Note: I tried to avoid jargon as much as possible for anyone new to transgender issues, but sometimes it is just easier. For anyone unsure, cis means non-trans; one’s gender identity and physical sex “match” what is found on one’s birth certificate. Trans is used here to encompass anyone whose gender identity does not match the sex that the person was assigned at birth.
Feministe has just introduced their summer guest bloggers, one of whom is Queen Emily of Questioning Transphobia. Queen Emily laid down some ground rules about the types of comments she would and would not allow, since blogs about trans issues on larger feminist blogs tend to get frequently derailed with 101-style questions about anything trans-related.
Naturally, the post lead to some ridiculous comments that directly contradicted the rules listed on her introductory post.
…One derail, however, got a few snotty replies, and got me thinking.
Commenter Melancholia asked:
Is it transphobic if a cis person will not date a trans?
The answers were pretty much the same across the board:
GallingGalla: “is it self-defense if a trans person will not date a cis person who asks questions like this?”
Kristin: “Yes, you dumbass, it’s transphobic.”
little light: “No on account of we have gross cooties. Perfectly understandable and stuff!”
gudbuytjane: “Oh, and not dating someone because they were a trans woman (which is usually the issue, now) is not only transphobic, it’s kinda foolish, because a lot of us are pretty damn hot.”
There were more, of course. All of them agreed that, yes, deciding not to date someone because they’re trans is transphobic.
The odd thing is that commenter abbyjean, who’s in agreement with the theories above, makes sure to educate the commentariat on the definition of transphobia from a pretty straightforward about.com article, which is: “Transphobia is an irrational fear of, and/or hostility towards, people who are transgender or who otherwise transgress traditional gender norms.”
It really depends on how you look at it. If I find out that my prospective partner’s genatalia is quite a bit different that I had imagined it would be, and that part of their body was important to me (say, if I had a desire for biological children with my significant other), then I do not see the problem with no longer being interested in pursuing a romantic relationship. With that particular example, the same decision would be justified with two cis people.
I get it, I see how people who believe that this is transphobic are waiting for me to remark specifically on the way that trans women’s or men’s genitals are different, waiting for me to slip up and say something that insinuates that I assume that all trans men have vaginas, and that all trans women have penises, therefore disregarding their gender and giving them an identity that I choose for them. I’m not going to, because I know that that’s simply not the case. But to call a cisgender person transphobic for choosing not to be romantically involved with someone because they are trans is problematic on a number of levels:
It’s not about transphobia. It’s about sexual orientation.
I’m a heterosexual female, so I should therefore have the right to tell a woman that I don’t want to date her. I also have the right to desire biological children, which means that it cannot possibly be wrong for me to deny someone the privilege of being in a romantic relationship with me if they do not share that desire, or are unable to contribute to that desire.
Julia Serano wrote in “Love Rant,” a chapter in “Whipping Girl,” that she and a (presumably cis) male friend of hers had a discussion about how she would feel if her partner were to tell her that they were trans.
…he seemed surprised when I replied that I would not be bothered one bit. And it’s not that I would merely ‘tolerate’ a relationship with a trans woman. On the contrary, I would consider it an honor.”
Notice how Serano defaults to discussing trans women in her examples. She openly admits her sexual preference and orientation, but simultaneously demands that the rest of us forget our own.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. She has an admiration for what trans women go through, and she can certainly identify with trans women. She goes on to describe other details about her personal attraction to people. She, personally, would not be bothered if her partner were to inform her that they were going to transition to the opposite sex.
There’s nothing to worry about until she goes on, another page further, when her friend asks Julia (who identifies as a lesbian), “Well, what if you found out that the trans woman you were attracted to still had a penis?” Julia laughed, she says, and then told him:
I laughed and replied that I am attracted to people, not to dismembered body parts. And I would be a selfish, ignorant, and unsatisfying lover if I believed that my partner’s genitals existed primarily for my pleasure rather than her own.
She raises a decent enough point if you’re considering a couple that’s been together for a long time and one partner, unexpectedly to the other, comes out as trans, and all works out well, but her problem is that she can’t stop telling people who and what they should be attracted to, and why, and how. She is a millimeter away from telling homosexual people that everything they are fighting for is worthless and all in vain, because sexual orientation doesn’t exist.
Excluding examples of people who are freaked out by their prospective partner being trans, or people who think trans people are “gross,” “unnatural,” or any number of other things, I can think of a lot of examples where a person would decide not to date a trans person because they are trans:
Heterosexual cis woman whose (to her knowledge) heterosexual cis male husband informs her that he is trans, and will be transitioning to female. Her trans partner may or may not identify as a lesbian, or bisexual. This isn’t relevant. The cis woman is heterosexual; being with another woman is not in her sexual nature. This is not transphobic. This is telling the cis woman that she has no right to have a sexual preference, or orientation.
Or, the cis lesbian woman whose presumed female partner comes out as trans. Is she supposed to stop caring about how she’s attracted to females, and accept that she’s now with a male, which is in direct opposition to her natural inclination toward woman as romantic and/or sexual partners? Is that fair?
Or the cis person who finds out that a prospective partner is trans, and the cis person had a strong desire for biological children with their partner in the future. This is no longer (in most cases) possible with a trans partner. Is it now wrong for him or her to end the romantic partnership with the trans person in order to pursue their own goals or desires?
Find all the logical flaws in this post that you want, but to make it personal: I just can’t find a way to justify how it is appropriate to tell me that I am selfish and ignorant for liking the fact that my significant other has a penis, and not liking it so much if he decided to change that.