Op-ed: My Wife Is a Trans Am
My hat goes off to Diane Anderson-Minshall, not because she’s my wife, but because she continues to write truthfully about her feelings, share her opinions, and expose the private details of her life.
And she continues to do so even when she’s been attacked for expressing things that are entirely personal.
Most recently, she garnered a great number of negative responses to her opinion piece, “My Attraction to Trans People Is Not a Fetish,” in which she admitted to being trans amorous, or having an attraction to transgender people.
“Does anyone know who Diane Anderson-Minshall is and why she thinks it is acceptable to perpetuate the dehumanizing fetishization of trans people, along with a venomous cis supremacy?” replied noted trans scholar and women’s studies professor Joelle Ruby Ryan in the online comments.
Ryan went on to ask, “Given the right-on criticisms of her vile article, why is she not being accountable to the hate she is producing?”
I feel like we read two different pieces. I apparently missed how — as Ryan further argues — Diane “actively harms the trans community with this type of ignorant discourse.”
Does my inability to find the “dehumanizing,” “vile,” and hate-filled speech in Diane’s deeply personal revelation mean I’m also blind to the experiences of trans women? Does it mean I can no longer call myself a feminist? Or a transgender man?
Is my judgment clouded by the fact that Diane is my wife? That she has been my life partner for 23 years, that she encouraged me to come out as trans and completely supported my transition from female-bodied to male-bodied even though it required her to reevaluate her identity as a lesbian?
The LGBTQ community can be a very unforgiving and unfriendly space. Especially online. We say that we want to have diversity and that we’re accepting of all the queer colors of our rainbow. But we also quickly attack anyone who holds opinions that don’t match our own, often resorting to character assassination rather than simply providing counterpoints to their opinions or arguments.
Too often, we eat our own, attacking our allies more than our common enemies. This tendency can quash all discussion about certain topics, especially when it comes to trans issues.
I am a transgender man. But I do not speak for all transgender people. I have written pieces in the past that have raised the ire of other trans folk. Still, I believe I should be allowed to share my personal opinion. But that doesn’t mean that I pretend to speak for any specific group or population, any more than Diane does.
In fact, I don’t believe one individual could ever speak for all trans people.
That’s because I don’t think the transgender community is a community. We are, at best, a series of very different communities; at worst, we are just a large group of people who have very little in common.
Many of the trans women who commented on Diane’s opinion piece seem to be suggesting that only trans-identified people should be allowed to address trans issues. At the same time, trans people often complain that there isn’t enough coverage of trans issues.
What exactly is the incentive for cisgender allies to cover trans issues when they know they risk being condemned for not using the “right” words or “incorrectly” representing a “community” that is, by all accounts, incredibly diverse?
How do no-trans people know what the “correct” words are when there has yet to be a wholesale, trans community-wide adoption of a particular language over another (just ask anyone about the use of trans with an asterisk)?
For example, some trans people like the binary pronouns he or she, others want to use gender-neutral pronouns like “ze,” while still others embrace words relevant only to them (one trans artist I know uses “monster” as their preferred pronoun).
Some trans people don’t like to be called transgender. Some insist that they are transgender, and find the word “transsexual” to be offensive. Others have exactly the opposite view, arguing that the word “transgender” is too similar to “transgenderist,” which was coined by a then-cross-dresser, later trans-identified woman, the controversial Virginia Prince.
I find it frustrating that we seem to require perfection. We expect other people to be perfectly eloquent and say exactly the right words every single time, or we destroy them.
I believe this defensiveness — not to mention the online tendency for negative comments to outshine positive ones — has silenced many voices. It has narrowed the scope of public discourse and has made people afraid to share their opinions, except privately to friends they know share their views.
Once upon a time America’s intellectuals publicly debated diverse topics in an effort to expand their minds; now, as Time eloquently puts it (discussing the intractable positioning of our legislative branch), “the nation has been carved up into echo chambers; increasingly, we hear only the sound of our own passions and fears reverberating.”
What happened to the ideals behind the freedom of speech? The willingness to tolerate uncomfortable or even offensive speech in order to encourage open discussion of all perspectives and beliefs?
