On tonight's episode of "Catfish," we meet a young woman named Ari, who has asked Nev and Max to help her solve what is, for some people, a very complicated problem: Disclosing to Jamey, her online love-interest, that she is transgender.
At first, Nev and Max don't know why Ari wants to appear on "Catfish," as she only tells them that she has "something big" to share with Jamey. So while they go about their online sleuthing, they aren't even sure what they're looking for---all they can deduce is that Ari has good really friends, who aren't about to spill her so-called secret. It's not until Ari calls Nev and Max herself and tells them that she's transgender that they really begin to understand her situation, and how she's actually not really a "Catfish" at all.
Ari chose to share her story with Nev and Max, but telling someone that you are transgender is a personal decision. Many transgender organizations advise that trans young people tell their dates in a public place, online or via text in case they become unpleasant or angry. For Ari, however, the opportunity to tell her story on-air was important to her.
"I did the show because I felt like I was hiding a part of myself from Jamey." Ari told MTV News over the phone. "I thought ['Catfish'] would be opportunity for me to show the world, and opened the door for people to understand what transgender really means."
After Jamey found out that Ari was transgender, he was interested in learning more about Ari, and maintaining the friendship they had spent so long building.
"When filming ended, Jamey and I had a phone call," Ari said. "We talked about some things, and how no matter what he would still be a friend to me, and that he wasn’t going to freak out over something not controllable. It made me feel very happy. He cared for me and my feelings, and the friendship we had still mattered enough to him to want to save it. His reaction showed me that sometimes you can be scared to tell someone you are transgender, and things still turn out okay."
While Ari and Jamey have not reconnected romantically since taping "Catfish," Ari isn't ruling out the possibility of finding love, or closing any doors.
"I want a guy to get to know who I am personally, and for us get to a place to where I feel safe," Ari told MTV News. "For trans women it’s not about being transgender, it’s just about being happy."
A Love That Transcends Gender
Luckily for Ari and other transgender folks, there are great examples of happy couples to look up to, like Myles and Precious Davis, who are both transgender, and very deeply in love.
"I think our first reservations as a couple was navigating each others bodies, but that came naturally as our love for one another grew," Precious told MTV News via email. "We both came to the table with so many preconceived ideals, but we both would ultimately find [being trans] was the thing that brought us closer together. Our love transcended gender."
Although they met at a trans community center in Chicago, Precious had no idea Myles was trans. For many trans folks, such as Ari, disclosing is a process based on a foundation of trust, but given the space and community they were in, Myles felt comfortable telling Precious he was trans almost immediately. "I was seeing his heart show and it moved me," said Precious.
"Myles loved me in a way I had never been loved before," continued Precious. "In the past, me being trans affected many of the relationships I had with men. Men wanted to date me emotionally but never physically. This led me through a great deal of heart break, confusion, and depression. Myles showed me that I am deserving of love completely."
In many ways, Precious and Ari shared a similar fear: That they would be rejected by cis-gender (when your gender identity and the sex you were assigned at birth match up -- like Jamey's) men, and live a lonely life. But for Ari, having had the experience on "Catfish," and for Precious, being in a loving, committed relationship, has given each of these women a fresh perspective on the type of love that really matters.
"The experience on 'Catfish' taught me about myself, and how strong I could be," said Ari. "If you're scared, it's OK to tell someone how you feel, and to stand up for what you believe is right."
Precious notes that it was communication and not always physical intimacy that strengthened the bond between herself and Myles. "In the beginning of our relationship we had lots of dialogues and real conversations," she said. "These conversations were the foundation for caring for one another. We each became a refuge in one another. Every laugh, every tear, and every cuddle spoke the language of love."
"If I could give advice to transgender people, it's this: Love yourself," said Ari. "As long as you love yourself, you should be happy and be happy with who you are."
Precious has similar advice. "There are so many different kinds of people in this world who will love you as the beautiful creation you are," she told MTV News. "I believe in not putting limits on love. It is not always going to come in the package we think it is. Love happens when you release yourself from the limits placed on you and follow the freedom that lives in the heart."