Question Seventeen: Does it undermine a trans man’s identity for a lesbian to say ‘I like butches and trans men’?

April 17, 2013 § 31 Comments

Another contentious one – and so early in the morning! Panel bios here.

 

Question Seventeen

I really appreciate this post, because I want to be the best trans ally I can be. I’ve always understood that as a cis woman, it was my responsibility to read & educate myself on trans issues & not expect the trans people around me to educate me. And I think this does have some merit, because cis people should treat trans people just like anyone else, & ask them the usual “what do you do” questions, not intrusive “what surgery have you had” or “how do you have sex” intrusive questions, which some of my straight cis-friends have actually asked my trans friends. 
My question is, does it undermine the gender identity of a trans person if for example, a lesbian says “I like butches & trans men”. Or are we all just queers who feel attracted to human beings?? Hope that makes sense, thanks xx


 

 

 

Naith: This is a very interesting question. As a trans man, I’ve always gone with the rule that I would never date or hook up with someone who wouldn’t do the same with a cis man. I would find it very uncomfortable to be with a lesbian or straight man, since I would be constantly worrying that wouldn’t see me as a man, or a special kind of man that isn’t the same as a cis man. Some people manage it, but I never could. And I do find it irritating when people say they’re attracted to “women and trans men” – it feels like they’re treating trans men like a special category of men who aren’t quite men, who are almost like women. And I hate that.

 

 

Roz: Treat people as people, let anyone trans tell you what they feel like telling you. Or not.

 

 

Natacha: If I were a trans man I think I would be very upset by that sort of remark but I can’t speak for trans men. I do know that there are a lot of straight cisgender men out there who enjoy anal sex but do not fancy men. This is why there is a demand for pre-operative trans women as sex workers. I think the first part of your statement actually answers the question. We just want to be treated as anyone else. Eg in some cases we appear female and have vaginas, in other cases we appear female and have ladysticks. In both cases we are still women.

I think some trans people however would not like the idea that they are queer. This represents coercive queering which is not appropriate for all trans people.

 

 

CN: There’s been a fair bit written recently about the inclusion and fetishization of trans men and trans masculine people in lesbian spaces (usually with a side order of excluding trans women) and I would urge you to have a read: Feministing here and here, Lipstick Terrorist here, and my own thoughts here and here. I would absolutely say that someone who calls themselves a lesbian making an exception only for trans men is undermining the validity of a trans man’s gender. It relies upon a stereotypical idea of what trans men are and defines them by the sex they were assigned at birth. As a contrast, I do have a few lesbian friends who occasionally fancy very girly men and, if they were to end up in a relationship with such a guy, would call themselves bisexual – but those men are no more likely to be trans than cis. 

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§ 31 Responses to Question Seventeen: Does it undermine a trans man’s identity for a lesbian to say ‘I like butches and trans men’?

  • Tom Robinson says:

    Really good to read this – the argument that I should be flattered by lesbian attention, or that anyone can define themselves however they want and thus I shouldn’t be offended by ‘women and trans men’, really rather grates!

    One thing I’d add is that ‘I date women and trans men’ or similar also tends to come from an inaccurate view of trans men: that we all look young, slim and androgynous, that we essentially ‘look like masculine women’, that we won’t have been on T long enough to have a particularly male-typical appearance when unclothed and that we certainly won’t have had lower surgery. This is true for some trans men, but not for all by a very long shot. I’m yet to meet a ‘women and trans men’ lesbian who would still be interested in a trans man who had been on T for 10 years and had top surgery and phalloplasty, for example…

  • Short story: I think this statement sets of really flashy crazy warning flags. I would not, however, dismiss them without investigating.

    I wonder how different people would respond to someone saying, “I am attracted generally to women with a masculine personality, and I am also attracted to trans men with a masculine personality.”

    I think it depends why someone distinguishes “trans man” from “cis man”. If someone would consider dating a comfortable and open, bisexual cis man, perhaps with gender variant aspects to their personality or expression, then perhaps the line isn’t quite “trans man” from “cis man” so much as “openminded man” from “asshole man”—and I can’t argue with that.

    If someone is just avoiding penis territory… I sort of get it, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. I see it somewhat like I see men who only date blondes, or only date Asian women. Yes, it’s a crazy bias, but if it’s a personal attraction thing (or a fetish, perhaps), and it’s necessary for them to establish good relationships, then maybe it’s okay.

    Personally, I have a bit of a clitoris fetish, and my gender dysphoria currently makes penises a distinctly uncomfortable territory (not to mention stubble, blech). But I love women, regardless, and I wouldn’t date a woman with a distinctly masculine personality. I need femininity in the people I date, and I’d like to avoid penis. So, yes, I would feel more comfortable with some trans men than with most cis men…but I can’t say I draw a hard line on it, and my qualifications for “people I’m attracted to” aren’t about cis/trans so much as details of my attraction to gendered characteristics of personality and certain (judgmentally) amaaaazing sex organs.

