natural, even understandable, to feel this way… provided you recognize that being angry at her isn’t going to help you) then the best thing to do is step away for a little while until you’re better able to handle things. Let her know exactly what you’re doing and why: that you care about your friendship, but you’re not going to be able to be a good friend to her while you’re still wrestling with these feelings for her. So you need to pull back a little bit until you’ve got a handle on things. Make sure she understands that this isn’t anything she’s done; this is strictly about you and your feelings and you’re planning on being back some day.
And then… you get some space. You don’t have to go full nuclear option on her, but you should dial things back considerably. After all, it’s hard to get some distance and let things fade when you’re constantly checking her Facebook and Twitter statuses and Instagram uploads. It’s ok to send out a ping every now and then – an email, say – so she knows that you’re still around and that you’re still friends – but don’t let this be a way of poking at the wound… and trust me, you’re going to want to poke at it. You’ll convince yourself that you’re just checking to see if things are healed yet, but what you’re actually doing is trying to keep it open because you’re still holding onto hope that maybe she’s not interested in her partner anymore and maybe she’s interested in men now and perhaps now’s your chance. And all that’s going to happen is that you’re going to see she’s with somebody – maybe the same person, maybe not, maybe something serious, but maybe not – somebody who is not you and it’s going to rip your heart out and stomp it on the ground. And you’re going to be back at square one again.
There’s no timeline on when you’ll be over her, and you shouldn’t try to force yourself into one. Artificial deadlines only encourage you to make bad decisions and to decide that you’re more over her than you actually are, and that’s a recipe for heartbreak. You’ll know when you’re ready to bring her fully back into your life when you realize that you can see her with somebody else and it doesn’t hit you like a hammer to the chest and leave you unable to breathe. And then you’ll realize that the fact that she loves you as a friend is far more important than the fact that she doesn’t see you as a lover… and you can pick up where you both left off.
And – as hard as this is going to be while you’re trying to get over her – you’re going to want to date. Not anything serious – the last thing you want to do is let somebody else be your substitute for her; that’s unfair to both of you – but enough to remember that there are lots of other amazing women out there, women who want what you have to offer. And who knows: you may find someone else who you have equally serious chemistry with, who digs you and everything about you… and you’ll be dying to introduce her to your best friend because it’s important that she meet the other amazing people in your life.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s gonna suck. But in the end, it’ll be OK. You’ll be OK. And you’ll have preserved your friendship.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)