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.