Oh, can one feel apart and unhappy for too long to ever be together and happy? Perhaps this pain is sadness and loneliness. Perhaps it is something darker than that. 33 percent of us have tried to die by own hand. My theory is that lack of love kills more trans girls than punches, stares, stabs, dysphoria, rapes, gropes, guns, and bullying put together. Picture yourself as a person trapped in a crack where you can easily fuck five guys a night, without recalling the last time you touched what’s intimate. Liberation won’t fit here. Until they who are everywhere and nowhere come out there may be no way out.
Right at this now-moment I’m looking at a picture of my new boyfriend. It’s been almost ten years since I could call a boy by that name. And why is that, you may wonder? Well well, dear readers, it is a concoction of the political and the personal… I who made love to solitude, I who perpetually heard new men complain that I’m ”too intense” (which I only become when mistreated), I as a trans woman in this world where both homo- and heterosexuality are defined by a cis-empire. Yet… Perhaps not the latter after all?
Straight men’s attraction to trans women is as common as it is secret – everywhere but nowhere at the same time! Where do I begin? With the fact that trans porn is the best-selling porn genre among hetero men? With the 15 000 quick sex-invites I’ve received through the years? With my trans friend hearing the following after sleeping with the two brothers who work at her corner store: ”don’t tell my brother, he doesn’t know that I like trannies”. Or with the legendary filmmaker, poet, magazine publisher, photographer, activist, sex worker, and trans woman Paola Revenioti’s statement that half of all men have fucked us?
Heterosexual men as a group alternate between hiding and denying their attraction to trans women, which protects heteropatriarchy and forces us to pay the steep price of stigmatisation and continued alienation. Since trans women come in so many forms, an attraction to women inevitably includes an attraction to some trans women, whether or not you’re conscious of the woman being trans. Perhaps you’ve already slept with a woman without having a clue that she was trans? Most of my friends who’ve had surgery don’t tell their one-night-stands, who notice no difference. I started taking hormones in November 2018, but in the years before then many straight guys were already interested in me. Now that my boobs have grown, my face and forms have feminized, and my scent has changed, this has only intensified. A majority of the men who’ve flirted with me recently have said that they never thought they could be attracted to a trans woman – a few have respected me as a full person, others have wanted to ”experiment” with me behind closed doors, while many have done whatever they can to deny that the attraction even occurred. My trans friends and I have the experience that most straight men from non-western countries have no issue having sex with us as long as it’s kept secret, while the latter reaction is most common among white Northern European middle class men, who went through puberty in a strictly two-gendered society where trans women aren’t visible in the streets. My Iranian trans friend told me that straight men from Iran would have affairs with her if they were new to Berlin, but after 5-6 years they’d stop for they’d learned that’s not how it’s done in Germany. The protestant culture of self censorship categorizes us as dirty and forbidden, and Northern European men desperately wish to assert that their attraction to us, burning strong until we dropped the t-word, was only an illusion. Without even asking what we have in-between our legs, they attempt to treat attraction as an issue of chromosomes at birth – not the woman of flesh and blood who’s standing in front of them right at this moment.
But before I allow this article to be taken over completely by straight men, I wish to rewind and describe my own journey. My ”coming out” occurred in several steps. First I came out as gay 15 years ago; and when I came out as trans around 2010 I wanted to continue dating gay men. However, their anti-femininity slapped me in the face and I quickly understood that as soon as I applied rouge and lipstick I was completely desexualised in the eyes of the gay community. If I wished to have a sex life I simply had to turn to bi- and heterosexual men; almost always in the closet with their trans attraction and often brutal and extremely objectifying in their behaviour. And, I want to add something here: Us transfemmes experience straight men’s darkest, most violent sides. I have spent many years as men’s secret fantasy, thousands of times I’ve said no to their sex invites, several times they did not respect my no, and when I’ve finally said yes, they’ve treated me like a sex doll. Experiments shouldn’t be conducted on humans (or other livings beings), but that means that straight men have to start seeing us as humans, and let me tell you, although it’s 2020 and we’ve supposedly reached ”the transgender tipping point”, they still seem incapable of seeing us as anything other than hyper-sexual OR asexual.
But… my ambition with this article is to do something more than just talk about problems. For, behind all this oppression lies a radical potential, a possibility of challenging heteronormativity and masculinity’s lack of vulnerability. And here I am, together with a straight man who is experiencing sexuality based oppression and its friction for the first time in his life. It’s no coincidence that he’s Greek and not German, and it’s also not a coincidence that it occurs after over a year on estrogen. With estrogen I often pass as a cis woman, which provides increased respectability, therefore increasing the likelihood that men will consider meeting me at a bar, and not only in some secret alleyway after midnight. A part of me is screaming her lungs out about how WRONG this is, while the other part savours finally being able to lead a more liveable life, with significantly fewer violent and sexual harassments (and without giving children an existential crisis as soon as they lay eyes upon me.) When my boyfriend first saw me, he didn’t know I was trans, but when I told him, he didn’t let it be a hindrance from coming closer. That doesn’t mean that everything’s been simple. An enormous gap of knowledge and experience exists between a trans woman and a 35-year-old man who’s previously only been with cis women, and lacks experiences of queer culture. His life has been characterized by feeling ”normal”, while a trans woman’s life often entails being outcast even among the outcasts. But… something happens when a person who’s previously been privileged leaves their comfort zone. In simple terms it is called vulnerability.
