Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. There’s a certain genre of cisgender opinion piece that pops up from time to time, in which they explain to other cis people why they don’t date trans people, sleep with trans people, or find trans people attractive, all while taking pains to announce that this absolutely does not make them transphobic and protesting that nobody can “force” them to have sex with trans people. Clearly there are some dense layers of different issues wrapped up in this topic, and their often ham-handed take on this can be a real rollercoaster. A recent video by cis lesbian vlogger Arielle Scarcella, “I’m Transphobic Because I Like Boobs & Vagina”, is a representative example of the style and hits all the key elements note for note. (Note that this person runs a channel largely consisting of mad-libs headline grabbers such as “Gay Couple (Cut & Uncut) Shows Lesbian Their Penises” and “Lesbian Virgin Sees Naked Woman For First Time”, so keep in mind that this is the level we’re operating on here.)
“I’ve been told I’m transphobic because I like boobs and vaginas and not penises. Who I date is not up for debate. . . . Body parts is what people are attracted to in the physical sense. Can we also be emotionally, mentally and spiritually attracted to somebody? Yes. Do I believe that trans women are ‘real women’? Yes. Can I be attracted to a trans woman who is pre-op? On hormones, yes, because when a trans woman goes on hormones, they tend to have more feminine secondary sex characteristics. Should I then be forced to accept having sex with a partner that has a penis because I’m attracted to her overall? No. . . . If a lesbian does not want to date or fuck me, does that invalidate me being a woman? No. And the same goes for any transgender person. If someone does not want to fuck you, it does not invalidate your identity. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, should be coerced into having sex with anybody. It is our individual choice and prerogative who we want to date or fuck regardless of sexual or any type of attraction to them. Dating naturally is discriminatory. You are not entitled to sex. Guilt-tripping someone to want to date or fuck you is manic and manipulative. If I was straight and thought some dude was fucking hot, does that mean that he has to expect sex with me, does that give him the right for him to force it upon me? No.”
Where do we even start with all of this? How about:
- Who is calling you transphobic?
- Who is trying to debate who you date?
- Who is trying to force you to have sex with someone who has a penis?
- Who is being coerced into having sex?
- Who is acting entitled to sex?
- Who is guilt-tripping someone into dating or fucking them?
- Is any of this actually happening at all?
An important aspect of this to keep in mind from the outset is just how performative these pieces tend to be. They consist of cis people declaring all of this to other cis people, typically without any actual trans people in the loop – only imaginary or theoretical trans people. Who is harassing poor Arielle Scarcella in the aforementioned ways? In the absence of any actual trans people in the course of this one-sided argument, audiences are invited to project these nefarious motives onto all trans people generally. There is no real trans person doing any of this – just a faceless, ravenous trans fuckbeast apparently intent on coercing cis lesbians into unwanted sex.
The topics of attraction, relationships, and sex further serve as a venue for cis people to reiterate to one another just how unattractive they consider trans people to be, within a realm that’s considered largely unquestionable and sacrosanct – after all, how can you argue with what someone happens to be attracted to? Once this framing is established, any attempt to question the panoply of assumptions being made here can then be cast as confirmation that trans people are indeed attempting to convince uninterested cis people to have sex with us.
As a trans woman, I’d like to point out that essentially none of this is accurate, helpful, or conducive to a useful understanding of what it’s like to be in a relationship with a trans person.
First: This isn’t about whether you’re “transphobic” or not – that is a distraction. The typical opening volley, that a cis person has been terribly wronged and falsely accused of the high crime of Being Transphobic, serves to establish the cis person as a Good Ally™ who has been unfairly set upon by those oversensitive trans people. The audience is thus invited to comfort and reassure the cis person that of course they aren’t transphobic – who could possibly accuse them of such an awful offense? If anyone does attempt to dispute this, the discussion will usually descend into endless and unproductive arguments over whether someone “is transphobic” or “isn’t transphobic”, with little critical examination of what the term specifically means or implies in a practical and concrete sense.
Whether or not a cis person who’s not attracted to trans people is “transphobic”, trans people themselves are likely to be more concerned with the practicalities of this. Strike the word “transphobic” from your vocabulary for the moment, and take a look at the actual substance of how this person conducts themselves:
- Implying that someone is trying to force her to have sex with trans women
- Implying that trans women believe their identities as women are contingent upon whether they fall within the desires of cis lesbians
- Implying that trans people believe they’re entitled to sex with cis people and that they engage in guilt-tripping and manipulation to this end
- Everything else that sends up flaming red flags here
“Transphobic” or not, trans people can definitely observe that these kinds of viewpoints often do correlate with very unsupportive attitudes toward us, or at least attitudes that we simply want nothing to do with. We encounter these very same arguments frequently enough to observe that, on the whole, such people typically aren’t very positive in their view of us. We are not basing our judgment on whether that set of behaviors happens to carry the label of “transphobic” or “not transphobic” – swapping those labels around would change nothing, because we are concerned with the behaviors themselves. No amount of arguing that you’re not transphobic will necessarily make trans people any more comfortable with what you’re bringing to the table.
Second: We don’t want to sleep with people who have issues with our transness or our bodies. To me, this has always been perhaps the most glaring issue with these cis assumptions: Why would I want to be intimate with someone who is explicitly disinterested in me? This isn’t something I can even contemplate – there would be nothing remotely enjoyable about that. Even in fantasy, it simply doesn’t get off the ground; this carries no appeal whatsoever.
But even if one of us were attracted to a disinterested cis person, transphobic attitudes are still very unattractive to trans people. It would be hard to think of a set of other personal traits or features that would be sufficient to outweigh the repulsiveness of transphobia. It’s confusing and bizarre when cis people seemingly assume that they would be desired by us in spite of all this. We deal with transphobia from the rest of the world all the time – why would we opt to have to deal with this in an intimate relationship as well?
Also: As trans people, we are very aware of the conflicts cis people have over whether they consider us attractive – and the paradoxes and contradictions that often ensue. Nearly all of us have experienced the disconcerting phenomenon of a cis person praising our beauty and attractiveness before they know we’re trans, and then loudly announcing how revolting and disgusting we are once they find out. We’ve seen this happen enough times to understand that “attraction” often means more than just attraction itself, and also ties into elements such as moral judgment and personal insecurity. So we have ample reason to be a bit skeptical when someone declares that they don’t find trans people attractive – these are often the very same individuals who do express attraction to us initially. That attraction is real even if it is later overridden by other factors.
Finally: We don’t need cis people to sleep with us. Many trans people have made note of the difficulties that can come with a sexual relationship with some cis people. This can include challenges like coaching them through their personal hang-ups over what our bodies imply about their sexuality and identity, during a time that should be intimate and enjoyable for all involved. Sex is a site of intense personal vulnerability for nearly anyone, and trans people can additionally face the struggles of finding affirmation in our genders and confidence in our bodies. Having all of this called into question in the bedroom as we hold an impromptu therapy session for a cis partner is simply not a recipe for good sex.
Plenty of trans people have realized that this situation just isn’t something they need to be subjected to at all, and have instead chosen a better option for themselves: dating and sleeping with other trans people. Relationships between trans people are extraordinarily common, and come with advantages such as typically having at least a baseline understanding of each other’s life experiences and the challenges faced in the course of living as our gender. There’s no need for awkward 101s on transness and gender before being able to relax and have some fun with a loving partner, and being close to someone with a body like your own can be incredibly affirming and comforting. Most cis people just can’t offer this. Those who perpetuate an image of trans people as relentlessly and desperately pursuing disinterested cis people would do well to remember: we can just as easily cut you out of the loop, too.