Surprisingly, this isn’t about another Jesse Singal tirade, though it would certainly fit his publishing pattern.
About two and a half years ago I was still working in the for-profit sector. I was invited to a multi-day professional development conference, which scheduled an after-party that was advertised as an informal socializing opportunity. Since business tends to run smoother among friends (or at the very least, friendly acquaintances), I figured I’d try to schmooze to see if any of these connections could make my professional life easier. Complicating this intention, however, was that I would be one of very few women in the room. It became apparent to me an hour into this after-party that a sizable minority of the acquaintances I was making were expecting me to sleep with them in exchange for professional promises, even if they didn’t always put it in explicit terms. I called it quits after two hours. In that time, I had three implicit invitations for sexual activity.
The reason that’s relevant?
I’m a trans woman.
Cis people on the internet, typically without invitation, like to routinely remind me in much more detail than is necessary what they think of my (unseen) body. This provides a stark contrast to the way cis people respond to me in real life.
In real life, when cis folk think my body is cis, they’ve made hundreds of assumptions of what that body entails, and it’s suddenly attractive enough to be selected for sexual advances. I suspect that a large majority of these same people, when cornered and asked explicitly,”would you date a trans woman?” would answer “no,”–even if the question was posed to them five minutes after flirting with a trans woman. This contrast between the theoretical and the practical is important and will be useful later.
But you, too, can experience this, regardless of your gender identity.
Try to imagine what it would be like if someone told you an acquaintance you just met assumed you were trans. Try to imagine that momentary (or, perhaps, not-so-momentary) shock and disgust. How could anyone think you’re transgender?
Have you thought about that? Really stewed in it? The idea that someone assumed you were trans? I’m guessing it doesn’t feel great to you.
When I say it’s all in your head, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how the same body (yours, in this exercise) can suddenly flip from “desirable” to “undesirable” just by invoking the right word. I’m talking about how it’s very likely you’ve already been attracted to a trans person, you just didn’t know they were trans. The brute facts of the body remained constant–but the way those brute facts were socially interpreted changed radically. I could actually be cis and tell people I was trans and I would still get the exact same effect.
It would be a morally neutral mistake in a world that didn’t treat trans bodies as disease vectors. Any sour taste that might have incurred is almost certainly related to the dregs in your mind where societal transphobia has taken root. If that scenario made you uncomfortable, it’s because you still believe in some level that being trans is an undesirable thing.
It’s okay. I’m not judging you, at least, not just for that. It takes an enormous amount of work to find all the sneaky ways in which prejudice has been drilled into you. Trans people have to overcome this mentality too in order to develop a positive sense of self, and some of us never succeed. Hell, even I get a knee-jerk response when I find out someone I recently met assumes I’m trans (if they don’t already know who I am, that is). To this day I have to apply mental effort when it happens.
Some cis people look at the work required to investigate that prejudice and choose to lean into it instead. Around 2012 the anti-trans types cut their teeth on a genre of hit piece that remains commonplace today: A hyperfocused, tunnel-vision style, when-all-you-have-is-a-hammer viewpoint through which any visible or outspoken trans woman will inevitably be forced. The magnum opus of this genre is the “cotton ceiling.” The genre functions by wedging an enormous volume of misinformation between what was actually said and done, and what was claimed to have been said and done. For example: Depending on who you ask, the cotton ceiling is either an international conspiracy by trans women to rape cis lesbians or a workshop attended by seven trans women on body image and shame.
Sexuality and attraction are that polarized when it’s assumed that trans women are the question. It can only function by starting from those dregs of prejudice and embracing them, saying that the inaccuracies you’ve learned by cultural osmosis are completely and unequivocally valid.
And speaking of said cultural osmosis: A twenty-seven country attitude survey towards gender & sexual minorities by the Williams Institute finds that a negative impression of trans people is endorsed by a significant minority (20-40%) in the countries surveyed–the notable exception was Russia, in which an unfavourable disposition was held by the majority.
Prejudice against trans folk exists. That much should be inescapable to conclude. We know it doesn’t always manifest in the Milo Yiannopouloses of the world. We know it sometimes comes dressed in candy-glossed feminist vocabulary. We know it comes wrapped in flighty euphemisms from the mouths of people who would see us dead. We know you can earn a PhD by cutting your teeth on sissy boys and claiming to “cure” them of their gender.
