Why some trans people don’t date cis people

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.

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.
This entry was posted in Sexuality, Transphobia and prejudice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Why some trans people don’t date cis people

  1. Claire says:

    I had stopped watching Arielle Scarcella for a long while, mostly because I didn’t particularly care for the format she changed her videos to (the “watch me walk around and interact etc”), so I do at least have some familiarity with her previous work and didn’t generally have a problem with it.

    That said, I 100% agree with you on all the points you made, and have experienced the exact same things with people around me, especially with cis males. I’m more than a little disappointed when someone that I had any amount of respect for (as much respect as you can have for someone whom you don’t know but watch videos of on the internet) expresses distasteful opinions. I don’t really have anything else to add, but wanted to express my support for you.

  2. W Stacy Lockwood says:

    OMG all of this. This is why, when asked, I identify as a transbian.

  3. Leah Peters says:

    I engage non-trans people on this topic (dating) online fairly regularly in my advocacy work. These people usually come out and say “I would never date a trans person because I’m not attracted to them”. I usually avoid the word “transphobia” and instead try to educate them about their own prejudiced assumptions about trans people. The two common assumptions they have are 1. Trans people aren’t who they say they are. AND 2. They think they can always tell who is trans and who isn’t. I tell them these assumptions are wrong and usually just leave it at that. I think saying something to counter their false beliefs is better than saying nothing. Even if it doesn’t change their minds or get them thinking, maybe someone else following the conversation will benefit.

    Being more or less asexual myself I find observing our sexually driven culture baffling at times. So many of them are so insecure and judgmental, but they say we’re the weird ones with issues. One thing transition taught me big time was an appreciation for diversity; something that many in this world are still sorely lacking.

  4. Allison says:

    This sort of talk — which I see all the time on-line — is one reason I would be very wary of getting intimately involved with a cis person. I already have enormous difficulty trusting people enough to let myself be vulnerable, and I already have all kinds of internalized transphobia (and every other kind of negative voice) to deal with. Trans people can be abusive, too, but as you say, I at least wouldn’t have to explain and justify my transness. And I wouldn’t feel so much that I had to hide huge parts of myself.

    So far, I think I’m trans lesbian, as I’m not interested in men. But I’ve talked with trans people (trans men and trans women) who’ve tried to socialize in organized lesbian communities, and the experiences they report are not encouraging.

    Note that “wary” doesn’t mean I’d refuse on principle. But they’d have to be very interested in me as a person and in who I am underneath it all and be very patient to get past my fears and bad experiences. I’m not sure I have enough to offer any cis person to make it worth their while.

  5. This reminds me of a piece in The Onion where a straight man laments about all these homosexuals wanting to have sex with him.

    I had never really understood the context until now.

  6. Fatimah says:

    I am a trans-woman and married a trans-man. If we were to divorce there is simply no way I would attempt to deal with “cis” dating again. Just no way. I experienced the “WOW YOU SO HOT BABE” to the about face when I’d “come out” way too many times. It’s degrading and insulting.

    I totally get what you’re saying in this article too. Cis people turn it around on us like we are trying to fucking rape them or something. It’s gross. People really have no respect for transgendered people and treat us like sub-humans. It’s why so many of us just disappear once we are able to blend in.

  7. Nice article.
    I am a 62 y/o trans woman, late-transitioner, about 20 years ago.
    Dating has mostly sucked. And there’s been no shortage of rejection from both men and women. I’ve found women strongly identified as lesbian to be the least open to dating a transwomen. I lived with a natal woman 4 years, and we didn’t identify as lesbian, were not part of lesbian culture/community, and it was a nice time in my life.
    I was most surprised when I joined a polyamory group and encountered strong resistance to sex/dating of trans women. They were quite clear (as a group) they wanted to know ahead of time (cause we like to deceive people or something), and how they would never want to date a trans woman. Pretty disappointing.
    Anyway, am pretty comfortably single, not expecting love to find me at 62 (like most 62 year old single women), but do sometimes miss the closeness, affection and maybe even sex (am increasingly greysexual, but not “done”), but realistic.
    Oh, when I have dated online/stealth, it has often gone soooo well…. until we have “the talk”. Then things quickly unravel. (And dating as an out trans-woman has been a total failure).
    FWIW, I successfully rebuilt my career as a mental health professional at the university level after transition, and did well in most life-domains. Intimacy has not gone well.
    Being rejected, not for who I am, but for being part of a group sucks.

