why i dig trans guys (and why some people don’t): six explanations

This post is in response to two comments people posted a couple of posts back: Riley’s question asking for “a way to explain why it is queer women are more into the transdudes than the queer men are” and to Curious’s question “Why does it seem like there are a lot of women who usually date women who are willing if not eager to date ftm transsexuals yet who are as just as unwilling to date men. Why one and not the other? Is it somehow related to the fact that (I don’t know the exact numbers) many transsexual men don’t have surgery? What does this say about the nature (perhaps not the best word) of transsexuals?”
 
Two quick answers to Riley’s question: sexism and cock.

1. Sexism: Many, though certainly not all, gay men are as much purveyors of good old-fashioned sexism as their hetero counterparts, but they have the added bonus of not being sexually attracted to women, which allows them the privilege of considering female body parts to be “eeewwww disgusting” without anyone really calling them on the misogyny behind that. That disgust then translates to a squick about female parts, regardless of the gender identity of the person attached to them. Even when they’re attracted to that person. Trust me. I’m not a trans guy and I’ve still had a lot of gay guys get really into me… until it comes time to think about the pink bits, and then they run away. That ties directly into…

2. Cock. Most gay guys are really into cock. If a person doesn’t have a cock, then sexually speaking some gay dudes just don’t know what to do with them. Often, despite its many advantages over the flesh and blood sort, a silicone cock is not enough to convince them that there is a bona fide cock/guy in the room with them. With the notable exception of fisting, the gay male sexual repertoire is just so highly focused on cock (how big, how long, cut or uncut, what can you do with it, what will you let me do with it, etc.) that any variation on that particular appendage can cause anxiety – let alone the presence of someone whose appearance is fully male but who is missing the all-important organ. Believe me, if given the chance, I would be more than happy to demonstrate to any number of gay men that my non-organic cock is fully capable of providing them with whatever penetrative satisfaction they desire, with the sole exception of cum-swallowing (which in the age of AIDS is always questionable anyway), and that I get off on having mine played with as much as, if not more than, anyone who grew theirs at birth. Sign up here, guys. I come in three sizes to boot (and I’m full of double entendres too). Anyone?… Anyone?…

None of this is intended to slag gay men as a whole… but it is my speculative point of view on the trend that Riley, and many trannyfag friends of mine, have noticed. I’d definitely welcome comments from gay men who may have other ideas on this point!

Beyond the two quick answers, here are a few deeper ones that may address Curious’s questions more specifically.

3. Gender politics. The vast majority of dykes have done a lot of thinking about gender – not as a rule but definitely as a rule of thumb. It’s really hard to get to the point of being a dyke in this day and age, or a sexually liberated woman of any orientation, without having to come to some sort of feminist consciousness, and feminism does a lot of work towards challenging ideas about gender – raising the question of who is allowed to display what behaviours and appearances and engage in what activities, etc. based on their pink bits or the letter on their birth certificate. I mean, Simone de Beauvoir was saying that women are “made not born” in the 1950s. So women are old hat at reconsidering the meanings of gender, and when you extrapolate that into dyke lives, even more so.

Now, gay men play with gender too, to be sure – I wouldn’t deny that. But it comes from a different place. Gay guys play with gender in ways that have nothing (necessarily) to do with feminism or body politics or anything; they tend to be much more drawn towards camp and drag and other such strategies for challenging gender stereotypes, but they’re coming at it from a place of male privilege, not of being on the short end of the gender stick in the first place. Plus, despite all the gender challenging that some gay men do – and I don’t mean to minimize the relevance of that work – there’s still a ton of femme-phobia within gay male culture, and a huge overvaluing of hyper-masculine butch gender presentation. There’s a long history of drag queens and femme men being acceptable on stage but rejected once off it, whether in the clubs or in the personals or elsewhere. But I digress.

And that ties in with explanation 4: History.

On the flip side, the dyke world has historically always included room for “passing women” and other such identities – perhaps conflicted room, or room that varies depending on the cultural climate of a given decade (read Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues), but room nonetheless. There is no historical equivalent to the “passing woman” in gay male culture. (Judith Halberstam unpacks the non-parallels between drag queen culture and lesbian drag king culture really well and brings up this specific point about passing women in her book Female Masculinity, which I’m going to review here soon.)

