I want to make something clear right off the bat: Not everyone needs to date a transgender person. For one, there’s not enough of us to go around.
In all seriousness, though, I have to put that disclaimer at the front of this essay because the online discourse machine has a nasty habit of misinterpreting transgender people who try to talk about the struggles of finding romance. And that bad-faith twisting of our words needs to stop.
Orange is the New Black star and transgender advocate Laverne Cox recently opened up to Attitude about the phenomenon of straight men who date transgender women but want to “keep us a secret,” calling those men “insecure as fuck” for fearing that society will perceive them as gay.
This is a real, urgent problem that many transgender women have to face—and one that our community’s best writers, like author Janet Mock, have eloquently explored. But it doesn’t take long for some readers to react as if transgender women are trying to make it compulsory to date us.
So it was sadly unsurprising when that Laverne Cox interview got quoted on another news site beneath the headline: “Laverne Cox says men who are ashamed of dating trans women are ‘insecure as f*ck.’”
If you scroll through the many disgusting responses to that article on social media—which I won’t dignify by reprinting here—you’ll find dozens of people reacting as if the actress had been talking about all straight men, not just the subset of straight men who are already interested in dating transgender women.
Cox had to clarify on Twitter this week that the headline was “taken a bit out of context.”
“To be clear,” she continued, “I am referring to men who seek out and have sex with trans women but choose to keep us a secret. I am not saying men not attracted to trans women should be.”
This isn’t an isolated incident, either. This happens almost every time a prominent transgender woman tries to have a nuanced public conversation about sex and dating.
Over the summer, transgender activist Zinnia Jones tweeted: “I don’t see a problem with telling straight guys who are exclusionary of trans women partners that they should try to work through that.”
That’s a different sentiment than what Cox was expressing—and probably a more radical one—but Jones followed that tweet up with ten more, beginning by saying that “nobody has to be with anyone they don’t want.”
Jones added that while there may be some “baseline rate” of people who have an “actual true preference” for a non-transgender partner, the fact that “incredible numbers of straight men” secretly date us suggests that “touching a trans woman’s body or genitals is probably way less of an issue than most people think it is.”
Jones was not commanding anyone to sleep with transgender women, but she was suggesting that people could probably stand to examine their aversion to us as viable romantic options.
It was a point that required a thousand characters of text to express properly. She was raising the controversial but obvious idea that, as humans, our romantic preferences and our prejudices don’t exist in separate bubbles.
But of course Jones was willfully misunderstood on social media and—to make a long story short—Fox News host Tucker Carlson ended up devoting an entire segment of his show to the subject with the chyron: “Trans Activist: Men Should Find Us Attractive.”
“Now we’re advancing toward mandatory transgender dating,” Carlson told warned his audience. “For real.”
Adding insult to injury, Carlson referred to transgender women not as “women” but as “other biological men who are transgender.”
Jones was stunned by the fact that the conservative TV host would tell people that “[she] was going to force them to sleep with trans women”—and taken aback by the “thousands of commenters [who] helpfully informed [her] that [she] was too hideous to ever find someone to love.”
Somehow her attempt to make a complex point to her 17,000 Twitter followers about transgender dating had given rise to a paranoid rant on a top-rated prime-time cable news show, culminating in Carlson worrying that dating sites could one day require men to date a certain number of transgender women for every cisgender woman they dated.
But no one wants that future. “Mandatory transgender dating” would make a great ironic band name but it is not the political goal of the transgender rights movement. It never has been.
I transitioned back in 2012, back before this topic became the cause du jour for right-wing bloggers. One of the first things I realized was that men were attracted to women like me.
I went to a popular Southern transgender conference to gather information, connect with medical providers, and hopefully make a few friends. What I wasn’t anticipating were the countless men hanging around the hotel lobby, covertly trying to find a bedtime companion.
They wanted us so badly that they found out which weekend the conference was in town and drove here—but they were still ashamed to flirt with us somewhere more public.
It was obvious to me even then that these were not gay men. I knew gay men. If these lobby men wanted to have sex with other men, Atlanta had over a dozen gay bars at their disposal—and yet they were here in this hotel on the edge of the city.
But I never had the sort of experiences with men that transgender advocates like Laverne Cox or Janet Mock have written about because I was exclusively interested in women.
I met a cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) woman in 2013—before I underwent sex reassignment surgery—and we have been exclusively together ever since. She was attracted to me—woman to woman—before I had a vagina and she’s still attracted to me now that I have one.
We have been together long enough that I barely remember what it feels like to go on a date. So when it comes to the ridiculous panic around transgender dating—which typically revolves around cisgender men dating transgender women—I have no skin in the game.
