Science Advice for the Transgender Lovelorn

| Jun 14, 2021
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What is your best chance of getting a date? Why should you stay away from narcissists and those with borderline personality problems? Are infatuation, sex and pair-bonding different in the brain? How to succeed in the friend zone after a one-sided infatuation? I seem to be writing more about love and sex than ever before because there is increasing interest in dating by transgender people now that they are more visible. I have to confess that I am also starting to enter the dating pool (or is it an ocean) and am looking for some navigation information. I ran across several studies that address the above dating questions which a lot of us transgender people have.

Dating Survey

Who says they would date trans women and trans men? In one study (Blair and Hoskin, 2018), they asked people who they categorized by sex, gender and sexual orientation. The bad news is that over 87% of those surveyed said that they would not consider dating a transgender individual. The good news is that there are more people willing to date than there are transgender people. Over 40% of Queer/Bi/Trans people said that they would date trans women, followed by 20% of lesbian females. Very disappointing for trans women, only a few percent of cisgender males and females and gay males said that they would date trans women. Disappointing for trans men, only a few percent of cisgender males and females said that they would date them but surprisingly, about 10% of gay males said that they would date trans men. Those willing to date transgender people were older and tended to have college degrees.

So where should trans women look for love? They have a better chance with Queer/Bi/Trans people, some chance with lesbian females, and slim chances with heterosexual males and females. It is not surprising that Queer/Bi/Trans people are open to dating trans women, they are open to all kinds of relationships. I know of many transgender-transgender pairings. It is encouraging that some lesbian females will date trans women, I have been told by lesbians that they will not date trans women, particularly pre-op trans women.

The data from this study was collected from Canadian and U.S. people. The trend was for U.S. people to be a little more accommodating to transgender people. While the results seem solid, the authors interpretations are marred by the application of critical social justice concepts.

Infatuation, Sex and Pair Bonding

Helen Fisher

Why should you steer clear of narcissists and those with borderline conditions? These are personality conditions that, in the extreme, constitute personality disorders. The short psychological answer is that they are incapable of forming non-sexual intimate relationships. There is growing evidence that we can identify separate brain systems for non-sexual intimacy and that they are different from those mediating infatuation and sex. Helen Fisher has found from fMRI studies (Aron, et al., 2005) where the infatuation system is located. The fMRI can in real time identify active parts of the brain because blood flow is shunted to those structures and blood contains iron which helps binding to oxygen in red blood cells. Iron is detectable by the fMRI. The increase in blood flow thus supports the increased activity which requires oxygen and other nutrients. Fisher put people into the fMRI machine and showed them images of people that they were infatuated with along with control images.

The results of the fMRI studies indicated that activity was present in the midbrain area of the brain and in forebrain structures. The significance of this is that the midbrain area provides most of the dopamine in the brain and is under intense interest both for Parkinson’s disease and pleasurable reward. Some neurons (nerve cells) project dopamine to areas of the brain that control movement. Destruction of these cells is involved in the tremor and other movement effects of Parkinson’s disease. But other dopamine cells project to reward areas further forward in the brain. (Both cocaine and amphetamines stimulate dopamine release and can negatively influence these dopamine cells. This accounts for Parkinson’s symptoms and flattening of affect in abusers of these drugs.)

Her findings are significant not only because they account for the pleasurable feelings that infatuated individuals feel but also they helps isolate infatuation from sex and pair bonding systems. We know that sexual arousal is mediated by certain cells in the hypothalamus because we can trace their direct connections to external genitalia. These cells are different from those involved in infatuation, just described. These are the cells involved when one sees, thinks about or experiences something which triggers sexual arousal. Scientists used an ingenuous method of injecting pseudorabies tracing virus at cells in the hypothalamus and genitalia in infrahuman species which indicated a two-way connection.

A lovelorn vole.

We also know that pair-bonding is mediated by the hormones vasopressin and oxytocin which are released from a different part of the brain hypothalamus. The dopamine reward system passes by it and temporarily stimulates it, but once infatuation decreases (in about 18 months in humans) this system is responsible for long term bonding. This pair bonding supports cooperative friendship and offspring rearing. We know this because, in nearly identical infrahuman species of voles (small rodents) that these mechanisms are more active in those species which display long term affiliation.

Narcissists and those with borderline conditions, evidently cannot form long-term affiliations involving non-sexual intimacy due to genetic and early learning experiences. But they bombard their victims with sex and infatuation behaviors in a process called “love-bombing”. They use these to control their victims and devalue them without forming long term affiliations. The next phase consists of alternate discarding and attempts at re-attracting the victim (so-called “Hoovering” after the vacuum cleaner brand name.) All this to get what they want which is primarily attention but also to reduce fear of abandonment. Females with borderline conditions are notorious for having numerous sex partners to form a “reverse harem”. They substitute sexual behavior for long term affiliation to reduce their fear of abandonment.

I can testify that the narcissist/borderline cycle is real. It leaves lasting emotional scars even after getting off the cycle.

Unrequited Love to Friendship

So, we have successfully avoided those with personality disorders as potential partners And we have found a person that we have an infatuation for but the infatuation is one-sided and the relationship does not work out. How can we retain these people as friends? It may be too painful to go into the friend zone with an unrequited love but transgender people need all the friends they can get and hold. There is a bit of research that may help us (Motley, et al., 2008).

In order to successfully change from one-sided infatuation to friendship the things that seem to work are:

  • Tell the person that you want to be friends
  • Tell them that you are okay with the confession of infatuation or rejection
  • Do not stop the same level of social contact, demonstrating acceptance of the situation
  • Confide in them about relationships with other people to take the pressure off between you
  • Decrease or at least not increase flirting and incidental touching

From this research, the things not to do are:

  • Do not avoid social contact but act as friends
  • The confessor should not complain and should accept the rejection
  • The rejecter should not suggest that romance may develop in the future
  • The rejecter should not tell others such that it will get back to the confessor.

I also have a little experience with this phenomena. Uniformed by this research, we fortunately intuited the correct things to do to continue our friendship. It is alive and well.

Now that I am trying to navigate the dating ocean , I will send you dispatches with research and insights as I get them.

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Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D., Strong, G., Hai-Fang, Li, and Brown, L. (May, 2005). Reward, Motivation and Emotional Systems Associated with Early-Stage Intense Romantic Love. Journal of Neurophysiology.

Blair, L. and Hoskin, R. (June, 2018) Transgender exclusion from the world of dating: Patterns of acceptance and rejection of hypothetical trans dating partners as a function of sexual and gender identity Journal of Social and personal Relationships 36(7).

Motley, M., Reeder, H. and Faulkner, L. (2008). Behaviors that determine the fate of friendships after unrequited romantic disclosures. Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications pp 71-95.

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Category: Transgender Science


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at

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