Basically, there is a centuries-long history of dykes dating female-bodied men. The idea is nothing particularly new even if the medical/surgical technologies and identity labels are. So nowadays, while there’s definitely been a “border war” (in Halberstam’s terms) in the past decade between butch dykes and FTMs, and lots of wrangling on all sides (“we’re losing our butches!” vs “FTMs were never truly female to begin with!”), the truth is that in practical terms nowadays it makes a lot of sense that many contemporary dyke spaces and/or dykes themselves are FTM-friendly, whereas a lot of contemporary gay male spaces are only barely beginning to understand that trans folks even exist.

(There’s a whole other question about dyke spaces being MTF-friendly, and certainly some places have a long way to go on that count, but even then the discussions are a) taking place at all and b) largely informed by feminism—whether a person’s resulting stance is pro or con, or perhaps rather whether their particular brand of feminism is progressive or firmly stuck in the second wave—and the conclusions, more and more, are “yes, trans women are women and they are welcome here.” Feminism provides a starting place for those discussions to take place, whereas in gay male spaces, that sort of conversation is simply not nearly as common.)

On to point number 5: Socialization and attraction.

On a personal or visceral level, I can say that dating an FTM guy is a completely different ball game than dating a male-bodied guy, and it’s got very little to do with the body parts and a whole lot to do with socialization. (Of course not all FTM guys are the same; far from it. I’m talking in trends and generalities here, not intending to describe all trans guys as falling into the exactly the same mould.)

I don’t like the way most male-born men are socialized, period. The whole male privilege thing seeps into things with a disturbing degree of perniciousness, even among a lot of generally thoughtful, feminist men, and it’s just a major turn-off. This doesn’t mean I never date men, it just means that it takes a highly exceptional one to make it through my anti-male-privilege filters – and I don’t sit there with a checklist or act as behaviour police, it’s just a vibe. It often means that I date male-born-men who are queer and highly feminine, not because the femme aesthetic holds any particular appeal to me per se, but because these are the guys who have most often experienced gender difference from the inside out, and the oppression (and joy) of having an alternative sexual orientation, so they are most likely to be able to relate to my own politics and personal take on such things, and to understand the way my sexuality works.

When it comes to trans guys, if I were to encounter one who were socialized like a male-born man, or who had adopted a traditional form of masculinity without questioning or tweaking it, I’d probably be fairly uninterested in him, much as I am uninterested in male-bodied men who do the same. One of the things I personally find most attractive, on the theoretical level, about trans masculinity is precisely that it questions and challenges traditional masculinity, and in many cases expands it and redefines it entirely. I know that sounds very theory-head, but it plays out in super-practical everyday ways… it’s not just intellectual musings, it’s my lived experience of being intimate with people who have chosen male embodiment and yet who continually refuse to adopt the package deal of what masculinity is supposed to mean. That, to me, is refreshing and intellectually stimulating and politically appealing and just plain hot.

For a person who finds masculinity attractive but who either finds the specifics of male-born-male bodies to be unattractive (not my case – dude bodies are just fine in my books) or who finds the socialization question to be sufficiently high to turn them off male-born men (whether entirely or as a rule of thumb), a trans guy may represent the one kind of man they might actually connect with. Then you can also consider that a fairly high percentage of FTM guys have experienced a fair chunk of their lives as dykes, and so share a common cultural language and community connections with dykes and queer women, often including social circles and so forth… and it makes perfect sense that a lot of queer gals would find themselves dating trans men.

As for Curious’s surgery question… It’s true that a lot of trans guys don’t get bottom surgery (phalloplasty), for many reasons, the biggie being that surgical techniques are not advanced enough to guarantee results. But to be honest, I don’t know too many queer women who make their decisions about dating trans men specifically based on whether or not they’ve had surgery, so I can’t imagine that’s a major factor per se. I’ve also never met a trans man who’s had bottom surgery, so that too plays into my answer—I have no grounds for comparison.

I don’t think I can say anything about “the nature of transsexuals” here, either—to do so would be a) pretty presumptuous of me as a non-trans person and b) bound to be seriously flawed no matter what I might come up with. So I think I’ll leave my responses as they are. I don’t expect them to be universal, but they’re my take based on a lot of personal experience (my own and that of my community), reading, watching films, and years of thinking. 

I am, of course, very much open to comments, criticisms, further questions and ideas.