What I do have is sympathy for those in my community who are still finding love—and who can’t even talk about it without risking being targeted by transphobic elements on the far-right.
Transgender women—and transgender people generally—do not need any more reminders that society hates us.
Over a quarter of Americans on a recent survey said they wouldn’t even want to be friends with a transgender person—and only thirteen percent said they would be comfortable “engaging in a sexual act of any kind” with a transgender woman.
Media representation of transgender women has—until relatively recently—been almost uniformly negative, depicting us as serial killers, deceivers, and “men in dresses.” 2017 has now seen a record-high number of transgender people who have been killed—cruel violence that is often perpetrated by men who have had romantic relationships or sexual encounters with transgender women.
In every state but two, it is still legal for those murderers to claim that they “panicked” after discovering that their sexual partner was transgender.
So, if you overhear a transgender person venting about dating online and think we need yet another person to tell us that we’re disgusting and repulsive, think again. We already got the message. Loud and clear. And while too many of us internalize that message, most of us know it’s bullshit.
The truth is that it would be almost impossible for a cisgender person to find every single transgender person on the planet unattractive. Although I’m definitely not one of them (note: Samantha’s editor at The Daily Beast respectfully dissents from this view), there are some remarkably good-looking transgender people out there—and plenty of cisgender people who find them attractive before realizing that they are transgender and conspicuously changing their mind.
For that reason, some transgender people have to deal with the question of when—or if—to disclose to a sexual partner that they are transgender.
Actress and Her Story star Jen Richards, for example, recalls spending a long, flirtatious flight with a man named Jim that ended in an invitation to have dinner.
“One hour before we’re to meet at the restaurant, I get an email from Jim,” Richards wrote in an essay. “It read, in its entirety: ‘I just Googled your name. I didn’t realize what you were. I have no interest in that.’”
The next time Richards met a man, she didn’t disclose, writing that it was “incredibly stupid and dangerous and, most of all, self-destructive” to not do so, but that she pushed forward anyway out of pain and anger—because the rejection from Jim had pushed her to a place where she “really didn’t care in that moment.”
That is exactly the kind of raw, painful experience that transgender people can’t share publicly without feeding into the stereotype of the “deceptive transsexual”—or being accused of trying to shame those who would reject us based on our gender history.
But are we just supposed to bottle up the pain of being denied a normal life based on what we used to be—and so transparently not based on who we have worked so hard to become?
Remember how I joked that that there aren’t enough of us—something like 1.4 million transgender people in the United States—to go around? Our rarity also makes the internet a lifeline for us—just as it is for any other minority—allowing us to connect with each other across great distances and feel less alone.
So it’s especially unfortunate that we can’t talk about a vast swath of human experience without being surveilled by people who are obsessed with hating us.
Those haters act as if we’re complaining that no one wants us when what we’re really complaining about—more often than not—is that the people who do want us can’t seem to be chill about it.
The same survey that found that 27 percent of Americans wouldn’t be friends with a transgender person also found that four percent of Americans said that they had been on a date with a transgender person in the last year.
Considering that just 0.3 percent of the population is estimated to be transgender, that is staggering. Unless there’s a small handful of transgender people who are cleaning up while everyone else stays home, it means that a great number of us are dating. But tellingly, the survey also found that over 25 percent of people wouldn’t tell anyone if they did have sex with a transgender person.
The fact that transgender people are desirable is one of society’s worst kept secrets. And people are still trying to keep that a secret because they’re worried what other people would think about them if they slept with us.
That fear comes from the same defensive place as the brutal acts of anti-transgender violence we have seen so many of this year—the fear that being attracted to someone you are attracted to makes you something that you’re not. It is totally fair for Laverne Cox to call that fear “insecure as fuck.”
She shouldn’t have to issue a long Twitter clarification afterward. But I know firsthand why she had to do just that.
Back when I reported on that survey, Breitbart made sure to highlight the fact that I am transgender by describing me as “a reporter at The Daily Beast who is living as a woman” and the conservative Daily Wire said that my article was “bizarre” for calling the results “disappointing.”
The now-defunct Heat Street took the cake with the headline: “Magazine Shames ‘Disappointing’ People Who Don’t Want to Have Sex With Transsexual,” which, when it got redigested by the far-right blogosphere, became “Daily Beast: People Who Don’t Have Sex With Transsexuals Should Be Ashamed of Themselves!”
I can’t wait to watch someone misinterpret this essay in precisely the same way—even though its first line says exactly the opposite.