Dating exclusion and genital preferences are a broad and controversial topic, so get yourself a drink and get comfortable because we’re going to get real uncomfortable. It seems like folks are doing a lot of hand-wringing about whether it’s more or less obligatory to include trans folks in your dating pool or if excluding us makes you a bad person.
And to that, I say, “wrong question.” We keep having this argument in comments sections and blogs. If we’re going to talk about genital preferences and trans-exclusionary attitudes in dating, we can’t do this halfway. This isn’t as simple a topic as it gets made out to be on the internet. Our mantras about trans women being women and trans men being men aren’t there to help make anything better.
Can we be honest, cis folks? Have you ever said “trans women are women” in the comments section and had a person turn around and go, “wow, I never thought of it like that?” No. Because you’re not saying that to help trans people. If we’re honest, you’re saying that to help you. It’s a performance you put on. So, here’s the deal. If you want to keep doing that song and dance, you can. Have at it. If you’re interested in understanding and thinking about this conversation differently, let’s talk.
“I’m not attracted to trans people” is based on the idea that you actually CAN exclude trans folks from your dating pool, and you absolutely positively can’t. Why? Because that word doesn’t mean what you think it does. The problem here is that, once again, instead of our society being responsible and teaching people about human bodies and other folks ethically and humanely, they let the education happen in all the worst places for it — like porn sites. Consequently, many people don’t understand trans folks outside of simplistic understandings designed to be made palatable for an audience of cisgender people. And that understanding wasn’t meant to be honest; it was meant to package trans bodies for sale and treat us as a carnal novelty and a detestable threat to the established order of things. And, well, we’re paying for it in spades.
Let’s take a pause.
Before we go any further into this conversation, I want to clarify some things about the content you’re about to read. Most anti-trans propaganda is primarily targeted at trans women. As a trans woman, I am intimately familiar with this as part of my history and present. All trans people are affected by these discussions, even if one group is primarily targeted for naked harassment and disdain. Part of the reason for this is public knowledge, many or most people don’t know about trans men and nonbinary folks, but they’ve been exposed to trans women plenty. You’ll see how that played out. My text will primarily focus on the experience of trans women in this discussion, and much of what I write will apply to other affected groups. Not all of it will. Our community is vast, and I hope that trans men and nonbinary folks will fill in the blanks on the perspectives they can write best.
Second, I want to be very clear upfront that you are never obligated to sleep with anyone you don’t want to sleep with. Ever. It doesn’t matter if your reasons are bigoted, prejudiced, or whatever. It’s your body, and you control it. What we’re discussing is where those feelings might have come from and the consequences of the language you use to communicate them. You are not obligated to sleep with anyone, but when you open your mouth to say why you are responsible for your words. It is your responsibility to communicate yourself in an ethical way that does not harm others. If you choose to forsake that responsibility, you should be prepared to accept the social consequences of saying hurtful and unethical things, especially in a public forum.
And finally, this is not going to be a comfortable discussion. We will talk about bodies, systems of abuse and oppression, sexual assault, genitalia, and personal accountability and responsibility. We all love to go online and point our fingers at men, TERFs, incels, Nazis, etc., and here we’re going to take a break from our regular finger-pointing to analyze as much of it as we can — and that includes our place in this system and the things in ourselves we don’t want to talk about. We will answer questions about genital preferences and trans-exclusionary rhetoric and practice in dating, but none of us have clean hands. Be prepared to deal with that as you read this. First, we want to understand the problem, and then we want to talk about how to respond. So there will be some tips for moving forward at the end.
Ok, returning to our scheduled programming.
Why You Can’t Exclude Trans People
You can’t exclude trans people from your dating pool because you have no idea who’s trans. Work through this with me, I promise, it’s worth it. The common version of this discussion goes something like this, “Well, after bottom surgery, trans women have vaginas, and so you might not be able to tell.” And that’s a very specific fraction of the trans people you don’t know are in your dating pool.
A lot of you are dating trans people right now, and you have no idea. And the reason you have no idea is because your “wives,” “girlfriends,” “husbands,” and “boyfriends,” are terrified to tell you. Because they know how you feel about trans people, so they’re hiding from you. They’re afraid of what you will do to them when they come out.
And on the flip side, that more common narrative is actually true. A lot of you can’t tell if you’re sleeping with a trans woman. You have no idea. Many of you have slept with post-op trans women and have never known because they didn’t feel the need to tell you. More importantly, you don’t know that you haven’t slept with a post-op trans woman, do you? How would you prove it?
