A Trans Autistic Lady Vs. The Ghost(ing) of Bad Dates Past
This isn't my first piece for Scarleteen. But it is my first piece for this site since I came out as a trans woman.
Allow me to reintroduce myself to you all! My name is Lisa Laman, my pronouns are she/her, I’m a film geek, a lover of karaoke, and somebody obsessed with pugs. I’m also a trans lady who identifies as queer/lesbian. I’ve been writing pieces for Scarleteen for some time now offering dating advice for people on the autism spectrum, and now I’m expanding the scope of this column. In the future, I’d love for this to become a column that also specializes in advice for autistic trans folks when it comes to the world of dating. I’d love to see any requests or questions you have about the realm of dating through this link and they just might be covered in future installments of this series! I’m so glad to be able to be fully myself here and hopefully I can help you, dear reader, also feel even more comfortable in your own skin.
For this particular edition, I want to tell you a bit of a story. I’ve got a yarn to unspool about getting ghosted on a second date that was never meant to be and what it was like navigating that situation while presenting as trans in a less-than-hospitable environment. It was an incredibly uncomfortable scenario, but also one that might provide some important lessons for other trans autistic folks looking to navigate the world of dating.
I fully came out to the world as Lisa Laman in May 2023. For years before, I would use she/her pronouns and dress as a woman (albeit while using my deadname) in very specific social spaces. I felt comfortable presenting as a lady at school and certain theatrical movie screenings (I’m a film critic, after all, can’t keep my gender and primary passion of cinema apart for too long!), but forced myself to pass as masc in every other environment in my everyday life. One place I opted to indulge in my actual identity, though, was on dating apps. In 2021, I began to make it clear I was a trans woman in these spaces. For me, it was best to rip the band-aid off and say, “Hey, these are my pronouns, I wanna start HRT someday, I blabber way too much about trans representation in movies, etc.”
In the few real-world dates or lengthy connections I got from these apps, my gender identity didn’t prove to be a problem, including with one woman I began to connect with in early August 2022. This lady, a few years my senior, was incredibly funny and showed up to our first face-to-face date in jeans, a plaid buttoned shirt, and nifty-looking tennis shoes adorning her feet. This person was now sitting across from me, a trans lady in a bright red dress, a red wig and green lipstick. If “opposites attract,” as Paula Abdul used to croon, then, on paper, we were bound to be dyke soulmates. We found lots of common ground and interests, particularly in our shared love for American Dad! and its inexplicably catchy tunes. The thought of connecting with a lady I could share American Dad! quotes with filled me with joy on the train ride home from our date.
There would, I thought, be further opportunities for us to share Roger the Alien witticisms when we met again for our second date. We were planning to meet at a steakhouse, per her suggestion. I love me a good burger, and this particular steakhouse served free bread before every meal, so sounded perfect to me. On the day of the date, I showed up a few minutes early at the steakhouse and scored a cushy booth for the two of us. My heart fluttered with excitement over the impending date. However, as the minutes passed and my texts to her secured no responses, my excitement turned to dread. Those ominous emotions weren’t exclusively tied to sadness over the increasing likelihood that I was getting ghosted. I was also a very obviously trans woman alone in the place.
I initially only wanted to wear a dress or lipstick in a public space if I knew I’d be around people who would look out for me. I did not feel ready to navigate possible transphobia alone, I needed backup. I was expecting to have that for this date via the person I was on the date with. Without her, I felt trapped in a restaurant where I felt other patrons looking at me or whispering about me. This was a steakhouse in the heart of Plano, Texas. To say that’s not an environment associated with the same level of trans-inclusivity as the Stonewall Inn is a tremendous understatement. I’d already ordered food before realizing that my date wasn’t going to show, so I felt like I had to stay. Sweat covered my palms, my eyes shifted nervously, and ominous catastrophic thoughts dominated my brain.
In the wake of this development, I reached for my phone, pulled out my headphones, and listened to my favorite tunes. I’ve always found music to be a good tool to ground me in overwhelming spaces, whether it’s in loud middle school hallways, chaotic family events, noisy hockey games, and everything in between. Listening to music I love gave me something to think about beyond the eyeballs staring at me, the thought of somebody my parents knew stumbling on me dressed like this, or my heartbeat. Yummy food at an eatery often feels like it takes forever to get cooked up in the kitchen, but the wait for this burger especially seemed to stretch on for an eternity, even with the aid of those relaxing tunes. Eventually, though, it did arrive. I scarfed it down and got my check paid before zooming out of that restaurant like the road runner. My bad second date that wasn’t actually a second date at all was over. The nightmare was finished.
“Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” as they say, and there’s plenty I was able to learn from this particular experience. Allow me to make like a clam and share some pearls of wisdom with you.
For starters, make sure to get explicit confirmation from your date on the day of your meet-up. I didn’t get a text on the day of that fateful steakhouse rendezvous. The optimist in me believed she was just busy. She’d text me by the time I got to the restaurant…right? In reality, this was her passive hint to me that she was no longer interested in meeting up. Get that confirmation if you can directly beforehand. This still won’t guarantee that you won’t get ghosted, but it can minimize the risk of this frustrating turn of events coming to pass. Plus, it can keep you tethered to reality. I think I was too infatuated with my rose-colored glasses daydream of reality to realize what was happening.
Something else to keep in mind for my fellow trans comrades: advocate for yourself on where you’d feel most comfortable meeting up publicly! If you can, suggest a place you’d be fine going out to even if you were alone. I’ve gone to a wide array of eateries, from Olive Garden to Hooter’s to Saravanaa Bhavan, without feeling at all in danger simply because I was with other trans people. That's drastically different from a one-on-one date, where you can easily be the only trans person in the area. To ensure you’re not as vulnerable or in danger, suggest spots you know are hospitable to trans folks. Also keep in mind that certain eateries can be more overwhelming to your senses based on your manifestation of autism. Considering I’m always apologizing for just breathing in public, allow me to remind you dear reader that you are NOT being a burden for asking considerations for things like spaces that are inclusive to trans and autistic people. This isn’t a problem whatsoever and it’s incredibly rude if somebody views it as such.
A key element I want to convey, though, to anyone else who goes through this situation is that getting ghosted isn’t necessarily your fault. There can be circumstances where your actions might alienate someone to the point they just abruptly cut off communications, but typically, their reasons for just not showing up to dates are far bigger than you. I got all wrapped up in anxiety for days after this boondoggle of a date wondering what I had done wrong, why somebody had acted like, before I had an epiphany that I would never truly know why she ghosted me. It could’ve been about me, it could’ve been about the weather, it could’ve been about her personal life, it could’ve been about anything. It’s so easy to default to self-hatred in these scenarios and see yourself as exclusively the problem, trust me, I speak from experience! But these situations are a lot more complicated than that and reminding yourself of the truly unknowing nature of such predicaments is a great way to let your anxiety float away like a balloon.
This happened over a year ago.
Getting ghosted and experiencing all that trans-related discomfort in public was crushing at the time, but I endured. Roughly nine months after this date, I would officially come out of the closet publicly, presenting 24/7 as my true self. I also made sure to keep on swinging the bat in the world of dating apps, flirting, and other social scenarios in the hopes of making a romantic connection. I survived and am still standing. I hope you know that you can make it through those hard times too, where you feel like you’re all alone in your own personal steakhouse. There’s so much joy, euphoria, and amazing things to be found in being our wonderful trans autistic selves. Those emotions are so much bigger than one bad experience of ghosting.