Do we really think that by scaring or shaming someone into silence we have changed their mind or created a new ally? Or can we simply not tolerate anything but the sounds of our own voices echoing back to us?
Although not many are willing to acknowledge it publicly, there are a lot of people who share Diane’s attraction to transgender individuals.
According to A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Tells Us About Human Desire, adult videos featuring trans women who haven’t had bottom surgery (called “T-girl porn” in the book) is the fourth most popular type of online porn. Authors Sai Gaddam and Ogi Ogas discovered that “the main audience for T-girl porn is heterosexual men,” and they speculate that viewers are attracted to the “novel juxtaposition” of “feminine cues” (in this case breasts), with the “masculinity” of a penis.
I put feminine and masculine in quotes because not everyone agrees that breasts are inherently feminine or a penis inherently masculine. As commenter Gemma Seymour-Amper writes, “It is no longer acceptable to refer to a trans woman's penis as ‘male genitalia.’ Her penis belongs to a woman, it is part of her womanhood. Her penis is not ‘male,’ any more than she is.”
(FYI, Gaddam and Ogas also determine that penises seem to have “a special power to activate the male sexual brain” even when it comes to hetero men — but that’s a topic for another day.)
Diane pondered Mister Cee’s orientation because two of his three public incidents included sex with male-identified cross-dressers, not trans women, but she agrees with me that to dismiss the men who watch T-girl porn as bisexual or closeted gays not only negates the femaleness of trans women (even when they have penises) but also doesn’t jive with the findings of A Billion Wicked Thoughts and other research, like a Northwestern University study in which the majority of participating men with a sexual interest in trans women were heterosexual.
Human sexualities are not easily compartmentalized into three small boxes of straight, gay, or bisexual. I’ve known plenty of lesbians who enjoy watching gay porn, but who never want to have sex with a man. There are people who have sexual fantasies that they would never want to be played out in real life. I’m thinking a particular of “rape” fantasies, which rarely if ever involve the humiliation, invasion, and violence of the real experience.
Beyond gay and straight, there are people who are attracted to similarities (we all know those lesbian twins) and there are other people who are attracted to difference (those basketball giants who prefer very petite women and vice versa).
Our sexuality includes who we are physically attracted to, who we would like to spend time with, what sexual positions we like, what sexual activities we prefer, what sexual fantasies we play out in our heads, what kind of visual cues we prefer to look at in our porn. And often these are not all on the same page.
You might be a gay Republican who is only attracted to bears, likes watching trans porn-star Buck Angel videos, calls his sex partner Daddy, and insists on being topped while wearing high heels and listening to show tunes.
People who are specifically attracted to transgender men and/or women (whether they are dismissed as “tranny chasers” or embraced as “Trans Am,” a term becoming more widely used) undoubtedly have just as diverse sexual orientations as anyone else.
While Diane said she was attracted to all women (trans and cisgender) but only trans men, she didn’t mean it literally. Like most lesbians, Diane is not attracted to all women. Nor are most gay men or straight women attracted to all men. Even the most horndog hetero men tend to have their own likes and dislikes.
Like most of us, Diane is attracted to individuals, not demographics. But she has recognized that the people she finds attractive tend to be women (cisgender or trans). And more recently (as in, since my own transition) she has found herself increasingly attracted to specific trans men.
And, as Diane bravely acknowledged in her column, some of her first sexual fantasies revolved around the women starring in 1970s T-girl porn. It’s important to remember she discovered this porn in her dad’s closet when she was 12 years old. (If you don’t think that’s brave to admit, just imagine sharing your most personal, socially frowned-upon sexual fantasies with the world, knowing that you will likely be criticized for admitting what gets you off, and then imagine talking about what you fantasized about in junior high school.)
A 2011 Salon article concluded that evaluating why some people find trans women erotically attractive can be as offensive to some trans women as others insist the attraction is.
In the Salon piece, trans feminist Julia Serano (author of Whipping Girl) maintains that calling such attractions a fetish “is extremely invalidating, as it insinuates that we cannot be loved or appreciated as whole people, but rather only as ‘fetish objects.’”
