When You Say “I Would Never Date A Trans Person,” It’s Transphobic. Here’s Why.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about transgender people, specifically about whether you are transphobic or not if you have a “preference” against dating trans people. Many well-meaning allies, friends, and family members of transgender people will say things like: “Well, I’m glad that Sara is living her life out loud, but I just don’t think I could ever date a trans person. It’s just a really personal preference for me.”
These people, and many others in the world, feel that it’s okay if trans people want to be out and live their life as a woman, a man, or a non-binary person, but ultimately, they say that they are just “not attracted” to any transgender people. Before we talk about how that sentiment alone is transphobic, I want to be direct about the fear that trans people, especially trans women, face in the world of dating cisgender people.
Side note: I’m going to write this from the perspective of a trans woman, because that’s the only experience I hold personally, however there are similar systems of oppression in dating that keep trans men and non-binary people isolated and excluded from dating pools as well.
Dating as a trans woman (online or in person) often means an exhausting stream of inappropriate, fetishizing, dehumanizing, and sometimes violent messages asking about my genitals, people expecting praise for fetishizing me, and others assuming my identity is either not authentic or repulsive in some way.
This gets even more complicated when trans women are trying to date straight cisgender men. These interactions (usually beginning online) can quickly lead to defensiveness as they backpedal to explain how they aren’t gay, usually including insults and slurs that dehumanize me for even daring to list myself as a woman. These men are interested in my femininity, even though they may be worried about being seen as gay just for hitting on a woman with a penis, or having sex with a girl who used to have one.
Some of these things can be dismissed as annoyances or just well-intentioned people being ignorant, however, such a sliding scale of transphobia can sometimes slide all the way down to justifying the murder of trans women with comments like the ones made by comedian Lil Duval recently on New York’s Power 105.1 FM radio show The Breakfast Club, in response to what he’d do if he found out a woman he’s been sleeping with was assigned male at birth:
“This might sound messed up and I don’t care,” Duval says. “She dying. I can’t deal with that.”
“That’s a hate crime,” Charlamagne says. “You can’t do that.”
“You manipulated me to believe in this thing,” Duval says, before continuing, “If one did that to me, and they didn’t tell me, I’mma be so mad I’d probably going to want to kill them.”
This is also an important time to remind you that in 48 states, it is an admissible, legal defense in a courtroom to say you were driven temporarily insane by the revelation that a trans person is a trans person. You can even use this defense to avoid charges for the violence you’ve caused to a trans person in such a state of “insanity”. The so-called “trans panic” defense is still widely used to reduce sentencing and plea for lesser charges in cases of violence against transgender people.
It’s pretty terrifying to navigate a dating pool where you’re both disqualified from people’s dating preferences when you disclose your trans status up front, but then also threatened with violence when you choose not to share the details of your genitals before the other person can “accidentally” fall in love with you. In this context it makes sense for trans women to wait when you know you’ll be excluded up front, but if you don’t disclose your trans identity instead, you are punished for not telling, possibly by death. Huh…It’s almost as if trans people lose either way.
Some trans women, for example, are given the message that they are trying “too hard” and since they “pass,” or look cisgender to most people, they must really be men who are “tricking” people. These accusations come mostly from cisgender men who are insecure in their own masculinity/straightness. This group can also potentially include cisgender people who are insecure about being attracted to something they say they aren’t attracted to, in this case a woman, who they see as a man, because they assume she has a penis (even though many trans women haven’t had a penis for years).
Other trans women (or sometimes even the same trans women who “pass” on one day and not on another), are also told that if they have facial hair, a visible Adam’s apple, a deep voice, a small chest, or other visible markers of being assigned male at birth, then they are “not trying hard enough” to present as feminine, and therefore must be lazy, mentally ill (which is ableist), or predators tricking people into believing that they are a woman in order to “access women’s spaces” or otherwise infiltrate and harass otherwise designated safe spaces where men aren’t allowed.
Transphobic people will assert practically anything to get away from the much simpler truth, what trans people have been saying for decades: that trans women are simply women who were mistakenly assigned male at birth.
The problem with both of these social stereotypes for the “too good” and “too bad” trans woman is that they both infer that a trans woman is really a man, which creates an impossible balancing act for trans women. On the one hand, we punish trans women for being “pretty”, accuse beautiful trans women of lying by passing, and say that trans women are perpetuating misogyny by being stereotypically feminine.
But, on the other hand, we also punish trans women who aren’t “pretty” in the context of a cis-centric media landscape by saying that they “look like men”, they aren’t worthy of respect, can’t work a service job, can’t be in visible media roles, are complicated to provide healthcare for, and more artificial barriers created for trans people.
This happens because we, as a culture, seem to want trans people to both be cis-appearing enough to be invisible, but also we expect trans people to out themselves at every possible moment, just to make them even easier to avoid.
When I came out as a trans woman, the first concern I heard from many close friends and family members were two things: “How will you ever get a good job?” and “Will you be able to find anyone to love?” These fears are very real things that many trans people struggle to find in their lives. It also says a lot that these are the first things I heard, much louder and more common than excitement, gratitude for my trust, and celebration of my trans identity.
