With Cristina, Zayn Found a Safe Space to Express His Gender
By Prachi Gupta
Zayn didn’t expect to fall in love during the pandemic. When he started using Bumble in May 2019, he was simply looking to socialize and talk to people. “I wasn’t looking for anything serious,” he says.
Zayn, who is trans, was also intrigued by Bumble as a woman-owned business that promotes respect and doesn’t allow abusive behavior. “Bumble was my last attempt at trying to get to know someone,” he says. “I just thought it would be a safer space for someone like me. A lot of the time, as a trans person, it’s really hard to date without knowing someone’s beliefs. You hope for safety and boundaries to be respected.”
The app “allowed me to identify as a trans man,” he says. That visibility “immediately eliminated people saying weird things to me, or it allowed me to navigate the conversations I want.” He was pleasantly surprised to find that the app allowed him to message matches first. “It almost put me in a femme space, as well,” he says.
It’s a good thing, too, because when Cristina matched with Zayn, she admitted that she would “probably not” have messaged him first. “I just didn’t find myself messaging first very often,” she says. Like Zayn, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she really wasn’t expecting to meet anyone. Her profile was relatively sparse, but her profile photo caught Zayn’s attention. “I didn’t know if she was real or not!” he says.
Zayn opened with a “hey” and a rose emoji, then told Cristina she was beautiful. The simple opening led to a conversation about their interests. Quickly, the New York-based duo discovered that they had a lot in common. “We talked about religion, about being LGBT in church, and our signs and astrology,” Zayn says. “On other dating apps, I was experiencing weird, inappropriate messages. People greeted me in ways I didn’t want to be greeted. She was nothing like that.”
After a few days of constant conversation, Zayn wanted to connect at a deeper level. He sent Cristina his number and asked her to text him. He hoped to hear from her right away.
Weeks went by without a text from Cristina. Zayn was disappointed, wondering what happened—if the connection had been one-sided, or if he’d done something wrong. But it was very much the opposite: “I felt that if I texted him, I was going to not stop talking to him,” Cristina admits. “I was like, oh sh*t, I have to wait until I’m ready. I stopped logging onto Bumble for anything.” Rather than ghosting him, Cristina was processing the reality that she might be entering into something serious.
A month went by. Zayn was talking to a coworker who was also newly dating someone, and who was “the Cristina in the situation,” wondering if she should reach out to a match who’d expressed interest in her. At that same moment, Cristina texted Zayn. It felt like fate. “Once she hit me up, I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it,” he says.
Cristina’s intuition about the relationship was right. From that point forward, the two were in touch constantly, texting from “sun-up til the next sunrise,” she says, and talking on the phone regularly. Both were wary of meeting in-person because of COVID, which forced them to really listen to each other and bond beyond a surface level. “I think it enabled us to actually talk all the time and to get to know each other without worrying about anything else,” Cristina said.
A little over a month later, they finally met up. “It was my niece’s 17th birthday party and we were making tie-dye shirts,” Zayn recalls. He invited Cristina to hang out afterwards and told her he’d bring her a shirt from the party. They met at the Brooklyn Bridge. “I think we stood outside for nine hours, just talking, from 8pm to 5 in the morning,” he says.
They dated throughout the summer and became exclusive in August. From there, things moved quickly. “It was just a natural progression,” Cristina said.
Cristina “just opened up this safety net within my romantic life that I never had as a trans person. It felt so validating,” Zayn says. “She’s just what I think is, on a very basic scale, a good person.”
They moved in together that October. Zayn knows it seems quick, but “we were wanting to be together all the time, so much,” he says. “I instantly knew that she was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.” For Zayn, Cristina represented “such a safe space for me to be myself even in my worst moments.”
He’d planned to propose on a trip, but became impatient. Instead, he proposed in February 2021 while on a walk, admiring brownstones with Cristina in Brooklyn. “I was shocked,” she says. “I had no idea. But I had already felt like we were gonna end up together, so it was just validation for that feeling.” She didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The two married in November at the church Zayn attends in Brooklyn. The couple didn’t mind that the pandemic limited their guest list. “Honestly, that’s okay,” Zayn says, with a laugh. “I just wanted to make sure that she was there.”