In I Am Cait’s second season, the most famous transgender woman in the world admits something that should not be shocking: she’s open to dating men.
During a road trip conversation released in advance of Sunday’s premiere, Jenner’s hairstylist speculates that the reality star might enjoy being taken care of by a man.
“To be honest, if I was in a relationship with a guy, I would enjoy being treated like that,” Jenner says. “Opening doors for you, doing all what you would think is the traditional stuff in a guy and a girl relationship.”
“It would have to be a very special guy to be able to do that,” she qualifies, “but yeah, I would be open to that.”
Imagine that! A woman dating a man. Why, it’s only the most common romantic arrangement in all of human history! But even though opposite-sex dating isn’t exactly news, tabloids—and even some semi-respectable outlets—promptly lost their minds when they watched the clip and saw Jenner’s subsequent discussion of the topic on The Today Show.
The Daily Mail made it into a headline, of course, but that’s to be expected. People ran with the news but mostly out of professional obligation to cover the sneak peek. Less forgivable is USA Today’s declaration that “Caitlyn Jenner is definitely up for dating a man,” as if this should be surprising, especially given that Jenner has already stated, “I don’t see myself dating women in the future.”
Of special interest to the media has been ex-wife Kris Jenner’s reaction to the news. On Tuesday, the “momager” told Ellen Degeneres that Caitlyn’s ever-shifting dating choices were “confusing, for sure.”
But Caitlyn Jenner’s dating life is only “confusing” if you don’t understand that gender and sexuality are different.
Here’s a breakdown: Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, and has had some sense that she was transgender since the age of four. She outwardly presented and lived as a man for about six decades, then transitioned to live in alignment with her gender identity. She used to date—and, indeed, marry—women. Now, she might date men, as is her prerogative. Cool? Now we can all go home and worry about who we’re sleeping with tonight instead.
There’s nothing confusing about a transgender woman dating a man, even if she’s never ventured into that side of the dating pool before. While many trans people who are exclusively attracted to one gender continue dating that same gender after transition, it’s not uncommon for someone like Caitlyn Jenner to feel comfortable exploring other options once she becomes more comfortable in her own skin.
In a world where gender is often presumed to determine sexuality, it can be challenging for some individuals to figure out who they want to be with until they know who they are. As one transgender woman wrote in an informal survey on the topic, “How could I know what my sexual orientation was when I did not know what [my] gender was?”
Maybe Caitlyn Jenner has always been attracted to men but, as a “traditional” gal, only feels comfortable dating them now that she has transitioned. Or perhaps she’s never even considered the possibility of dating a dude until she began to break free from decades of gender dysphoria? This can be complicated, sure, but it’s not confusing.
One small 2014 study of 115 transgender people found that roughly a third of the transgender women and a fifth of the transgender men had experienced a shift in sexual attraction during transition. This doesn’t always happen, clearly, but it does happen sometimes and it doesn’t have to be a big deal. It certainly isn’t breaking news.
But in all likelihood, the reaction to Caitlyn Jenner’s latest revelation isn’t just due to a lack of education about transgender life. Based on the tone of the coverage, people seem to think Caitlyn Jenner’s possible interest in men is downright salacious.
Indeed, what’s at the heart of this “confusion” around is probably not confusion at all, but stigma, poorly disguised. The level of furor around Caitlyn possibly dating men only makes sense under two common but equally false assumptions: You don’t believe that transgender women are really women and, accordingly, you don’t think that the men who date them can be straight.
These assumptions inform the way the media reports on the sex lives of transgender people in a not-so-subtle way: When Tyga allegedly cheated on Kylie Jenner with a former porn actress, the media was sure to note that she was a “transsexual actress” in their headlines, as if that added something essential to the story.The actress in question, Mia Isabella, protested the transphobic coverage, writing in a powerful statement, “It’s very sad that the idea of a man loving a trans person has to be considered a scandal.”
“If a celebrated man loves a transgender woman or possibly did that’s news?” she balked.
Sadly, yes. Apparently it’s also news for a celebrated transgender woman to possibly love men. And whenever tabloids whip themselves up into a frenzy over something Caitlyn Jenner said, we can reasonably certain that there’s something transphobic afoot.
The news here is clearly not that a famous celebrity who used to date women will now consider dating men—it’s that a famous transgender celebrity who used to date women may now date men. And of all the configurations of people who can become romantically involved with each other, that particular pairing ranks among the most stigmatized.
If you want proof, go read some Facebook comments on these stories, comments like “Where will the man stick his matchstick since you don’t [have] a pot of wonders?” or “Eww. No man will date you.” All of that nastiness comes on top of the usual barrage of male pronouns and the use of Caitlyn’s previous name by commenters who do not think that she is truly a woman. The discomfort with the idea of her dating men and the belief that she is a man herself seem inextricably intertwined.
But all the bigotry the Internet can muster can’t change the fact that some transgender women date men and vice versa. They always have, they always will, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why a man might want to date a woman.
As transgender author and MSNBC host Janet Mock explained in a 2013 blog post, “As there are many kinds of women, there are many kinds of men, and many men desire many kinds of women, trans women are amongst these women. And let’s be clear: Trans women are women.”
That includes Caitlyn Jenner. She’s a woman. A straight man might date her. But it’s 2016. Why should we care if a woman wants to date men?