Why do you call yourself a lesbian if your girlfriend has a dick? (Gender Analysis 12)

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Zinnia: Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. The sexuality of trans people and our partners is something that many cis people struggle to understand. Misconceptions about who we are lead to oversimplified folk theories of what it means to be attracted to us and how best to describe this in the context of sexual orientation. Curiosity about sex tends to bring our anatomy into the conversation, causing further confusion even when this isn’t relevant at all. Today, my partner Heather will be exploring the most common and frustrating question she’s been asked as a partner of trans women: why does she call herself a lesbian if her girlfriends have penises?


What is a lesbian?

Heather: The generally accepted meaning of the word “lesbian” is a woman who is exclusively attracted to other women for romantic and sexual purposes. But if that were all anyone ever actually meant when they said lesbian, nobody would be confused as to why I called myself one. As far as they know, I’m a woman. My girlfriends are women. There’s no inconsistency there. Still, this answer satisfies very few cis people.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I think if I walked Zinnia and Penny around and called them my boyfriends to pass myself off as straight, more than a few people would have some questions. “Why do all of your boyfriends look just like girls?” for example. Maybe I’d even get accused of being a closeted lesbian. Who knows? In any case, the answer cis people want to hear when they learn my partners are trans is that I’m bi or pansexual.


The purpose of lesbian identity

Heather: The purpose of identifying as a lesbian is to give people around me a shorthand introduction to the social aspects of my sexual orientation. When I say I am a lesbian, then my friends won’t try to set me up with guys, men (hopefully) will know that I don’t intend to date them, and people will generally understand that I fit into a demographic of people who are financially and socially marginalized and only recently gained equal marriage rights. These are useful tidbits of information that differentiate me from my heterosexual peers in ways that let them know what to expect and when it might be a good idea to exercise sensitivity. It’s even more useful when I’m looking for romantic and sexual partners. Calling myself bi or pansexual as I’m often expected to do would complicate the usefulness of this shorthand. I am interested in women and only women. An omnisexual identity does not describe me.

When discussing sexual orientation, people also like to infer sexual acts. I say I’m a lesbian and they assume that I spend my evenings performing cunnilingus. I never describe my sexual orientation as “performer of cunnilingus,” nor have I even said that I do. Most do not ask whether I perform cunnilingus because they want to be polite company, but queer people are hypersexualized and therefore most people assume and imagine lesbians perform cunnilingus. When they learn that my girlfriends are trans and have not had bottom surgery, they then assume that we engage in vaginally penetrative intercourse and fellatio. I have not said that I engage in either of those things, but again they assume. These acts are inappropriately equated to heterosexuality and this is usually the point where I’m asked why I identify as lesbian.

Cisgender people are typically given a little bit more leeway than this. When two cisgender women form a couple, people generally don’t request the details of their sexual congress before they decide whether the two are lesbians. It is enough that they are two women. Likewise when a man and a woman are straight, they are rarely quizzed on who puts what body parts in which orifices and stimulates the other exactly how before they are given license to proceed as their stated orientation.

While I find it highly amusing to hear what people come up with when they hypothesize about the sex I have, the assumption that a person has disclosed their sexual proclivities once they’ve disclosed their sexual orientation is an unrealistic one. While it’s generally a good bet that when people are romantically engaged, they’re also sexually engaged, there are a lot of different ways that could be happening and absolutely none of them will provide any insight into their “real” orientation.


But… she has a dick!

Heather: So do I! Sort of. It’s purple and made of body-safe silicone, but she can do all the same things with it that I can do with hers. And does it matter?

Most people know whether they’re attracted to somebody well before they ever see that person’s genitals. Millions of swooning teen girls and boys fell for Robert Pattinson during his stretch on the Twilight movies even though his penis never once made an appearance. Trans men and women who cannot or will not get bottom surgery wander around outside without ever being spotted and people develop attractions to them just as they would anyone else.

Cis people fall for trans people of their preferred genders all the time. Most of the time, we hope, this is just a regular love story and most people outside of the relationship never know, but sometimes it’s not quite so idyllic. Violence against trans women and a ludicrous number of sexual offense charges against trans men have occurred in fact due to this very phenomenon. Straight cis people found themselves attracted to trans people and, upon discovery, decided that they had been “conned.” 49 out of 50 states still allow “trans panic” to be used as a defense in cases of assault and murder against trans people. It’s disturbingly common. And it’s this ignorance attached to the expectation that sexual acts have been disclosed along with sexual orientation that leads these violent cisgender people to feel their sexual orientations have been threatened.

My girlfriends are not a threat to my sexual orientation. I am exclusively attracted to women and they are women. Being with them has been nothing like my experiences of being with men either socially or sexually. Stuffed-shirt conservatives never check under their skirts for a set of balls before giving me the stink-eye. They’re amazing feminists and they blend seamlessly into the sisterhood of women-only spaces. They’re gorgeous, they look amazing in dresses, they pluck and laser their facial hair, and gods willing, I will spend the rest of my life with a face full of their flaccid, estrogen-soaked, testosterone-blocked penises framed by perfectly chubby little thighs and round hips and when I reach up, I’ll grab their little tits until they squeal and it will continue to be nothing, nothing like being in a relationship with a man.

My name is Heather McNamara and I am the dick-suckingest lesbian you will ever meet. Thank you for watching Gender Analysis.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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