Meanwhile, Sass of the blog Transpinay Rising writes, “The question shouldn’t be why these men are attracted to us, but why is society forcing us to justify this attraction in the first place. I feel the question arises because people have already pre-judged that being sexually or romantically attracted to people like me is perverted and immoral.”
While I don’t feel it is necessary to understand why Diane finds some trans people sexually attractive, I would like to provide more context to her attraction.
Diane’s much more public about her personal sexual habits/interests than I am, but I will acknowledge I have more than a passing fancy for gay male porn and generally prefer it over “straight” porn. At least some part of that preference is my discomfort at the way straight porn appears to denigrate women.
I say “appears” because I also know people who work in the sex industry and who feel empowered by their experiences. Of course, some of the difference between those who are empowered and those who aren’t often has to do with both the color of one’s skin and the history of one’s class background. Part of what makes talking about trans women in the sex industry fraught with difficulty is the fact that far too many trans women are forced into sex work simply to survive.
I’m sharing my porn preferences because I believe it highlights another area that impacts our sexuality, which is often discounted: our values and perspectives. This is, I think, one of the things that makes Diane attracted to many trans men when she is not attracted to their cisgender counterparts.
Diane and I have been together for nearly 23 years, so it’s no surprise that we share some similar prejudices. One of them is that we are both a bit misandristic, particularly against straight cisgender men. As with anything, there are exceptions, but as a rule we prefer people who are from the queer community or who have experienced life as gay and/or female-bodied. We especially prefer those who are feminists, even if they don’t call themselves feminists.
We’ve come to believe that cisgender straight men are, on a whole, enculturated to be … assholes.
This is one reason that Diane prefers transgender men over cisgender men. Having spent a portion of their lives in female bodies can give trans men a greater respect for the female experience. (It can also do the opposite, as evidenced by a number of misogynist trans men. Again, there are always exceptions.)
Back when I was a young lesbian feminist, I used to be convinced that lesbians were better than other women. I truly believed that being a lesbian was equivalent to being an environmentally friendly, socially conscious feminist eager to disrupt the racist and classist patriarchy. I’ve learned that’s far from the truth. But still, I often find lesbians more engaging and interesting than straight women.
Are there ditzy lesbians? Absolutely. Are there intelligent and socially engaged straight women? Damn right. But I still feel more at home in the queer community than the straight one. I think this is what Diane was trying to say about trans men.
It may be foolish of her to feel trans men are “better” men than cisgender men. But no one said what arouses us has to make sense.
Does Diane’s attraction to some trans men mean she thinks trans men aren’t “real” men? No. Nor does she think trans women aren’t real women, or that women with penises aren’t real women. (See my op-ed “Being Married to a Lesbian Doesn’t Make Me Less of a Man” for more about Diane seeing me as a “real” man.)
However, Diane may find something particularly appealing about people who’ve had a trans history.
Just to be clear, I’m not trying to suggest that Diane’s attraction to gender variance means that she is only attracted to trans men and women who have or haven’t had gender reassignment surgeries, although her history may mean that she finds metrosexual trans men and butchy trans women more attractive.
Should that offend butch trans men or feminine trans women? I don’t think so. Personally, I don’t think anyone should be offended about the details of another person’s sexual attraction and/or fantasies.
What business is it of yours?
If you aren’t Diane’s sexual partner, why should you care one way or another if she finds people like you erotically interesting? It’s not like she was soliciting sex partners or recruiting others to share her desires.
I don’t think she’s denigrating trans women by saying that she finds some trans women attractive or admitting she has been turned on in the past by the visual imageries of T-girl porn. Although those images influenced her sexual development, once she became an adult and cognizant of the power, racial, and economic disparities in the world of sex work, her consumption and enjoyment of those T-girl images ended.
Like everyone else, Diane has a right to have her own sexual turn-ons and turn-offs as long as they don’t harm someone else. I don’t understand how that’s offensive to anyone else, but I do know Diane is mortified to have drawn such cutting criticism for merely being open about her own sexuality — and asserting her right not to have her attraction dismissed as “a fetish.”
JACOB ANDERSON-MINSHALL is a transgender journalist and co-author of several novels including Blind Faith and the upcoming memoir, Queerly Beloved (out May 2014 from Bold Strokes Books).