And even more importantly, these barriers are not a problem for trans people because we have universally bad work ethic or because we aren’t worthy of love, these barriers exist because many cisgender people imagine us as a burden, a drain on resources, a political liability, something “weird” to tolerate, a challenge, confused, mentally-ill (which is ableist), sexual fetishists, and so many other frameworks that place the burden on trans people for navigating a world that doesn’t respect us, doesn’t validate us, doesn’t support our basic human rights to free expression, and doesn’t empower us to be in positions of leadership in society.
If you’re someone who says “I would never date a trans person,” I’m talking directly to you right now.
It’s ok, other people, you can stay and listen in too.
Here’s the deal: it is not transphobic to decide that you don’t want to date a specific trans person based on your preferences in personality, hobbies, social beliefs, body type, etc. Consent is really cool, and believe me, no one wants to date you or fuck you, if you don’t want to date or fuck them. Trans people are not trying to force you to date us.
It is, however, deeply transphobic to decide that you never want to date any transgender person ever, and the choice to draw such a line is rooted in ignorance, fear, and disgust of trans people.
The transgender community is a massively diverse group with all kinds of body types, genital configurations, personalities, hobbies, and relationship styles. To categorically exclude all people from that group, who would otherwise align with your sexuality (trans men for a straight woman, trans women for a lesbian woman, etc.) is not only missing out on many potential connections you could have with people who you would otherwise have a wonderful time dating, but also reinforces the oppressive social system that says transgender women aren’t “really” women because they were assigned male at birth, and vice versa for trans men.
When you’re on the dance floor, or on Tinder, or flirting with someone at a work function, you can’t truly “tell” if someone is trans just by looking at them, no matter how much you think you can.
How do you know the cute girl you were flirting with at the bar last night isn’t a trans woman? How do you know that cute boy you’ve been flirting with on Grindr isn’t a trans man? How do you know that person you have a crush on in your Astronomy class isn’t non-binary? Short answer: you don’t.
If you’re only attracted to transgender people until you learn what we were arbitrarily assigned at birth, you’re still attracted to us, it just means your attraction is overridden by your repulsion against trans people. To act like you can be the arbiter of what feelings are true feelings and what are “fake” feelings created by someone you see as lying to you just for being authentic is a truly sad dismissal of all the beauty and joy contained in trans communities.
Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are whole and valid identities outside of our western colonialist sex and gender binary. Repeat this to yourself over and over. This is the root of all trans liberation.
I know attraction is complicated, and again, no one is saying you should be forced to date someone you’re not into. However, if you hold these transphobic attitudes, I invite you to examine in yourself why those beliefs are there and what you are really afraid of when you say you “won’t date trans people.”
Are you afraid of genitals you’re not familiar with? Some trans women have a penis, some don’t. Some trans men have a penis, some don’t. You can’t assume someone’s genitals based on their identity, and more so, you might be missing out on sex that’s fun and pleasurable just because you’re unable to see a penis as feminine or a vulva as masculine. How is my permanently attached strapon functionally any different than a cis woman’s detachable strapon?
Are you afraid of being seen in public with a trans person? What would it mean for you to truly step into the fight for trans rights? How can you grow your empathy for us enough to believe we deserve public, joyful, shameless love for ourselves and from our partners? How can you be public and vocal in your support for trans lives?
Are you afraid of people challenging your identity as a straight person, a lesbian or a gay man? What does it mean for trans people that you refuse to see us as “real” men or women? How can you shift your thinking to truly validate trans people as a natural human variation instead of see us as an outlier, an aberration, or a mistake?
Are you afraid of believing yourself to no longer be a lesbian or gay man? What does “lesbian” or gay mean to you? Does lesbian mean “loving women” or “loving vulvas”? By that logic, do you also see trans men as women because they have a vulva? That would also be an intensely transphobic assumption. Identity categories are only as useful as they are freeing you, not limiting your authentic desires and attraction. Plus, it’s possible to be a lesbian and date a trans woman and also be a trans woman who is a lesbian. When you are a woman, everything you have is a woman’s body part, including your cock (or clit, or ladycock, or click, etc).
I offer you these thoughts in order to challenge you to challenge yourself. I ask you these questions so that you can ask them of yourself when our transphobic culture refuses to acknowledge us in media, in sex ed, in public life, in history, in politics, and everywhere else.
The first step to dismantling transphobia is dismantling your own internalized transphobia. The second step is being honest and accountable to that process of growth in your allyship to help other cisgender people around you to grow with you.
Sara is the host of the Queer Sex Ed Podcast. You can learn more about her work and listen to the show at www.queersexed.org or on any podcast app. You can also follow QSE on Facebook at www.facebook.com/QueerS3xEd and on Twitter @QSEpodcast. If this article has enriched your life, and you would like to support the continuing work of QSE to educate and create queer, intersectional spaces for conversations about sex and sexuality, please consider joining our Patreon community at www.patreon.com/QueerSexEd.