Very thoughtful piece about trans women and their (male) partners. I share its underlying purpose and point of view and thought it offers many opportunities to discuss problematic issues. I’d have many things to say about various points discussed in this article, but one statement that stayed with me particularly was:
“When I asked Alex how important it is that a girl is able to pass well, he responded, ‘I’m attracted to femininity, not masculinity. It’s that simple.'”
No, sweetheart. Unfortunately it is not ‘that simple’. Or, better still. It might be ‘that simple’ for you because it’s easier to reduce a very complex phenomenon to a mere question of attraction which – as everyone knows – is exempt from any form of judgement because it’s a matter of ‘personal taste’. Being ‘passable’ (and I know a part of me cringes whenever I evoke this concept) as a cisgender woman has only partially to do with femininity. Otherwise logic would want that we would be unable to find even the slightest trace of femininity in anyone but cisgender females who identify as women and exhibit a conventionally feminine gender expression; which is patently not the case if we look at the reality of things. Our hegemonic cultural formation, that strives to represent male and female as opposite, complementary but mutually exclusive categories, each with a set of non-overlapping characteristics, may well encourage and validate that view, but a look at the complexity of our gender expressions and identities very easily disproves this assumption. So I just happen to wonder: if we are able to dissociate the concept of being ‘passable’ as a cisgender woman, for a trans woman, from an idea of intrinsic femininity, what does the statement above really say about our culture? I’d say it reveals a lot more than mere personal taste – as the interviewee was probably keen to get across. It reveals the profound stigma that still surrounds transgender individuals – and even more trans-feminine people because of the sexist bias of our culture which I have explored in other posts – and reflects on anyone who more or less genuinely has an attraction to them. I am convinced that a trans woman can forgo ‘passability’ and still be feminine and beautiful, and therefore attractive to anyone who likes femininity. But I am willing to bet that that same trans woman, by virtue of her forgoing passability, would have less of a chance to date a straight man than a ‘passable’ one, who might be equally attractive and feminine, or even less so, in our cultural formation. And that has little to do with attraction, and all to do with societal expectation, and social pressure to appear to be ‘normal’. As the piece beautifully concludes.
What this ultimately says to me is that we need to strive towards a goal of gender and sexual inclusivity in society, making room for the essential fluidity not just of gender identity and expression, but also – quite logically – of sexual preference and orientation. Until we do this, we can challenge models, call paradigms into question, accuse this or that (hetero)sexist/racist/genderist regime of thought, but we will never be free of their dominant influence in shaping and making sense of human relations.