In other words, everything we’re discussing next didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in an environment like this:
Intentions and consequences disconnect constantly
One thing that women share is the distortion of our sexual agency, although the specifics will vary depending on a given woman’s other intersections. One of the more commonly known examples is the Madonna/Whore complex, perceiving women either as sexless objects to be taken or unworthy damaged goods if she has already been “taken,” culminating in its most absurd form where a woman is simultaneously pressured into “being conquered” and also shamed when it occurs. Entirely absent is the desires of the woman in question.
Other examples include how disabled women are desexualized and frequently omitted from conversations about sexual pleasure; and black women, who are burdened with the stereotype that they are aggressive and domineering, her agency stripped and pulled apart in two different directions, existing simultaneously as an amoral sexual aggressor and also an exotic indulgence. That these seem contradictory is merely evidence that many people, especially those people who belong to socially dominant groups, do not introspect on their sexual attractions, and that the ability to conceive of women as sexual agents is still widely bereft. Trans people are no exception, and the pretzels cis people twist themselves into can get quite complex, depending on whether we’re being pigeonholed based on our gender or our assigned sex (or both–never underestimate the capacity for irrationality the cis have in this conversation).
Proceeding from these observed phenomena, I must address several diversions that detract from the conversation.
The first is that it is fine–understandable, even–to want to avoid a domineering partner, or a partner who exhibits any damaging behaviours. I don’t know anyone other than the most brazen of abusive rapists who argues otherwise. But to claim that discussions of culturally influenced sexual attractions necessarily advocate for you to pair with people with damaging behaviours is disingenuous.
What is wrong is the presumption of the damaging behaviour on the part of the minority woman. While this is a hurtful assumption when held by someone who is a peer, it can be considerably more destructive when held by individuals working for an institutional authority. The perception that black women are aggressive has catastrophic implications for, say, [autoplay] law enforcement or psychiatric hospitals. This thus addresses one of the diversions used in this conversation, the idea that the only consequence for sexual racism is someone’s “hurt feelings.” But the ideas that informed this example of sexual racism are ideas that led to the death of one black woman and the severe abuse of another. There is much more than feelings at stake when these ideas are defended and perpetuated, even in the context of sexual attraction.
And power matters. When people make unfavourable assumptions about culturally dominant groups, those same groups often have the support of institutional authorities. Minorities lack this support, (indeed, are sometimes targets for these authorities), meaning unfavourable attitudes towards minorities possess considerable traction by comparison. I could argue ceaselessly that all men are rapists, but because politicians, law enforcement, and the courts are inclined to disagree, all I would likely achieve is an ineffectual temper tantrum in an obscure corner of the internet. This is partly what defines being a minority. You have no (or at least less) cultural momentum to turn your ideas into actions when you direct it at the majority. White people conceiving of black women as sexual aggressors and exotic indulgences have way more momentum backing them up. These expressions should be understood to be socio-political, not just sexual.
Another diversion to resolve, of course, is the idea that minorities want to willingly fuck people who view us this way. Often the hypothetical scenario prompted by members of the dominant demographic involves being approached by the minority, feeding (again) into the stereotype that we are aggressive. This ignores the fact that the reverse is often true as well, the minorities are the ones approached by members of the dominant demographic. With trans people, we make up 0.6% of the population. We would collectively have to approach hundreds of cis people each in order to break even with how many cis people approach us. Yet this absurd scenario hasn’t done anything to damage the notion that we minority women are desperately seeking to specifically bed you, the reader, and it’s another component of erasing our sexual agency. We have desires and consent, too–I wish this didn’t have to be said, but it does, apparently. Unless we have a ruinous self esteem (and this is certainly conceivable in a society that devalues us so severely), we do not want to fuck people who treat us as untouchables.
So, just to review, four strategies that change the topic and detract from the conversation are: 1) Conflating socio-political expressions with sexual ones; 2) Minimizing the consequences of prejudiced attitudes; 3) Minimizing the context and influence of power; and 4) Assuming the targets of the prejudice want anything to do with people who exhibit said prejudice.