    Tricky subject.

  • Mia says:

    If someone says ‘I date women and trans men’ I hear ‘I date cis women and trans men.’ It annoys me that I’ve never seen a lesbian who dates (trans) men asked to justify why they identify as lesbian but when people find out that I’m dating a trans woman I’m constantly informed that I’m not a lesbian. I’m a lesbian dating a woman – it’s not exactly difficult to get your head around! They often don’t even see that they’re disrespecting my girlfriend by saying this. I’m guessing that this is part of the whole situation described in the articles CN linked.

  • Lipstick Terrorist says:

    Thanks for the link to my post CN! I find this question fascinating. There are so many possible responses to it. I appreciate Natacha’s phrase ‘coercive queering.’ I’ve never heard it before and I was, like, yes! That is exactly what we do to trans men. An extension of coercive queering that I would like to discuss is that trans men gain some benefits from this queering. Coercive queering means that trans men are, as a group, given access to queer spaces and a privileged status in those spaces independent of whether they identify as queer, who they fuck, or their politics. Trans men are assumed to be inherently, and the epitome of, queer. For me, this is part of the queer feminist idea that to embody masculinity is a way to escape the limitations we impose on anyone assigned female at birth.

    I also appreciate Tom Robinson’s question whether lesbians would fancy a trans man who looks stereotypically ‘male.’

    On a personal note, I am attracted to masculine folks only, which includes butch women and cis and trans men. However, I am more likely to be open to dating a man I know is trans than a man I know is cis. This is because I assume that he will be more feminist and open-minded. This assumption of course is just that, an assumption that doesn’t necessarily have any basis in reality. I mean, just how awesome would it be if trans men were inherently feminist and respectful and understanding of women! IF ONLY.

    Maybe this assumption of ‘socialized as a woman’ and therefore feminist is another reason trans men are given access-all-areas cards to the queer community, whereas trans women are seen as suspect owing to assumptions about their history.

  • Tom Robinson says:

    ‘An extension of coercive queering that I would like to discuss is that trans men gain some benefits from this queering. Coercive queering means that trans men are, as a group, given access to queer spaces and a privileged status in those spaces independent of whether they identify as queer, who they fuck, or their politics. Trans men are assumed to be inherently, and the epitome of, queer. For me, this is part of the queer feminist idea that to embody masculinity is a way to escape the limitations we impose on anyone assigned female at birth.’

    I don’t think it’s a privilege to be seen as not a man, though. Coercive queering (a word I’m very uncomfortable with due to its history as a slur, but will use here because it’s been used already) is essentially ‘I don’t see you as a man, rather as a special breed of woman’. It’s not a privilege to be degendered, to be seen as ‘queer’, to be seen as ‘other’, to not be treated as your actual gender – and also to be shouted down when you express views which differ from the ‘queer’ ideal that’s been projected onto you. In addition, a trans man who is feminine in presentation, or older, or overweight, or disabled, or otherwise doesn’t hit all the boxes for ‘pin-up ideal’ isn’t treated as ‘the epitome of queer’. Plenty of us are one or more of these things.

    I might be able to have ‘access to queer spaces’, but only because of ideas about my body, the assumption that I still have a vagina and will never have lower surgery, and the idea that I am available for lesbians to be sexually attracted to if they so desire. As it happens, my access to ‘queer’ spaces ends the moment I open my mouth, because of how middle-class the ‘queer’ community is and thus how I don’t fit in with them at all (though I wouldn’t want to anyway), in addition to my many political differences with them.

    And this is a problem. It’s not that I particularly want to be in ‘queer’ circles, but rather that I need other trans people for certain practical reasons: information on medical transition and legal issues, primarily. When I don’t feel safe in those spaces because of this ‘coercive queering’, when I’m not able to talk about seeing myself as incidentally transsexual in those spaces or about experiencing dysphoria (as has happened) because it doesn’t fit a lot of the dominant narrative about how trans men are seen, this is not a privilege. It means I lose one of the few spaces I have.

    I’d also say that this depends very heavily on the LGBT circles you move in. Pre-transition, I was from small-town Yorkshire, and the only place I had to go was a local ‘LGBT’ youth group; in practice, L and G with rampant transphobia and biphobia. I wasn’t out as male there, because it wasn’t safe, but even as a ‘masculine lesbian’, which they knew me as, I was continually mocked by the lesbians in the group because I should be more feminine – because ‘why would you bother liking girls if you look like a man?’, because ‘I want a girlfriend, not a boyfriend’, because ‘no wonder you get picked on if you look like a man’. The assumption that every LGBT space has this ‘queer’ ideal is one that betrays an ignorance of other LGBT attitudes still knocking around – and at least where I’m from, there’s no privilege at all in being masculine-presenting and female-assigned, let alone anything more.

