2/1/2023 0 Comments
Grey Weinstein (he/they)
TW: Contains discussion of sex, sexual violence, transphobia, and transphobic violence.
In March of 2020, I had the pleasure of editing an article for this publication written by a trans student about his experiences dating as a transmasculine person. In the piece, titled, “I Am Not My Body: Facing Prejudice and Transphobia on the Dating Scene” author Ray Ajemian examines the transphobia that many trans people navigate in their attempts to date cis people. Ajemian explains that, despite facing extremely and disproportionately high rates of intimate partner violence and dating violence, trans people themselves are often portrayed as sexual predators merely for dating while trans. He situates cries of, “I would never date a trans person!” and, “Trans people who don’t disclose their transness are rapists!” within a wider pattern of racism, fatphobia, and transphobia within queer culture, especially gay male hookup culture. The article is not a declaration that cis people must date trans people, but rather a rebuttal to the insistence that trans people are categorically undesirable, unloveable, or disgusting– or worse, that our desire to date cis people makes us dangerous. He concludes, “Transgender people, like any group, are incredibly diverse. To mark us all as undesirable on the basis of our transness can only be described as bigotry given the infinite range of bodies and personalities among us. [...] This is not a call to add a trans person to your romantic repertoire; it is merely a call to consider where that gut reaction against us really comes from.”
When editing this piece three years ago I was struck, as I am now, by how thoughtful and well-researched it was. I couldn’t have predicted that it would quickly become the target of a barrage of bigoted anti-trans comments; in fact, it has garnered more hate than any other article we have published to date. Of course, I do my best to delete these comments as quickly as they spring up. (“Ugh,” I can almost hear my potential TERF readers say dramatically, leaning their heads against their faded Harry Potter posters, “I see how little ‘freedom of speech’ means to you people.” “God,” I imagine them whine, voices dripping with sarcasm, “so much for the tolerant left.” I’m sure people who belong to the so-called “tolerant left” are lovely; I, for one, prefer to align myself with the antifascist left. As an editor I have no interest in platforming transphobia.) Nonetheless, as transphobic rhetoric scales up on an international level and the targeting of trans populations becomes an increasingly popular cause of the right, I have found myself drawn back to these hate comments again and again. I want to take some time to address them, not because they have any merit, but because I think they offer a fascinating and frightening window into one of the most popular transphobic tropes of the past few years.
Specifically, “I Am Not My Body” has attracted a vast number of comments from people who are or who claim to be gay men, wailing about how offensive they find their purposeful (and comically obtuse) misreading of the article to be. One commenter writes, “Your identified gender does not trump biological sex, which is what gay (and straight) people care about. [...] Gay men don’t want trans men because they’re female!” Another says, “As for why Homosexuals make the best example of trans-exclusionary dating: because they have fought for a long time to be accepted for likening the same sex.” Atrocious grammar aside, these comments both adopt seemingly pro-gay rhetoric to advance a transphobic agenda. They claim to concern themselves with the ability of gay men to have sex with other men, framing the misgendering of trans men (“Gay men don’t want trans men because they’re female!”) as a progressive stance. The overarching narrative is that trans men (who are powerful, sexually manipulative, deceitful women) are forcing themselves on poor unsuspecting cis gay men (who are besieged, under threat, and ultimately unable to stop the terrifying tide of t-boy pussy). This narrative is further bolstered by claims made to the sexually predatory nature of trans men, such as, “If you stopped trying to redefine definitions and erode boundaries, you would have much more support. [...] But nope. You continue to sound like incels because no one will date you. You are making your own worst enemies of yourself because you are narcissistic, homophobic, and yes, rapey!” This sentiment is echoed in another comment which reads, “No one, and I mean absolutely NO ONE is entitled to sex with a another person. No one is entitled to another persons attraction. This article is so narcissistic. Get over yourself.”
However, upon any further examination, these claims immediately break down. Let’s put aside the fact that these comments are willfully misreading Ajemian to construct a straw man, responding to an article which explicitly states that it “is not a call to add a trans person to your romantic repertoire” with outraged cries that he feels “entitled to sex with a another person.” (Let’s also, once again, put aside the typos and grammatical mistakes in the transphobic comments.) Let’s put aside the fact that the claim, “Gay men don’t want trans men because they’re female!” is simply patently false, at least if my success rate using Grindr is any indication. Let’s even put aside the fact that trans bodies are extremely diverse and that many trans men do have a penis (thanks, modern medicine!) so that, if “biological sex” is “what gay [..] people care about,” many surely must find trans men attractive. Let’s put aside all of those gaping holes in these transphobes’ arguments, and look at what remains: the simple fact that trans people do not hold institutional power over cisgender people on any level or in any respect. The idea that there is any mechanism through which trans men could subject cis men to sex against their will on a systemic scale is laughable– there is no media empire portraying trans bodies as the desirable standard across mainstream culture, no hegemonic wide-scale shaming of cis people for exclusively having sex with other cis people. On the contrary, 2022 saw a huge wave in anti-trans journalism spearheaded by the New York Times and over 300 new anti-trans bills introduced.
