Let me just say this right up front: If you don’t want to have sex with me, a transgender woman, it’s very likely I feel the same way about you. And even if you do want to make love to me, or if I desire you, nothing we say or do can change my mind or yours, so long as we feel strongly opposed to becoming intimate, for whatever reason. Otherwise, that’s not sex, it’s rape. And rape is violence, not sex. We call this a matter of “consent,” and it’s not a new thing, just as being transgender is not, in fact, a new thing.
This concept of consent, however, is entirely glossed over in BBC news reporter Caroline Lowbridge’s article, headlined “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women.”
“Some”? Wait, what? Who? How many is some? How many are “we”?
I’m frankly ticked off that for someone whose resumé shows they’ve been a journalist for a decade, Lowbridge sets an ironically new, very low threshold for balanced reporting and fact-checking and, worse, spreads anti-transgender propaganda, transphobia and fear-mongering.
Through selective sourcing and questionable quotes, Lowbridge uses phrases like “biological female” and “biological male” to frame cisgender lesbians as defenseless maidens and equate trans women with aggressive, cisgender male sexual predators. Perhaps not so coincidentally.
Here are the basic points of Lowbridge’s 3,850-word screed, to which the BBC attached a warning to readers about “strong language”:
· Using anecdotal accounts of assholish behavior, the author reveals there are lesbians who don’t want to have sex with transgender women yet were “pressured,” “coerced” and at least one said they were raped.
That’s horrible, but as Canadian jurist and bioethicist Florence Ashley told The Daily Beast: “It’s absolutely insidious to transform discussions of how cisnormativity shapes desire into claims of ‘coercion’ which play into the long-standing demonization of trans women as ‘rapists’ and ‘perverts.’”
· Claiming an aversion to sex with a trans woman is “transphobic” and will result in loss of relationships, damage to reputation and in at least one case could potentially cost a lesbian her career.
The truth, cis bisexual and human resources director Jenn Kelley of Connecticut told The Daily Beast, is that people have preferences. “Some lesbians do not like penetration. And to some the mere idea of fellatio literally makes them gag. Therefore, they don’t have sex with people with penises,” Kelley said. “I honestly don’t think that makes them transphobic. They simply choose to engage in sex with persons without penises. Is that a fetish? No! It’s knowing what you like/don’t like and choosing that. It doesn’t diminish another because their gender or body parts aren’t what you prefer.”
· So-called “research” is introduced, through a questionnaire created by an anti-trans activist group that claims “56% reported being pressured or coerced to accept a trans woman as a sexual partner.” Lowbridge notes the number of respondents is just 80 women, the equivalent of interviewing only one in four attendees at just one night at Lick, a Vauxhall club for London’s queer women who love women.
And this is to say nothing that the survey is of attitudes among a limited group of people via an anti-trans site. How representatively true or accurate a sample is this?
· Trans women are not really women, they’re still men because of their “male vocal cords,” “male jawline,” etc., according to a lesbian interviewed for this story. “The people being quoted here are largely trying to hide behind ‘my preference’ to be transphobes, and they don’t do even a passable job of it here,” said out trans dyke, journalist, athlete and activist Karleigh Chardonnay Webb.
· Penis. Penis. Penis. Penis. Penis. Penis. Penis. Although there are trans women, many of them who identify as lesbians, who undergo bottom surgery to transform male genitalia into a neovagina—which appears and functions in almost every way like female genitalia—this is barely referenced in favor of repeating the fallacy that all trans women have penises.
The fact is, the trans women I know who will even speak about those appendages don’t want them, or don’t want them involved in their sexual intimacy. In many cases, they have rendered them neutral through hormone treatment. Getting “hard” or having a partner stimulate them (or attempt to) can be next to impossible for some, dysphoria-producing for others, and “spoil the mood”—although I’ll concede this is not a universal experience.
The article comes at a time when transphobia is running rampant and unchecked among Britain's mainstream media. If anyone criticizes it, they are accused of “silencing” or attempting to “cancel” the bullies who hold sway, the same bullies who claim to be silenced—when they in fact have access to major media platforms to spread their malicious misinformation, exacerbating an already ugly atmosphere—influencing policy-making as well as public perception—against trans people.
“This BBC article is just the latest biased and factually inaccurate story about transgender people to appear in British mainstream media,” a spokesperson for GLAAD told The Daily Beast. “It's frankly bad journalism to have a reporter and news outlet reinforce lies and spread hate about a group of people that is already profoundly marginalized. Mainstream media in the UK should immediately give transgender people and their allies platforms to share stories about what it really means to be a trans person in the UK today.”
“The idea that trans women need to pressure anyone into sex is so laughably absurd,” tweeted actor, producer and activist Jen Richards, who happens to be trans. “Don’t fall for stupid op-ed’s written with little to no basis in lived experience and by people who want to erase trans people from public life. If you don’t want us, we don’t want you either. All we ask is that you leave us and our partners the fuck alone.”
“I’m a proud woman, a proud trans person, and a proud lesbian,” writer and trans activist Charlotte Clymer told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know any trans or nonbinary person, let alone any activists, who would claim that cis lesbians are obligated to be attracted to trans women. I don’t know anyone in the trans community who would claim there’s an imperative for any person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to be attracted to someone because they’re trans or non-binary. No person is ever obligated to be attracted to another person. That completely goes against the concept of autonomy and consent that is so central to the trans and nonbinary community.”
This is not a new topic, and there are many great sources one could consult if only Lowbridge had tried: Ana Valens wrote a guide for queer women who want to have sex with trans women in Allure in 2019. She called communication “the lifeblood of good sex.” Mey Rude wrote “How to Have Lesbian Sex with a Trans Woman” for Autostraddle in 2018. In response to a cis lesbian backlash in the comments section, CEO and editor in chief Marie Lyn “Riese” Bernard wrote:
“There is nothing coercive in this post. It’s just information for people who want it. But it is mean that trans women can’t just talk about having sex without hundreds of people showing up to announce I’M NOT ATTRACTED TO YOU OR PEOPLE LIKE YOU! I don’t feel like that would happen on a post about fat women or masculine women or femme women or whatever type of woman if that happens to not be your thing, you know?”
Although Lowbridge wrote that she consulted trans women on both sides of this issue including YouTubers, she overlooked one trans lesbian YouTube personality who has tackled lesbian sex quite frequently: Melody Maia Monet.
“The goal seems to be to create an outsized moral panic over a ‘problem’ that even the anti-trans activists admit is marginal at best,” Monet told The Daily Beast. “Judging from how often I have been propositioned by lesbians who don’t care that I’m trans, framing cis and trans lesbian sexual relationships as forced does not reflect reality.”
Author and public speaker Stephanie Battaglino had this to say: “By focusing on one’s anatomy, the author is missing the bigger—and more inclusive—picture: my being trans is not the only way I present myself to the world. My personality, my interests, my sense of humor, my intelligence and a thousand other things, define who I am as a person. Unfortunately, there seems to be no mention of any of those qualities—that we all possess—in this piece. Do you think this was ghost written by JK Rowling?”
My reality: Since coming out 8 years ago I’ve been propositioned by both women and men. As a queer woman, I’ve been romantic with both women and men. And I don’t claim to be like every other woman, because no woman is. But listen to me, BBC: In publishing this drivel, you’re providing ammunition to those who want to see me excluded, oppressed, beaten, or worse, dead.
The bottom line: I am not my vagina. I was never my penis. But my body, as is every body, is worthy of love, and only from those with whom I consent to share it.