  • biscuit says:

    Lipstick Terrorist – trans man aren’t given “access-all-areas” cards to cis male queer community at all. Cis male gay/queer/SSA space is generally very hostile to trans men.

  • cnlester says:

    I think the dichotomy that biscuit ( typing ‘biscuit’ is making me think of oatmeal raisin cookies) brings up about exclusion/inclusion in cis male/female spaces, and Tom’s point about being both degendered and only desirable as a degendered creature if you fit certain criteria get to the heart of what the problem is here:

    1) That trans people are always and forever judged by the sex they were assigned at birth.
    2) That there are cultural models of desirable trans-ness, but they rely on a presupposition of genital alignment, and a further adherence to standard kyriarchal rules of desirability.

    And both of those things totally suck.

    Rather than being access-all-area cards to the queer community, I think that some trans masculine people who fit a certain aesthetic are fetishized by certain queer cis women (who mostly ignored or exclude trans women) – mostly in more ‘alternative’ spaces in cities, as far as I’ve been able to see. Personally, I don’t know many guys who are happy amount it.

  • Lipstick Terrorist says:

    CN, biscuit, Tom – you are right in suggesting that I am talking about a certain kind of queer community. The communities in which trans men are seen as desirable by queer women is a primarily female-assigned-at birth, consciously politicised queer community that is quite different from the mainstream lesbian or gay community. I have seen these communities in Montreal, Berlin, London and Toronto. They tend to be middle-class, mainly white, dominated by female-assigned-at-birth folks, including gender queer folks, dykes and trans men. Cis men are a rarity in them.

    I believe Tom and biscuit that some cis male dominated and LGBT communities discriminate against trans men. As a woman I have very little experience of those communities. But I do know that in mainstream British lesbian circles, it is cool to be feminine and being butch or masculine presenting is seen as being old-fashioned. I would imagine that trans men are not welcome in those spaces. The opposite is true in the queer circles I see around me in the above cities. A masculine presentation in its members is seen as more feminist and ‘liberated’ than a feminine.

    I totally agree with Tom that it is not a privilege to be seen as other, or not to have your gender recognised and respected. Reading your comment, Tom, really touched me.

    I agree with CN that the reasons we, in these particular queer communities, fetishize trans men are based on really problematic assumptions about their bodies and genders.

    However, as I see it, trans men do gain some social benefits from this fetishization. At what cost – to other queer expressions and to a respectful recognition of their own identities – is a good question. The dynamics of sexism in these queer communities value masculinity over femininity. As such, trans men are given a privileged status as somehow a ‘better, queerer queer.’

    In accepting this space, trans men, as well as cis women, are colluding in a sexist economy which values transmasculinities at the cost of excluding transfemininities. Butches, trans men, masculine gender queers and boyish dykes are seen as queer whereas trans women, feminine gender queers, femmes and femmey boys are seen as ‘still immersed in their oppression.’ The place in which I have seen this dynamic most strikingly is Berlin.

    I don’t have an easy solution to these problems. I guess my main point is – yes – it undermines a trans man’s identity for a lesbian to say I like butches and trans men. However, the inclusion in a certain queer community that this phrase hints at does grant some benefits to trans men, even if that inclusion is based on some really dodgy assumptions.

    • cnlester says:

      For me, the only easy solution to this is the totally personal one – never to knowingly engage with a group who would welcome trans masculine people and exclude/denigrate trans feminine people. On a wider scale? I guess the fact that we’re having this conversation and blogging about it is hopefully a step in the right direction.

      I haven’t had much experience with scenes like that – my LGBTI stuff is mostly limited to political work, conferences and events organised by friends (or by myself) – but enough to notice the stark difference between the way I was treated in mainstream LG spaces (‘ew, I don’t even KNOW what you have between your legs’, ‘so what are you REALLY?’, ‘you know, you could be a really strong woman, if you only tried’, ‘you’re not a real transsexual, you’re just a confused butch’) and the kind of communities you’re describing. I think some of it’s because of being better known as a musician and activist, but a lot of it seems to be down to that idea that being trans masculine makes you some kind of dangerous rebel – you know, James Dean with a vagina 😉 And from people who frequently claim to have moved on from and dismantled oppressive ideas of cultural readings and interiority? It’s all a bit much.

      Can I just thank everyone for leaving comments? It’s lovely to have a multiplicity of opinions presented – thanks x

  • This is a conversation about lesbian women who’re attracted to cis-women and trans-men. I don’t think any of them have come forward in the comments, but as a cis-man in a similar situation, I’m hoping this will come across as relevant experience rather than derailing/cisplaining.

    I identify as a cis-man and as mostly straight. It’s vanishingly rare for me to be attracted to other cis-men, compared to how often I’m attracted to cis-women.