This patterns manifest in slightly different specifics depending on one’s intersecting demographics, but the ways the conversation is derailed can also be seen in conversations on sexual ableism, homophobia, and, of course, transphobia. This can include, by the way, not just a preference against a particular demographic, but also for a demographic.
Simply put, if your preferences (positive or negative) are informed in part by prejudiced assumptions, your preferences are in part a product of prejudice.
Nuance doesn’t tend to survive for very long in this conversation, so I’ll repeat a couple things: I emphasized “can” and “if” and “in part” in the above paragraph. What both “I define <minority>, as a demographic, to be unattractive to me” and “I define <minority>, as a demographic, extremely attractive to me” have in common is “defining <minority> as a demographic,” and that the motivations for doing so can involve reductive stereotypes, which inform and contribute to oppression in contexts outside of personal attraction. As another reminder, if you hold these attitudes, it is less likely members of the minority in question will even be interested in you to begin with, because being reduced to an object feels demeaning. You need not worry about being “forced” into anything you don’t want to do. I assure you, most of us are more repulsed by you than you are by us. The focus of my argument thus far has been what is expressed, how it is expressed, and what consequences follow from this.
I repeat: The focus of my argument thus far has been what is expressed, how it is expressed, and what consequences follow from this. I don’t care if you think x minority is gross and/or great as a concept. I only care about what you do with that opinion.
Like, for example, whether you performatively declare it without provocation or tweet it to 258,000 followers in a political climate that is codifying vocabulary to deny the existence of trans people in law.
oh, and 4. distorting basic scientific concepts and diluting language to the point of meaninglessness is not, in any way, "progressive". 🙃
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) July 16, 2017
Cis as the metric by which morality is determined
Textbook humans do not exist in real life, instead acting as amalgamated models of what will be commonly encountered during the course of a career. We all have variations in our body which aren’t captured by the models that are used to teach human biology and medicine. However, some people don’t realize this, thinking the models to be flawless and always correct, and those same people often blame variant bodies for not meeting their expectations. This is extremely entitled–it is the fault of the person making the assumption, not the fault of the person whose body did not meet their expectations. It is also one such manifestation of cisgender (and endosex) supremacy, the assumption that cis/endosex experiences should be the metric by which morality itself is determined, thereby framing trans folk as unethical:
Yes, not for anything I’ve actually said and done. Being found attractive before I make it known I am transgender is often enough to spark this debate. I did not “trick” you into finding me attractive, you had decided that I was attractive without my input and without my consent. You had already reduced me to a sexual object and interpreted my physical features to be an advertisement for sex. This is all happening before you’ve even began an interaction with me. You were the one labeling me with your assumptions. You are to blame if those assumptions turn out to be not true. This is All. Your. Baggage. Not mine. And I know this because the effect would be the same if I were a cisgender woman and told you I was trans.* It’s in your head, mate.
And also transmisogyny, in blaming trans women for said cisgender/endosex supremacy:
A lot of it hinges on the idea that the man would not have slept with her if he knew she was trans. A lot of the justifications that are made for this are things like “I’m sorry, it’s nothing personal, but I just find trans people kind of icky” or “It’s just my sexual orientation. I’m not attracted to trans women. I can’t help that. Are you going to blame me for my sexual orientation?” or whatever. This is utterly disingenuous, because the hypothetical is entirely hinged on the idea of him being attracted to her and consenting.
I’ve said it at least three times over the last four months, but really, it bears repeating: if you are attracted to a woman one moment, and repulsed by her the next, when all that has changed is her informing you of an invisible aspect of herself that does not affect you in any way and that you would not have ever been aware of if she hadn’t told you, then the problem is with your perceptions, not herbody. It’s not trans women you aren’t attracted to (you clearly are), it’s women you know are trans. Therefore it’s the idea of transsexuality that creeps you out. It’s a conceptual issue, and based on socio-cultural messages, not on anything related to your actual sexuality (which was more than happy to fuck her when this concept hadn’t entered into things).
