Follow up re: “I date women and trans men.” Cisnormativity, essentialism, & socialization

My post last week about the “I date women and trans men” sexuality frame was one of the hardest and scariest bits of writing I’ve ever done. I’ve been heartened to see it shared widely and prompt a lot of discussion, including among a lot of the folks who inspired me to write the piece in the first place. There’s also been a lot of push back, and I want to respond to some of that here.

Sign on a tree: Space Invaders Against Transphobia

Photo by James Cridland via GenderBen

To be clear, this is a response to critiques from within queer and trans communities. There’s been plenty of push back from radical feminists, too, but I don’t think it’s worth my time to engage. I do think it’s revealing, though, that the arguments I’m hearing from folks who aren’t intentionally transphobic are some of the same arguments coming from radfems. Radfems are deliberately, intentionally writing from a cissexist frame that doesn’t see trans folks’ genders as legitimate or real (it’s pretty ridiculous when they get upset because I’m apparently saying trans men shouldn’t be available to them, as lesbians, for sex). So it says a lot to me about the ideas embedded in responses from the queer community when they’re practically the same.

Specifically, I want to address the arguments that I’m about policing people’s sexualities, that it’s not cissexist to exclude just cis men from a community’s sexuality, and the discussion about excluding trans women because we’ve been socialized male.

I get why people don’t want to think critically about sexuality in this way, I really do. It’s very hard to separate critiquing a sexuality frame from judging your individual life choices. I get why folks were offended. But I’m offended by a culture that says – no, shouts – that girls like me don’t belong in the realm of sexuality at all, except as fetish objects. I share this feeling with a lot of people, which is why I took the leap into the conversation.

I see a community that wants to to do gender better drawing lines around sexuality in a way that’s overdetermined by cisnormativity, and I think that’s worth talking about.

I take the critique about policing sexuality very seriously. This is absolutely not my intent, as I said in the original post. I don’t want to police people’s desires, and I certainly don’t want to police who you fuck. I do want to call out the way cissexism is overdetermining a community’s sexuality frame. The “I date [presumed cis] women and trans men” approach is based in the genders coercively assigned to people at birth – on cis genders. There’s a ton of internal community policing to maintain this frame. I’ve seen queer women struggle with not wanting to date any men when they’re community tells them they should be dating trans men. I’ve seen a lot of female assigned folks get shamed for dating cis men, with the flip side of folks being praised for dating trans men.

I wrote about this frame undermining trans guy’s identities because that’s what I hear from my community (all my examples were based heavily in experience). The trans guys I choose to surround myself with work really hard to undo their misogyny and examine their role in patriarchy. Because they are men in the world. Sadly, I’ve also seen and heard about a lot of trans guys who take advantage of this frame to not lose their community, despite the fact that it’s a women’s community. I’ve seen them take advantage of this frame to get laid by folks who say they don’t want to be dating men, but are told dating trans men is different. I might have more complex feelings if these guys were actively working to bring trans women into these women’s spaces and women’s communities, but I’m not seeing that happen.

Title card for Drive. Ryan Gosling driving a car, looks to the side, all moody

Feminine masculinity

Which brings me to the whole excluding cis men issue. Again, I don’t want to police your personal desires or needs. But I do want to call out the idea that cis men are necessarily different from trans men in some overarching way that can apply to a whole queer community for a whole range of reasons. This is an incredibly essentialist understanding of gender that doesn’t match up with reality. Both cis and trans men can work to be conscious of their role in patriarchy, work to resist misogyny, work to perform maleness or masculinity in non-oppressive ways. They can also both be not-so-masculine (yes, cis and trans folks, including men and women, can both be gender non-conforming). And both can use their male privilege to maintain their position in a gendered hierarchy, to do hurt to women. As I said in the OP, there’s an epidemic of unquestioned misogyny among way too many trans men that’s getting supported in part by the idea that these men couldn’t be misogynist because they were assigned female. Yep, there’s that cissexist understanding of how gender works again. (By the way, making this about bodies is super essentialist and reality-free too: it assumes cisnormative understandings of bodies – the identities applied to bodies by the cis world – are true. It forgets that our understanding of “biological sex” is constructed by a cis-dominant culture. And it misses the diversity of sexed bodies and the way medical transition alters bodies.) There’s also erasure and pushing out of queer cis men, really all male assigned folks, who’s sexualities include female assigned folks.