Look, if it were actually possible to exclude trans people from your dating pool, y’all would do so. But you can’t. When you say, “I don’t date trans people,” what you mean to say is, “I feel bothered by the idea of dating my idea trans people.” And that is a very different discussion entirely. Because even though you can’t avoid it, you feel some kinda way about us. If you think people don’t notice that subtext when you speak, well, I don’t know how to help you there.
Discussions about trans inclusion, or exclusion, in romance often reveal prejudices that we’ve all sort of decided not to talk about. For some reason, this particular conversation makes them fair game as rationales to promote abusive attitudes. A person who out-and-out says something harmful about trans people is rightfully called on that behavior. When a person says that same thing with the addition, “I won’t date trans people because..,” the conversation becomes more of a debate about personal boundaries and attraction. I’m not saying people do this to shield themselves from criticism while promoting ideas about trans people that are outright false or dangerous. Still, it would be sickeningly manipulative if they were. Good thing nobody would use the language of sexual preference to discuss prejudices openly and then accuse anyone of correcting them on their language of trying to circumvent their boundaries. That would be deeply unethical. Wouldn’t it?
Before we delve deeper into the problematic language of this discussion, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
Genital Preferences: Are they Harmful To Trans People?
Short answer? Nah. You have every single right to feel turned off by genitals that turn you off. That’s not a problem.
Seriously, that’s not something that’s in your control. Moreover, even if that was in your control, this describes a type of body in real terms and not a gender or identity in harmful assumption. So the harm, such as it is, is limited to a single individual’s feeling of rejection.
Optional longer answer: Still no, but here’s some extra stuff to chew on if you feel like that’s an area where you’d like to do more thinking. It’s entirely possible that your preferences about genitals are assumptions rooted in your understandings of how those genitals look, feel, behave, and are used by cis people. Hormones change a lot of things; the experience of having a penis as an HRT-taking trans woman is unreliable and inconsistent. Trans men also experience a lot of changes in genitalia thanks to testosterone. And many trans people would quite possibly have the genitals you prefer on your partners.
My partners and I have done live stream classes where we open ourselves to very intimate questions. This question of “what’s it like to sleep with a trans woman with a penis,” always comes up. My partners say it the same way each time, “it’s like a big clit, nothing like sleeping with a cis man.” But my body is my own, and some other trans women can use their penises and WANT to. Even then, folks report the experience is different because the hormones cause changes in texture, shape, size, etc. Many trans women can’t even handle having their genitals touched because of the dysphoria.
The thing I’m getting at here is if you want to do more exploring about this in your own mind, you might check about if you’re excluding folks based on assumptions about their bodies. This isn’t obligatory, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to challenge your own sexual assumptions and try different experiences with people, this might be a ripe area for doing some thinking.
So, again, if you actually have a genital preference, that is perfectly fine, not transphobic, and you are A-OK to stop reading here if you want to. Actually, wait. Stay for this next part.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Genital Preferences
Let’s say you have a genital preference. The place this gets a little more questionable is why you felt like you needed to say it in the first place. And I think that’s on you to examine, but you always had the power to just privately decline to date or sleep with anyone you like. What was it in you that made you decide to make a public service announcement about the genitals you prefer in partners? What stand are you making? It’s ok to say it, I guess, but it’s one of those things that feels like an odd coincidence and is only something you bothered to say because of trans folks.
You absolutely can communicate that in a way that’s harmful and bigoted, and you should expect people to have an opinion about that when you do. When you communicate your preferences in a way that makes them about other folks’ bodies, that’s insulting. I won’t write out all the examples I’ve seen. Still, any version of “I won’t date trans women because I don’t like penises,” or similar sentiments is where you’ve left the land of “preference,” and moved into repeating assumptions about our bodies.
Instead, if you’d like to avoid being rightfully called out on anti-trans sentiments in your writing and speech, try a version like this: “I only want to date women with vaginas, I’m not attracted to penises.” This is a perfectly valid expression of your wants and boundaries. And hey, look, I’m pansexual, and I get particular sexual cravings of this sort, too. And if that’s possible for me, it seems reasonable that’s a thing other people might experience more or less all the time.
Now, inevitably at this point in a conversation, someone might say, “Ok, but post-op trans women don’t have penises…” And they would be correct. And it is at this point that you’re either going to say, “I would date a post-op trans woman,” or you’re about to say enter into a different discussion because she has the genitals you prefer. So what’s your actual hang-up?
So let’s walk through the varying kinds of anti-trans statements that people feel they need to express at this point. We’ll explore different manifestations of genital preferences later, but this will do for now.
“She Used to Be a Dude”
This one is the oddest to me. We all used to be lots of things. You used to be a baby. What’s your point?