10 Responses

  1. why i dig trans guys (and why some people don’t): six explanations

    So I have few comments for your amusement more then anything else I guess. This really isn’t attended to be posted but I don’t mind if you post a bit of it.

    First after exchanging emails and reading your blog for a few years I think perhaps I have decided I need to buy a skirt. 
    So this might come off the wrong way over the internet even though it is meant to be humorous. I think someone should write a song about you with the line in it “She doesn’t hate men, she just doesn’t like them much or perhaps she doesn’t get off on them that often.”

    Hmmm not all biological males are the same either.
    I really get the feeling that there is something about dating biological men that is less appealing to a variety of groups that goes beyond just how the men were socialized. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think it has something to do “with seeing what you want or don’t want to see” and how a dating a biological man makes one feel and how people(their social group and society in general) would view a person who dates a biological man.

    Believe me, if given the chance, I would be more than happy to demonstrate to any number of gay men that my non-organic cock is fully capable of providing them with whatever penetrative satisfaction they desire, with the sole exception of cum-swallowing (which in the age of AIDS is always questionable anyway), and that I get off on having mine played with as much as, if not more than, anyone who grew theirs at birth. Sign up here, guys. I come in three sizes to boot (and I’m full of double entendres too). Anyone?… Anyone?…

    Okay I am not sure I can think of anything hotter then first sucking your cock, followed by you fucking me with it, and then perhaps me giving you head(the other kind). So ya if there really is a list please put my name on it. Perhaps you could take me skirt shopping first. 

    Now perhaps I am over sensitive about this as a result of being finically screwed by women in positions of academic power but I think you need to be careful today about using the term “Male privilege.” Especially considering for example that according to a couple of studies I have read women now make more money then men after college in several major North American cities.
    Now of course if you are speaking in reference to either “Male Privilege of the past” or the sexist attitudes of many men that still exist, well I would say just be sure that is what you mean.

    “intellectually inclined poly kinky queer femmey non-trans boy bottoms.”

    This is almost me though I would say I have a female like mind versus femmey.

    So I am a biological male with what I believe is a pretty female mind. In the sense of I know I have high levels of empathy and things along those lines. On the other hand I would never describe my self as femme. I also equate femme with lipstick, long hair, mascara, pink cloths for males or females. Like Marilyn Manson or a Lipstick Lesbian to me are two examples of Femme.

    So I guess sometimes I think I am more like a Male lesbian except I wouldn’t say I am only into women. Straight dominant men and masculine bisexual women seem to be my thing.

    I sometimes honestly think I am trans woman or maybe more accurately a trans soft butch woman.

    So anyways I am trying to say that I don’t really feel fit the term femme but at the same time I feel like I have a very female mind but a very male looking body but don’t consider myself a true transwoman so what the heck do I call myself?

    And finally for what it is worth I really think your writing has stepped up a notch. In my humble opinion your blogs/columns were often either very readable but not too academic/informative or vice versus. Lately I have found you have combined the two different styles very well. I would say now your columns are like sex that lead to enlightenment(very enjoyable with a purpose).

    Take Care, Eric

    sportwaves@yahoo.ca

  2. This is so fascinating!

    I tend to say that I’m queer, genderqueer, and attracted to queerness, in the sense of both sexuality and gender, which is why I don’t tend to be attracted to heteronormative male-identified bio-males, BUT that also means that I’m not usually all that attracted to heteronormative female-identified bio-females. Not that it’s impossible for me to be attracted to people in those categories, but the likelihood is very low, though kinkiness can certainly help (but that’s not really heteronormative so … yeah). So, in that sense, I fit somewhat within your “socialization” explanation, because I feel as if I can connect better with, am better understood by, queer/genderqueer/trans people than the straight guys who might want to date female me.

    I think too, though, as a genderqueer/butch bio-female, my masculinity comes very naturally to me and it’s awkward for me when that masculinity receives a negative reaction from my partners, play or otherwise. I have certainly dated and had relationships with heteronormative male-identified bio-males, but one of the things that tends to crop up far too often is how uncomfortable my masculinity makes them at times. The more assertive ones would then attempt to de-masculinize/feminize me or shame me into doing so on my own, neither of which was ever a good situation. So, I don’t like to make assumptions and I like to keep my options as open as possible, but it’s hard for me to not feel wariness about getting involved with strictly straight bio-guys in a way that doesn’t tend to occur to me when I’m intrigued by a transguy.