    But when it comes to trans or genderqueer folk, I tend to find I’m attracted to trans-men and generally FAAB genderqueer folk, and not attracted to trans-women or MAAB genderqueer people.

    I’m not comfortable with that, although I’m more comfortable than I used to be. I don’t have any concious control over who I’m attracted to, but I worry that my subconcious attractions are fetishising and undermining other people’s gender identities.

    For me, talking this over with a few trans friends has been massively useful. It hasn’t changed who I’m attracted to, but it has left me feeling more comfortable with it being okay for me to be attracted to whoever I’m attracted to, provided I still treat them as people, rather than just the product of their gender identity or sexual organs.

    As Tom noted right at the top, I really don’t know how I’d feel about trans-folk who had had a lot of the medical procedures for physically transitioning. I suspect I’d be much more attracted to a trans-woman who had spent a long time on hormone treatment than a trans-man who had. I’m really quite uncomfortable with that, but other than being aware and open about it, I honestly don’t know what more I can do.

  • I’m mostly attracted to people with feminine/androgynous bodies and more masculine personalities, but for me trans men usually fall at the ‘too masculine’ end of the scale, even though I occasionally go for feminine looking cis men or male-bodied queers. I do occasionally experience attractions that break this rule but that mostly happens when personality overwhelms other factors and I’m wary of getting into relationships on that basis because, for me, the attraction rarely lasts (even if friendship does). I think it’s partly that, even if aspects of some trans men’s appearances might be seen as feminine, they usually carry them in a more masculine way – that takes them further away from androgeneity – than other male-bodied pople who are comfortable with their feminine aspects.

    I hope that makes some sense.

  • Rei says:

    I’m a lesbian with a sort of twisty gender identity, and I am honestly baffled at the idea of “I only date women and trans men” even really being a thing. I suppose I can understand it coming from somebody lesbian-identified who stayed with her partner through his transition and found it didn’t affect her attraction to him, but…no, even that’s a stretch.

    The other possibility is that certain lesbian circles are pretty quick to revoke the dyke-card, so for lesbians who are attracted to the occasional guy it’s easier to say “no, I only date *trans* men! It’s okay, there are no physical penises involved! Look, I’m still a good lesbian!” than to deal with the flak you get from saying “I’m a lesbian who sometimes fancies men”. Which I have a certain amount of sympathy with, but that’s still a problem with the lesbian community.

    I suppose I feel like there are things which need to be more carefully talked about as a general rule, and this is one of them. A common defense of statements like this is “well, dude, I have my own personal preferences, I can’t change them”, and…well, yeah…but. People are attracted to who they’re attracted to, for sure, and nobody should feel like they can’t have their personal preferences in the interests of being politically correct, *but*.

    But I feel like saying “I only date butches and trans men” somehow implicitly conflates trans men with butch women, which is not an okay thing to say even if that is how your crotch sees it. If you identify as lesbian but find yourself attracted to certain men (trans or otherwise), and they’re okay with the fact that you don’t feel comfortable identifying as bi (which is your right), I sort of feel like the fact that you are dating the people you want to date takes adequate care of your personal preferences. You don’t need to use them to justify your saying something that is legitimately hurtful to a lot of people.

  • Amanda says:

    Hi all,

    Interesting question. I have mixed feelings about it because although it could sort of apply to me I wouldn’t use that actual wording. I can see how saying it in that way ‘implicitly conflates trans men with butch women’ as Rei said. This isn’t something I would ever want to do.

    I wouldn’t describe myself as a lesbian who is attracted to trans men but I would describe myself as a lesbian who is in a long term relationship with a trans man. When I met my partner he had not started transitioning but he was open about the fact that he intended to do so. I had been out as a lesbian since I was 15. Given these facts we were a little concerned that any relationship was doomed. However we had undeniable feelings for each other so we decided to give things a go and are still together 10 years later.

    My identity, his identity and how they are received in combination by the outside world has been an ongoing topic of discussion between us. I believe that our relationship works because he respects my identity as a lesbian and I respect his identity as a man. This might seem totally contradictory to people not in our relationship but it works for us.

    The question asked about undermining trans men’s identities and CN said ‘I would absolutely say that someone who calls themselves a lesbian making an exception only for trans men is undermining the validity of a trans man’s gender.’ Given that my partner is seen as male by everyone (excluding his family) and I am not ‘visibly’ lesbian – if anyone’s identity is undermined here it is mine. Even people who had known me for years before I met him thought that our relationship meant I was no longer a lesbian. I’m not here to complain about that. I’m simply saying that out in the real world people see a man and a woman together and think ‘straight couple’. They don’t see me with a neon lesbian sign and think ‘oh he’s not really a man then’.

