Trans man Bappie: ‘For the first year of our relationship, I showered with a shirt on.’

Trans man Bappie (29) and cis woman Jamilla (26) have been together for seven years. A double interview with a happy queer couple:

What is the secret of your love?

Jamilla: Communication. We feel very comfortable talking to each other.

Bappie: Yes, it sounds sappy, but the same goes for me: proper communication is the key.

Jamilla: It sounds kind of pragmatic though, because when most people talk about love, most people will imagine a certain feeling.

Bappie: Yes, but for us this is really how it went: the first thing we said to each other when our relationship started was that we should always be honest and clear. We really kind of laid down the rules. The background story: we both come from broken families, with mothers who did not set their own boundaries properly. Perfect examples of how not to do it.

What about Bappie attracted you?

Jamilla: I was always really comfortable with Bappie, because he was so unapologetically honest from day one. I never thought or got the feeling for one moment that he wanted anything in particular from me. Everything was always just chill and gezellig. We became good friends and that grew into a relationship.

And why Jamilla?

Bappie: With Jamilla I immediately felt a click. I could and can be myself with her: goof around, but also be open-hearted and tender. I don’t have to be ashamed of anything. Jamilla can also slow me down when I’m being too impulsive. There is actually no-one I listen to, except for my mom and Jamilla.

When you got to know Bappie, he had been transitioning for two years. How much did you know about this subject?

Jamilla: Bappie wasn’t on hormones when I met him, though he did have three little hairs on his chin. I did immediately wonder if Bappie could be transgender, but I didn’t ask. I always prefer to wait and see what the other person chooses to share.

It didn’t take long. Bappie was so light and open about it; his being trans was a minor detail. Besides, we were so busy with our exams, looking for a place to live and finances; that we simply didn’t have time to focus on it.

How are you experiencing Bappie’s transition?

Jamilla: He got hairier! That was to be expected with his Spanish-Surinamese genes. It grew so gradually that it didn’t even stand out

Nothing is more personal than transition. To what extent is it also something the two of you share?

Bappie: Before I started male hormones, we had an open conversation about how hormones can affect you, which changes would occur. I knew Jamilla was still processing bad experiences from her previous relationship and that macho men scared her.

Trans liefdesrelatie, Bappie. Foto: Jasmine de Vries
Bappie: “I have a positive view on my transition. There’s no sad story.”
Photography: Jasmine de Vries

I asked her what degree of masculinity she would still feel safe with, if I were to develop these kind of traits. Thankfully, I did not reach that boundary, or maybe it’s shifted in the meanwhile.

We took the biggest steps when we really became intimate. On a social level, things went well: Jamilla’s friends were relaxed and family members appeared to get used to it. But being physically intimate required me to cross a threshold. I wasn’t used to walking around shirtless. For the first year that we were having sex, I was always wearing a t-shirt; I even showered with a shirt on.

Jamilla: I think your dysphoria has decreased since the hormones.

Bappie: Could well be. In any case I have a positive view on my entire transition. There’s no sad story. I’m not struggling with how things are ‘down there’. Why would I hate myself for something I’ve got no control over? I already carry two blocks on my chest/ribcage– why would I also start limiting myself emotionally and psychologically? You can also carry that sort of negativity over into your relationship. It’s really important to me that as soon as we get home and the door is closed, we’re as open as possible.

Jamilla: I also had difficulty being naked at first, but I did it anyway. I understand the dysphoria part. But if you were still wearing a t-shirt now, I’d think you aren’t comfortable with me.

Jamilla, how did the people around you respond to your relationship?

Jamilla: When Bappie first came over, he didn’t leave a good impression on my mum. I’d told him beforehand: “Just be yourself and make yourself at home.” He had taken that quite literally: he sprawled out on the couch with his head in my lap, resting his feet on a side table. My mom came in and didn’t know where to look. Bappie was immediate in showing physical affection towards me and that clearly shocked her. But most of all she was confused about whether Bappie was a man or a woman. When we were alone, she’d fire a hundred questions at me: “Are you two really in a relationship?”, “I thought you had a different ‘type’” and “So does this make you a lesbian?”. She also asked herself aloud how she would tell the rest of the family and what others would think of it.

Trans liefdesrelatie, Jamilla. Foto: Jasmine de Vries
Jamilla: “Gender doesn’t matter to me.”
Photography: Jasmine de Vries

Were these questions you’d never asked yourself?

Jamilla: Well, for a long time I had been turning over in my head if I maybe liked men and women. I had previously had feelings for a woman before I met Bappie. I struggled with that for a long time and never told my mom. Now it’s no longer an issue and I just know: gender doesn’t matter to me. I care about someone’s character and if I can truly feel at ease with someone.

Besides, my mom totally came around: she adores Bappie.

Bappie, what did your previous relationships look like?

Bappie: I was so occupied figuring out who I was, that I had no time for relationships. My focus was my gender identity. I mostly wanted to make sure I became stable. Now that I know who I am, I can be present in a relationship. If someone would tell me now: “I don’t want to date you, because you’re trans,” then my answer would be: “That sounds like your problem” and I get on with my life.

What are the biggest preconceptions about being trans that you’re confronted with?

Jamilla: That we have a problematic sex life. I’m always taken aback when people flat out ask me: “Oh, but how do you do it?”.

Bappie: Publicly – based on our appearance – we are not really confronted with prejudice, because we look like a cis straight couple. People don’t notice that I’m trans. So, I usually say it as loudly as possible and then talk about it very openly. Like I said, the whole ‘trans drama’ isn’t my thing. That’s why I think we’re easily approachable for non-trans people who are interested in the queer sphere.

Jamilla: We’re open with each other and that probably radiates to the outside world. I don’t feel shame around my sexuality. I think people should feel okay talking about gender identity and sexuality.

Always and everywhere?

Jamilla: I’m cautious at work. By chance, the topic of trans identity came up in a conversation once. A colleague spoke of their neighbour; a girl who transitioned to a boy. It drew out all sorts of remarks. I didn’t want to stay neutral and told them that my boyfriend is trans. A short silence fell, and then questions erupted. Whether it “wasn’t too heavy for me”, and about my sexual identity. Someone asked if Bappie “had already undergone surgery”. I told them no and saw more question marks pop up. “But don’t you have certain needs?” I said: “What do you mean? I’m not missing anything.”

Bappie: We like to make people think. I’m fairly direct in that regard. I’ll proclaim, for example, that I’m an ex-lesbian. The other day at a party people started asking questions. We just raised a question in return: “How would you feel if your boyfriend tells you tomorrow: ‘I’ve decided to become a woman’? Would you stay with him?”. Otherwise you’ll only keep receiving questions and get very tired. Sometimes you gotta give what you get!