I mean, obviously, we know what the point is. This point is rooted in a biological essentialist narrative that your identity is determined first and foremost from your genetic makeup and how society sees you. In this narrative, it doesn’t matter how sexually appealing this hypothetical trans woman is. She is tainted by something out of her control. What’s that? Why the penis, of course.
I think of this as a variation on the many forms of shaming that come for women. We get shamed for having too many partners. A woman’s sexual value is directly related to her historical closeness to penises, and trans women used to have them (or still do), and so that simply won’t do. And for what it’s worth, it’s not just men that dabble in this game: some “gold star” lesbian communities elevate lesbian women who have never slept with men to a status. They say men, but they just as often include trans women in that. Wonder why?
And why does that matter to them? Lots of reasons. Here’s my pet theory, though. Bodies of people who are assigned female at birth are often held up as the gold standard of attraction, artistry, desirability, love, and sexual attraction. The bodies of people who are assigned male at birth? Not so much. If these bodies are ever put on display, it’s often done for the sake of humor or as a display of power and prowess. And the messaging here isn’t lost on society. The more involved a woman is with penises, the less respectable she is as a human being, and the more she takes on an air of being a sexual object. Imagine how dehumanizing people would be to a woman who had a penis. Wait. Which I guess leads us to a little background discussion.
Shunned In Dating, Craved For Masturbating.
Porn featuring trans people is one of the most popular categories of porn there is. And porn is one of the most consumed media there is in all of history. In a media that defines itself by being a sort of private delight, trans porn tops the charts as a form of forbidden fruit. And people can’t seem to get enough. The irony here is that where trans women are concerned, our value as pornographic objects is strictly related to us having a penis.
And the thing is that porn has set the standard for transfeminine bodies. I’ve joked privately that I can’t wait to have my bottom surgery because then I won’t get fetishized as much. I won’t be “trans enough” for porn. Pornography has driven a lot of this discussion and set the standard for how trans people are discussed in this era.
Pornography created the idea that trans bodies were a special flavor. You know, we’re a guilty treat — like pineapple on pizza. We weren’t put into our proper categories as men or women or nonbinary folks on their sites. Trans folks get their own little private sections. In the eyes of pornography, there are real women, and there are trans women, real men, and trans men. Nonbinary people didn’t enter the discussion when this infrastructure was created, and so those folks just got flat-out misgendered.
Ask any trans woman; the information about our bodies and lives out there is essentially nothing. Many or even most of us have our first encounter with transness through pornography. Because society did not fulfill its responsibility to educate about us, pornography stepped in. And it did what pornography does. It packaged us and made us appealing to a screen audience. It lied about our bodies; many or most trans women can’t perform that way nor ejaculate. It lied about how we should look. It taught us that to be a trans woman was to be a sexual object: and it kept a lot of us in the closet for a long time. It kept me in the closet. I didn’t want to be a sex object. It taught us to refer to ourselves as slurs. And it taught all of this to cis people.
And this pornography is most popular in the most anti-trans states in the United States. It’s almost like the populations there aren’t just deeply repressed, they’re learning exactly what pornography is teaching them about us. It’s no wonder that cis women feel threatened by us and why cis men are convinced we’re trying to trick them. Their only exposures to us as sexual beings have been caricatures in the most favorable read — outright propaganda otherwise.
Porn sites teach that trans women aren’t women. They teach that people have the right to not see or interact with trans people unless they choose to. Those attitudes left the realm of porn sites and leaked into everyday public attitudes about trans people: showing a trans person in media is considered pornographic and sexualized. Dating apps created special sections to filter us out. In this view, trans people should be available when craved for, not as actual human beings in our genders.
I want to be clear here. I’m porn positive. But sites like pornhub don’t get a pass for their participation in creating this dynamic, and they continue to perpetuate it to this day. I just checked. They still don’t show trans women as women. They taught the world what trans should look like, how trans bodies behave, and how to interact with us. They’re still teaching people that trans women aren’t women. I can write the most beautiful poetry about trans rights, but it’s going to have minimal impact while porn sites that have civilization by the short and curlies refuse to accept the responsibility they have.
The Tease, The Trick, And The Trap.
When I was a child, about six years old, Ace Ventura Pet Detective was released into the world. I had just started to experience dysphoria, and I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I knew that I was supposed to be a girl and that there was a mix-up at the body factory. For those of you that don’t know, the central villain of the film was a trans woman. For those of you who don’t remember, the movie dedicated about two full minutes to a montage of Jim Carrey vomiting, crying in the bath, brushing his teeth, and using a plunger on his face because he’d been intimate with her. The movie then spent another 4 minutes in which Jim outs her, declares her mentally insane, and violates her body by pulling her hair and removing her clothing. A room full of police officers vomits as he reveals her tucked penis.