    My partner has been on T for about 8 years and recently had top surgery. He isn’t planning any lower surgery at the moment (for his own reasons might I add, not because I vetoed it). Has his transition affected our relationship? Of course it has. Has it affected my feelings for him or my attraction to him? I can honestly say no. His body is still his body – it’s not ‘some guy’s’ body. The fact that it has been altered by hormones and surgery doesn’t seem to have made any difference to how I feel about it. Of course there was a risk that I would feel different – right up until it happened even I couldn’t say for sure how I would feel about it. If he decided that he did want a phalloplasty I would find that difficult. Party because I prefer to avoid ‘penis territory’ as Transilhouette so delightfully put it but also because of the process itself. If that day ever comes we will work on it like we do any other issue in our relationship.

    Before I met my current partner I was in a 4 year relationship with someone who at the time I believed was lesbian but transitioned after we split up. Given that I’m not quite 30, you can see I haven’t spent a lot of time being single. Going around looking for women to sleep with hasn’t really ever been part of my life. I’ve basically been in 2 long term relationships and as it turns out, both my partner and my ex are trans men. Looking at it from a numbers point of view, I’m not really a great example of a lesbian!

    Yeah sure, I look around and find some women physically attractive. But the thought of having a relationship with one of them or even having casual sex is a bit bizarre really. Since I’m in a monogamous relationship it’s a bit like that part of my lesbian identity is dormant. But for me being a lesbian isn’t just about who I sleep with/am attracted to. It’s a political and social identity that is part of who I am. Having said that, it would be really easy to give up and say I’m straight instead of coming out in a convoluted way over and over again. Except that I would feel like part of my self was being crushed out of existence.

    If I became single in the future I would most likely look for a female partner. I would say that I am primarily attracted to women rather than men. I’ve met lots of trans and cis men and on the whole I would say I’m not attracted to them. On the other hand it wouldn’t be accurate to say I feel completely neutral towards men or have never had any feelings for specific individuals of the male variety. I wouldn’t rule out a future relationship with a trans man because after all, it has worked out before. I find it very difficult to contemplate a relationship with a cis man. It’s hard to say how much of this is about penis territory and how much of it is about some belief I may have that a trans man is more likely to be suited to me personality-wise than a cis man. I’m quite certain it isn’t about fetishising though.

    • cnlester says:

      This isn’t meant to be a rude or aggressive question, but a genuine one – I was wondering why you prefer to say ‘lesbian’ over ‘bisexual’ or ‘pansexual’?

      • Maeve says:

        Obviously up to Amanda to reply here, but I think she covered that with “But for me being a lesbian isn’t just about who I sleep with/am attracted to. It’s a political and social identity that is part of who I am.”

        I feel the same way (now) about being bisexual. For years I didn’t own the label, partly due to internalised biphobia but also because having only had ‘proper’ relationships with cis men, I didn’t think I counted as an actual bi person. But given that, (in a monogamous relationship anyway) you can only visibly demonstrate your partnering with one gender identity, I feel like being bi makes more sense politically and socially. I am bisexual whether I’m monogamous, single, asexual, poly, whatever. Labels are about much more of our identity than just a single facet. I think ‘lesbian’ in particular has a huge weight of historical political meaning, that I can definitely understand not wanting to give it up. However, it’s not a label that’s ever worked for me (see: previous relationships with men!).

        The coupling of a lesbian and a transman is clearly very complex, but I think if it works for the people within the relationship, then that should be for them to decide.

        Incidentally, I’ll add that I did ask my partner about this years ago, whether he would feel his identity as a transman undermined if I did identify as a lesbian, and he said no. I’ve been unable to get further detail out of him, but I guess it’s more difficult to address as a hypothetical!

      • Amanda says:

        The short answer to cnlester’s question is simply that ‘lesbian’ feels right in way that bi or pansexual do not.

        Let me be clear that I have great respect and even admiration for bi/pansexual people. It makes a lot of sense to me to say that a person’s gender and/or sex is irrelevant to whether one finds them attractive or not. It also takes a lot of strength to recognise that in a monosexual environment. I often find myself identifying when I hear bisexual people talk about their identities in the way that Maeve has done here. However for me I don’t think a potential partner’s sex and/or gender IS irrelevant. The relationship between whether I could consider someone a suitable partner and that person’s gender and/or sex is perhaps less straightforward than it is for other people but it does exist.

        Of course when I met my current partner I spent some time thinking about what this meant, if I was attracted to someone who identified as male was I really bi and so on. Somehow I just knew that I was a lesbian regardless and I wasn’t going to change my label just because other people thought it was weird. My identity is about ME. Our relationship is about US.

        When I found out my ex was transitioning and my only ‘proper lesbian relationship’ had in fact been with a trans man as well – you can imagine what went through my mind. (In retrospect it should have been blindingly obvious that my ex was trans but that’s another story.) This time my thought wasn’t ‘could I be bisexual’ but ‘what the hell does that make me’? Either it’s a very big coincidence or one of the things that attracts me to a person is some sort of masculinity housed in a not entirely male body. If this extremely specific set up is the only thing that works for me (and I’m not saying it is) then that is about as far from bi/pansexuality as you can get. And there isn’t really a name for it. So lesbian is still the identity that feels most right.