As I mentioned earlier, all women deal with the distortion of their sexual agency, although the specifics as to how this distortion occurs varies. In trans women, we share the presumption of aggression and dominance (hence why we are always framed as “the initiators” in these hypothetical sexual scenarios despite the more-probable inverse), and also the perception of exotic consumption. These performative declarations make arguments like “we always reserve the right to say no, for any reason,” and while they should be understood to be true, they are also a response to an argument exactly no one is making. What I’m arguing instead has nothing to do with your right to say no and everything to do with the way you say no, because I have a swamp to sell you if you can’t tell the difference between “no” and “no, you freak pervert Frankenstein rapist,” especially when it comes from someone in a position of relative social dominance and is directed at someone in a position of relative social subordinance.
And it’s not like I’m the first to talk about the way you say no: Feminists have discussed how the rhetoric cis gay men use to express their aversions towards cis women’s bodies can invoke misogynistic tropes about uncleanliness and impurity. Historians have noted that that white women could deliberately express fear towards black men and create the impetus for lynching. Bisexual women have noted that “gold star” rhetoric among lesbian subcultures evokes problematic patriarchal themes of sexual purity. This is not even a slightly new or particularly radical conversation. The way you say no matters, especially when you’re using the words of oppression to do so.
I don’t dispute that you can say no. Nor do I dispute that you even need a reason. You don’t. “You don’t want to” is a complete statement regarding your consent. “No” is a complete sentence.
However, we need to stop pretending that shit like this…
…is merely discussing a personal boundary, and recognize that the incredulity expressed here is towards the idea that trans women could ever be attractive to someone. That’s what this is about. These melodramatic monologues balloon way, way past personal boundaries, and attempt to turn personal aversions into wider existential truths. I am not going to seriously debate whether dog shit is a valid thing to compare me to anymore than I will entertain the virulently misogynistic idea that menstruation is divine retribution for a crime that ~3.5 billion people have not committed.
A tale of two tweets
In general, it’s safe to assume most trans people are tired of having this conversation. If you couldn’t tell by the absurd amount of space I had to spend setting up this post, it’s one of those topics absolutely rife with bad-faith behaviour. Somehow “when you loudly and repeatedly express assumptions about trans women’s bodies you feed into stereotypes directly related to our oppression” gets twisted into “you’re forcing me to have sex with you!!!!” It’s a bloody minefield, it’s awful and derivative and just a tiny bit Sacred Cow-ish, and I have never seen a trans woman (yes, specifically trans women) initiate it without being literally demonized as a rapist. I look forward to inevitably being quoted out of context.
Zinnia Jones is no different. In response to Count Slambo’s incredulity, Zinnia Jones shot off this snarky tweet.
Have your trans girlfriend rub her balls and dick on your face until you realize how awesome it is? I don't know dude https://t.co/QmkqDA8zRz
— Zinnia Jones (@ZJemptv) July 2, 2017
It’s worth noting I know this to be snark precisely because this exact issue has been discussed on Gender Analysis, Zinnia Jones’ research essay website. There’s an added element of irritation, here: Count Slambo is not only incredulous that trans women could ever be perceived as attractive (ludicrous, given that the woman he’s criticizing is married and has a girlfriend–and the trans woman you’re reading now has an s/o in addition to the history of super uncomfortable invitations for sex), but is asking Zinnia to perform labour her partner has already done.
I’ll explain the joke, since a lot of cis people apparently didn’t catch it: Jones has undermined Slambo’s incredulity by already singling out a demographic of people who can, in fact, find trans women attractive–“people with trans girlfriends.” She then describes the idea of proposing sex acts with said girlfriend to relate a common negotiating process that occurs between healthy cis/trans relationships where partners attempt different things to find mutually pleasing activities. [Aside: I think all relationships should be negotiated so explicitly, it’s just that my respectful cis partners have been especially mindful about discussing sex acts with me since they know my gender dysphoria is a fraught relationship with my body.]
Remember the earlier contrast between theory and practice when it comes to trans women’s bodies? Jones also does sex work. The primary audience for her porn is straight men. Jones has spent the past few weeks being inundated with abuse over the idea of anyone finding her attractive all the while people are shelling out cash for her sexualized pics and clips. Performative declarations about how unfuckable I am brush up against my reality, where I spend my weekends doing naked things that are illegal in many countries across the world (ifyouknowwhatimean). It’s two different conversations happening at the same time, and one of them looks–if you’ll pardon my French–fucking silly. “Ur ugly” is the discourse of children and playgrounds.