I was six years old when I saw this scene. The world watched it with me. The movie was very popular.
A nation of people grew up with these scenes burnt into their minds by Jim Carrey’s over-the-top and energetic acting. And here we see the trans woman as the villain, disgusting, insane, but otherwise undetectable. And once again, the penis is her downfall.
This theme is familiar in movies, television shows, and more. The transgender woman is only presented to mock her body or present her as a sneaky villain. She is never a neutral presence in any film or narrative; she is never allowed to just be. She always has a role as a surprise, villain, or a joke —many times a combination of these.
This wasn’t lost on me, nor anyone else who saw this. People mimicked and performed Jim Carrey’s full-bodied humor with great aplomb for decades.
Further muddying these waters was another popular film, a true classic, Silence of The Lambs. The main villain is not a transgender or transsexual person but is commonly confused as such for his behaviors in the film. Despite the clarification, Buffalo Bill pretending to be trans has given rise to the idea that any trans person might be a Buffalo Bill in wait.
Trans women have never been allowed the autonomy of their own stories, not until recently. Our narratives had always been controlled and contorted for the needs of the audience viewing us. And that audience has not been kind.
In private, we are craved as a novel and interesting experience. Wives everywhere wonder express concerns about their husbands’ sexualities at discovering their husbands’ collections of porn and browser histories featuring trans women. In public, we are rejected and loathed.
The comparisons to the way people treat us in romance couldn’t be more obvious. But it’s not just dating. The myth of the trans criminal sneaking into the restrooms and locker rooms, the nightmares summoned up to systemic assumptions of guilt about trans women, all of it comes from this kind of learning. An entire world was taught to treat us this way, and we are seeing the fruits of it now.
A True King Doesn’t Need to Say It.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, “I won’t date a trans woman because I’m not gay.” Now, to me, the normal retort is, “Well, I’m not a man, so you’re right. You’re not gay.” But see, it’s not just people who want to exclude is that believe this way. So do groups that want to sleep with us.
It’s a very peculiar experience when someone who does want to sleep with you considers you to be a homosexual experience for them. The amount of times I have told a potential interest of mine that I’m trans only to receive a reply like, “It’s ok. I’m bi” has been way, way too high.
Let’s start very quickly by getting something out of the way. Straight men are not terribly good at deciding what’s gay — probably because they’re not. I lived among men for 30 years, and their “straightness,” has more to do with masculinity than it does with sexuality. The laundry list of things you can’t do as a man, lest you be seen as “gay” (and less of a man), includes a random assortment of criteria controlling how you dress, how you look at your fingernails, the way you walk, where your eyes focus in porn, whether you can recognize an attractive man, whether you enjoy anal stimulation of any kind, whether your female partners are allowed on top of you during sex, whether you do household chores, or even if you wipe your own ass. I’m not kidding on that last part; every woman I know either has dated or knows someone who has dated a man who would not wipe his butt.
This version of “straight” is about the performance and scorekeeping of manhood. It’s about notches in your belt. It’s about not giving your buddies any reason to rib you. It’s about social status. And nominally, that social status is all about attracting women. One of the reasons men mistreat women is because they’re pursuing us for their own goals. The amount of sex you have says a lot about your social status. And social status is power, right, fellas? What’s that expression? “Everything is about sex, except sex. Which is about power.”
So, when I hear a man loudly proclaiming his sexuality in comments sections on Facebook and Reddit, what I’m actually hearing is a man trying to establish and protect his social status.
And that makes an awful lot of sense to me. You see, the exact same systems of abuse that target me are known to that hypothetical screeching man in the comments section. He knows them very well, and he does not want to be on the wrong side of them. Nobody does. Trust me on that. And I can understand his trepidation because it seems no matter where men go they’re allowed no flexibility, lest their manhood be taken from them. And it’s not just other men doing it.
In our own trans community, it’s a real and genuine problem that people will go to trans subreddits and Facebook groups and say something like, “my boyfriend has started painting his nails. Is he trans?” And the comments section will erupt into a bazaar of stories about how this trans woman or that one realized she was trans, and it started with painting her nails. Men do this, and we’re so quick to call them “eggs.” (An “egg” is a person who hasn’t realized that they’re trans yet.) It’s not just toxic masculine culture entrapping men in this narrative that the slightest slip in their ultra-masculine visage represents a loss of manhood.
And women participate in this, too. They mock emotional or sexual vulnerability in men. Reddit is full of examples of women posting anonymous worries that their husbands or boyfriends might be secretly gay because they want to explore anal pleasure or prostate stimulation.
