Caught Up In Cotton

Update/note: I did not coin the term “Cotton Ceiling” myself, nor do I at present support this particular term or the admittedly creepy, rape-culture connotations it possesses. I was primarily using this term for the sake of referencing a very particular conversation that was occurring in the trans-feminist community at a very particular point in time. Frankly, I’d prefer if we all moved on from that term, its connotations, its limitations, and its unduly narrow focus on one particular space and context in which trans women’s sexual agency is denied or subverted. Such issues are much broader than what occurs in queer women’s spaces, and we can talk about it in ways that don’t demand self-defeating terminologies like “Cotton Ceiling”.

Yeah… um… I’m a little late to the party on this one.

Over the last couple weeks, while I was preoccupied with, um, things, there was this big swirling chaotic word-blizzard in the transosphere regarding “The Cotton Ceiling”. I did my best to provide some links here and there as it unfolded, but just wasn’t quite able to properly dive into the fray. But at least I can try to make up for it by offering a few thoughts now, for whatever their worth.

(almost, but not quite, exactly nothing, in case you were wondering)

The term “Cotton Ceiling” was originally coined by the intensely awesome Canadian trans-activist and porn star Drew DeVeaux, in which she referred (quite specifically) to the tendency within feminist and queer women’s spaces for trans women to be, while nominally accepted as women and supported in their pursuit for rights and equality, regarded and treated as essentially de-sexed, unfuckable, and sometimes a bit repulsive, with this becoming highly politicized in regards to its implications for things like what a lesbian sexuality really means, how much  of sexuality is “orientation” and something we can’t be held accountable for and how much is mediated by our perceptions, how sexuality can reveal that biases and lack of respecting gender identity continue to exist on visceral levels despite being intellectually (or superficially) rejected, etc.

The “cotton” refers to underwear. The idea being here that no matter how much basic, nominal acceptance a trans woman can receive in feminist or queer or women’s spaces, we’re still always ultimately rejected when it comes to breaking the sexual barrier, and being accepted as women to such a full extent that we are accepted sexually as women.

For me to weigh in on the “cotton ceiling” debate is bit difficult and problematic in that it’s not something I often deal with directly. I’m straight, at least in theory, and my dating pool exists in the world of heterosexual cisgender men, where wholly different issues (and risks… often very extreme ones) are in play. Amongst straight cis men, the danger isn’t being superfically accepted but rejected as unfuckable when it comes to sexuality. The danger lies in outright rejection (and possible violence), or in being sexualized and fuckable but only as an exotic, kinky, “dirty”, fetish object.

But the issue as a whole really isn’t much about actually wanting to get laid. It’s about representation, which certainly DOES effect me, especially given my committed involvement in both the feminist and queer rights movements (even if my involvement is not sexualized, I am a sexual being who is involved).

This, the misconception of it being about individuals upset about not getting laid, is in fact one of the key problems that has triggered the controversy surrounding the question. Basically, the initial subject was brought up in relation to how trans women are perceived and represented. For example, trans men are often openly regarded as being sexy and hot within queer communities, being the subject of things like calendars and pin-ups and erotica. Trans women, on the other hand, are almost never permitted acknowledgment or representation in such communities as sexual beings. We carry a sort of image of being stuffy, boring, slightly icky, and ultimately eunuch-like things. We’re allowed in to the parties, but we sit quiet and lonely in the corner. This ends up being a problem not in that we’re desperately eager to be sexually objectified (we get enough of that from the straight cis male world), but that this act of conceptualizing us as de-sexed and unfuckable is directly attached to larger systems of oppression, dehumanization and invalidation we face.

For example, the idea of us as de-sexed relates directly to the whole “cutting off your penis” myth through which transsexuality is often viewed. It imagines a male-to-female transition (but tellingly NOT a female-to-male transition) as being a loss, a reduction, giving something of oneself up and becoming a lesser being, rather than conceiving it (much more accurately), as a growth, a reconfiguration, an expansion of self and possibilities, gaining new confidence and sexuality and empowerment and self-realization. The idea of us as being fundamentally unattractive relates into the way that cisgender standards of beauty are positioned as the only possible standards, that “passability” and “beauty” are, for trans women, directly equated, and we can ONLY be seen as beautiful, attractive or sexy in so far as we do NOT appear to be trans and instead appear to be cis (which is, you know, really fucked up). The refusal of lesbians to consider us viable sexual partners, or their seeing intimacy with us as somehow a threat to their lesbian identification (I had a #FunWithSearchTerms the other day asking “what do you call a lesbian who’s attracted to both women and trans women?”) is to ultimately, when it comes to staking your own identification upon how you conceive of our gender, to walk your talk, assert that beneath whatever lip-service you’ve paid to the legitimacy of our identity you simply don’t really regard us as women. At least not fully so.

