I met Tom* on Bumble in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. We were both travelling and I was initially attracted to his Aussie charm, his skater boy fashion sense, and the hair he wore in a topknot. Even the food caught in his braces was endearing.
We shared interests: creative writing, dark tourism, alien conspiracies… He had me at ‘So, do you ever YouTube rollercoaster disasters?’
We met the next day to visit an abandoned water park.I was supposed to fly home a few days later but rescheduled, and we spent twoweeks travelling the country, exploring Soviet-era sanatoriums as we went.
Though it happened quickly, I knew I was falling for him. I’d never felt this level of connection with anyone, and he accepted me for who I was without question. I’d only been looking for company in a strange, new country, but we had such obscure interests in common it seemed impossible that coincidence had put us in the same place at the same time.
It felt like the universe was saying: here’s the person you’ve been waiting for. I had the strongest sense that this was the man I was supposed to spend my life with. My heart melted every time I caught Tom looking at me like he couldn’t believe his luck.
I asked him to tell me a secret, in that way you wantto know everything under the sun about a new love, and he confessed that he’dpreviously taken steps towards becoming a woman.
He held my hand and put it to his protruding chest — which I’d put down to too many stodgy Georgian delights — but was actually the lasting result of prescribed hormones.
My immediate reaction was surprise, but I was accepting. The past was the past and I was falling for the Tom who was with me in the here and now. It broke my heart how afraid he’d been of telling me.
Ninety-nine per cent male I could handle, but I couldn’t help wondering about that other one per cent
Over the next few days, Tom revealed that he startedto transition in his early twenties. His reasons for stopping were varied,ranging from his never being quite certain to a feeling that transitioningwould never really make him a woman.
Most days, he said, he felt 99 per cent male andassured me he had no plans to begin the transitioning process again.
Ninety-nine per cent male I could handle, but I couldn’t help wondering about that other one per cent. Were the days when he felt 99 per cent female really a thing of the past?
I noticed that I felt insecure every time we walkedpast an attractive woman: not only was I wondering whether Tom thought she wasbetter looking than me, but there was also the niggling fear that he might wantto look like her, too.
I was still attracted to Tom, but when he held me, I now couldn’t help being hyper aware of the small breasts and curvy hips. Without a T-shirt obscuring his feminine features, I couldn’t ignore the fear that he was lying to himself, that he might be in denial about his sexuality.
Maybe, I thought, my fears would go away if I refusedto acknowledge the physical evidence. Tom, in turn, became frustrated. Most menhave boobs, he joked. He cried about how everybody leaves when they find outabout his past.
We slept in the same bed but I kept to my own side.
In hindsight, I wish I had relaxed more; had come toterms with the fact that his body didn’t make any difference to the Tom inside.
At the end of our two weeks together, I was due tocontinue my travelling with a dream trip to the USA. I promised I wouldn’tforget him and would update him on my adventures.
But on my last night I caused a terrible argument oversomething silly, something small, that was really just borne of frustration andfear of saying goodbye. I didn’t even give him a hug.
In the US, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d fallen in love with a woman. I knew I was straight, but in those moments, I wished I was a lesbian.
We continued to message and missed each other badly,but our communication frequently disintegrated into petty arguments, with myinsecurities over Tom’s identity and my own distress at knowing I could neverbe sexually attracted to a woman getting the better of me.
I wanted to believe that love was more than skin-deep. But, if I was a good person, why was I so concerned with who Tom was on the outside?
Three months later, we arranged to meet again inBulgaria. The hug waiting for me at the arrivals gate made me feel so safe, andI was touched by the welcome banner of my native Welsh flag that Tom had spenthours making.
I let myself fantasise about our future, side by side as we ticked countries off our bucket list.
I desperately wanted to believe we could work. But the week was fraught with more arguments and I struggled to see how we could possibly work. I tried to ignore the packet of little pink hormone pills poking out of his wallet, the ones he kept just for reassurance.
The transgender community already experiences so much fear and rejection, and I felt that I was essentially confirming that fear.
I pushed him away and broke my own heart.
On his way home to Australia, Tom messaged to say he was stopping in Bangkok. I pushed aside my preconceptions about why, and tried to remember him as the guy I had first met in Georgia.
When he sent photos of freshly waxed legs from apamper day, all I asked was whether he planned to continue waxing. He said hewasn’t sure. It seemed fickle to place such meaning on smooth legs, but it feltlike the Tom I’d fallen for that first week was slipping away.
It was only a few weeks after that Bangkok trip thatTom told me he’d decided to transition again, though he maintained that Ishould call him whichever pronoun I wanted.
I broke down. I was the last girl she’d felt OK beinga man around, she said.
I felt deeply ashamed and consumed with guilt; if I had coped better… maybe she wouldn’t feel the need to do this?
A part of me that’s still in denial thinks everything could have been OK as long as we were together – that I could have been happy with Tom, whatever gender they were
Logically I knew that transitioning isn’t so much achoice as a response to the inherent knowledge that you were born in the wrongbody. Deep down I knew my input wouldn’t have changed Tom’s future. If this waswhat she really wanted, I had to find the strength to be happy for her.
But emotionally it felt like the Tom that I had fallenin love with was dying and on top of that, I was grieving a relationship thatnever really got started.
It’s been four months since we said goodbye in Bulgaria and I still wonder what would have happened if I’d swiped left and we had never met, or if I’d never left Georgia. A part of me that’s still in denial thinks everything could have been OK as long as we were together – that I could have been happy with Tom, whatever gender they were.
I know she didn’t deliberately mislead me, even if itfelt that way at the time. She was never more dishonest with me than she waswith herself.
I haven’t dated since because I don’t feel like anyone could measure up. We’re still sporadically in touch, but for now I don’t feel able to be friends. Seeing her move on without me is too painful. Tom still influences my life; I tick the ‘other’ box in solidarity when a form demands to know whether I’m a man or woman, and every trans person on the news who loses their life is Tom.
If I could turn back time, I would have researched gender dysphoria instead of brushing it under the carpet. It’s best to communicate, however hard those words may be to say.
I know now that not every love story can have a happyending. Maybe true love is finding acceptance in our hearts that we’re all onour own adventures.
I’m so grateful that I got to see how wild and wonderful love can be.
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Love, Or Something Like It is a new series for Metro.co.uk, covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, to find out what love is and how to find it in the present day.
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