LGBTQA Hyper and De-sexualization Series: Transgender Identities
Trans people face the most violence of anyone in the LGBTQA community (Walters, 2020), and keeping with that trend they also face the most fetishization and de-sexualization. On top of these, they have to deal with the constant claims that they are predatory, questions about their reasons for transitioning and sexuality, and their personal medical history.
The hyper-sexualization of transgender people comes almost exclusively in the form of fetishization. I have discussed dating experiences with numerous trans people, and each of them had at least one experience of being fetishized after outing themselves or being outed without their consent. On Tinder, cisgender heterosexual men will label themselves as lesbians to find trans women. Some are even forthright with it, specifically asking for transgender people in their profiles.
When dating there is a double stigma to consider. A trans person is expected to immediately identify themselves as trans so that anyone who doesn’t want to date a trans person won’t “waste their time” on them. They are also simultaneously expected to pass and blend in with their own gender group so well that they could not be identified as trans. This creates a painful catch-22: either you don't pass and don't count as your gender, or you pass and are labelled as duplicitous.
The other side of fetishization is in porn. The target demographic for trans porn is not people who would date trans people. Mostly, it is people like Alex Jones, the far right conspiracy theorist with a manic personality who is known for his claim that chemicals in the water supply were “making the friggin’ frogs gay.” He experienced an exceptional scandal when his phone was accidentally caught on video with trans porn playing on it.
The desexualization of transgender people comes from both straight men and a minority section of lesbians. Essentially, the assumption is that if a straight man sleeps with a pre-transition trans woman (a woman with a penis) he wouldn’t be straight. Similarly, if a lesbian slept with a pre-transition trans woman she wouldn’t be a “real” lesbian. Because in this marginal lesbian ideology, trans women aren’t “real” women. This is not to say that people who prefer certain genitalia are wrong, simply that attraction to certain genders is different from attraction to certain genitalia; therefore, there is no need to assume that either a straight man or a lesbian would not be interested in a trans woman.
The straight male side of this is best exemplified in the tv show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In the first season, Mac (one of the four main characters) is dating and sleeping with a trans woman. He is relentlessly teased by his cisgender (not trans) and heterosexual friends about it, to the point where he breaks up with her. This on its own exemplifies the reaction cishet people have to men dating trans women, but the show takes the whole situation a step further. Later in the show, Mac comes out as gay; citing his experiences with the trans woman as his first gay experiences. Not only does It’s Always Sunny show the negative reactions that cishet people have to trans women, but the show itself pushes the idea that trans women aren’t real women because a man sleeping with them makes him gay. I don’t mean to attack the show, I really enjoy a lot of the episodes, and I know some queer people who absolutely adore the show. I am simply using it as an example of how media can, despite having the best intentions, perpetuate harmful narratives.
Another common trope in media containing trans characters are the inaccurate descriptions of why trans people decide to medically transition. This is almost always tied to the idea that sexuality and gender are inherently connected: that one’s attraction to a certain gender depends on their own. Thus, it is commonly implied (if not stated outright) that people transition to be gay or straight. That a gay male character had no luck with men, so he transitioned (“became a woman”) to be straight and sleep with straight men, not gay men. Or, alternately, that a woman had no luck with straight men so transitioned to try out gay men.
Gender and sexuality are so often correlated that when a trans person comes out, it is seen as a loss to or betrayal of their previous community. The clearest example of this is the outrage from the lesbian community in response to Elliot Page coming out as transgender. Nothing can be lost when someone is vulnerable enough to show their true selves, and the lesbian community did not “lose” a figure, someone grew in their gender. Their coming out was, shockingly, not about anyone but themself.
TW: SLURS, ANTI-TRANS VIOLENCE
Many of the misconceptions about trans people are best explained by examining the slurs used against them. In terms of hyper-sexualization and fetishization, the slurs “shemale,” “shim,” and “ladyboy” are fairly common. These are, firstly, disgusting. Second, they imply the tried and true claim that trans women aren’t “real” women, they are male but use she/her pronouns. Or boys performing femininity or womanhood in sex. There are many gender-related kinks that are entirely unrelated to trans people, and because these slurs equate the two they are deeply harmful.
The other slur I want to discuss is one that I feel a particular distaste for: “Trap.” This slur refers primarily to trans women who “lure” straight men into their beds by acting as a woman only to reveal that their genitalia is not what the man was expecting. It is also used to refer to any trans person in terms of their dating life, implying that no one would willingly date or sleep with a trans person, that the trans person needs to trick or “trap” them. This slur ties directly back to the expectation that trans women identify themselves as trans as early in talking to a potential lover as possible.
This expectation has dangerous implications. If a trans woman does not reveal herself to be trans right away and the straight man she is talking to finds out later, he might attack and injure her in order to protect his masculinity and straightness. Unfortunately, this is a common experience and one that is perpetuated and intensified by the use of this slur.
Trans people are equally as valuable in dating, romance, and sex as cisgender people, and the idea that gender is tied intrinsically to genitalia is both provably false and implicitly dangerous because of the assumptions that logically follow it. I know that I personally and most other trans people I know have been and continue to be in happy, healthy relationships, regardless of the sexual identity of our partners.
Walters, Mark A., et al. “Hate Crimes Against Trans People: Assessing Emotions, Behaviors, and Attitudes Toward Criminal Justice Agencies.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 35, no. 21–22, Nov. 2020, pp. 4583–4613, doi:10.1177/0886260517715026.