The trouble, though, is that in the painfully typical manner that cis people will consistently view trans issues primarily or only in relation to themselves, they see this notion that how trans women are sexualized (or more accurately, desexualized) within their community is somehow all about us trying to force our way into their pants, to trick our way past their “natural” disinclination to sleeping with our “naturally” less attractive selves. The conversation was quickly twisted into being about how “nobody needs to be obliged to sleep with someone we don’t regard as attractive! It doesn’t make me a transphobe just because I’m not interested in sleeping with trans women!”

Wellllll… here’s the thing. First of all, it is definitely, most emphatically, NOT about you. And frankly, the assumption transphobes so frequently make that our top priority is sleeping with transphobes is pretty silly (and pathetic). Listen, transphobes, seriously: we have no interest in fucking you. We don’t find you attractive. This is not about individual situations, nor is it about trying to deny or compromise anyone their right to choose when, where, with whom, and under what circumstances they consent to sex. It’s about how the category is represented, the patterns, the shared attitudes of a community, not what occurs between individuals in individual sexual scenarios. It’s also about the problems with extrapolating individual sexual needs, desires, hang-ups, baggage or whatever into blanket, “empirical facts” of who is or isn’t desirable. It’s about how those conceptions of an entire class of human beings as objectively (rather than just to your own close-minded sensibilities) undesirable lead to dehumanization, and to being treated as less valid, less deserving of respect.

And to be honest, saying as a blanket statement that you have no interest in sleeping with any trans women ever IS a transphobic statement. As I’ve talked about before, there really isn’t any universal or consistent outward trait common to all trans women. Logically, one can’t possibly experience a basic sexual attraction to cis women but not trans women, at least not while claiming that supposed lack of attraction has anything to do with trans women and trans bodies. It’s about how you perceive trans women. What you’re “not attracted to” is women you KNOW are trans, the IDEA of trans women, the CONCEPT. Which is inherently tied into cultural perceptions. You’d have the same reaction to a cis woman claiming to be trans as you would to an actual trans woman. It’s about your perceptions, not our bodies.

And those cultural perceptions, the ones influencing your attractions, are what we’re trying to address. We’re not trying to force you into being attracted to us and sleeping with us. As said, we have no particular interest in sleeping with transphobes. You’re not so amazing and sexy, nor are we so desperate and horny, that that’s the key dynamic here. We’re simply trying to talk about the overall way trans women are represented, thought of, conceptualized, etc. in the hopes that dealing with that will help change some of that influence on people’s perceptions of us and sexual relationships to us (and perhaps help move our rights forward in a general sense by breaking down this barrier). We’re simply trying to open a dialogue about the concepts that are mediating people’s sexuality, not trying to force any change in sexuality directly.

Sexuality does not occur in a vacuum. Imagine a circumstance where an enormous number of people were saying that latina women just plain weren’t attractive or sexy, and that the only way they COULD be would be to look as little like latina women as possible. And let’s say when this issue is broached, the response is “I just don’t find latinas attractive. I’m not racist! It’s just my sexual interests, which I have a right to define. Trying to force me into having sex with latinas by guilt-tripping me is a form of rape”. Wouldn’t it be justified to explore how racism, and cultural attitudes towards hispanic people, are influencing those attitudes and sexuality? Wouldn’t the women so targeted as “innately” less attractive be justified in their anger and hurt?

Or as another analogy, is it inappropriate, and akin to “rape”, or “forcing” people to “want to have sex with you”, for people with disabilities to discuss the way that cultural representations of disability are often distinctly de-sexed, with PwD’s bodies often regarded as “flawed” and fundamentally “unattractive”, to challenge the idea that people “can’t be blamed” for finding PwD sexually unappealing? Is that conversation off the table too?