I’m tempted to keep listing statistics: about how 47 percent of trans people have been sexually assaulted and 54 percent have experienced intimate partner violence. About how when trans people are murdered by potential sexual partners our murderers are often found innocent based on the trans panic defense, which argues that murder is a reasonable response to discovering that one’s sexual partner is trans. About how trans people make up less than one percent of the sex offender registry in 2022, and about how even that number is artificially high because many people convicted of sodomy prior to Lawrence v. Texas remain on the registry today. About how all of these statistics point to the undeniable fact that trans people are not likely to be perpetrators of sexual assault or abuse, but are much more likely to be victims and survivors of it. But it wouldn’t do much good, because the transphobes who make these arguments aren’t concerned with actual incidents of sexual assault or coercion cis gay men might experience. Rather, they simply view any consensual sexual interaction involving trans people as inherently violent because they view trans people’s existence as inherently violent.
To be clear, I absolutely am not arguing that cis gay men, or cis queer people in general, are more transphobic than cis straight people, or that they are to blame for the brunt of transphobia. (The award for “biggest perpetrator of transphobia” probably goes to the prison industrial complex, followed closely by privatized healthcare and capitalism in general, but that’s a matter for a different article.) On the contrary, I generally feel a great sense of solidarity with cis gays, but I do feel the need to respond to the great many who have taken it upon themselves to leave nasty comments on “I Am Not My Body.” I also could not possibly be made to care less about so-called “genital preference.” If you’re a cis gay man who defines his homosexuality around being just utterly disgusted by pussy… well, then I guess that’s kind of a bummer for you. Personally, I prefer to center my sense of being a queer man around loving men, around admiring and flirting with and fucking other men. Seeking out a sense of beauty and sanctity in my experiences of loving men as a man has been a much more fulfilling way for me to relate to my own sexuality. But if aversion to vagina is your thing, who am I to stop you from making that the defining feature of your personality? However, I am going to need you to stop prefacing an exhaustive recounting of the horror and disgust you have for bodies like mine with a disclaimer that you “aren’t transphobic, but…” And I am begging you to realize that when you do this, you are working against your own interests.
Portrayal of trans people as sexual predators isn’t new. It is exemplified perhaps most famously in Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire” where she writes, “All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artefact, and appropriating this body for themselves.” Raymond’s use of inflammatory language about trans women metaphorically “raping” cis women through their mere existence furthers the idea that trans women are inherently a threat. The motif of the transfeminine predator who, through deceit or brutality, forces herself onto cis victims is a hallmark of modern entertainment, from “Silence of the Lambs” to “Ace Ventura” to J.K. Rowling’s “Cormoran Strike” series. This trope is most often directed at trans women in the brutal, never-ending onslaught of transmisogyny. However, with the rise of “trans men are forcing themselves on cis gay men” rhetoric, it seems that trans men are finally getting our day in the sun as sexual predators in our own right. But here’s the thing– arguments that trans people are inherently deviant or perverted almost always come alongside arguments that cis gay men are, too. It’s why Anita Bryant’s effort to limit gay rights was titled the “Save Our Children Campaign,” focusing specifically on the imagined sexual threat that gay men posed to kids. This was the same reasoning that the 1978 Briggs Initiative employed when it was nearly successful in banning gay teachers from schools.
Now, we’re seeing a resurgence in the right’s attempts to frame queer and trans people as sexually degenerate and dangerous. Conservative media, from the hate-filled buffoons on Fox News to the alt-right social media account Libs of TikTok, are increasingly labeling LGBTQ+ people “groomers” in an attempt to paint us as child predators. And yes, I say “us,” because it’s directed at cis queer people too. With copycats of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill popping up across the country, the spike in LGBTQ+ related book bannings, and the fall of Roe v. Wade potentially setting up a reversal of Obergefell v. Hodges, things are looking bad for all of us. Cis gay men– and cis queer people of any identity– only harm themselves by echoing the idea that trans people are predators. Stoking the flames of transphobia will not save you; the right will come for you too, and they will use this tool that you have helped build against you. To badly misquote a poem by Martin Niemöller: First they came for the trans people– and I was like, “Haha, nice, I didn’t want to have sex with those gross perverts either.” Then they came for the white cis gays who had assimilated into heteronormativity– and there was no one left to speak for me.
Solidarity is our only option.
If you want to send some love to the article “I Am Not My Body: Facing Prejudice and Transphobia on the Dating Scene” you can leave a comment here. Transphobes beware, your days are numbered! (Or at least, the lifespan of your comments is numbered because I will delete them.)