        Cnlester, it seems you’ve had some negative experiences and I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. But I can’t help feeling slightly rankled by your use of the word ‘exception.’ My relationship is not some aberration on the otherwise smooth trajectory of the gold star lesbian path. Nor is it something by which I determine my entire being. Do you think that people either should avoid dating those who don’t fit their usual remit or if they do, they should completely change how they identify in order to accommodate the partner? Why should one partner’s identity trump the other’s?

        Ultimately I can understand why some trans men wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with someone that identifies as lesbian (or a straight man). If that’s how they feel then they shouldn’t do it. I’m not available anyway ;P

        • cnlester says:

          Hi Amanda,

          Thanks for writing – really was asking from a genuinely interested place, and not trying to get at you, so sorry if it came across that way.

          And sorry if the word ‘exception’ was off-putting – I use it because that’s always the word ex-partners used, and the way that they explained the situation, the way friends/family/colleagues explained the situation – and how most potential partners have described being attracted to me. I don’t think many people expect to be in a romantic relationship with somebody outside of the male/female thing, and are often keen to hang on to their previous appellation. I’ve not yet met a person who hasn’t then tried to change me in ways that would make me more acceptable to said appellation – but I live in hope.

          I think people should date the people they’re attracted to and love – but I do genuinely find it challenging (which in interesting again) when people use a descriptive that, in its plainest sense, excludes the category of the person that they’re with. Maybe this is just a difference in how we approach categorisation of sexual orientation – between a social group/cultural marker and an adjective to sum up experience. When you ask ‘they should completely change how they identify in order to accommodate the partner?’ – no, I don’t think they should. But I would want my partner to use a word that includes our relationship.

          I would say that that definition of bi/pansexuality (of gender being irrelevant) is not the only one – being attracted to more than one gender over the course of a lifetime doesn’t preclude specific tastes, in gender or other things. I seem to only be attracted to musicians, which is worrying…

          • Amanda says:

            Hi cnlester,

            Sorry if I came across as defensive. I guess it’s a little hard to avoid in this area since I often feel as if I have to ‘defend’ my choice of label. But I actually enjoy the opportunity to discuss these details in the company of people who can at least comprehend what I’m talking about.

            You have the right to use the word ‘exception’ of course since that has been your experience. Coming as a ‘though’ at the end of your paragraph ‘I think there’s a difference….’ I couldn’t help taking it personally. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe my relationship or my partner and I can see why you wouldn’t like it.

            You said ‘I would want my partner to use a word that includes our relationship’. I think the fundamental difference between our points of view is that you feel that a person’s label should include an acknowledgement of their current relationship whereas I see the right to define myself as fundamental to the success of my relationship.

            It certainly seems to be a common idea, although perhaps different from what you’re saying, that the identity of one person in a relationship defines the identity of the other: in other words if I am a lesbian my partner must be a woman or if my partner is male then I must be straight. In my experience the latter occurs to people more often than the former. In the case of people who refuse to accept trans people as the gender they say they are, they might prefer the former but I think those people are going to be problematic anyway.

            I feel that my relationship with my partner is much more obviously out there in society than whatever I refer to my sexuality/sexual identity as. Whenever I meet new people I generally mention my partner very early on. I don’t tend to mention my sexuality or the fact that my partner is trans until I know them quite well and feel that this information I would like them to have, although that depends on the situation since with other LGBT people it usually comes up more quickly than with straight people. So there are lots of people out there who know that my partner is male and assume that I am straight. There aren’t any people I can think of who know that I identify as lesbian without knowing that my partner is male.

            I’m happy to admit my definition of bi/pansexuality may be flawed. Since it’s not a label I identify with it would be foolish of me to try to define it.

    • cnlester says:

      And because I didn’t think my sentence through properly, and now realise how rude it can sound – I think there’s a difference between someone falling in love with someone who doesn’t fit their usual remit and wanting to acknowledge both their relationship and a category that makes sense for them, and someone who’s a lesbian saying that the whole category of ‘trans men’ is an acceptable add-on to ‘and (usually) cis woman’ in a way that just ‘men’ wouldn’t be.

      Though, always having been someone’s ‘exception’, I can’t say the experience has ever gone well for me. Sadly.

  • cnlester says:

    Thanks to everyone – really interesting to read your responses.

  • […] “Does it undermine a trans man’s identity for a lesbian to say ‘I like butches and… […]

  • […] of the questions was about whether it undermines a trans man’s identity for a woman to say “I am into butch women and trans men”. I didn’t comment on the panel as that is not the situation I am in, although I couldn’t resist […]

  • Natacha’s explicit language about trans women should only be used by other transfeminine people, just to be clear. Others shouldn’t justify using slurs, objectifying market/surgical language or other offensive terms by pointing to this page; that would be appropriation.