There are volumes of books and articles enough to fill entire libraries on the rules that “real men,” must follow. And if you’re not a “real man,” then what are you?
Men have been taught that gay and emasculating are essentially one and the same. When a man says he won’t sleep with me because he’s not gay, he might wrap that up in saying that I was a dude or whatever he wants to say, but the reason he feels the need to publicly and loudly declare that is that he knows what can happen to him if he doesn’t. And I’ll be honest; I can understand why he decided it’s better to be “hated and manly,” given his options. And I know dozens and hundreds of trans women who made that exact same choice every day of their lives for decades. I’m one of them. I’m still apologizing and hoping for forgiveness for the things I did while I was in the closet. This brings us to that segment of tonight’s show.
The Egg And The Closet.
But some of those “men” aren’t men. Some of those “men” are women. And some of those men are gay or bi. Every single LGBTQ+ man I know has stories about the horrible things he said and did to gay men before he came out. So does every trans woman I know. Our performances about that weren’t just public personas designed to keep us safe: we’d internalized those narratives about LGBTQ+ folks and trans folks especially, and we were scared and disgusted with ourselves. Let me tell you a story.
Imagine with me, if you will, that you are a 13-year-old girl who has a penis. Two things have happened in your life recently. One, you’ve entered both high school and puberty. Two, you have access to the internet in a way you didn’t before. It’s normal for a teenager at this point to explore with pornography, and like any teenager, so did you.
Your lip has begun to sprout hair. You are obligated to be proud of this in public. Shaving is a rite of passage for a “man,” after all. This disgusts you. You have nightmares about ripping your own lip off to stop the hair growing. These nightmares become more frequent every time you have to shave, a chore that is becoming increasingly common. And the girls are changing too, but you wish you were changing like them. You know you were supposed to be changing like them, and instead, you got this. Your anger at this body is only contained by the knowledge that if you act on it, you might be hospitalized. You’re stuck. Cursed. You’ve known for years that the source of your suffering is the penis, and everyone acts like it’s god’s gift to you.
You find yourself in a dark bedroom alone, illuminated only by the light of the humming computer monitor in front of you. You’ve been browsing pornography now for hours, it seems. You study the 15-20 second free clips, looking for the secrets to understand your body and how to live with it. An advertisement pops up, as they do, and there is a beautiful woman. As always, when faced with a beautiful woman, you feel a pang of envy. Your eyes follow the contours of her body, tracing her curves and lines until you arrive at the penis. You feel familiarity and rage. This image will never leave your mind. There were women with penises, and you weren’t even lucky enough to be that.
You’re drawn to the image of her night and night again and in your waking thoughts. She is there between the bubbles on your SATs, and she fills the empty lines of the essay you didn’t write because you were too busy looking at her and other women like her. She is the aftertaste in your heart after all those empty kisses you gave your girlfriend in the hallway. You hate her, and you would give anything to be her. And you know this isn’t right. You’re unlucky, and you have to live this way forever. Get used to it, kid. This is salt in the wound. So what do you do?
You fake it. You fake it till you make it. Of course! If you say it loudly enough, often enough — if you just grow out that facial hair and put on some muscle, you’ll purge her image from you. And you try. It makes you sick, but you try. You shave half your leg in the shower before breaking down and sobbing. Your cries are masked by the sound of Voodoo by Godsmack and Scars by Papa Roach playing on repeat through your computer speakers. You start wearing baggy pants because they don’t irritate the semi-intentional cuts and stubble covering your legs.
It comes out, here and there. You have a folder full of images of trans women on your computer. You’re engaging with feminizing kinks. You occasionally dress femme, only to feel violently ill at the sight of yourself in the mirror. You don’t look like those women. Not at all. Publicly, you’ve taken up boxing, and you’re a notorious flirt. You’re known for your workaholism and high performance in your college courses. They say you can have good grades, sleep, or a social life. Pick two. You manage all three. You secretly hope it’ll kill you. You’re one foot out the door; you just want to go out with a bang. All of this to the drumbeat of you proclaiming your manhood in thought, fashion, and deed every day. “I’m a real man,” you repeat in the mirror as you trim down your stubble into a neat 5 o’ clock shadow, “I’m not gay.”