Because that’s all we’re after. A similar conversation. Addressing the attitudes about us, and their influence on sexuality.

Discussing the ways that sexual orientation can often be fixed and immutable, that you can’t, for instance, “cure” someone of being gay or lesbian, has been an extremely important step in working towards acceptance of sexual variance. But that does not and should not mean that sexuality is suddenly sacrosanct and off-limits for discussion. That does not mean everything about an individual’s sexuality is suddenly unassailable, “just the way it is”, not to be questioned or critiqued or thought about.

Of course, given my whole skepticism thing, I become extremely unnerved and suspicious the instant any subject starts being treated as “above” criticism or “wrong” to discuss, question, think about and talk about. Sexuality especially so.

Some aspects of sexuality probably are innate, “Born This Way”. But a whole lot more of it is socio-culturally mediated. How cultural attitudes play out in sexuality is not something that needs to be protected from discussion, and given the fact that this often has real, actual consequences (such as perpetuating the oppression, alienation and dehumanization of trans women), it is something that needs to discussed.

The fact that simply trying to broach the subject of “the cotton ceiling” is something met with such a considerable degree of hostility and opposition is itself pretty strong proof that it is in fact a real phenomenon that is actually limiting how trans women are conceived and talked about in the queer community. It makes sense, of course… there’s a whole lot of important things tied to these issues. The stability of gender, the stability (or even validity) of sexual orientations in a world where gender is not a stable, binary, fixed thing. The importance of what a lesbian identity is and means, where it begins and ends. How much of sexuality is fixed and how much is mutable. How much of our attractions, and sexual orientations, are connected to actual bodies and actual pleasure and how much is all just in our heads and how we think of those bodies and pleasures. The presence of trans women as sexual beings poses considerable threats to understandings of gender and sexuality, both of which are things that carry deeply personal significance to everyone, perhaps especially to queer women.

But this is a discussion that needs to happen. And needs to NOT be made all about cis people. It needs to be focused on us, on trans women, and our representation. To shut down this dialogue simply because it’s a bit scary is to forfeit the right to consider oneself trans-friendly or accepting. It’s to forfeit the right to claim membership in a unified queer community.

Given all the support and love trans women offer, and all the much more we can yet offer, to the queer community, to feminism, to women, the least you can offer us is allow us the space to talk about how you may be hurting us, to voice our concerns, to raise the topic of how you see us, represent us, talk about us, ally with us, love us, and most tragically, how often you fail to do those things.

Your sexuality is tough, it’s strong, and it’s your own. It can survive a few questions and a little inquiry. I promise.


  1. Anders says

    The message I got from the people I debated (Brennan and Hungerford) was that they wanted to be bigots without being called on it. Oh, and a whole lot of ad hominem and ad CAPSLOCK. Apparently they think that shouting makes your arguments better.

    Does this debate remind anyone else about the ‘trap’ debate? It’s just a feeling I have, I don’t know enough about either debate to be definitive but… the rhetoric, the fear of compromising one’s sexual orientation by sleeping ‘with a man’. I don’t know who should be most offended, radical feminist lesbians or troglodytic men.

    • says

      Yeah, that wasn’t so much a debate, as an exercise in futility. I just gave up on it… I like when I was told I should read some Dworkin, and learn the “truth” about trans women… that was kind of funny…

      But, what are we to expect from the duo that submitted to the UN that trans women should be denied basic human rights to protect the “real” women? I well reasoned and thoughtful discussion? :/

  2. lrah says

    Did you come across the post mentioning an …etymology of the “cis”-prefix, which the bloggers (on a blog called “The Cotton Ceiling”) pulled out of their arses in its entirety?

    They went with the “cis/cide” found in “incision” and “genocide” instead of the logical “opposite of trans” choice.

    Almost physically painful to read.

    • says

      I did not see that… luckily… So, they completely fabricated an entirely new etymology for the prefix? Ignoring of course, this:

      “Cis-” a prefix of Latin origin, meaning “on the same side [as]” or “on this side [of]”

      You know, the actually origin… This is another of those idiotic language games, like “history” vs “herstory”, mindlessly ignoring this:

      From Middle English, from Latin historia, from Ancient Greek ἱστορία (historia, “learning through research, narration of what is learned”), from ἱστορέω (historeō, “to learn through research, to inquire”), from ἵστωρ (histōr, “the one who knows, the expert”), from *ϝίδτωρ, from Proto-Indo-European *wid- (“wit, knowledge”).