Finally, I want to talk about the claim that folks don’t date cis men or trans women because both groups were socialized male. This is the same argument that was used to keep my foremothers out of women’s groups in the 70s. Folks said trans women were bringing male energy, taking up too much space, re-traumatizing cis women just by existing (this linked up nicely with the early radfem arguments that our bodies were mutilated acts of rape and should be destroyed). I’m deeply disturbed to see this argument rear its ugly head again.

Buck Angel topless, arms crossed, chomping a cigar

Socialized female??

Once again – this is an incredibly essentialist and reality-free understanding of how socialization works. We don’t just get socialized into a gender up until the age of 4. Socialization is an ongoing process throughout our lives, one that’s dynamic, that we as feminists are called to play an active and deliberate role in directing and resisting.

I’m also baffled by the assumption that trans women were all successfully socialized as normative dudes. Obviously, there is no universal trans experience. In my experience, the socialization failed at every turn. Because I was never a man – that was sort of how my body was understood by default (even the shape of my body got policed) because our culture’s understanding of bodies is cisnormative. But I’ve always been a girl who got forcibly put into the boy box. I tried really hard to fit for 22 years, and I failed miserably. My failure was policed with verbal, emotional, and physical violence. I did perform some patriarchal bullshit, like my anti-abortion politics – though I learned a lot of that from cis women, because all women can be agents of the patriarchy, too. I was even a member of an all-male clergy, though the way I performed my spirituality was shamed as well. Other trans women, especially women from an older generation, have attempted more extreme versions of male performance (this is the place that really makes sense to me to talk about gender as performance in relation to trans folks), like getting straight married or joining the military. These actions can be incredibly complex sites of a lot of feelings, including pain and trauma, for a lot of these women – not some simplistic male socialization when you’re not actually male.

I found it incredibly easy to unlearn this socialization, because I’d had to try so hard to perform that role. Girl instantly fit better. Sadly, the community I came out in during college, especially my reproductive justice organizing community, wanted my femininity to be about weakness because it was in a person assigned male. I’m still working to unlearn a version of femininity that’s about timidity, about not asking for what I want. I learned this both from being raised in a way that said other people’s issues with my gender were more important than my actual identity, and from the role I was pushed into by my queer and organizing community. Much more than being socialized male, I was socialized to put other’s needs about my body and identity ahead of my own. I’m not alone in struggling against this. I see a lot of my sisters working for strength in a lot of aspects of our lives, including our sexuality.

And what’s with the idea that being “socialized male” is 100% bad when it comes to trans women? Cis feminists are all about unlearning the problematic aspects of female socialization, about being able to do their genders in a range of ways without being policed for it. The fetishization of masculinity in female assigned folks stems partly from a celebration of taking on aspects of what’s understood as maleness that are about strength, about standing up for yourself and speaking your mind. But when it comes to trans women, we’re not allowed to display any of that.

Some of the critique leans on the idea that by calling for the inclusion of trans women and questioning the inclusion of trans but not cis men I’m reinforcing gender essentialism. This is a nice dodge from the way this sexuality frame reinforces cisnormativity. All of the pressure to move gender and sexuality forward is consistently put on the people at the bottom of these hierarchies. While other folks are able to do their identities in a range of ways, ours have to somehow be politically perfect. Trans women have done a ton to move concepts of gender and sexuality forward in a way that benefits everyone. But we’re also fighting for basic inclusion. If a community is constructing sexuality in a way that’s built around gender, it should be legitimately (not cisnormatively) inclusive of trans genders. Full stop.

There are plenty of ways to organize sexuality that aren’t necessarily based in cissexism. Like only dating queer folks, or only dating people with gender politics, or not dating assholes. Or even dating based on the way our attractions are a total mystery to us, cause that’s much more how desire works (*stops self from going into psychoanalytic theory on Feministing*).

