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Is Fetishizing Trans Bodies Offensive?

A Controversial Orientation?

Being seen as sexually attractive can be flattering to some, insulting to others. 

Can a sexual orientation -- or the word used to describe it -- be offensive to those who are the object of that attraction? Maybe so, when it comes to those attracted to people who are transgender. They may be called (or call themselves) trans am, transamorous, transsensual, or trans chasers -- and their attentions may be welcomed. Or not. When is being seen as sexually attractive -- but only because the viewer sees you as different from other men or women -- a turn-on and when is it a turn-off?

When a straight-identified man fetishizes trans women and watches porn with offensive titles, it can be easy to vilify him. But what about the gay man who prefers sex with trans men who haven't had bottom surgery? Or the trans individual who finds themselves only attracted to others with a trans experience?

The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health suggests that terms like transamorous are problematic because they are "mostly used in conjunction with cis men who chase trans folks, especially trans fem(me)s." Instead, the center recommends skoliosexual, which its site defines as "a little known term for folks who are attracted to gender-queer or non-binary individuals." But it clarifies, "The term does not imply a preference for a specific set of genitalia, gender assignment at birth, or sex reassignment surgery status."

Some advocates argue that skoliosexual sounds clinical, more like a disease or syndrome than monikers like gay or lesbian. And the definition seems to exclude attractions to gender-normative trans people.

Other activists have wanted to see cisgender men who date, love, or have sex with transgender women "come forward and speak the truth of those attractions, encounters, experiences, and relationships," says Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox.

Into this dialogue comes Trans*Am: Cis Men and Trans Women in Love, a new book by Joseph McClellan -- a professor at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh -- in support of trans ams. McClellan, who teaches gender studies (and translated French philosopher Michel Onfray's A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist), is not the first to "question the the codes that cis men and trans women use to interpret their own and others' gendered and sexed bodies."

But he may be the first to gain wide support. Activist Michael Osofsky says Trans*Am helped him understand why it's unnecessary to identify with a sexual orientation at all and "that the tendency to 'identify' can get in the way of enjoying sex."

Trans women are also lauding the book, including Cox and Transparent star Trace Lysette, who commends the "long-overdue conversation taking to task the social constructs that have proven too painful to too many for too long."

Cox offered further validation: "I have been frustrated with how desire for trans women has existed largely in the shadows, deeply stigmatized. ... [McClellan] shares his lived experiences as a trans am as part of a rigorous philosophical takedown of essentialist notions of gender and sexuality."

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall