As a femme trans woman usually attracted to other femme women, I am generally welcomed in spaces designated as ‘women and trans,’ and I have no shortage of queer cis woman friends, with many of whom I share a playful flirtation. But what I usually keep to myself is this: what I experience in these respects sometimes feels closer to tolerance than acceptance.
I am invited to more formal social functions, yet I often find myself outside the conversation, feeling awkward about my presence at the end of the table. My experience as a trans woman is often the most immediate story I have to share; yet as the other women nearby nod politely before changing the subject, I sometimes get the feeling I have only managed to other myself by sharing it. Unsurprisingly, this situation is not so conducive to meeting potential partners. And anyways, I sometimes get the feeling that my body does not have the same type of desirability.
Perhaps worse, there are moments when desire is expressed towards me in a context that I would prefer it not be expressed (more about that in a moment).
Previous to my transition, I was pretty deep in hiding. As a quirky intellectual-type with a good sense of humor I did attract women, but I often lacked the confidence to recognize attraction, much less act on it. And anyways it felt strange when others showed interest in my outwardly masculinized form.
Fortunately, as my physical body evolved during transition so did my confidence. And while I think my personality changed little, in the end I became the opposite of my pre-transition self in one respect: where previously I had been more timid, today I am forward and flirtatious (and good at making you laugh!). Generally dating is a bit more pleasant, and I do feel more involved in the game.
However, there are moments when I wonder if there wasn’t some quick saturation point I should have expected to encounter.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that sex isn’t available. I actually turn down many who aren’t willing to share intimacy on terms that seem equitable to me. A good illustration of this point occurred recently on a dating site I use: a woman wrote to me a few months back with a great deal of interest based on my profile. She came on a bit strong for me, but I try to be open so I put in the effort of corresponding. After about three or four quite long messages I decided to disclose my trans status, just to avoid wasting time in case that would turn out to be a hang-up; unsurprisingly, I never heard from her again. While there is nothing so unusual about this, the fact that she was an academic with a Ph.D. in Social Policy and a Masters in gender studies had led me to believe she might be more open.
However, soon after I received an odd message from a second woman who was unusually forward and seemed to be looking for something specific. She insisted that I provide a description of my body while making it clear she was interested in a no strings sexual encounter, and further hoped she might eventually take me home for a three-way with her male partner. While I think we all get these kinds of messages occasionally, I noticed that these two women had visited my profile within a few minutes of each other, suggesting that the first woman probably tipped the second off about my trans status.
Put another way, once I revealed that I was trans I instantly ceased to be a viable romantic partner and instead became a potential fuck-toy; the fact that the second woman further insisted that I describe my body in detail almost screamed, “What have you got for us between your legs, tranny?!”
Indeed, it’s not unusual for me to hear back on conversations in which one cis woman will respond, “Oh, so you’re into kink” when another cis woman acknowledges she has previously dated trans women (including myself), implying that merely viewing a body like mine as sexually desirable is outside the bounds of ordinary human intimacy.
Hence I find myself in an unpleasant conundrum: de-sexed in polite lesbian society, yet hypersexualized at the margins (preferably behind closed doors, it would seem). Caught somewhere between untouchable and walking kink is a lonely place for any woman to live.
It is for these reasons, and more, that a group of trans women activists here in Toronto (with support from Planned Parenthood and an amazing cis woman Kate Klein) put together a recent workshop that was titled, “No more apologies: Queer trans and cis women, coming/cumming together!” The idea of the workshop was to provide an opening point for a larger dialogue about trans woman inclusion in queer women’s spaces/communities and social settings.
On the one hand, we addressed the manner in which trans women and cis women fight many of the same battles, as traditional sexism targets us all socially (among other ways), while misogyny undermines our common womanhood and humanity. On the other hand, we also addressed the various ways in which cissexism divides our communities from within. For example, trans-misogyny specifically dehumanizes trans women while further serving to alienate trans and cis women from one another, when we should otherwise be natural allies (if not lovers!).
Indeed, three key points we developed to describe the motivations for the workshop vis-a-vis the queer women’s communities were:
- Because trans inclusion means more than just saying “women and trans people” in our mission statements.
- Because welcoming trans women into our spaces is not the same as welcoming them into our beds.
- Because our actions are speaking louder than our words.
To be clear, our intentions in the workshop were not to question anyone’s attraction. However, there is no question that social context and social conditioning inform sexual desire. And given the number of times that I have lost a cis woman’s interest—which at times has been accompanied by outright disrespect—precisely at the moment that my status as a trans woman has been revealed betrays the fact that crude social anxieties often play a role (think “how will my friends react,” or the particularly silly “am I still lesbian if I sleep with her?”).
It is with this hands-off acceptance of trans women in mind that one of our organizers, Drew Deveaux, proposed “the cotton ceiling”; that is, the idea that queer acceptance of trans women often proceeds only to a point (that saturation point I mentioned previously).
However, there are other dynamics at play as well. For example, another project organizer, Morgan Page, has previously written about trans acceptance in ‘queer and trans’ spaces, and how this often essentially means acceptance for trans men exclusively. Personally, I like to think that the situation in this regard might be improving here in Toronto, and that trans men and trans women are at least more likely to work together these days. But while leaning against the wall at a party or a club, watching while masculine spectrum individuals get most of the attention, it’s not difficult to see Morgan’s point.
Overall, I think the workshop was a huge success; many of us here in Toronto are still reflecting on it, and some have already begun proposing the next events (with most of those proposals coming from cis women!). With that in mind, I sincerely hope that No More Apologies might provide a breaking point for a larger dialogue about trans woman inclusion, not only in queer women’s social settings but also in queer women’s politics.
In the meantime, if you’re a beautiful woman and I meet you on the street, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll flirt with you and try to make friends. If you show interest, I promise I’ll play it off real sexy, like it’s no big deal. But I admit it: deep down what I’d really like to think is that if we share sexual intimacy, then maybe we could do something real kinky:
Yeah, that sounds nice.
This article originally appeared at PrettyQueer.