I was under the impression part of being queer involves questioning the heteronormativity that gets fed to all of us, and that informs queer sexualities, too. Shouldn’t we be doing the same with cisnormativity?

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35 Comments

  1. Posted July 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I read the article and this one a few times trying to understand the complexity of what you are saying. I’m still not sure I get it. My first thought was “why are you trying to tell people who they can like?” but then I wondered if maybe what you’re wanting changed is the specifier of “transgender” being taken off. Would it be better for someone to say “I date women” and have that automatically include transgender women, or maybe it’s that they’ll date someone with a vagina, even if that person’s gender is male, but they won’t date a male with a penis?

    I kind of understood the article to mean that you are frustrated that there are so many classifications and that those classifications are because of patriarchal socialization and that because of that, many people get marginalized and left out. But maybe I missed the point completely.

    Your article is really interesting and very complex. I don’t think it’s something that someone can just get unless they are already at a different level of understanding than most on the issue.

    • Posted July 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      Hi Lisa,

      This is only kind of in reply to you. So I really have no desire to bully people into being attracted to me, but I also get a bit sick of not being seen. This isn’t about my cunt, and what it looks like. Its about transwomen being fucking sick of being labeled as sexually passive and kinda wierd. I’m also sick of being labeled complicated, sick of sex being an intellectual exercise.

      Like seriously, I’m hot. I get that not everybody is going to want to have sex with me,and thats not really the problem. The problem is that people are scared of being attracted to me, like I’m some really kinky fetish thing. And I can’t be bothered with being that.

      The problem I have is that there is suck a culture of writing off trans women as creepy and unattractive, that when people are attracted to me they feel weird and confused and shamed about it.

      Like seriously, I haven’t wanted to have sex with any of the trans women I know, but I still get that they’re hot. I just don’t get why its such a big deal to acknowledge that.

      • Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

        Hi Penny, thanks for replying. I can really see your point. Do you also feel like you have to act/look/dress like a stereotypical ciswoman? I felt like the author of this article was saying that she feels like she had to shed any masculinity she had in order to be the right kind of trans woman and that she felt discriminated against in that way. Like if you consider your gender to be male or female, you have to act like the socialized stereotypical cis male or female. To me, that is mind blowing and something I never considered. That sucks to feel like a “fetish thing.” Really, so degrading. I’d be upset as well. I wonder if it would be different if you didn’t have to put yourself into such a stereotypical gender role.

    • Posted July 11, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      oh shit, p.s. I accidentally reported your comment when I was trying to hit the reply button! sorry, didn’t mean to do that

      penny

  2. Posted July 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    You say:

    Much more than being socialized male, I was socialized to put other’s needs about my body and identity ahead of my own.

    Then You say:

    This doesn’t mean queer cis women and gender non-conforming female assigned folks can’t fuck trans men, but then they owe it to these guys to reframe their sexuality in a way that’s not undermining – to recognize that they sleep with men, and to question why they’re OK with sleeping with trans men and not cis men.

    You are asking them to put your needs and ideas about their identities and bodies above their own.

  3. Posted July 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    As someone who went through ex-trans therapy, joined the military, entered a “traditional marraige,” and had children — well, I tried to be a “normative dude,” but my “socialization as male” just never took. I essentially never passed as male my whole life — I was always perceived to be gay becaues my gender expression conformed more to feminine societal norms than the masculine norms.

    “Much more than being socialized male, I was socialized to put other’s needs about my body and identity ahead of my own.”

    I couldn’t find a way to transition when I first realized I was trans at age 14.; I felt what Jos expressed until I reached my early 40′s.

    Although I’m femme, I’m not weak, and I don’t accept societal sex and gender norms’ limitations. I don’t want my trans community siblings to be limited either. We can be a diverse population; we can accept the different life experiences of others as valid while still accepting our own experiences as valid.

    “I was under the impression part of being queer involves questioning the heteronormativity that gets fed to all of us, and that informs queer sexualities, too. Shouldn’t we be doing the same with cisnormativity?”