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  9. Hedge Bjorn says:

    Thanks for this important article.
    Since my transition I have focused my dating efforts on other trans people. A+, 10/10, would recommend to a friend. All the acceptance in the world cannot compare to being understood.

  10. Grace says:

    I’ve found that the people who make these claims are usually trying to weasel out of just saying they don’t like trans people or aren’t attracted to them by virtue of their transness. I don’t know if this is the case for Arielle, I haven’t watched her video as this whole subject irritates me.

    As soon as you take the conversation further and point out that plenty of trans women have vaginas the goalposts shift, and they’ll very quickly rephrase their reasoning more honestly: “No, I only like *real* vaginas”, or some other insulting dismissal, usually based on ignorance of actual trans bodies and surgical outcomes.

    That is usually the point that irks me the most, as it’s incredibly difficult not to take it personal that they’ve decided that my genitalia doesn’t exist, or is a disgusting knock-off that might as well not exist. Of course if they’d slept with someone who was trans and never noticed any difference (something I’ve considered doing and just giving up on actually talking about the issue) those arguments would be immediately replaced with talk of dishonesty being the reason they aren’t interested, because if they were informed the person was trans, they would *totally* be fine dating them.

    If these cis people just came out with what they actually think, that they have no interest in trans people and never will, it would be much easier than the goalpost moving that inevitably ends up insulting my body.

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  12. Alisaxy says:

    I’m willing to take this a step further. No cis-person apart from my own flesh and blood brother will ever be my friend, period. Unfortunately I still have to deal with them in my everyday professional life, but it’s an injustice I plan to remedy with building my own business. At least then I’ll be the master and commander in control of the lives of others. I won’t be at the mercy of others, instead the others will be at my mercy.

    I’m this close to being fully transitioned and living as myself full-time (have a lot planned in the coming months). The question of dating often comes up in my mind, because I’m close to finally accepting and loving myself. I was really contemplating giving cis-people a chance in that regard, but I don’t think I will. I’ve given people enough chances and all they ever did was squander them every single time. Perhaps it’s time to amputate that rotten limb the same way I’ve let most of my family go.

    After reading the “Why Straight Men Kill The Trans Women They Love” by Jen Richards, I’ve realised that things are even worse than I originally imagined. That had never occurred to me that something like this could happen so often. I’ve fed into the narrative of at least some trans-women being dishonest about ourselves to others, suffering fatal consequences as a result. Whilst this is of course all by itself an absurd excuse, it’s made even worse when the one who’s ultimately dishonest is the murdering male himself. This is extremely shortsighted of me (read: stupid), as why would anyone ever believe the murderer over anything or anyone else, the victim especially?

    So I guess the “tranny chasers” are out, not that I was ever interested in them in the first place because I have way too much self-respect to be a 6 feet tall fetish for anyone, I’d rather be alone than abandon my core principles. The lesbian cis-women are out, I think we have all expected that. Straight cis-men are out of course and gay cis-men were never on the table in the first place. What I find interesting is that I’ve had negative experiences with bisexual cis-men, as they’re just as disgusted with us as everybody else, is there something I’m missing here? Why should that be the case?

    By the process of elimination that leaves only trans-people and I’m fine with that. I’m just as disgusted with cis-people at this point as they are with me, no, scratch that: I’m much more disgusted with them. Call me a cisphobe and a bigot, I don’t care. I don’t expect cis-people to accept me, what they fail to realise is that it’s a double edged sword and that alone is what makes me even more powerful than I am already.

    Sure, trans-people can be just as judgemental as cis-people. I’m not naive to think we can’t be, I know I’ve been to my great shame. This whole debate about who’s “really” transgendered annoys me to no ends, because we shouldn’t eat our own like that, as the world does enough of that already. However, with trans-people there is at least a chance of a harmonious union (as much as humanly possible that is) whilst with cis-people we’ll always be on uneven grounds. It’s pure arithmetics, nothing more. The time for trust is long since passed.

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  14. John Smith says:

    All these freaking CIS people like Arielle Scarcella complaining drive me crazy. Is she being hit on constantly by trans women? As a CIS male who is attracted to trans women, where are all these people? I never experience this unfortunately.

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