The New Girl: Rhyannon Styles On Finding Love

And navigating the minefield of transgender dating

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I had never committed to online dating when I was a boy called Ryan. I would eagerly sign up to gaydar or match.com, upload some pictures but then forget about it.

I always felt more comfortable meeting guys on sweaty dance floors at 3am: it felt effortless, easy and instantaneous.

Before I came out as trans I identified as a gay man. Throughout my life I've always been primarily attracted to men and during my 20s I was in a long-term relationship which lasted more than two years.

Rhyannon before her transition
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When I decided to transition in 2012 that relationship ended and thankfully became a supportive friendship. Transitioning requires so much energy that I knew I wouldn't have an ounce to give anyone else and all my reserves needed to be focused on myself. I was about to embark on a life-changing transformation and for the time being I needed to be selfish.

I began my transition in 2012 and once those rocky first few years were out of the way - the years when I hadn't quite found my style or my confidence - it was time to dive into online dating properly again. And hopefully find a match, or better still, a new boyfriend.

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Clubbing also provided a reliable place to meet people, but I discovered as I began to transition I was less interested in those types of interactions – it felt too much like my old behaviour.

I present myself as a trans woman; my dating profile on Tinder, Happn and Ok Cupid reflected this and clearly stated that I was transgender.

I was under no illusion that disguising or trying to hide it would help me find a partner.

I knew I would always need to 'come out' in the end, so I thought it was better to be clear from the offset.

Besides, it was time to be loud and proud about who I had finally become – it had taken me 32 years to get there.

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Inevitably, my trans status shaped many of my interactions and responses. I received messages and pictures from people who were curious, confused and eager to know more.

Like many trans people, I received an astronomical level of abuse. People couldn't wait to say what they thought about me from behind the safety of their phone screens. I was constantly quizzed about my genitalia and every part of my body was analysed.

My identity was reduced to rude, derogatory and negative comments. Two of the most common questions were 'How big is your dick?' and 'Are your tits real?'. The most obnoxious message read - 'Why are you on here, it's for real women!'.

I instantly reported his behaviour but the damage was already done. Reading those comments was painful and did nothing to boost my self-esteem. It felt like being a child in the playground again, when the big kids would question my effeminate manner and bully me for being different.

I was constantly quizzed about my genitalia and every part of my body was analysed

I spoke to my trans girlfriends to see how they coped and the response was always the same – 'Block them, and don't let it get to you'. I couldn't believe how common this behaviour was. I was only trying to find a boyfriend, not be subjected to abuse.

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While cruising the multiple dating apps, getting an idea of who might be interested in dating me, I discovered many people didn't understand what 'transgender' meant; one person even asked me: 'Are you turning from a woman into a man?' I suppose his naivety was meant as a compliment, but even so, matches with people I liked were thin on the ground.

I was desperate to meet people; I wanted to explore what dating as a trans woman felt like so I continued my search. I do have a type when it comes to the people I'm attracted too. I like tall men, ideally with long hair, good style and a dash of femininity.

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My experience wasn't entirely negative and I did have a handful of great dates with men who felt comfortable around me. Many of them had dated a trans woman before or wanted to discover more. These men were attracted to my femininity and happy to embrace me.

Rhyannon Styles' first profile picture on dating apps

I discovered these interactions to be just like dating when I was Ryan – my new gender didn't determine the outcome and if there was any connection we saw each other again. But I didn't find what I wanted.

I was looking for somebody who wanted a relationship and not just casual sex.

After several months of obsessively checking my dating apps every five minutes I began to feel overwhelmed, exhausted and bored. I needed a break and decided it was time to focus on what I wanted. The apps had become white noise in my life, blocking the potential of meeting somebody serious.

But before I hung up my sexy date dress I remembered a website that I hadn't checked for six months, BirchPlace (a site specifically for trans people). I logged in with the intention to delete my profile, but once I was there I discovered a message from a guy I'd originally messaged a year before.

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In his message he announced that he was now single and wanted to know if I was still interested in meeting him. My heart raced and I had butterflies in my stomach. I had assumed he hadn't messaged me back because he wasn't interested, so I had forgotten about him.

This was the moment I'd been waiting for – I really liked this guy, so I quickly messaged back.

As he walked through the door I sensed this could be something. He seemed calm and collected as he put his arms around my waist and pecked me on the cheek.

Fast forward three days and I was waiting for him in a local bar (I'm not one to hang about). I hoped that the person I was about to meet would look like his pictures – tall, long curly hair, well dressed – and be as charming as his text messages.

As he walked through the door I sensed this could be something. He seemed calm and collected as he put his arms around my waist and pecked me on the cheek.

This was really happening, and I was thrilled. He walked off to the bar to buy us both a Club-Mate, and I immediately texted my housemate: 'Just met him, he's totally hot!!'

I couldn't believe it, he looked exactly like his pictures and was completely charming. Like me, he was an artist too, but the similarities didn't stop there…

Rhyannon and Ryan

On the website where we'd hooked up, I'd been using a nickname and he'd abbreviated his name, so neither of us knew what our real names were.

When I told him I was called Rhyannon he laughed and said that was his sister's name. When he told me his name was Ryan, we both laughed when I explained why. After four years Rhyannon had met Ryan all over again.

A month later whilst lying on my bed he turned to me and said 'I really like you', and the deal was done: we became an item.

Ryan knew I was transgender before we met, and although he had never had a trans girlfriend before, his queer sexuality and identity meant he was totally comfortable with me and this burgeoning new relationship (yes, I've met his parents!).

The proof is in the pudding so to speak – we've now been together for well over a year, and still going strong.

Maybe the connection is in the name, or maybe it's just love!

Doesn't everyone deserve that?

I think so.

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