    To that I say “Amen.”

    • Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      Excellent post, Autumn

  4. Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I just have to say, as a transwoman who generally only has sex with cis-women and trans-men, I’m a little puzzled by this. I recognize that both of your posts on this subject were most likely responses to radical feminists and lesbians who actively deny trans identities, but I still feel obligated to respond personally. The simple fact of the matter is, I dislike penises. I dislike my own, and I dislike others’. I know a few other pre-op/non-op transwomen I am quite close to and could imagine dating, but I am held back because of their bodies. On the other hand, if I met a post-op transwoman who I was attracted to, I would have no holdups about dating her. If I was dating a pre-op transman who later had surgery and obtained a functional, sensate penis, I doubt I would distance myself from the relationship– but I’m not positive, because I haven’t been in that situation.

    I don’t think it delegitimizes anyone’s gender if I’m not attracted to certain people based on their anatomy; as we all know, gender and anatomy are very separate. In fact, I would hesitate to make any argument that would link trans identities inextricably with anatomy– that would seem to blatantly delegitimize the identities of non-op trans people. I’ve had sex with cis-men and pre-op transwomen, and I can truthfully make the generalization that it has never been easy for me when compared to sexual experiences I’ve had with cis-women and pre-op transmen. As much as the gender of a person matters and should be central to others’ concepts of them, bodies cannot be totally discounted, as much as some of us (especially us often exiled and reviled transwomen) wish they could!

    • Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Firstly, thank you for the personal explanation. As a cisgendered lesbian, I’m still trying really hard to wrap my head around the intricacies of trans identities. Based on what I got from the article, the author isn’t saying you can’t be attracted to both cis-women and trans men. What she is saying is you cannot base your explanation for that attraction on ideas of gender, as if trans men are not really men because they’re trans.

    • Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      Good points Jessamine. You really don’t have much control over what you are attracted to, though personality can sometimes make someone attractive who may not be (to you) at first glance. Not limiting yourself is probably best, and that way you treat everyone as an individual, because we all are.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      I am a trans male. How would you know whether I consider myself as having a penis or not? If I was “pre op” as you put it (and like we couldn’t get away from using such gross terminology) does this mean you would disregard my own labels for my body? And how do you know another trans women would label her body like you do yours, and does having a X of certain length mean someone has to take part in Y activity sexually?

      I have talked candidly with many trans men, and the fact is, if they could label their bodies away from the prying eye of cissexism, many would have penises. I suspect a similar phenomenon among trans women.

      • Posted July 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        I am also a transman, and this is something I’ve often wondered about.

        My genitals are different than they were before I started hormones, I do not think of them in a particularly feminine way, but still believe they resemble what is traditionally considered (in a biological essentialist culture) a vulva than a penis.

        I’m attracted to gender over bodies, for the most part. But I can see how big an impact people’s bodies have on attraction, regardless of the labels we use for them. Especially having worked with victims of sexual trauma. I’ve met people who find themselves triggered in sexual situations with genitals of a consistant look, where similar gender identities do not. And, on the flip side, there are acts my anatomy is more or less capable of than people with differing bits. I would not be offended if someone was interested in me (or not) because they viewed me as having equipment compatible with their sexual needs.

  5. Posted July 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    There are a lot of really interesting and important ideas in here, and I thank you for digging into them in more detail. Alas, I think that at the end of the day, the overall message still amounts to policing sexuality (your stated sexual preferences need to be questioned!), and that’s just going to piss people off more than it’s going to make them question their internal assumptions. I mean, I get annoyed that butch women under 30 (people like me, people that I’m attracted to) are like an endangered species these days, but it’s not like it’s helpful or productive for me to go around questioning why so few masculine, female-bodied people identify as women anymore. It’s their business, and the fact that I feel like my dating pool is practically a puddle is my problem, not theirs.