  • jc says:

    Yes. It does undermine a trans man’s identity, and enrages this particular trans man. I would not date a straight man, and if one hit on me saying he liked “tomboy” women and trans men, I would laugh in his face.

    For those who would say “but they’re queer, it’s different”, I would say “nice try”. Imagine how justifiably pissed off a trans woman would be to hear a gay man say to her “I like effeminate gay men and trans women.” Insulting and misgendering, right? Yes, and same as this “butch women and trans men” crap.

    We trans men need to realize that this kind of attention is not “flattering”, it’s insulting. I’m bi and homoromantic and therefore had no allegiance to the “queer women’s scene” prior to transition, but I would hope that even trans guys who did can see this bullshit for what it is: an attempt for queer cis women to get what they see as a Diet Man, with a dollop of queer cred on top. Usually, this type of queer cis woman is also a transmisogynist who would never date a trans woman, and makes sure that anyone on the fem/transfeminine assigned male at birth spectrum (whether a queer trans woman or the cis queer boyfriends of the trans guys she so covets) feels “less than” the butch/transmasculine/trans male people she puts on a pedestal in the hope that they pick her!

  • Anonymous says:

    I am a straight cis woman, not generally historically attracted to women. However, recently I have found that I have lived my life under the yoke of an oppressive, patriarchal system that has defined me based on my youth and sexuality. I am finding myself rebelling against anything resembling objectification and defined by the male gaze.

    Strangely, I recently realized that while my attraction to men is still very real, they now represent to me something that I do not trust (perhaps due to some PTSD as well). While it is my primary orientation, I am increasingly intrigued by gender nonconforming folks, masculine women, and trans men.

    My reasons for grouping masculine lesbians and transmen together are not because I do not consider them “real” men, as seems to be the main criticism in this discussion. It’s because to me, the experience of being gender nonconforming to any degree represents a form of hardship and emotional resiliency that I just, at a gut level, am not capable of ascribing to cis men. I can’t help but think of cis men as having a privilege and entitlement that very few are aware of. Trans men, by virtue of “coming out” and transitioning, can understand the oppression and being defined by gender and sexuality in a way that cis men cannot.

  • ngtaile says:

    I am a bisexual woman reading this thread because I am reflecting on my fetish of trans men. The statement “I date women and trans men” resonates with me, but I realize it is out of a fear of cis men, which is rooted in trauma. It would be more accurate to say “I don’t want to date cis men right now”.

    But it is true that I have a fetishization of trans men, I assume that they are safe, non-toxic, compassionate, caring, balanced in their femininity/masculinity, and someone that can satisfy me as “both a man and a woman”.

    I realize this is incredibly problematic (especially the last one, I am so sorry), and I will be extremely careful to respect trans men I meet as people, but I also find my experience of fetishization incredibly strong and hard to just “shake off”.

    Again, I believe this is rooted in my trauma and fear of cis men, and my mind is fetishizing trans men in the desperate search for a healing, healthy relationship with a man, and with masculinity in general.

    I truly believe that we would do well as a community to address trauma as part of our queer identities. In this age, we all experience some level of trauma, and that undoubtedly affects our romantic/sexual relationships.

    Our traumas do not change who we are at the core, and yet it shapes who we think we are, and can create confusion in identity. “Lesbians” who have sex with cis women and trans men may be unconsciously trying to process their fear of men, to seek out a positive experience with men that would be healing for their trauma.

    I don’t mean to say that this is okay or respectful to trans men, especially when the “lesbian” refuses to reflect on their attraction for trans men, and what this says about them, either in terms of their sexuality or their trauma.

    Much Love

  • Artist says:

    I have been looking for people that understand my identity as a gay woman who loves a trans man. If the terms or punctuation in my terms I use are offensive, I hope you will be able to look past them and see a real and flawed human who loves her partner more than she ever thought she’d love someone. Each of us is an individual and I respect you readers as individuals with your own complexity. I needed a place to share my story. As Maya Angelou said, “there is no greater agony then bearing an untold story inside you.”

    So here I am, having had romantic relationships and sexual trauma with men before coming out as gay, I tried the term bisexual out since I was in love with the guy I was dating at the time but I knew that didn’t fully fit. It wasn’t until I kissed my first girlfriend that I understood why people loved kissing. Before that it had been just a thing I thought I was supposed to do.

    I have always been attracted to female masculinity, I love the feeling of protection and safety I felt with my husband, knowing he would kick the ass of anyone who tried to mess with me. Funny how the cis-men I dated previously never gave me that sense of having my back which I associated with men and masculinity.

    Anyway, when I met my husband, he was trying really hard to be a lesbian and masculine woman but it just didn’t fit. He felt since he was attracted to women and was female bodied, women wouldn’t want to be with him if he looked too masculine. He tried so hard to fit himself into a butch lesbian box but it just didn’t work.