      Attested in Middle English in 1393 by John Gower, Confessio Amantis,[1] which was aimed at an educated audience familiar with French and Latin.

      How can anyone hope to discuss anything with people who feel they can twist words into having meanings and connotations that were never there at all…

      • lrah says

        How can anyone hope to discuss anything with people who feel they can twist words into having meanings and connotations that were never there at all…

        One cannot, at least not on their blog – after two or three people (who didn’t seem all that hostile to their view on trans women, by the way) criticised their linguistic idiocy, they promised to delete everyone else who tried to argue that calling someone “cis woman” does *not* mean “I want to kill that woman”.

        If it weren’t so hateful and pathetic, it’d almost be funny.

        • says

          Wow… way to silence dissent…

          I wonder if they’ve noticed that the trans positive blogs they invade to spam their nonsense tend to allow their hateful comments; and that their threatening (and carrying out) deletion of comments that reasonable point out the flaws in their arguments makes them look like foolish spoilt children by comparison…

    • Anders says

      I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of linguists suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something hilarious has happened.

      Thank you. I needed that laugh.

  3. TiG says

    I’m glad you wrote about this because I was really discomfited by attitudes I saw that appeared to be so transphobic but the peopple were making all about who they were being made to fuck, apparently?

  4. sisu says

    I look forward to reading the comments here… I’m still rolling a lot of this around in my mind. I’m wondering if you can explain something though. You state:

    “Logically, one can’t possibly experience a basic sexual attraction to cis women but not trans women, at least not while claiming that supposed lack of attraction has anything to do with trans women and trans bodies.”

    Which is something you’ve written about before. But in this same article you also write:

    “I’m straight, at least in theory, and my dating pool exists in the world of heterosexual cisgender men….”

    So are you saying that you are not attracted to, or wouldn’t date, a trans man? I’m sure you see that this looks really inconsistent.

    • says

      Well, that’s a good point.

      Because here’s the thing…

      I totally understand what some lesbians mean when they talk about how they find the idea of sleeping with trans women who are pre-op or non-op to be off the table. Personally, I sort of need a penis to be there for me to be fully sexually interested to the same degree that they need a penis to NOT be there. So my dating a trans man would be rather difficult and problematic, yeah, and I’m not sure it would be entirely fair to him to give him the impression that I’d be fully able to love and appreciate his body.


      I don’t think trans men are fundamentally less attractive. I don’t treat trans men as less attractive. I don’t go around asserting that I can’t or shouldn’t date a trans man. I don’t invalidate anyone else’s identity as androphilic for dating them. I don’t treat trans men as any less male on account of that. I don’t base my conceptions of manhood or sexiness in a general sense on what happen to be my own particular sexual needs. I don’t treat my own sexual baggage as something that is an objective empirical fact of sexuality. I don’t wholly eliminate trans men from my range of options. And I do allow myself to be open to the possibility. If a trans guy came along who I was attracted to and he was attracted to me and we had chemistry together, yeah, I would totally be willing to try to make things work. Sex wouldn’t have to be all about genitals. It would be difficult to make sex totally work and in an equitable, balanced, give-and-take way, and I’d probably constantly worry that I’m not satisfying him enough, but it would absolutely be worth trying and at the very least is worth my being open to that possibility.

      When I say my dating pool is straight, cisgender guys, I don’t mean that’s the strict and full extent of my sexual attractions. Bisexual guys, trans guys, pansexual guys, genderqueer folk and even, if we really clicked and they were really the right person, trans women and cis women too, could ALL be people with whom I could someday end up. They just don’t fall in my ordinary day-to-day “dating pool”.

      • Alex says

        You make a distinction, in the lesbian hypothetical, between non-/pre-op trans women, but you do not make this distinction when you’re talking about trans men.

        While it is not on the same plane as the issues around “the cotton ceiling” [and not to get into Oppression Olympics], there seems to be a pretty pervasive erasure/dismissal of post-[bottom-]op trans men.