    I’m going to point out one obvious thing and say that the vast majority of trans men still have certain physical features, like the lack of a penis, that I can see many queer women being attracted to or not turned off by. Some people are attracted to sex as much as or far more than gender. Trans people (well, most people really, but especially trans people, because hormones are magical) often have a mix of male/female physical cues, even long post-transition. I mean even Buck Angel, who is lucky enough to have been on T for ages, is on the short side, has a pussy (his word), and sounds like a teenager (and I’m not knocking Buck; I love Buck!). While some people (such as myself) find these blurred lines hot, others do not. They might like some of those cues and be turned off by others. And that’s ok! We are complicated creatures who can be turned on and off by things as petty as straight teeth or green eyes or a roman nose or ~energy~ or a nice car or individual smell or an accent. And we are entitled to date or not date people based on those petty criteria. I used to beat myself up over the fact that my attraction to someone is strongly, inversely correlated with the length of their hair. I felt shallow. But that’s just how it is and that’s ok! If a freakin’ haircut can have this much effect on me, it makes perfect sense that the soup of physical cues that tend to go with one sex or another (as well as the huge category of things we call gender) would play a really important role in that mysterious and complicated thing we call attraction.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      “Alas, I think that at the end of the day, the overall message still amounts to policing sexuality (your stated sexual preferences need to be questioned!), and that’s just going to piss people off more than it’s going to make them question their internal assumptions”

      A huge red flag pops up when I read this. Isn’t it the job of queer theory and feminism to question our assumptions? To move forward through critical thinking? Not sure if this was poor wording, but I have been seeing this concept of “policing” coming up whenever anyone suggests turning a critical (not judging) eye inward. Seems troubling. To pose this in a feminist argument suggests that feminists have come so far that out sexual expressions are based solely in our being, not at all socially constructed. These pieces are pushing us to acknowledge that some of the “internal assumptions” as you put it are in fact flawed (being born male you are therefore socialized as such etc.). Now if you disagree with this that is different then being afraid to explore the possibility. Seems like both sides of the discussion have a desire to have labels, but not to acknowledge difference of experiences within these labels.

      Also by not exploring the whys of our sexual expression we may be missing out on growth and understanding. If we did live in a blank slate society we would be expressing ourselves fully, but we live in a world that does imprint on us, on our experiences, and to turn a bind eye to that leaves us open for the possibility of acting in a way that could be misogynistic, racist, transphobic etc. by exoticizing difference in a damaging way.

      I think we all could do with a little critical thinking.

      Whoops, also reported comment on accident. Jeez I am sorry.

  6. Posted July 9, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    i think this is a fantastic article. as a queer, cis, “radical feminist” woman, i’m constantly working to check my cis privilege. however, i’ve definitely caught myself saying things like “dating a transman would be perfect for me for x/y/z reasons,” not realizing how gender essentialist that is. i really appreciate these words–i’ve got more work to do, and am excited to bring these articles to some of my queer feminist spaces!

  7. Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    This is so condescending. Why do trans activists with this perspective always thing that we are not thinking about this if we disagree with them? This whole “I know it’s really hard to think about, and I understand why you don’t want to do that hard work…”

    We’ve done it. We still disagree. We are smart, thoughtful people. We still think you are wrong.
    Yes, we’ve read Julia Serano. Twice even. Gotten As in classes about her book. Gone to see her speak.

    We still think you are wrong.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      This.

      I couldn’t place a finger on why I was so turned off by the original piece and especially this follow up, but you’ve nailed it. I’ve questioned and explored my privilege and socialization, but I still disagree. I don’t appreciate the idea that if only I had done the hard work that Jos has done, I would agree with her.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Anyone who really read Jos’ second essay on this and still says she’s policing sexuality has NOT done your homework on your own privilege. It’s painfully obvious from what she’s written that she doesn’t give a damn who you choose to sleep with and has no interest in policing you. She cares about the mind contortions you’re going about trying to justify your sexual choices and how you’re ignoring what it might say about your ciscentric assumptions. Geesh!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Who are “we”? Transphobic radfems, perhaps? Perhaps you could explain exactly why you disagree that transwomen are women..yunno : without the womyn assigned womyn at birth stuff.