You will fake it every single day of your life. You will do and say things that secretly horrify you on your quest to find the right combination that makes this life tolerable for you. It won’t work, of course. So you will try more. You will be louder. You will take up boxing. You will sleep with more people than you can count. There will be an endless string of broken relationships, tears, liquor bottles, and suicide notes following you like the Ghost of Christmas Future. Every day you wake, you will be ready to die. You will somehow survive that day, and each of them, for decades. You graduate with three degrees. You’ve mastered a language. You’re noteworthy. And nobody knows your secret. You’ve done a masterful job of hiding it. You’re a real man, after all. You’ve mastered your role after reading countless biographies of brilliant and powerful men. You’ve cracked the code on manhood. It’s cost you everything.
Years later, you’re in a dark room. You’re wearing a pink sweater and skinny jeans. Your long hair is pulled into a ponytail because you haven’t had time to shower today. There’s a man in the comments section. “I don’t like trans women. I’m not gay,” he says. He has a 5 o’ clock shadow in his profile pic.
You’re not even mad at him.
There are others in the comments section, they’re telling him he’s a piece of shit, a nazi, a transphobe. They passively wish death on him. They declare him unfit for humanity. These same people tell you you need to forgive yourself for saying the same things he just said. Further down the screen, you see a woman’s comment. “I won’t date trans people, and that doesn’t make me a bigot. I’m just not into that.”
I’m Not Into That.
Coming back to our present-day discussion, let’s talk about what someone is saying when they say they’re, “not into that.” We touched on this in our discussion of pornography, but now we get to see how it influences what people think and how they speak about us.
I’m not into that. When have you heard people use this language for anything else? I mostly hear it used to describe kinks and fetishes. How about you? Yeah. Being misgendered is terrible. It doesn’t feel good. But being reduced to a kink? A fetish? An option? That’s just dehumanizing.
When a person says this, they’re saying so much more than they know they are. This is the single greatest encapsulation of society’s views on trans people, and it is as hurtful as it is honest. I’m not into that.
When I first came out, my father asked me if this was a “sex thing.” And I realize now that he thought exactly what the person who says, “I’m not into that,” thinks. This version of transness, as presented through the eyes of a cis person, displays me as a form of wish fulfillment. I am a fundamentally sexual performance. It seems they feel, in a way, that seeing me in public or lingerie advertisements or at the pool is my way of engaging in a sort of public-play.
I find people who say things like this are often extremely isolated and almost certainly don’t actually know any trans people in their personal lives. In their words, I sense revulsion, like merely by having to acknowledge me, they’re being pulled into my pornographic daydreams. It’s not difficult for us to see how we got here. I’m a “that,” because every single system out there for interfacing with me as a person says I am. Well, they try to.
Gender options on apps like Facebook, Tinder, Bumble, and so on are positively fascinating to me. There are real women, and then there are trans women. There are real men, and then there are trans men. There are real genders, and then there are “other.” I can’t remember the app I signed up on. I think it must have been Bumble that gave me options about the genders I would like to view: men, women, or everyone. Maybe that was Tinder. I got the message loud and clear, though. Trans people are optional. We’re an opt-in experience, not people. And if I’m getting that message, don’t you think that our woman in the comments section is too? The difference is I know I’m a person, and to her, I’m just another face on a screen.
Over and over again, we see this. And we see it reinforced in the cries in comments sections, “stop shoving it in our faces.” These folks are really, truly convinced that they’re being forced to endure a sexualized display in general areas — one they didn’t opt into, that isn’t their flavor. They’re not into that, and they don’t want to see it.
And when we’re not optional, they get angry. They feel they didn’t consent to this display. And as sickening to me as it is to say it, I understand how they got there. They didn’t just up and decide to treat us this way — they were taught that. And who did the teaching? Pornhub, Facebook, Tinder, Bumble, etc., etc.,
They would love to be able to publicly react to us the way Jim Carrey taught them. “I’m not into that,” is the polite version of the way they feel about us. In a world where we can window-shop for partners based on star signs, hair color, hobbies, height, income, politics, and everything else, I suppose it must feel odd to not feel that same sense of control over your dating pool’s genitals.
Trans people have been packaged up as an exceptional kind of kink. We’d be lying through our teeth if we said every single person online isn’t being carved up, labeled, reduced, and resold for the benefit of easy searching and filtering. We all do it when we’re swiping on Tinder or whatever app we use. There’s an unspoken agreement in dating now that we get to window-shop and pick our partners to our specifications, and even though “trans” isn’t a valid filter (because it can’t be), pornography and media taught them it was. They’ve been given the illusion that they could filter us out up until now, and people hate it when you take away their options — even they were never real.
And that can feel like a violation of consent, right? So let’s move down the line.
“Stop trying to shove penises in our faces!”
This is the perspective you’ll often hear in lesbians communities and from white knighting men in the comments. In this scenario, I am sneakily trying to work around the boundaries of a lesbian who doesn’t want anything to do with men, damnit.