If nothing else, I hope we can see how Slambo’s hangup is not a serious argument that warrants a serious response. Trans people have partners and can be found attractive. This… really… shouldn’t be surprising.
We develop a really particular sense of humor about all the awkward shit we have to deal with
— Zinnia Jones (@ZJemptv) July 17, 2017
Not so, in the Cis World. “Can trans women be attractive” is evidently an item of serious debate and not the musings of a four year-old who is just now stepping into self-awareness.
“On Twitter, I’ve watched as trans YouTubers argue with lesbians that they need to be willing to sleep with someone with male genitals, otherwise they’re transphobic.
One of these YouTubers went so far as to advocate rubbing her dick all over a straight guy’s face until he’s into it. Yeah, that’s not gross or creepy at all.”
— Zinnia Jones (@ZJemptv) July 12, 2017
Hint number one that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: Green can’t decide who the subjects are, unless she’s suddenly started believing that (cis) lesbians and (cis) straight men are the same. Badly misapprehending Jones’ tweet would have at least supported her conclusion that trans women are trying to coerce straight men, but instead she comes out of left field by making it about (cis) lesbians. That she saw no contradiction in these premises suggests to me she is starting with her conclusion and working her way backwards.
Hint number two that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: Green uses “lesbian” as mutually exclusive with “trans YouTuber.” Neither cis lesbians that can be attracted to trans women, nor trans lesbians, exist. Apparently.
Hint number three that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: No acknowledgement that deeming someone’s genitals as “male” or “female” is a social construct*, or how this social construct contributes to the oppression of trans people in general and especially transfeminine people.
[*If you don’t know what that means, it’s basically this: When we teach models of human biology, we are using social processes to assign greater significance to empirical traits. Trans feminists do not deny the mechanisms of pregnancy or menstruation, as an example–but designating those qualities as female is attributing additional meaning above and beyond the empirical facts. In other words, “this body does x” is a brute fact, but “having x makes you female” is a social one. If you disagree, it’s argued in greater depth here.]
While this is often a simple matter of ignorance, Green has been openly flouting her denial of this position long before her so-called “red pilling.” Indeed, in the context of the earlier tweet, she thinks acknowledgement of social constructionism in models of binary sex constitutes a “distortion.”
Hint number four that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: It’s suddenly “creepy” and “gross” to ask an intimate partner to experiment with different sex techniques, after Green has literally built her career on facilitating exactly that? Sex-positivity is apparently only for cis folk!
Hint number five that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: Jones’ tweet was a response specifically to Count Slambo’s unreasonable incredulity, and this context was ignored in Green’s video.
Even if I were to cede a tremendous amount of history and context, and take Green’s tweet at face value, it still wouldn’t reflect charitably on her. Clearly, this means we should pile up the straw at a stake and–oh, wait, no, that’s not at all what trans people are saying.
We need to resist this push to misgender trans women using very specifically chosen definitions and applications of "biological" and "male".
— Zinnia Jones (@ZJemptv) July 12, 2017
Green’s response to this idea? She is offered a badly flawed framing of the argument by one of her flying monkeys, and uncritically accepts it.
the crazy is strong with this one.
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) July 13, 2017
This here is Laci Green’s invitation to “dialogue,” folks. An extensive history of sneering condescension and the presumption of insanity. And if we bother to discuss the repeated demonstrations of her behaviour or how they fit into contemporary patterns of demonization, I’m sure there will be a DARVO–
the media & SJWs can cast me as A Bigot. i'm saying what i always have: gender and sex are different. inclusive, medically accurate sex ed.
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) July 15, 2017
I hope this long series clears up why some folks may be hesitant to accept that her so-called “invitation for dialogue” has been offered in good faith. Slandering people who accept your invitation, and even your terms for that invitation, as crazy, rapey, and sociopathic is not the behaviour of someone interested in inquiry and investigation. The behaviour she has exhibited in the past few years, and especially in the past few months, show that she’s a circus clown trying to convince you to look in her direction. We have the entire body of history explained above which calibrates our bullshit meter, so hopefully it’s clearer why we respond the way we do. You can buy her act if you’re so inclined, but I think the people affected by her actions are right to question your judgement if you do.
Moderation notice: It should be obvious from the extensive history that people fuck this conversation up all the time. This post is on high moderation.