The Tinder Transsexual Conundrum

As online dating apps have evolved, they have refined shallowness to a fine art. Whereas before there might have been a nominal risk of learning about someone’s personality before judging their desirability, newer generations of dating apps have shifted the emphasis even more overwhelmingly onto the initial reaction to the first photo. So, if you’re looking for matches you’d better look good, or at least know which angles can temporarily dupe your prospects into thinking you do. And in Southeast Asia, especially in places like Manila and Bangkok, many of the women with the prettiest faces, the most flattering filters and the nicest angles are transsexuals. (I’m not sure if the word “ladyboy” is appropriate, although many of these individuals do self-identify in that way.)

And because these apps discourage you from knowing much about your prospective partners aside from what’s in their pictures, it’s quite easy to distractedly swipe right on a pretty woman and later realize, after the dust has settled and you’ve actually taken a look at her profile, that she’s a transsexual. To be honest, I’ve done this a lot, not least of all because a lot of these trans women look good. And why not? Considering the effort and money involved in transforming yourself from a man to a woman, the extra effort involved in making yourself into a really sexy woman seems like a minimum additional investment.

And yet, I find it hard to wrap my head around the idea of being sexually attracted to someone who used to be a man. To be fair, I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way from my old transphobia – A decade ago I remember being quite squeamish about the notion of a trans woman (or man), and I vividly remember pointedly using the word “him” when talking about my friend Ruby’s trans female friend (who wasn’t present), much to Ruby’s obvious annoyance. Since then, I’ve adopted the sort of live-and-let-live attitude that most decent human beings eventually grow into if they don’t end up curdled and bitter. (To be fair, a lot of people do end up curdled and bitter.)

And yet, I still have trouble wrapping my head around the idea of being sexually attracted to a woman who was born a man, no matter how charming and pretty they are. So after I realize my oversight, I unmatch. Back when I started making these mistakes – when dating apps were still more oriented toward matching based on anything other than a gut reaction to a photo – I would sometimes tell these women how pretty they were, but that I wasn’t really used to dating a trans woman. In retrospect, I have no idea whether this was nice or appallingly rude and inconsiderate. Now I just unmatch without a word.

But with that strain of hyperactive empathy that weirdly intermingles with my borderline sociopathy, I can’t help but imagine what it must be like for them. Occasionally I will match women (especially western women) who are so unattainably attractive that I assume they must have made a mistake in matching me. Unfortunately, this is often the case, as I watch their profile disappear from my list of matches without a word. Not that I’m comparing myself to a hot babe, but I can relate to those initial, hesitant feelings of hope, wondering if you’ve really found someone who’s cool and open-minded, only to have their picture disappear forever without a word – and to have it happen over and over again, all because a bunch of morons on the Internet thought you were a babe until they realized you weren’t a cis babe.

I can imagine that in a few decades, people will find it downright quaint that older generations were so concerned about a person’s sex at birth. It may well seem insignificant, like whether someone was delivered naturally or by C-section. And so I find myself in the position of being just a little bit of a curmudgeon, while also aware that I am, as everyone has been at times, on the wrong side of history. I comfort myself with the thought that my current mild prejudice is fairly harmless compared to my earlier transphobia, but I still nurse some guilt over the number of times I’ve been that disappearing face on the list of matches in some lovely, kind-hearted trans woman’s Tinder app. But the real beauty of the brief human lifespan is that regressive opinions will naturally die out, to be replaced by younger generations who wonder why anyone ever really gave a shit in the first place. And until then, I wish everyone out there, whoever they are, all the best of luck in finding love.


You Know, Humans Are Damn Weird-Looking

Have you ever thought about how unusual humans look? Our nearest cousins, the apes, seem to have a consistency and cohesiveness of design that we completely lack. Our lumbering, awkwardly bipedal limbs have none of the elegance of fish, snakes, or birds as they effortlessly navigate their environment. Our bodies are a collection of evolutionary wrong turns and dead ends, all piling up in a twisted wreckage of mismatched DNA. Like the English language, the human form is too muddled and eclectic to really be beautiful.

Consider the case of a hairless cat. Cats are animals that, we can probably agree, look much nicer with a smooth, even coat of fur. Without fur, they look fairly appalling. Humans are the simian analogue of the hairless cat, although with thick hair in weirdly specific places – Imagine a hairless cat with isolated tufts of hair on top of its head, above its eyes, stuffed away in its armpits (assuming cats have armpits), and its feline genitalia. It is not a kitty that you would wish to stroke affectionately.

I sometimes ponder the instincts at play when I find myself attracted to a woman (or, if you prefer, a human female). Instinctively, I feel a strong attraction to this strange-looking organism. (Men are arguably even stranger-looking with their flopping phalluses, but as far as I know I’m not attracted to them.) But when I step back and try to reflect on and analyze my impulse, I find it quite weird that I feel a burning desire for a semi-hairless ape that walks around on its hind legs like some sort of featherless mammalian bird.

So if humans are ungainly, unsexy creatures, what kind of organism is really worthy of our aesthetic and sexual appreciation? Maybe a swan, or a tiger. Now mind you, I don’t feel an attraction to swans, tigers, or any non-human animals (well, maybe some orangutans), but I recognize that this is because my reproductive instincts have, in their infinite wisdom, drawn me to reproduce (or, uh, reproduce without reproducing) with animals of the same species. But if attraction were a true beauty contest, rather than simply a manifestation of our zombielike urge to mate, I totally know some gazelles I’d like to get with. (But maybe not tigers – that would be taking the phrase “love hurts” a bit too literally.)