  8. Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    You mention that there were several radical feminist arguments critiquing your OP, but fail to link to them. I wonder– why mention your interlocutor if you won’t reference her?

  9. Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Jos, Since you got a lot of backlash I want to take the time to tell you how genius you’re first article on the subject was. It was like a breathe of fresh air. I even posted it on my fb. Keep up the good work!

  10. Posted July 9, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    I think I get what Jos is saying. “While other folks are able to do their identities in a range of ways, ours have to somehow be politically perfect,” is a quote-worthy sentences that might see a lot of use in metafeminist discussions.

  11. Posted July 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    “I date women and trans men” is sexuality based on genitalia rather than gender. Which commenter Jessamine above seems to share. My preference is based on gender identity – men and trans men. I’m cis female. I don’t consider myself bisexual – in my mind, I’m a gal who like guys, thus straight. But – some of those ‘guys’ are genderqueer/masculine cis females who don’t identify as men. [Insert appropriate intellectual commentary on gender as performance...] So “technically” I’m bi, which just doesn’t feel right, since I’m not turned on by women. This whole conversation is very interesting, and seems to come down to this idea of how do you define your sexual preference – based on the other person’s gender or genitalia (or both or neither)?

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Mika, I can’t agree with you that it’s genitalia based, because it totally leaves out trans people who’ve had bottom surgery… trans women with pussies and trans men with penises. Not to mention ignoring people who don’t have the same relationship with their genitalia that you do (someone, for example, who doesn’t consider their vag a pussy). What you’re basically saying with this is, I get to define what your genitals are.

      • Posted July 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Gina – I appreciate your feedback but I’m not clear on why you’re disagreeing with me – I didn’t make a difinitive statement about sexuality being genitalia based for everyone, but pointed out that it is for some people. It’s the people who say “I date women and trans men” who are (apparently) “leav[ing] out trans people who’ve had bottom surgery”. If they’re not, then I’m completely misunderstanding why they would distinguish between trans and cis men. You’re right though that in my head I was framing this discussion around people who have not had bottom surgery. Because if they had, then what is the distinction between cis and trans? The early socialization argument? I don’t buy into that at all, but don’t know how to dismiss it without sounding like a judgmental ass to those who do.

        Re: people who don’t have the same relationship with their own genitalia as I do: they get to define their gender and sexuality however they wish just like everyone else. I honestly have no idea how you interpreted my post to mean “I get to define what your genitals are” – I intended for my statements to be about self-definition. If someone tells me their vag is not a pussy, great, no difference to me because my sexuality is all about gender expression. However, that bit of info is probably critical to someone who cares more about genitals than gender expression – whether you agree with it or not, these people exist, like the commenter above who doesn’t like penises. If someone told them ‘my penis is not a cock’, it likely wouldn’t matter, because its physical existence is more significant (to that commenter’s sexual preference) than how the person it’s attached to chooses to define it.

        ugh this is so confusing to discuss but I appreciate the chance to try.

    • Posted July 23, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      That button for “report a comment” seems too easy to hit when you’re trying to reply. I feel like I’m not the only one, thankfully, but I extend my apologies for doing it to you. :(

      My comment: I read your comment and wonder if one could say, “I’m attracted to masculinity?”

  12. Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Jos, this is an excellent post, first off.

    Second (off? hahah) I want to explain outright my privilege of being white, cis, and hetero. Therefore, I’m not proclaiming expertise. However, I am going to share some simple observations having spent a small amount of time socializing and hanging out with gay/lesbian/gender-noncomforming/trans communities. ABout a year ago, when one of my best friends, who is a cis lesbian, had not yet left for her PhD program, I went to many gay/trans bars in the NE Ohio area, and watched her perform in drag shows (although she identifies as cis, she performs male drag). One thing I merely observed (again, I’m not saying that this is “truth” or that I “know this as fact”) was that many of the male drag performers, as well as trans men in the bar, behaved in what I, and many of the feministing I know, would call “misogynist.”