This has an analogous comparison with trans men and cis men in gay communities, though, for some reason, that same rhetoric about predation seems less prevalent. I digress, though.
This is hard because this isn’t just an insult but an accusation. It’s a very pointed accusation, and it’s offensive. This is, to be very clear, a smaller scale manifestation of common rhetoric used to justify excluding trans women from women’s spaces. It is a preemptive accusation of guilt, and it’s very socially manipulative. It’s designed to evoke fear. This kind of rhetoric gets trans people hurt and killed.
It’s hard to feel empathy for someone who’s levying an accusation at you, but I’ve gotten to the point I just feel sorry for the people who feel this way. Because they genuinely do believe this. This doesn’t just come from all of their learning about trans people. This one comes from men and what they’ve learned about men. Quelle Surprise, their learning hasn’t been pleasant. I feel you, sis. Me either.
I mean, after all, if you’ve been neck-deep in communities and politics that are openly misandrist and promote imagery of vulva as the gold standard of a feminist political iconography, it would make sense that a woman with a penis wouldn’t fit into your world view. When you’ve been taught that the phallus is fundamentally a patriarchal symbol, seeing one on a woman’s body must cause some really strong feelings. And worse, you’ve probably learned that this is a conflict, a fight, a war against oppression, and so it’s your duty to say something when a woman like me tries to suggest that I belong as much as a woman like you.
I used to see manipulation, malice, and calculated intent to cause harm when a person would lash out this way. And this is a violent thing to do. Accusing someone this way is an attempt to weaponize the audience against them. And now all I feel is sad. All I can say is, we have so much more in common than we have different. I know you can’t see that right away. We want to be safe, too. Who doesn’t, right? You’ve had your boundaries violated so many times. Me, too. I know how that feels, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I hope you understand that I can’t change who I am to make you feel safe, and I can’t accept accountability for your assumptions about what I might do.
You deserve and should have complete autonomy in what happens to your body. And I deserve the same. And for that reason, I will not wear your trauma as my shame. We’re all people here, and we can talk like them. And on a personal note, if you’re struggling with feeling fear of trans people, you can reach out to me. I’m not hard to find.
The Flip Side: The Waiting Arms of The Fetishist.
No conversation about trans exclusion in dating would be complete without mentioning the people who position themselves to benefit from it. Some of us call them chasers; some of us call them fetishists. And it is just as important to be able to recognize fetishistic language towards trans people as it is to recognize exclusionism. Some of them might even claim openly to have a preference for trans people, which again is impossible and shows that they don’t know what they’re saying.
The funny thing about fetishists is they don’t tend to use language about us that triggers alarm bells in cis people, and so they fly under the radar. In their view, I’m not just a woman; I’m more. I’m novel. I’m a woman with something extra. I’m a treat. People who fetishize trans people learned full well all the same lessons that drive so many people to dislike us. They just took that ball and ran the other way. Where some people say they want nothing to do with me. They say I’m a kink. Fetishists say I’m their kink. It’s not even kind of better.
They still don’t view us as people. We’re an extension of their Tumblr porn collections. We’re a real-life wet dream to them, sex dolls with inconvenient personalities. We exist to fulfill their wishes. The amount of men who pop into my inbox to ask if I will top them is proof positive that they’ve seen too many pornos about us. But they still think we’re a kink and a fetish, and they still want to keep us secret. They need that next-level experience. The porn isn’t doing it for them anymore. They’re the people who stalk us, manipulate us, and do whatever they can to get that sexual satisfaction they so crave. They’re the man who printed my Instagram photo, masturbated onto it, took a picture of that, and sent it back to me. And they love the environment that exclusionists have created in the room.
The fetishist playbook online is to wait until they see a trans person being treated negatively and then to message and love bomb them. We get preemptively abused, filtered out, and rejected, and they are more than happy to take advantage of that situation to get what they want. And a lot of trans people fall for it.
And much like their browsing history, once they’re done with us, they want us to disappear. And sometimes, they decide that needs to happen violently. These people have latched onto this anti-trans environment parasitically for their own benefit, and it’s killing trans people.
Super Straight Talk.
I’m loath to include this section, but it’s timely. Recently a batch of people online took to loudly proclaiming that they had established a new sexuality that somehow excludes trans people, which isn’t really possible. They bedazzled this with some Nazi-esque imagery, and for the last week, my timeline has been filled with groups full of cis people expressing their outrage about it.
It’s like nobody stopped to think about whether trans people even really cared. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s just putting a brand label on the perspectives we discussed earlier. Every single trans person I know has been putting up with this for as long as they’ve been out, and actually longer.
