The Young Turks recently covered a Foreign Policy article about trans women sex workers in the Middle East and the systemic abuse they face from authorities. Throughout the clip, Cenk Uygur is seemingly astonished that, whoa, men would interested in having sex with women? Steel yourself:
Highlights of the clip include:
- Uygur saying: “All these Arab Gulf countries, Persian Gulf countries, very conservative, being gay is totally and utterly wrong, unless I mean it’s like a really cute girl that happens to have a penis, in which case maybe we can make an exception”. (Of course, police do anything but make an exception when they arrest trans women for “homosexuality”.)
- Uygur saying: “But then, here comes the awesome part – now, it’s got a terrible dark side, but it’s got awesome hypocrisy – so, a lot of times they get arrested, and when they do, what’s the first thing that police do? Police arrest them because they are being immoral, and then immediately have sex with them.” (Hypocrisy or not, I don’t think police sexually abusing women in custody is particularly “awesome”.)
- Uygur saying: “And it’s not just the hypocrisy, right – it also shows you, by the way, the reality of sexual orientation in the world, right? It’s not binary, and I can guarantee you that if you ask those guys, at the very least nine out of ten of them would tell you, ‘Oh no, I’m totally straight.’ Right? But when push comes to shove, they pay a lot of money to have non-straight sex.”
Hoo boy. I can see – vaguely, distantly – how he might have been trying to be supportive or inclusive by pointing out that human bodies are not limited to men with penises and women with vaginas, and that people’s sexual behavior reveals that this widespread binary notion of gender – not sexual orientation – is simply inapplicable in practice. That’s the most charitable way I can plausibly interpret this.
But when a man has sex with a woman who’s trans, that is not “non-straight sex”. When a man and a woman are having sex, there is no conceivable way that any sexual act could be described as something other than straight. Calling this “non-straight” means claiming that there is some element of homosexual desire or tendency involved, simply because the woman is trans or has a penis. But this idea is not reflective of reality, either – it is inapplicable in practice. Why do men who display attraction toward trans women largely identify as straight? Because trans women are women, and because these men are straight. They are attracted to trans women because they are women.
This is not contrary to their heterosexual orientation – it is because of their heterosexual orientation. Men who are attracted to trans women typically display heterosexual patterns of attraction, not homosexual patterns of attraction. These men do not otherwise identify as gay, and do not exhibit attraction toward men or engage in sexual conduct with men. They engage in sexual conduct with women, including trans women.
If being attracted to trans women made these men “non-straight” or something less than heterosexual, we would not expect to observe this. We would expect to see them having sex with men. This largely does not happen, and this is why describing sex between men and trans women as “non-straight” is misleading.
It is not in any way inconsistent for men to be attracted to trans women while identifying as “totally straight” – there is no “but” there. If anything, these patterns of attraction reveal the hypocrisy of regarding trans women as anything less than women, and of prosecuting them under laws against homosexuality – not the supposed “hypocrisy” of being straight and also attracted to trans women. No matter how much anyone protests or moralizes, reality itself gives lie to the assumption that we aren’t women and that sleeping with us counts against a man’s heterosexuality. These aren’t the gays you’re looking for.