    Interestingly enough, as I sat there, my first thought ot myself was, “Lauren, you are not judging this behavior because it is coming for the marginalized community of transmen. You know if this was what appeared to be Cis hetero men doing this same stuff in a bar, you would be judging this and most likely calling it out.” And yet there I sat. I really felt like I could not judge because I am a cis hetero woman. And I still don’t judge, because although I’m reading a lot more trans theory, and pieces like this, I don’t feel right judging apparent misogyny in the trans community.

    So overall, I found your piece very insightful and helpful, even if I don’t feel right judging.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      @Rubber… you’re really not saying if those drag performers primarily ID’d as gay men (outside their gig) or trans women. I am in total agreement with you that waaay too many drag performers, specifically gay male drag performers, tend to have very misogynistic (and often transmisogynistic) assumptions behind most of their “humor” and I, as a trans women, have called many out on this. And I’ve gotten a lot of vitriol from many in the gay community because of it. I feel as if your post is conflating people who live as cis gay men 95% of their lives to trans woman who live 24/7/365. I’m confused why you clearly delineate that your friend is a cis woman who performs as a drag king (and to my mind, while I want her civil rights protected in terms of gender expression, I don’t think that makes her especially trans) while you don’t seem to make that differentiation with drag queens?

      • Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

        Gina, I see what you’re saying, and I totally get what may have confused you about my post. I believe the confusion was more writing style/error on my part, because for the most party I was specifically talking about transmen that were in the bar AND performing drag, but I know I did not write it that way, which is my fault. Although my friend was a cis gay woman who was performing drag male, I would just using that more to segue into how I entered the communtiy (ie, the backstory). Most of hte performers outside of my friend were trans* identified (both male and female performers), and this was based on how they identified to me in person. I am sorry if I was conflating groups, particularly because I did not mean to. But I should have been clearer.

        Also, I was talking about how the transmen performed on stage and engaged in interpersonal interactions (not all of them, to be sure, but a sizeable number). At least enough that I noticed it, and had those thoughts that I mentioned above.

        Thanks for your comments, Gina. I am continually trying to improve how I write and speak on trans theory/questions/concerns.

  13. Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this, Jos! I’m a trans man who is partnered to a queer cis woman, and your original piece and this follow-up really resonated with me. My partner and I have had an ongoing dialog about these issues since I transitioned a few years ago, and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective as a trans woman.

    “But I do want to call out the idea that cis men are necessarily different from trans men in some overarching way that can apply to a whole queer community for a whole range of reasons. This is an incredibly essentialist understanding of gender that doesn’t match up with reality.” — Totally agreed! I think that, among many lesbian-identified women women who “date women and trans men,” there is often an overarching assumption that “trans men” is some sort of monolithic category of sensitive, feminist, non-threatening, “safe” guys (implying that cis men are none of those things). While it is true that there are a lot of sensitive, feminist, non-threatening, “safe” trans men, it is also true that there are a lot of cis men with those same qualities. There are also plenty of trans and cis men who are misogynistic assholes. There’s also a common assumption that “most” trans men have not had (or do not plan to have) gential surgery. This is patently false and is, unfortunately, a myth that is perpetuated within trans communities as well. Because the genital surgery options for trans men are so frequently portrayed as “nonfunctional” or otherwise “less than” (assessments that are totally subjective, by the way), the men who choose to have those surgeries are often reluctant to speak up about their experiences (no one likes to have their body parts disparaged). I know plenty of trans men who have had genital surgery, and I don’t know of a single one who has regretted it or views his own personal equipment as “nonfunctional.”

  14. Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the answer here to simply move to a post-gender/non-gender version of sexuality? You are attracted to who you are attracted to. End of story. I feel that many, many people have tried to reify the idea of people having a specific “sexual orientation” for a variety of political reasons, to the right, left and center. And every human relationship needs to be characterized as either sexual or platonic. In reality, most of us are attracted to people with a range of gender identities and sexual organ types, which themselves come in a range. And human relationships are rarely entirely sexual or entirely nonsexual.

    Why can’t we work to just get rid of these ideas instead of quibbling over the details? I definitely got the point of Jos’ original argument, but seriously, whatever words someone uses to describe the type of person they are interested in having sex with is going to be imprecise and a generalization, unless they name a specific person.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      “You are attracted to who you are attracted to. End of story.”