None of the people putting this label on were exactly on any trans person’s top 8 on MySpace. We already knew who they were. What changed here was, for the first time, everyone got to see a small sampling of what trans people see everywhere and deal with all the time. And y’all freaked out. That’s what we put up with every day. It just got a nice bright coat of paint. Nothing really changed in our worlds other than it got easier to spot the people who hold dangerous views towards us.
I’m sort of grateful, to be honest. They’re way easier to avoid now that they’re announcing themselves this way. Instead of arguing with them, just publicly declare you won’t sleep with people who exclude trans people from their dating pool. We don’t need y’all rage sharing swastikas all over the place. We need you being as loud and clear in your support and acceptance of trans people as they’re being in their bigotry towards us.
This isn’t the first massive trolling campaign towards trans people, it certainly won’t be the last, and we need y’all to stay focused and put your attention into building a world where bigotries like this don’t take root in the first place. You have that power; I know you do. Y’all built this one.
Trans exclusion in dating is the result of decades of misusing us and our bodies for entertainment and lust. This isn’t going away overnight. We need to start having better conversations and learning to see the harmful learning behind it when someone says they won’t date trans people.
No, you can’t force them to change their minds, and we don’t want that. You can provide an open and visible education about where these harmful attitudes come from so that reading audiences can learn to see those tropes and ideas. We need to recognize that trans exclusion in dating comes from sources that are broader and deeper than individual bigotries.
Make it known to Tinder and other dating apps that trans people shouldn’t be separated out. Make pornhub aware of the outcomes of their filtering out trans people. Insist on meaningful trans inclusion in a real way, not as an add-on option.
And if you have a genital preference, that’s truly fine. You don’t actually need to announce that, but if you do, please make sure you’re using language that doesn’t further harmful assumptions about trans bodies. Sound fair?
We All Have Our Boundaries.
I do. I have boundaries. I exclude certain groups of people from my dating pool even as a pansexual sapphic. My restrictions are about me though, and I take accountability for them.
For instance, I don’t date people that I have to teach. I’m a trans educator and advocate. I don’t want my relationships to be my work. I don’t want to feel like I have to bring my partners up to speed in order to be seen and cared for properly by them on these issues. In dating apps or any part of my social life, I will answer questions and guide my loves and lovers on how to care for me about what I like. But if I have to teach them how to respect trans people, we aren’t going to have a romantic or sexual relationship. That will exclude some people who might be good matches for me for reasons that aren’t entirely their fault, but because that kind of relationship takes energy from me and effort from me in a way I’m uncomfortable with. So I set a boundary.
I can explain my hangup here, and I know where it comes from and why. When you say you won’t date trans people, where does yours come from? The gulf of difference between “I won’t date trans people,” and “I’m uncomfortable with the idea of penises, even if there’s not one just knowing there used to be really bothers me,” is massive. That last thing is a totally ethical limitation that you have every right to express, but when you express the former you are broadcasting your assumptions about trans people as a way to exclude us. You are perpetuating stereotypes and mistruths about trans people and bodies, and that’s not ok.
I can’t say it enough times, your feelings are yours. Your boundaries are yours. But you are accountable and responsible for the ways you communicate them, and people will call you on it if you communicate in a harmful way. They should. You should listen and communicate your feelings in a way that is about you and not others.
The Results Are In: This Sucks.
In all this conversation about trans bodies, and whether we’re our gender or whether sleeping with us makes you gay, y’all managed to forget that we’re in the room. We’re real human beings you’re arguing over with the exact same energy as your favorite food pairings.
We read what you say. We hear you talk about us like we’re a puzzle that needs to be sorted out. We hear you silence discussion of us by saying you won’t talk politics. We’re forced to be bystanders in your narratives about our bodies when we would really like it if y’all would shut the fuck up and truly see us. Being the center of y’all’s purity contest is really exhausting.
We need to change how these conversations are happening because what we’re doing isn’t working. These conversations center sex as the essential ingredient in a relationship and put the spotlight on the most damaging actors rather than on growing inclusivity. These conversations center sex as the central element of transness. These conversations are a continuation of what porn sites have been doing my entire life. And we need to move things forward.
In 1994, when Ace Ventura was released, a little girl in West Virginia was just starting to come to terms with herself. While Jim Carrey was fake vomiting at the idea of girls like her, all she wanted was to grow up and have kids and a small house with a swing set. That was all she wanted in the world. Twenty-seven years later, Jim Carrey’s performance looms over her and girls like her. In 2021, there are 6-year-old trans kids who want to grow up, raise families, and live out their lives.
Are we going to do the work, or are we going to make them do this, too?