    Honestly, though, this is all speculation because I’ve never actually dated a transguy, though I’ve been interested in a few. Maybe I’d find that my masculine identity would be similarly challenged and pressured into suppression or explosion in a relationship with anyone who identifies as male. Somehow, though, based on my non-romantic interactions with transguys, I just don’t see it happening like that.

  3. Sexism and Cock. Best answer ever.

    It echoes the trends I’m seeing. There are many, many gay men who are adverse to female anatomy…heck, even women period. Or even femininity period. (Not that any of those things have to reside in the same person.) I tend to think leatherfolk are a bit better about seeing possibilities for seeing outside the box (*cymbal crash*), but even some of them astound me in bad ways these days.

    Here’s my answer to the surgery question: I haven’t had surgery for several reasons:

    1. I’m a picky shopper. I need more function than the current surgical processes can provide.
    2. I’m not made of money. I need the cost of such options to be lower before I’ll consider it. (plus, cost/benefit? Not so much.)
    3. I’m alright now. This is to say that I have great sex (when I have it) using the tools I have at my disposal. Until things get perfected, I don’t want to take the chance of losing sexual function (or urinary!).
    3b. I’m alright in the head. This is to say that I can go through life with the body I have now. Sure, I occasionally have the longing for dick, but that’s mostly during the times that I wish I could pee at a urinal rather than in a stall.

    [On a related note, I stopped ruminating about the whole stall vs. urinal question once I discovered that some friends who have PAs solely use a stall.]

  4. Interesting take on dating hetero-bio-males. I can kind of relate to it to a certain extent but in my case, it mostly applies to men of said “category” under 35 – 40. I’ve noticed that many men over 35 or 40 *tend* to actually appreciate my form of masculinity, my little mischievous tomboy ways, my love of rough-and-tumble play, etc. I’ve received comments that it’s refreshing to be with a woman who’s not all wimpy, who doesn’t depend on a guy to lift heavy things for her and who can engage in “guy-type” sexual banter like “the boys”. Maybe I’ve been lucky.

    I can pretty much say I’ll always maintain an attraction for bio males (regardless of who else I’m attracted to) provided they meet a very specific criterion: a paradoxical mix of roughness and softness. This the case for everyone I’m attracted to regardless of their physical package but in the case of big, hefty, hairy, robust bio males (ie: the ones that make me wet the most – ya know, like the stereotypical lumberkjack) it creates this nice contradiction (according to mainstream standards of masculinity and feminity that is): the guy that’s built like a mountain and that could strangle a bear if he wanted but that can also tenderly change a baby’s diaper and cook up a tasty dish.

    Unfortunately, my experience with younger bio guys has been mostly negative until now with few of them able to meet this criterion. They’ve been either too soft *for me* (like tendrils lashing at one’s legs when walking under water – some people like that but I’m not so much into that) or too macho, needing to prove their virility by crushing mine, or by, as you discuss, assuming they are entitled to certain elements of male privilege, like being the only one in the crowd that can make people laugh, or being taken more seriously in a debate, etc.

  5. In response to Eric regarding male privilege:

    Male privilege, like white privilege, is much more intangible than anything that can be measured by differences in income. It’s more about who is taken seriously in society and who is taken as the “by default” human. Note that the hero in most feature films is still male. Note that most marketing is still geared toward men. Note that most jokes or stories are about “this guy who . . . .”. These might seem trivial but they point to an underlying ideology that takes males to be basic humans and females to be variations thereof. (Pac Man vs Ms. Pac Man with her bow.) Women always have to be marked so that you can tell them apart from the “generic” human form.

    On more tangible points: Note that in a mixed crowd, it is usually men that will be addressed with any question about politics, finances, or “things that matter”. Note that professions that are male-dominated are still more highly valued (in terms of social status) than professions that are female-dominated.

    I could go on. My point is not to prove you wrong or to lament the fate of “poor victimized women in a patriarchal society” (I’ve moved beyond that 70s and 80s trend) but to show how subtle privilege works.

    We could make parallels with white privilege: in the media, the “generic” human is white with people of colour increasingly thrown in as tokens. White people are generally taken more seriously since there is this pervasive notion in white-dominated societies that whites are free from the ideological restraints of culture.

