Is not wanting to have sex with trans people transphobic? I’m trans, here’s what I think
If you’re transgender, you’re probably familiar with the feelings that question prompts. You try your best not to roll your eyes, keep smiling, nod along as you reply “of course”, hoping this time it might be something different. You find yourself looking for an exit, glancing at your phone trying to summon an excuse to get out of there. You know exactly what they’re about to ask.
One of the questions trans allies – and a few strangers – have asked me at some point is whether not wanting to have sex with trans people is transphobic. These are people who advocate for inclusion, believe in trans rights, but feel they need to draw the line somewhere: sexual desire. Being called bigoted for not wanting to have sex with someone from one particular community feels a step too far to them.
To me, what’s curious about that question is the wording. It’s rarely direct. Most of the time it’s not even a question. Sometimes it’s a declarative statement along the lines of “I could never have sex with a trans woman.” Sometimes it’s disguised as a compliment: “Your wife must really love you; I don’t know if I’d be able to.” Sometimes it’s just nodding and replying “it’s not for everyone,” as if they were describing shower sex or favouring a particular sex position. People ask these questions for a variety of reasons: they may have trans people in their lives, or feel they’ve done enough work to unpack transphobia to “deserve” an answer to more intrusive questions.
So, how did we 420 portaly randkowe get here? How did not wanting to have sex with human beings from one community in particular become a legitimate preference? The othering of transgender people in sexual contexts is not only in the context of dating or intimacy. It’s systemic and as such it bleeds into most interactions and environments – dating and sex is no exception. Part of the reason why people often don’t want to have sex with transgender people is that they don’t know what that sex would look like. Sometimes, they’re not even sure what trans bodies look like without their clothes.
Having sex with me is not largely different from having sex with any other gay man
Then there’s the fetishisation of trans people, which is not flattering, by the way – it is a dehumanising way of reducing us to sexual objects, not subjects or participants with sexual agency. “Transgender” (often using less flattering terms) is one of the most watched porn categories, but rather than showing a desire to engage with trans people, it reveals that’s how most people see transgender people: as a porn category, a fetish. That content is created for cisgender audiences and consumption: trans people are the actors, but not the target audience. It presents trans bodies as a forbidden desire, a deviation, a fetish. And in many cases, it’s like most mainstream porn: a misrepresentation of what sex looks like in real life. This genre of porn doesn’t show how people have sex. It shows how cisgender people think transgender bodies work: trans women in it typically perform the way cisgender men would in these scenes, often taking on the dominant sexual role.
It’s easier to dismantle your prejudices and biases when they don’t pertain to your personal life – the uncomfortable question to ask oneself is whether your sexual desire is problematic
Trans people’s lived experiences differ greatly – everyone’s social and medical transition is different, and even just hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and dysphoria, for example, can have a huge impact on how trans people experience their bodies. It can affect the way they have orgasms, feel pleasure, and sometimes change their desires. Transmasculine people who take testosterone can experience “bottom growth“, and can have vaginismus – a condition that causes the vagina to tighten when you attempt to insert something into it. Many transfeminine people struggle to maintain an erection and ejaculate. And lots of trans people don’t feel comfortable having their genitals touched at all. For example, some transmasculine people have never had penis in vagina sex. This means that when people say they would never have sex with a trans person, they’re making assumptions about what that sex would look like, such as thinking it would involve penetration or fellatio.