In last week's installment of Lena Dunham's new BuzzFeed podcast,"Women Of The Hour," model Hari Nef talked about love and sex from the perspective of a trans woman. Nef, the first trans woman to ever be signed to IMG Models, is a force to be reckoned with within both the fashion and trans communities. The 22-year old model (featured in Vogue and other such publications), writer (for Dazed and Vice), and actress (she will be appearing in the second season of the Emmy Award-winning show Transparent ) actively works to bring trans bodies into fashion discussions, as well as advocate for the rights and visibility of trans and gender non-conforming people.
Dating is stressful, and putting your heart (and body) on the line is never an easy task for anyone. But the weight of these experiences are magnified tenfold for trans women, since 72 percent of victims of anti LGBT homicide are trans women. Nef discusses her own experiences with dating, as well as the complications that arise in this part of her life because of her trans identity.
One of these complications is the issue of being fetishized as a trans woman. On Dunham's podcast, Nef discussed how this fetishization, through porn and the media, is damaging to the trans community.
"Trans porn is the number one fastest growing porn industry and the trans body has been being consumed in private in America for years and years and years by many, many people," Nef told Dunham. "But this is something very important and the core of violence against trans-women: men don’t understand that their attraction to trans women is a valid attraction."
Being trans can also tend to make you a bigger target for partner (and stranger) violence, thanks to the internalized transphobia of our society, especially in cisgender men. In 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released a report called Intimate Partner Violence In Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ), And HIV Affected Communities , which showed that trans people are among the highest at risk for partner violence, and are two times more likely to experience threats within violent relationships. In the dating world, it isn't often a natural thing to want to disclose your personal details, including the details of your gender identity, immediately after meeting someone new.
But as a trans person, it may be necessary for the interests of safety. The dating world is highly dangerous for trans and gender non-conforming people, with many trans women being killed out of hatred every year by men, including those partners who were shocked to discover that they weren't in fact a cisgender woman. In many of these cases involving the murder of trans women, men would argue "the trans panic defense." According to a BuzzFeed article, "The main premise of trans panic is that a heterosexual man is so overwhelmed after realizing someone he had a sexual relationship with is trans that in a state of something like temporary insanity he ends up killing the person."
Nef makes sure to open up a conversation about her identity with her partners before becoming sexually intimate, out of safety and out of respect for the concerns her partner may have.
"Before I start sex where I assume or know they haven’t been with a trans woman before, I press the pause button," she told Dunham. "I say 'Hey, I don’t know whether or not you’ve been with a trans woman before, it’s not that big of a deal but I just wanna open it up, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to voice them.' Because people want to be sexy and go along with it but sometimes they just freak out. It’s a fascinating negotiation."
Nef also discusses how she's found getting set up on dates is nearly impossible as a trans woman ("No one sets up dates for trans girls. No one goes, 'Oh, you should meet my friend Hari, because you totally fuck trans girls.' I don’t get hooked up"). And she grapples with learning what it means "to be a woman in relationships," as well as dealing with the effects of the hormones she takes (as well as her relatively new life as a female-passing person) on her sex life.
"Basically, I’m hormonally a teenage girl because of how long I’ve been on hormones," she told Dunham. "When I think about what romance means to me, I have to return to this idea of my womanhood being only two years old. My emotional maturity in the female space is nowhere near as developed as it’s going to be."
Check out more of what Nef discussed on Dunham's "Women Of The Hour" podcast on iTunes.
Want more stories like these? Check out the video below, and be sure to subscribe to Bustle’s YouTube channel.