Robyn Chauvin was certain: It was a date. She’d asked her companion out to dinner. They were eating at a nice restaurant. Then, she says, halfway through, her dining partner dropped a bomb.
“She asked me in the middle of the meal, ‘Well, what kind of woman would date you?’”
The words stung.
“That one hurt,” Chauvin admits. The pain was more acute because this was her first foray into dating after she’d fully transitioned.
At the time, Chauvin was a transgender woman in her early 40s. The year was 2000 and the times were different. The world hadn’t yet welcomed Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox. Today, Chauvin’s 65, and courtship hasn’t gotten any simpler.
But frankly, dating was never exactly easy.
Chauvin was raised in the South in an ardently religious family — not a soft place to land for a child grappling with gender. She first recalls wanting to dress in women’s clothing around age 4.
“I came from a highly dysfunctional Catholic family. I’m the middle of five children and I tried very hard to pretend to be male,” she says. “It was a confusing topic for me my whole life, in that I’m attracted to females.”
Chauvin largely managed to hide her gender identity while growing up in New Orleans, she says, but there were missteps.
“One Halloween, I was probably about 6 years old, I came up with this brilliant idea that I could be a witch and get away with dressing up and going out. And I put on my mother’s black slip and a witch’s hat and high heels shoes and makeup and got yelled at because it was a Catholic neighborhood. They didn’t appreciate that at all.”
Adolescent dating proved tricky too; Chauvin says she was never adept at pulling off “the male thing.”
“I was always considered to be gay, and actually was a little bit gay-bashed throughout school,” she says. “The dating even then was hard, because girls would respond to me like, ‘I don't want to date you, you’re gay.’”
Romantic love may have seemed elusive at first, but around age 23, Chauvin, who had not yet come out as transgender, met the woman she’d go on to marry.
“We both were kind of wild in our youth and in the French Quarter when we met,” Chauvin says. But in the late ’80s, the pair “stopped being wild” and went back to school.
While studying music therapy, Chauvin had a realization: “I wasn’t ready to come out, but I decided to stop trying to pretend to be male, which was a big decision.”
That “eureka moment” arrived one evening at the music library, where Chauvin was night librarian. A friend walked in, a young woman training to be a Broadway performer, and commented on the “peach fuzz” dotting Chauvin’s upper lip.
“She said, ‘I wish I could grow a mustache like that.’” Chauvin’s reply tumbled out: “I said, ‘I wish I couldn’t.’”
With those words, she says, “the part of myself that I was trying to hide so much really popped out to the surface.”
In the following years, Chauvin began embracing her womanhood. She started electrolysis. She took hormones. She grew more comfortable in her skin.
But transitioning came with consequences. Relationships withered. “My family pretty much totally rejected me,” Chauvin says.
She also ran up against challenges at work. She says one day her boss asked why she was wearing earrings, to which Chauvin replied, “It’s an expression of my femininity.” The boss “freaked out,” Chauvin says; in a later conversation, she told her boss that she was in the process of transitioning.
“It was just like days after my wife had moved out and I was really upset, suicidally upset, at that time,” she says.
In 1999, a few years after her divorce, Chauvin underwent gender reassignment surgery. Ultimately, her workplace supported her transition: “There was, in some ways, way more support than I imagined, because I knew other transsexuals that lost their careers,” Chauvin says.
But there was pushback, too. “The whole bathroom issue came up. I wasn’t allowed to use the ladies’ room after I transitioned until I had surgery and I was legally female, and so that was an awkward situation," she adds. “And I was no longer allowed to work with children.”
New Orleans is behind her. Chauvin now lives “out in the country,” just outside Longmont, Colo., northwest of Denver. There, she works as a therapist.
She’s taken steps to find intimate connection, but results have been frustrating.
She attempted speed dating. No luck. She tried looking online — “and only had one person say they were interested in me,” she says. She even met a fellow therapist who expressed attraction but had reservations. Chauvin thinks those reservations stemmed from her trans identity: “She told a friend, ‘I could never bring this person home to my mother.’”
“There is this phenomenon because I’m 65,” Chauvin says. “Most lesbians are feminists, of course. And I’m a feminist myself. But within feminism, there are many, many TERFs that are trans-exclusionary.”
By TERF, Chauvin means “trans-exclusionary radical feminists.” The term is used by some to describe feminists who exclude trans women. She believes that some lesbian feminists of her generation ask themselves, “If I date a trans woman, what’s that say about me?”
She’s also entertained another possibility, one that forces her to look inward.
“I’m open to the idea, being a psychotherapist, that it may be me. Maybe I just don’t know how to date. Maybe I’m pushing that away. But maybe not.”
Make no mistake: Chauvin may not be in love, but she loves her life.
Her work is fulfilling. Music brightens her days.
“I play the French horn in a community orchestra,” she says, “and that gives me joy.”
She adores gardening, and has “dear, very close friends who would probably jump in front of a bus for me.” She’s socially engaged, a proud board member with Queer Asterisk, an organization in Boulder, Colo., “that provides space and therapy to the genderqueer community here.”
All things considered, her life is good. And she hasn’t abandoned the prospect of partnership.
“I continue to look,” she says. “I suspect I’m not really good at approaching people from a dating perspective, but I still give it a shot.”
What’s more, she seems to harbor no ill will. Chauvin speaks of her former wife fondly: “I was married for 20 years to a wonderful woman and we’re still friends.”
She is the epitome of acceptance, yet she holds on to hope. But she’s done with yearning.
“I’ve let go of longing,” she says, “because longing was so freaking painful.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece misstated “TERFs” as “turfs.”