Deep vulnerability can very well be something that threatens one of the foundations of our capitalist masculine society. Yes, deep vulnerability costs and hurts – in our society it is rarely accepted, it is celebrated on stage and in theory, but frowned upon in practice, and the more stigmatised you are the more this rings true. Believe me, I’ve learned that the hard way. And whether they like it or not, men who openly show their love or attraction to trans women become deeply vulnerable as they must create a narrative that’s publicly non-existent. Interestingly enough it’s white ”progressive” straight men that almost never venture into this space of discomfort. With their middle class-access to politically correct language and privileged spaces, they are the first to say ”trans women are women”, but the last to actually reflect upon what these words mean to their own sexuality. They often only want to date women who look like Natalie Portman, not a trans woman or for that matter a woman like Pamela Anderson. Perhaps our perceived hyper-sexuality, filth, and (sex)working classness disturbs their comfortable bourgeois normal life? I’d prefer to overturn the tyranny of ”the normal life”, and escape from being respected too much to be loved, or desexualised in the dehumanising name of tolerance and sympathy causes! These men risk the least through openly being with us, but my experience is that conservative macho men are often more open and less neurotic regarding their sexuality than them.
Earlier this year I in fact wrote to a man who’s literally dated Natalie Portman, Devendra Banhart. Why? Well, partially because I felt an ambivalent attraction to him, but mainly because I believed that since he’s actually mentioned his admiration for trans women, perhaps he could be the first well-known man since Lou Reed and David Bowie in the 70’s to openly speak about how attraction to women clearly includes some trans women. He answered me politely and praised my honesty, without mentioning anything about the actual political issues that I raised – belittling. When I continued to write he stopped answering without even taking the time to say he didn’t have time. My intensity probably made him ”uncomfortable”. It feels like it’s common that feminine straight men treat strong women like this: typical, we desperately try to prove that we’re not ”too much” to men who constantly give oss too little… I’m sure Devendra’s nice and well-meaning but that is very different from leading a deeply structurally aware life, and publicly he has almost only dated younger white cisfemale models (although many trans women in fact have traditional model looks, dating us amounts to a completely different societal position – the former is the patriarchal man’s status dream, the latter threatens it… Meanwhile: all these beauty standards should be eradicated!) Hipster hetero guys are often world champions of hypocrisy and I’m tired of nice guys who do nothing, and bad boys who fuck us in the closet, both behaviours dewomanise and dehumanise us. I don’t know when a famous man will dare to speak openly about these issues, but I do know that it will make a big difference for trans women and rock the patriarchal boat.
If trans women are women and trans men are men, what does that mean for cis peoples sexuality? It is high time to scrutinise those with power; we shouldn’t be made to carry the load alone anymore and repeat what we’ve been stating for years. When cis men back away upon learning that the woman they’re flirting with is trans, they realise that their de facto attraction doesn’t fit completely with their preconceived identity (and bigotry). It threatens their masculinity, which in the worst case scenario ends in murder (especially for trans women of color). The struggle for trans women’s rights is different from the gay and lesbian struggle, and straight men can’t settle for being detached allies who treat us like charity causes. Those who know that they’re into us need to be open about it, and those who haven’t thought about it should start considering our diversity. This needs to become general knowledge for straight men, not just after they’ve fallen in love with us or felt attracted to us ”by mistake”. Really this issue is quite undramatic, a biological inevitability with hormones and at times surgery, but it is typical of straight men to make everything into a big deal through their silence and violence.
My phone rings. It’s my boyfriend. He’s a graphic designer and he just helped me to layout several of my work documents. I swear it’s the first time a straight man has ever helped me with anything, and the first time that a straight man has deeply cared about me. He doesn’t come from political feminist circles, but what he’s doing is feminist, radical, and all too rare. He is breaking the vicious cycle of straight men’s violence or passivity, and making his way into uncharted territory. Sure, there are times when he says structurally crude things and I’m forced to forgo the activist principle of the oppressed never having to educate ”for free”. But, that principal is a bit problematic at times anyways. There’s a world to change. And I hope that in our future world it’ll be considered completely ordinary for a straight man to have had seven girlfriends in his life, one of which was trans.
Only through absolute solitude and all-embracing intimacy are we able to feel immortal for a moments magical time. When he holds me while my tears flow, he is helping me heal ten years of trauma. And as for my abysmal mistrust of men? Never gone with the wind, but at least it can now reside in a space where protection exists and it doesn’t hurt me as much.
Text: Alex Alvina Chamberland
Illustration: Maev Lenaghan