    I knew when we got together that I was attracted to his masculinity and was aware and open to a gender transition as a possibility in his future. I desperately wanted to be a mom but he was dragging his feet about becoming a parent, he didn’t want to be a mom.

    Early in our relationship, the PTSD from past sexual and abuse trauma came out in force our relationship barely survived my sorting it all out but he stood by me and tried to understand. There was very little sex going on at that point. That was tough for a person who shows love in a physical way and finds that as a way to connect where I was having to work so hard to access my sexuality at all.

    Fast forward, we have our child (I carried him, my partner had no interest as he knew he wasn’t a woman) and he finally has the space in the relationship to explore his gender identity. I was 100% supportive of his transition and assured him I would love him no matter what. When he started on T, I was suddenly terrified he’d become like the men that had hurt me. Like somehow the hormones would make him a different person. One of the men that had hurt me had a beard and the growth of his facial hair made it really hard to kiss him for a while. Then that became sort of cool, that whole gender f__k thing was fun.

    During his transition as he identified more and more as a man, I had an unexpected identity crisis and wondered if I an a lesbian could stay with him as a man. Having come out into the lesbian feminist community, I had many friends who had known him for years wonder why I would stay. I found myself shut out of the community that had welcomed and supported me for so many years. I thought maybe we could just stop being sexual with each other and continue to co-parent and be each other’s family. Yeah, that wouldn’t have ended well or worked at all.

    I realized that it wasn’t so much the loss of identity that scared me as the loss of the love of my life. I knew the choice was mine, stay or go and I knew there was only one answer.

    Fast forward to now, the love of my life lives as his true self, identifies as a trans-man and I cannot get enough of him. We have grown so much closer though all of our soul searching and I cannot imagine life without him. We have been together for 20 years now.

    I was searching for a name for a lesbian who loves a trans-man but all the terms seem so fetishized. Bottom surgery would be really tough for me but I know that is something we’d work through together. I have wondered if I am bisexual since I love a man and his masculinity but that doesn’t fit me. I wonder should something happen to him, if I found love again would it be with a trans-man? An androgynous woman? A masculine woman? I can see how this question could be hurtful for someone what identifies as a man. It’s all very confusing for me. I did not fall in love with a man, I fell in love with a person but I cannot imagine myself every wanting to be with a cis-man. Does that emasculate my partner? He says no, he knows I am gay (lesbian as a term never sat quite right with me, oddly enough it feels too separatist). He wonders if I will ever want to be with a cis-lesbian someday and says it’s okay if I do. Funny that I cannot imagine ever loving or want to be with someone else, my heart is forever his. I don’t miss a smooth face and a woman’s body like I thought I might. I have a partner who is fully engaged and loving me in all ways. We have an incredible emotional intimacy for which I am so grateful.

    There is still that question though that drew me to this article in the first place. I think for me it isn’t exclusionary to not be interested in trans-women as partners, for me I like the masculinity that trans-men and butches have, it’s an energy that feels very different to me than cis-straight-men have. in my mind that isn’t a fetish or a lack of recognition of trans-men as men, it’s an attraction to the soul searching that goes into the process of reconciling with one’s gender, the strength to live one’s truth, to choose your own path, to have a rebirth in your own terms that attracts me to trans men. I greatly respect and admire trans women who have been through the same kind of journey. I am not attracted to femininity in any gender, I feel like that doesn’t leave room for me to express my own femininity.

    When my husband transitioned, I lost some of my androgyny as I felt like I needed to affirm my femininity, my woman-ness. I feel like now, 9 years after my co-transition with my love, I am finally allowing myself the space to explore that part of me. My love never asked or expected me to change how I identify or who I am. I did, however need to understand what it meant to be me in a relationship where people looking in see us as a straight couple. I do feel invisible sometimes and it is hard to speak openly about my orientation without feeling the need to explain. For the two of us, it works. We are two people who adore and respect each other. Who fit together like two halves of a whole.

    Seems to me Zora Neale Hurston was correct, “love is lak de sea. “it’s uh movin’ thing” and that “it takes its shape from de shore it meets” and that “it’s different with every shore it touches.”

    I hope for all reading this that you may have the opportunity to love and be loved as I have. You as you are, a complex human being seen, heard and adored not in spite of your identity but because of who you are.

    Thanks for reading all of this, I just finished reading “Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender. It’s a coming of age story about a black queer trans youth trying to sort out his identity and learn to love himself. I could identify with so many characters in the story and it really had a huge impact on me.

  • artist says:

    to go with the story above, I didn’t intend to post my full name though I am very open about my life. I don’t use my given name unless signing checks. If it is possible to change my name to just artist, that would be my preference. Not sure I need people to associate this much personal information with my full name.

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