But not for you

October 3, 2013 § 10 Comments

I’ve said before that I don’t usually write in the first flush of anger – I prefer to let it simmer down and reduce into something luscious and thick and punchy. But right now I am very, very angry – and it’s not new, but it’s been stoked up fresh today, and there’s nothing for it but to write it down.


I am so sick and tired of trans bodies being seen through the lens of cissexism, in all its forms, that I could break something – many things. Two news items today that managed to tick every box in the othering, the judging, of trans bodies and the individuals who inhabit them. First, a seemingly well-intentioned but still infuriating piece in The Advocate – My Attraction to Trans People is not a Fetish – a claim I would have taken more seriously if the author hadn’t used such fetishistic terms for trans people, nor recycled so many of the usual tropes about trans bodies. The second – a heartbreaking story about a Belgian trans man who applied for and received euthanasia – titillatingly retold by news agency after news agency. Here’s a typical example – ‘failed’ surgery (‘botched’ has frequently been used) – and nothing to contradict the tragic claim from an abused and depressed man that he was ‘a monster’.


Ask yourself – the last time you read about trans bodies in a piece written by a cis person, did it contain any of these assertions/hints as to these beliefs? Or have you encountered them in everyday life – because god knows it happens to me all the time:


  • That trans bodies are ‘mutilated’ cis bodies – even when it’s couched in the politest of terms. Both as a threat/plea against physical transition (“but you’re so lovely as you are/it would be such a waste”) and as an attack against those who’ve been through all kinds of medical transition. I’m not going to write out the things frequently said about trans genitals – they’re just too hateful to be on this blog.
  • That trans bodies are ‘failed’ cis bodies – ‘well done old boy, but not quite cricket’. Poor old things. Not quite up to scratch. Done their best. Best you can hope for. What a shame.
  • That trans bodies are so different…so sexy…so exotic. Yes. All trans bodies. Because we’re all alike, and we all have a mixture of differently societally gendered bodily attributes (but only in a way attractive to cis people! otherwise fail!) which make us special and exciting. Even if you ‘can’t tell by looking’ we give off a magical aura that no cis person has.
  • That trans bodies are so different…and terrifying…and help, dystopian nightmare! Franken-something and something-bot. Freaks! All of us! Run away!


Not all cis people do this, not by a long shot. And it’s not that I don’t want a person attracted to me to also be attracted to my body – for better or worse it’s the one I’m stuck with – I’d done my best with it and I want to be desired and found beautiful as much as the next person.
But my body is not a metaphor or entry into a crypto-category of fetish object. No other person has the right to write over it, or depersonalize it – try to dissect it or approach it in a way that negates the intellect that drives it. It’s not a prop, or a bogeyman, or a sex toy – I will not have read back to me what a cis person does or does not find acceptable about the physical embodiment of my self, regardless of the actual self in question.


There are cis people who steal our bodies away from ourselves – through gatekeeping, through cultural pressure, through ‘humour’ and abuse and pity and scorn. We need to take them back.


§ 10 Responses to But not for you

  • pasupatidasi says:

    thanks for this. as the parent of a 10 year old transgender girl i hope the issues you’ve addressed above will be realised and the cis-paradigm and privilege to define trans folk very soon be a thing of the past.

  • nualaan says:

    Excellent expression of what so many of us feel on a daily basis. Thank You!

  • cnlester says:

    Ha! Feel free to disagree – I wouldn’t blog if I expected everyone to agree with me. And, frankly, if I ever get to the point where I expect everyone to agree with me then you can take me out behind the barn and shoot me.

    I’m afraid that I do have a lot of time for psychoanalysis, as my doctoral studies are hugely caught up in it (a lot of awful bullshit, yes, but I think there’s genius in there too) – and I think the concept of fetishes is a really useful one. Nothing wrong with having particular tastes – the problem of the fetish comes in the separation and depersonalization that that entails. And that article rang all the warning bells for me in that regard – particular as the author relied so heavily on stereotypes of what trans bodies are and aren’t without talking about how trans people might feel about their own bodies.

    I certainly want people who are attracted to me to be attracted to my body – but when I meet people who are trying to force their own ideas about how my body should be and how it should relate to them onto me then my heart breaks. It might seem like a small distinction but in practice it’s a whole world away.

    I guess I would say that there’s no such thing as a ‘regular woman’ – or regular man, or regular anything else. And dividing potential partners into the regular and…irregular?