      I totally understand this. Thank you Stella.

      I can just love/like a person for who they are without attaching any theory or label to them.

      I can be turned on by their body because I like what I see/touch/smell/taste/hear.

      Amazing.

  15. Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    This is a very interesting issue and I’m glad to see it explored. Its a real eye opener. As a post-op Trans woman who has dated only cis-men, I have found myself quite removed from these scenes and issues. (ie: female only space, the Michigan festival, finding lesbian partners, fighting radfems). I just have no interest or place in the female queer community, but I have many friends (cis and *trans) in it because they are great people. I see this point plain as day that dating only vagina owners, including transmen, but refusing penis owning cismen, does kick sand on the trans man’s pre or non op gender expression. I see transmen as men first before they are trans. Isn’t that what they are looking for? Or am I doing this wrong?

    Reality is people dating someone who disrespects them regularly is as old as the cave people. We have all been there I am sure but its still just as painful to watch as it was the first time. I just wish that would stop for everyone as its hard for the victim and bystander alike. But it will continue and it is not my place, outside of my life, to get involved.

    In my straight world, many men love the thoughts of being with pre-op transwomen. But if they found out I’m post-op, most would not care a bit. I’m still fair game. Its scary to think that straight cis male t-girl chasers might be more liberal minded and less oppressive than many female queer groups. Sounds like this is more truth than fiction here.

    As for some devils advocacy, would I date a trans man? Post-op would be preferred but maybe not required. But he would have to be far removed from the lesbian, female only scene and consider himself as a man. Period. Not butch, not boy like, and not drag king – A Man!! And have very few or no female friends at all. I’m sure they are out there but I have yet to meet a trans guy like that. I’ll let you know more if I ever do.

  16. Posted July 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your posts on this, they are brave and insightful.
    As a butch woman , I am often read as a transguy in queer/dyke communities, but extremely rarely outside of these. This feels a bit challenging at times, especially given that as a transwoman, I wish my communities would be the ones who “get it”, that I would not have to run around pretending to be more towards the femme side of the spectrum to avoid being read as male.
    I think there are some tendencies of, per default, reading masculinity as male within our communities, which might be linked to the phenomena you are zeroing in on.

    I have numerous times being called out as transphobic in insisting that regardless of how much I drool and fantasise over other butches, I do almost never engage sexually with guys. Through wanting to correct what seems to be a perception of my desire and how I act on it as an action of linking transmen with the notorious cismen, other have told me that I was not recognising the distinct masculinity of the former -This must be what you label the “safe” masculinity. Thank you for your work on addressing the issues around this.

    What I want to address is the linking of dykeness with “radfems” and transphobia. Yes, some radical feminists were/are obviously transphobic. Others were/are not. We are really not getting anywhere by silencing these fighters and bashing feminists for -often- simply being of another generation.

    I do believe that some women use the “I date women and transguys” because they don’t want to be scrutinised for simply saying “I date women”. Hell, I’ve even done it myself when cornered for not putting out with “the guys”. The logic seems to be that if I’m into women, I better be into the guys that have been forcibly read as ones. Being a dyke is terribly out of style, it seems.
    I am, of course, aware that many use it as they see transmen as somehow “men light”.
    Yes, I’ve witnessed guys been disclosed by their lovers to cast away the fear that were actually dating -hang on now- a guy! Of course they are -and it’s horrible to disregard another’s right to privacy like that. I have no intention of neglecting that.

  17. Posted July 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I like your point about the assumption that Transwomen were successfully socialized as male at some point. That is about as false as claiming that Lesbians and Gays that dated heterosexually at one point due to societal pressures are actually bisexual. I have never met a Transperson who did not wear a mask until they were at the point in their life where they could handle coming out.

    This whole argument reminds me of Moby claiming that he can’t be racist, say racist things or hold racist views because he was a progressive. People have a right to be with who they want be with but when it comes to ways of thinking just call a spade a spade.

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