Imagine for a moment that you were to find yourself single at some point in the near future. Perhaps you would turn to a popular dating app and begin filling out your dating profile in hopes of finding “the one.” In the process of doing so, you’d likely be asked to indicate your gender and the genders of others that you would be interested in dating. Under these hypothetical circumstances, which of the following people would you consider as a potential dating partner (check all that apply):
· a cisgender1 woman
· a cisgender man
· a transgender woman
· a transgender man
· a person with a non-binary gender identification
Recently, my colleague and I asked this question of just under 1,000 participants and we published our findings in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Our results indicated that 87.5% of the participants who were asked this very question only checked off the cisgender options and excluded transgender and non-binary individuals from their hypothetical dating pool.
Relationships are one of our most important sources of social support. Indeed, our relationships play an important role in our overall mental and physical well-being and our relationships are a better predictor of how long we’ll live than smoking or obesity! But, if very few people are willing to date trans people, what does this mean for their health and well-being? If trans and non-binary people lack access to one of the most stable sources of social support, this could explain some of the existing health disparities within trans communities.
Participants were least likely to indicate an interest in dating trans women.
Source: Artem Saranin / Pexels
In addition to simply looking at the overall percentages of how many people included or excluded trans persons from their hypothetical dating pool, we also examined the demographics of those who were inclusive. For example, while only a very small minority of cisgender, heterosexual individuals (3.1%) were willing to date a trans person, a much greater percentage of individuals who identified as bisexual or queer provided inclusive responses (55%). One reason for this may be that individuals with queer or bisexual sexual orientations are already looking beyond gender in many ways when selecting a person to date.
Looking more closely at the patterns of responses, it also became clear that individuals were least likely to express an interest in dating trans women, even if their sexual identity would otherwise indicate an interest in women (i.e., straight men, lesbian women, or queer/bisexual individuals). Indeed, nearly 20% fewer people indicated an interest in trans women than would have been expected based on the sexual identities of the individuals within the sample.
In a follow-up study recently presented at the Canadian Psychological Association’s annual convention, we examined people’s reasons for excluding trans folk from hypothetical dating pools. By and large, the reasons given fell into three overall categories: dehumanization/prejudice, uncertainty or lack of knowledge, and issues related to bodies and reproduction. The most common reason for being unwilling to consider dating transgender or non-binary people was that participants felt that they lacked information and understanding of what precisely these kinds of identities mean within the context of dating. For example, many simply stated that they had never really considered the question before and were unsure of what it would mean to be in a relationship with a transgender or non-binary individual. Others were blunter in their responses, indicating that they were not interested in dating “non-humans” or people with “make believe” identities. These types of responses questioned the legitimacy of transgender and non-binary identities and took a very dehumanizing tone in referring to trans people. Finally, a minority of individuals mentioned a desire to only date people with whom they could have biologically related children, however, often these reasons were still expressed using dehumanizing language, such as saying that a trans man “was not a natural man” or a “real man” and that therefore it would not be possible to have children with him.
Overall, it would appear that the most important step moving forward in terms of increasing the dating prospects for transgender and non-binary individuals is improving general education about the diversity of gender identities and what each identity means. Furthermore, increasing accurate media representations of trans and non-binary people, as well as finding ways to increase contact may also serve as promising interventions, as other research has found that contact with, and education about, transgender individuals can effectively reduce transprejudice.
Ultimately, each individual has the freedom to decide whom they date or are interested in dating, and thus our research does not attempt to make any statements concerning whom an individual should date or consider dating. At the same time, however, understanding the extent to which trans individuals are excluded from the realm of dating can serve as a benchmark for where society currently stands with respect to including trans and non-binary individuals. Just as sociologists have tracked acceptance of inter-racial relationships as a metric of overall societal acceptance of racial minorities, future fluctuations in the extent to which trans and non-binary individuals are included within the intimate world of dating may help to illuminate progress (or lack thereof) with respect to fully including trans and non-binary individuals within our society. After all, it is one thing to make space for diverse gender identities within our workplaces, schools, washrooms and public spaces, but it is another to fully include and accept gender diversity within our families and romantic relationships.
1 Note: ‘cisgender’ refers to someone whose current gender identity is the same as the one they were assigned at birth, while ‘transgender’ refers to someone whose gender identity differs from the one they were assigned at birth.)
A version of this blog post first appeared on the University of Cambridge Press’ FifteenEightFour Blog in celebration of Pride Month. For the month of June, readers can access a variety of LGBTQ content from Cambridge University Press for free.