Some people believe that attraction to trans people is a “taste” or even a special sexual orientation.
These are the people who aren’t so crude as to say that e.g. gay men but not straight men would be attracted to trans women. I hope I don’t have to convince you that this idea is wrong. Simply put, no gay man has ever shown even a microscopic amount of attraction towards me since my transition. Instead, I’ve been romantically involved with lesbian women and straight men and a lot of bisexual people. I hope we’re clear on this point before we move on.
The simple fact is, perhaps we could have a meaningful conversation about trans people being a “taste” if we didn’t live in an immensely transphobic world. As it is, 99% of the time anyone says they are not attracted to trans people, it is not because of any innate tastes, but because of a learned phobia.
Of course, tastes are often learned. But I think most of the time when a guy says no he could never be with a trans woman, he thinks that this is something innate to him. I intend to argue here that it is not innate, and that it is a result of particularly nasty conditioning that should be changed.
In order to back up my assertion here, I did a little research. I posed a question in two Facebook groups: one, a trans group, and another, a vegan group (chosen because it was not related to trans issues, but would probably not be so hostile it would throw me out for even asking). I asked them whether they would consider a sexual and romantic relationship with a pre-op trans person.
The vegan group was split 26-26 (50%-50%).
The trans group was split 41 to 6 in favour of those who would consider a relationship with another trans person. (87%-13%).
The discrepancy here is obvious. (Indeed, if I had picked a group that wasn’t as left-leaning as a vegan group, I am sure the discrepancy could have been much, much greater). Why do trans people find other trans people to be viable relationship partners much more often than cis (non-trans) vegans do? I would put this all down to differences in levels of transphobia. Trans people, for obvious reasons, tend to be less transphobic than cis people.
I believe that the apparently non-trans-attracted trans people who responded have issues with internalised transphobia. Indeed, I know of one non-trans-attracted trans person, who is very clearly uncomfortable with herself for being trans. I don’t know the specific situations of other non-trans-attracted trans people, but I’m guessing they are similar.
If you want to read more about the exact methods I used in this research, click here.
Learned And Not Innate
So I believe that the “taste” which says that someone couldn’t be attracted to a trans person is learned and not innate.
I believe that when a straight guy says no he could never be with a trans woman, there’s misgendering going on here. Secretly, no matter how politely he might deal with the trans woman in his speech, the straight guy doesn’t REALLY see her as a woman.
There is also homophobia here. The gut reaction no I could never be with a trans woman comes from the fear of somehow being gay; and that fear could only be there if being gay was considered a bad thing.
In reality, when someone has a “taste” it rarely or never expresses itself with such vehemence. Ever heard a guy say no I could never be with a blonde woman? Or, no I could never, ever be with a girl with small boobs? Some guys might have preferences in these areas, but if they’re not shallow, they can see beyond those things and fall in love with the woman inside. And if they are shallow, I would be willing to bet that they wouldn’t give up the opportunity for sex if a girl e.g. with small breasts just happened to be available.
The Burn Victim Analogy
Actually, being trans is very different from being blonde or having small breasts.
For one thing, trans people come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are absolutely indistinguishable from cis people, even naked. If someone is indistinguishable from a cis person, what exactly could make you not attracted? The thought that that person was trans? If the thought alone changes your attraction, then I think it’s pretty fair to suggest that you’re dealing with transphobia here and nothing else.
For another thing, those areas where a trans person differs from a cis person are areas which the trans person isn’t usually happy about. It’s rare to find a trans woman who loves her penis, for example. For this reason, she usually doesn’t want YOU to love it either. A trans person normally wants you to see them as they are inside, not how they are outside, and deal with their body in such a way as to simulate the body being as they internally sense it.
Hence, to say trans people are a “taste” is like saying burn victims are a taste. Or paraplegics are a taste. Or amputees.
I suspect people from any of these categories want you not to make a big deal about their deformities. I don’t think they would be too happy with you obsessing over their burns or their amputated stumps, putting all your attention there and reminding them of the parts of themselves they don’t like. Instead, they would, I expect, prefer you to see them for how they are inside, and to treat their body as close as possible to how you would treat their body if it were as it should be.
Of course, some shallow people would choose not to be with an amputee or a burn victim. In the same way, I guess some shallow people would want to avoid dealing with the troubles of a trans person. But then it’s not about taste. It’s about not being willing to see past exterior imperfections and enjoy the perfect person who is inside.
About genitals – some people seem to think that genitals are what define sexuality. According to them, if you’re a man and you interact with a penis, you’re gay (or bi?). If you’re a man and you interact with a vagina, you’re straight.
This is really just an extension of the fallacy which makes genitals central in determining gender. If you’ve spent even a little time around a trans person, you’ve probably realised that there is an essence to their gender that goes far beyond their genitals.
And in sex, and in romantic relationships, the interesting thing is that genitals really are not a big part of a person. When you’re on a date with your girlfriend, how often are you thinking about her genitals? Even, when you’re having sex, is genitals everything that matters? If it were, what would be the difference between having sex and masturbating with a rubber vagina?
I believe that a straight man might not be especially interested in a penis, but that doesn’t mean he has to avoid penises at all costs. A really strong reaction like, “I could NEVER touch a penis!” has more to do with homophobia than anything else. At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of flesh. What’s so scary about that?
And going back to the amputee/burn victim analogy, see, the straight man isn’t really SUPPOSED to see the penis as something so exciting. The penis is basically a deformity. You don’t have to love a deformity, you just have to be non-shallow enough to get past it and enjoy the person for the whole of them.
Why This Matters
This matters to me partly because yeah, I find it harder to find romantic and sexual partners than I used to. But actually, that’s not the biggest issue for me. The issue here is that saying trans people are unattractive, or attractive only to people with a mythical, non-existent “taste” or orientation, is a way of ostracising them. It is one of the most fundamental ways of ostracising someone. It is basically saying someone is not worthy of intimacy, or in other words, is just not worthy as a person.
I don’t want you to try and force yourself to be with someone you find unattractive. Instead, I want you to question your attraction, and realise where that attraction is learnt rather than innate. Then, work on it, and learn new attractions.
I believe this process cannot be made separate from the process of overcoming transphobia. You learn to see trans people as authentic members of their gender, you learn to see them as normal people and not freaks, you learn to see them as valid, you accept them into your society, and then, of course, you’ll be attracted to some of them. And if you can never let yourself be attracted to some of them, you can never really change your other manifestations of transphobia.
And please do work on changing your transphobia (and if you think you’re not even a little transphobic, that means you haven’t examined yourself too closely), because around 50% of trans people have attempted suicide sometime in their life. Trans people are in an extended state of emergency, and nothing can help them except a societal change that includes you.
And yeah, that means falling in love with a trans person or two, potentially. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you should change the attitudes that make it impossible for you.