Waiting for My Robot Wife

As the grim realities of aging have started getting harder to ignore, I have found my thoughts wandering more often into the future. Of course, there is plenty of fun to be had pondering the great and terrible mystery of death, but the idea of death remains more abstract and confusing than genuinely horrifying. On the other hand, I can easily extrapolate from the current gentle wearing-down of my body to a future where I am alone, scared, and uncontrollably shitting myself. They say your body begins breaking down at 30, and the fun has just begun!

And as I reflect on all of the interesting ways that my body will surprise me during its gradual, controlled, genetically pre-programmed breakdown, I further wonder whether I will, indeed, have to experience this whole process by myself. Barring a complete personality change, it’s looking increasingly likely that I won’t be having any children to join me on this ride. (And even if I did, whether they would be loyal and supportive or ungodly little ingrates would be impossible to predict – although, if I’m anything to go by, I wouldn’t expect too much.) I’m slightly more optimistic about finding an adult companion to join me on this wild ride, but the fact that I can only spend so much time with a woman before one or both of us ends up hurt, frustrated, or just plain bored makes me a little pessimistic on this point, as well.

This pessimistic outlook had me quite depressed until I realized something that seems, in retrospect, pretty obvious: by the time I am old enough to require constant care and companionship, the technology will exist for me to receive this care and companionship – along with some simulacrum of love and affection – from a lifelike humanoid automaton.

I’m not just talking about the idea of an emotional connection with an Artificial Intelligence, an idea that has already been mined to death in movies like Her, Blade Runner 2049, and various other works of science fiction. These beings have been presented as companions to protagonists who are physically capable in spite of their loneliness and sorrow. What I’m actually thinking of is a being that, in addition to being able to express humanlike thought and emotion, will also be able to pick me up when I fall, and will spray me with its high-powered robot hose when I shit myself. It will be a combination of a wife, a caregiver, and a home entertainment system.

You could quite understandably object that this idea has been framed in quite a sexist manner, and I can’t entirely disagree. To call this robotic being a “wife” is to fall into the trap of sexist notions of how women are supposed to care for their male partners, often without any clear expectation of reciprocity. And how could someone as repugnantly selfish as me really expect another human being to selflessly care for me as I slowly deteriorate into an uncontrolled drip (and occasional spray) of bodily fluids, anyway? That’s exactly why a robot caregiver-slash-companion would be the perfect solution for the conundrum created by my extreme selfishness and general intolerability. If I refer to this robotic being as a “wife”, I do so out a wistful sense of romanticism, rather than literally or with any belief in the subservience of women. After all, women will be fully entitled to their own robot slave-husbands, too.

You might object that it’s all good and fine to have a robot to change my diapers, but that it would be sad and self-deluding to seek emotional comfort in the metallic arms of a being that isn’t “really” alive. Well, I’m not really convinced that our humanity comes from anything more than the sum of our neural wiring, and I don’t see why an elegantly wired machine should ultimately be any less alive than we are. Current thinking in cognitive science suggests that there’s no such thing as a soul, that consciousness is just a byproduct of a certain stage of  cognitive development, and that free will does not exist. If we sweep aside all of these romantic constructs and accept the humbling truth, there is no reason why a futuristic robot won’t be fully worthy to be my companion and life partner as I enter my twilight years.

Perhaps this futuristic fantasy is too much of a cop-out, a way of reassuring myself that I won’t ultimately pay a terrible karmic price for all of the people I’ve pushed away and continue to push away in my life. Aside from whether my predictions are accurate – and I leave it to the future, or at least to the futurologists, to determine that – it seems like my hope for an android bride might not promote the healthiest attitude toward my fellow human beings in the here and now. But if the alternative is despair over a future where I’m too covered in open sores to be loved by anyone who’s not blinded by the baffling perceptual distortions of devoted love and compassion, I’ll gladly accept that cold, metallic love as an alternative. And so, let the aging continue!


For the last few months, I have been using Kuala Lumpur as a base for Southeast Asian travel. As a city that is modern but affordable, bustling but not chaotic, and friendly but not overbearing, it makes for a perfect two- or three-week pit stop between month-long explorations of the disorganized joy of Indonesia or the Philippines.

For my last KL pit stop, I spent three weeks in an AirBnb in a slightly run-down condo in the Maluri area. Located just outside the center, it’s a relatively lower-end area – but, being that “low-end” is relative term in a prosperous and developed city like KL, it just ends up having a bit more local colour than some of the more posh areas of the city. The Chinese and Malay neighbourhoods nearby are ridiculously overstuffed with tasty (albeit sugar- and palm oil-laden) food options, and the whole area gives off a chilled-out, family-oriented, quasi-suburban vibe.

Underneath my condo complex there was a shopping mall that has seen better days, if indeed those better days ever existed. The inside of the mall is nearly deserted, with a few comparative glimmers of commercial life in the street-facing shopfronts. A Thai restaurant caters to the sizeable local community of Thais. But these are only small glimmers of hope in a mall that is mostly a hollowed-out shell, with the vast majority of the storefronts devoid of shops, or at least of customers. Read More