    I hope time and bitter experience don’t knock you too hard! x

    • Alex Pilcher says:

      Oh, the ‘just a regular woman’ bit was me being totally sarcastic! It’s my feeble parody of the sort of pleading you can occasionally hear from trans folk. I’m completely with you on that no such thing as regular woman/man/trans person/anything else!

    • The Goldfish says:

      I had a close friendship with someone who had a thing for people with physical impairments. She hated the word fetish and insisted that both integral to her sexuality and all about bodies *and* minds. But although she didn’t fancy me (she was also straight & I’m a woman), I began to feel that I would be far less appealing to her as a friend, far less interesting and admirable, had I not been disabled. I honestly think a lot of it (and, I have a similar hunch about the author of the Advocate article, although it’s impossible to presume) was about outsider status. She was proud that she gave disabled people a chance, when many people dismiss us as sexless (a fact she talked about a lot, with me sitting there thinking, “Yeah, but is it really *that* bad for us?”)

      After all, there aren’t many circumstances when you can talk at length about the porn you have enjoyed throughout your life and declare yourself “brave” for doing so.

      Incidentally, you are extremely reasonable when you’re angry. 😉

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly CN. Being a transguy myself I am up to my teeth with people trying make me into some sort of designer man for their own want. I have spent most of my life feeling like the freaker at the ball, an object to be pitied, vilified or in any other way singled out. Not always by cis but predominantly so.

    Love and light, thank you for posting

  • misswonderly says:

    Totally get the anger. The way the Belgian story has been framed in the media is enough to bring one close to despair. It’s the same cis blindness which stops cis society seeing the glaringly obvious in Natacha’s brilliant paper on the overwhelming incidence of non-apparent trans kids … We plough on.

    But I am not depressed by the Attitude piece. It took at least a couple of generations of out trans people for the trans community to get to grips with cisgenderism, to demand to be free from othering and medical pathologisation. Most who could urgently sought refuge in stealth. Today there are considerable resources especially in new media … such as your own blog … which we can turn to work out our own stories and our place in the universe although many in the community are still sadly stuck with Stockholm syndrome over this.

    Our lovers have no such resource. For several years my own partner found this deficit really difficult. Fortunately for me he was a strong enough individual to find his own way. All the writer in the Advocate should have really had to say is “we love who we love” just as all we in the community should have to say is “we are who and how we are”. But this is a conversation which urgently needs to get started so we can arrive at that simple conclusion. It’s one thing for a trans person as aware as Janet Mock to shine a light on this but there is hardly anything out there by cis partners of trans* people. The Attitude piece may contain BS but I still think it’s an initiative that needs encouraging and actually pretty enthusiastically engaging with.

  • […] Lester highlights in “But not for you” what it is about when cis people write about trans bodies that makes it so problematic, and […]

  • moof06 says:

    Thanks for the great entry! I found some of the comments really helpful too.

    I find this an interesting and kind of troubling subject… especially because inevitably, a huge aspect of the trans-ness (to me at least) is a constant, sometimes infuriating and tiring dialogue between the mind (soul/whatever) and the body–and how people react to the body, and if that is a good thing or not, or if they should be reacting entirely to the mind– isn’t that one of the old arguments? (If it’s all in the head, why do you have to change your body at all? Why can’t you just be who you want to be and tell people? Why all this hoohah about your identity etc. etc.) Uhhh because the starting point will ALWAYS be the body? For better or for worse? Beyond our physical characteristics, clothes, accessories, haircuts, tattooes etc. etc. (or conversely lack of these things/lack of attention to these things) are all signals we are sending. Shorthand for many many things…

    So from that angle, can I fault someone for saying I am attracted to this characteristic/signal that you have consciously cultivated, that says to me this and this about you? I don’t know. Obviously, it is not okay to say ‘I am attracted to a trans person strictly for being trans, regardless of their personality/individual characteristics, which are secondary to me.’ But what about.. I find myself drawn to trans people? Often, I find myself attracted to someone who is trans (or who I perceive as trans?)

    I guess what I wonder sometimes is, when the word fetishize has become so diluted (and I really believe it has) where is the boundary between ‘I can only be sexually attracted/sexually fulfilled with someone with x superficial characteristic(s) (is that not the true def of the word?) vs. I find myself drawn/attracted to a certain type/body of characteristics (but it is not necessary that my partner always fit this criteria, it is merely a recurring attraction…)

    The attitude article’s writer, while yes, on some points grating, seemed to me in this second category….

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