Over the past month a conversation about transmale identity, validation, and fetishization has been circling the web. This month long thread originated from a blog “Possibly Problematic Attractions to Trans Men” which discusses an excerpt from an Original Plumbing Magazine (OP) blog post about non-trans folks who are assumed to be trans written by well known (not to mention awesome) trans publisher, writer, and artist Amos Mack. Mack presents an interesting perspective from non-trans folks who are read as trans because their appearance aligns to how people expect trans folk to look. This opens up many conversations, primarily what does it mean to look like a trans person and what does it mean to be attracted to one. Some statements by non-trans guys interviewed are problematic, but I think I have some bigger fish to fry, and these “fish” are hopping right out from our own trans community.
Personally, I took more exception to the expectations raised by transguys about transguys than anything said by the non-trans interviewees of Original Plumbing. This is primarily because the issues raised by the trans folks, with good intentions of asserting their identities and masculinities, resulted in a smorgasbord of phobic trans-disempowerment. All of this centers around a quote from OP interviewee named Rico on Original Plumbing blog.
“…I was dancing with all these beautiful ladies… …one of them started like gettin’ all over me and… We made out a little bit, then I went to get a drink at the bar. She came up behind me and grabbed my crotch. I looked at her and she turned PALE face white. She was like, “What are you doing here at DYKE NIGHT?” And I was like, “I didn’t know that was what night it was.” She got super offended even though I was the one who just got groped.”
A key issue from readers isn’t Rico’s experience but the demasculinization of the hypothetical transguy (thought to be Rico) via what the Dyke Night Woman said and did. The original blogger states that they “read this story as someone failing to see the maleness of a trans man or at least minimalizing it in the face of his female history and/or anatomy.” The author is appalled that anyone would be excited about a transguy being at a ‘Dyke Night’ because in order for that to happen the excited person would have to be equating a transguy with a queer woman… First, it is a serious issue in our community that folks who come out through the queer women’s community are then kicked out after coming out as trans – so I would think that a welcoming Dyke Night is the bees-fucking-knees, but apparently some people prefer gender lines being drawn across our communities, and as a result, our bodies. And speaking of bodies, what is “maleness” exactly? Does it depend on the body, the conceptual idea of sex, the identity, or all of the above? Is it dependent on the male person, or someone else? According to many concerned transmasculine folks, women labeling themselves as lesbian or queer are taking interest in transguys under the guise that transguys were not real men but women and therefore acceptable to sleep with under the lesbian code of conduct. And if you are a lesbian and you have the hots for me, a transguy, you are essentially annihilating my transmasculinity with a sapphic ray gun. ZAP! “NOO! MY MALE IDENTITY! DAMN YOU LESBIANS FOR THINKING I’M SEXY! WHY?!” –Really, friends? Are we still here? Sexual orientation labels are not necessarily aligned directly to behavior. Labels are dependent on personal connection to a community, and since no two people are the same neither are any two people holding that label. Additionally, my identity is not dependent on someone else’s, I do not seek a partner’s approval in how I describe myself, and I would never expect or want anyone to seek mine in order to date me.
A growing conversation in our community is whether including a person’s trans identity into one’s attraction automatically denotes fetishization. Yes, there are a lot of people who are attracted to TRANS in a fucked up way, but the majority of people who are attracted to trans folks are into something our community struggles with more than being fetishized – our own trans bodies. I am a trans person. I don’t know whether I look like a trans person, but based on what I get from others I cover the map. Without any prior knowledge of me, (while in everyday dress, so not in drag) people have read me as a non-trans woman, a transguy, a genderqueer, a transwoman, a non-trans man, and tons of random combinations of all of the above. I don’t consider any of those readings to be offensive, maybe annoying at times, but not offensive. Attraction is a tricky topic. At one point in my life I was confused about how anyone could ever be attracted to me because I was a guy who didn’t look like one and if someone was attracted to me I wanted to be sure they wanted a guy and saw me as a guy, but I didn’t look like a guy so what would they want about me? I was uncomfortable with anyone being attracted to my body because I didn’t know what it meant to them, or what that would make me. I eventually learned something that we all should be taught right from the start. There there is not one type of man or woman, is not one type of body, and there is no “real” sex. The author states that the Dyke Night Woman, because of her anger about a non-trans guy being at Dyke Night, “…was attracted to a man based on his trans status because she saw it as making him less of a man.” Or maybe she just likes men who don’t have that kind of flesh penis. Just because someone doesn’t want a partner with a specific type of body doesn’t mean they don’t like men or male people, or the bodies of male people. I’m not less of a guy because I do or don’t have a certain body and if that’s the first assumption I make about someone else that is actually saying more about me than it is about them. In other words, your trans baggage is showing. Making an overarching “us” statement like “Someone who is attracted to us should be attracted to us as men, otherwise they are not seeing us for who we truly are and are not affirming our identities” not only does not include my (and many other transguys’) voice, it also creates a rigid specification for what is required in order to partner with transguys and what transguys are to require of a partner – something the same blogger claims not to be promoting. I personally don’t mind if someone is attracted to me categorically as a transguy because that is what I am. If someone likes me as a guy, well awesome, but they have to also like the fact that under my clothes this guy’s body is different from what a lot people expect for a guy. A good way to trust that will happen is if that person likes trans bodies. (To clarify, someone being attracted to trans folks is not the same as sexualizing TRANS as a label aka fetishizing TRANS without valuing or being attracted to the rest of me (like my fabulous hair, ha! like that could ever happen).) If someone is attracted to me with the knowledge I am trans, I know they are seeing all of me, not just part. I don’t have to pretend and I don’t have to panic and it took me a long time to get here. That is why I take particular offense when someone, especially transfolks, start to say how liking trans for trans is some secondary status of sexuality that is not affirming of some precious hyper-binary gender.
Everyone is different, and just because something works for you does not mean it works for everyone. Attraction to trans bodies is entirely possible without fetishization and without identity sacrifice. Trans folks have our own bodies, our own styles of sex, our own conceptualizations in partnering, and our own sexual niches – in other words all that is needed for a sexual orientation interest. The assumption that someone would only be interested in a transguy if they thought of trans folks as “less than real” or as a fetish is transphobic – even if it is a fear coming from transfolk. We are crushing ourselves under our own fears of being misunderstood and/or rejected. I’ll be honest, I have my own baggage. And though I’ve come a long way, I don’t always trust people either. The cynicism on this blog extends to more than politics. But what I do know is that if we place expectations on others based on fear we will never be able to connect with anyone. There are mediums here, we don’t have to know or not know everything all at once and we don’t all have to be everything all at once. We all know what its like to struggle, and sometimes we get wrapped up in the fucked up expectations of others which only results in oppressing ourselves and each other. No one person can be the voice of a community, and we can not place voices on others based only on our own hurt. That is why it is important to encourage more and more of us to speak, and not assume or attack what we are saying when we do.