    I will stop now because this is turning into an epic response and is starting to go off topic : )

    Cheers!

  6. I just wanted to say thanks for all the super-thoughtful and engaging comments. I don’t think I can adequately respond in turn to all of them with a further comment of my own, but your perspectives are always food for thought. In particular, thanks to Eboniorchid for sharing some of your experience of female masculinity (not a perspective often heard); thanks to Riley for articulating your reasons for not getting surgery (which, though they’re yours, are also very similar to many other trans guys’ of my acquaintance); and thanks to Nancy Boy for the very articulate explanation of privilege. You rock.

  7. thank you so much for this posting! I will send the link to my femme, she’ll love it! And I will come back for more as well :o)

    trans*formation a transgender-butch ;o)

  8. Nice to have you (both) here! :)

  9. Hey Andrea, this is a very old thread, so forgive me for digging it out :D I just read you text about trans women and safe space, love it, commented and followed a random link here. And I have to say (from my perspective as a gay trans guy without a butch/lesbian past)- this post is complete cock and bull :-D

    1. Gay men have just as much right to be squicked by female genitals as lesbians have to be squicked by male genitals. I can’t count the times I heard something like “Ewwww penis/sperm/balls etc” from lesbians and other women. (While I heard the opposite from gay men significantly less often.)
    It is not sexism to not like certain parts, esp when society and your peers force feed them to you. Women are representations of patriarchy for gay men, just as men are representations of patriarchy for lesbian women.

    2. Obviously many gay men are into cock, though you generalize a bit here. And it’s completely ok for them/us to be into cock, just as it’s ok for dykes to be into breasts or clitorises. Also- (and I’m telling you this as a trans guy) dildos are not the same as cocks. Sadly, but it’s the truth ;-) Penises are not just about the act of penetration. I’m a top myself, so I don’t look for length or girth in a partner, but I love how cute penises are. They are soft and they can change and become hard, and I like to play with sperm :-P I doubt that you would accept one of those silicon vaginas as a full substitute for a woman’s parts. Well, it’s the same with dildos (sadly).

    3. ” There’s a long history of drag queens and femme men being acceptable on stage but rejected once off it, whether in the clubs or in the personals or elsewhere.
    On the flip side, the dyke world has historically always included room for “passing women” and other such identities – perhaps conflicted room, or room that varies depending on the cultural climate of a given decade (read Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues), but room nonetheless. There is no historical equivalent to the “passing woman” in gay male culture.”

    This is a historical myth that is plain wrong coming close to revisionism, so I’m taking some time to correct it: You are mixing historical periods unfairly here (or Halberstam did it). Fact is that before Stonewall, ftm and mtf persons were a major part of lesbian *and* gay communities. Check out books like: http://www.amazon.com/Gay-New-York-Culture-1890-1940/dp/0465026214 to see that feminine men were a major part, and not just on stage. And they were just about as much rejected as butches. Some liked them and some didn’t. Even in the 1920s there were lesbians who thought that butches were disgusting.

    A short time after Stonewall, because of “feminism” and to prove (for political reasons) that lesbians and gay men can be “real” women and men, butches and femmes/feminine men/trans women got kicked out of lesbian and gay communities. But the kicking out was *much* stronger in the lesbian communities. While in gay communities there were always Radical Fairies,etc. and a significant overlap with the mtf communities, ball communities etc, in lesbian communities you could get physically assaulted or at least shunned (not talked to, mobbed etc) for being gender non-conforming. I know it because I’ve been there. Gay men never did that, not to me and not to my mtf spectrum friends.

    Also, ftm never got kicked out of gay male communities, while mtf have been violently kicked out for several decades, and only *very* recently and hesitantly get invited in. I’ve seen trans women thrown down stairs or hit when they tried to enter women’s centers or pubs in the 80s and early 90s.

    I am not aware that *any* trans man was ever treated like that in a gay male space, not even in the evil 80s. Quite contrary, people like Lou Sullivan were invited as ftm cross dressers and trans men in the gay male communities even in the 70s, and early 80s in more provincial places. My own experience is the same, and so is that of many friends and acquaintances I had over the years.

  10. Signicant typo: “Also, ftm never got kicked out of gay male communities, while mtf have been violently kicked out for several decades,”
    Should read:
    “while mtf have been violently kicked out *of lesbian spaces* for several decades”

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