        Do trans men who’ve had bottom surgery also categorically “not have a penis”, by your standard? Are cis guys with micropenises hypothetically in or out? If you’ve got a minimum requirement for penis size, fine, but it seems unfair to use gender identity as a euphemistic qualifier for minimum penis size.

        • says

          The Cotton Ceiling issue is NOT a trans men’s issue. It is explicitly and specifically about how trans women are treated in the queer community, which often operates in stark contrast to the treatment of trans men. I’d rather not have this derailed into being a big discussion all about the guys, and whatever gap in my semantics you can use to project some kind of anti-trans-men position into my comments.

          And please don’t ask me questions to which you can easily figure out the answer. It comes across as looking for an argument rather than d discussion. Of course men who’ve had phalloplasty have a penis. I’m not constructing any such hypothetical “in or out”, so your assertions about penis size are ridiculous and insulting. A trans man’s penis doesn’t necessarily look and function the way cis men’s penises do, and would still be a bit of a work around, sexually speaking.

          • Alex says

            I apologise if my intent was unclear. I was absolutely NOT attempting to include trans men in the Cotton Ceiling issue, nor was I trying to be combative or obtuse, or imply that you are anti-trans men. I only commented because someone else brought it up and you replied, and because equating things-that-are-not-genitals [sexual orientation, trans status, whatever] to genitals is a particular pet peeve of mine. I realise the line between side comment and derailment is blurry/subjective; I did not mean to commit the former.

          • says

            Thank you. I just want to make it clear that I definitely am NOT genital essentializing, or trying to suggest trans men aren’t “real” men or that post-op guys don’t have “real” penises. I was simply trying to be honest about my own particular sexual needs, which make intimacy with trans men problematic (but not by any means impossible or off the table, nor does it render them any less attactive to me).

          • sisu says

            Hey, sorry if my question led to a hijacky tangent! And thanks for your response. It makes a lot of sense and clarified this for my little brain. personal preference is personal, and can’t be reasoned away. So if Natalie, or me, or anyone who’s attracted to men wants the sexy times with penis, that’s okay. Also totally cool: anyone wanting the sexy times without penis. I think we’re all on the same page there….

            It seems like the problems are coming from the radfem misconception that a pre- or non-op trans woman would even WANT to be penetrating her sexual partner with her penis. (Well, that combined with a heaping helping of gender essentialism – your gender is the sex you were assigned at birth, and even bottom surgery isn’t going to change that.) I have to admit, I gave one or two of those sites a pageview to see what their argument was and I was really surprised that they were advancing this really uninformed idea.

            However: I do take their point about the “cotton ceiling” term. Because ceilings were made to be smashed… it is a term that can lead to some violent imagery, which could obviously be really problematic.

          • Sinéad says

            (this reply may be out of order due to nesting issues)

            There’s one other thing about the radfem scum issue. It isn’t about pre and non op trans women, only. Radfem scum believe all trans women are men and want to rape women’s bodies and colonize they sacred spaces. Radfem scum believe trans men are deluded women just capitulating to the patriarchy,

            As far as I’m concerned, the attitudes radfem scum espouse is one of death towards trans people.

  5. leftwingfox says

    Excellent post.

    One thing which you implied and I wanted to make explicit, is the role of enforcement in these attitudes.

    The problem is not merely “I don’t want to fuck person X”, it’s extrapolating it to “Therefore NO-ONE should be attracted to person X and mocked if they do.” This ties in heavily with the acceptable range of attractiveness in cultural images: Thin, light-skinned, breasts of a certain range, straight hair, between the ages of *cough*teen and twenty-nine, femme, cis and straight or “playfully bi”. The acceptable range of men is much broader, which is why out-of-shape, overweight or socially awkward guys on TV or in movies always seem to have such conventionally gorgeous girlfriends.

    Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people will only fight against this stereotype to the point where it includes their own image or their own attraction; you rarely get an intersection where we challenge ALL of those assumptions: weight, age, shape, racial indicators, attitudes, gender presentation and sexual orientation. Everyone suddenly sees this shift as suddenly meaning that the only women we’ll ever see on TV will be at opposite extremes from what we have now, rather than simply the full range of humanity.

  6. Sinéad says

    This whole discussion makes me just want to stop existing. I just want to crawl into a corner and cry myself into a puddle. It just reminds me, that at the age of 38, I’ve experienced the same things over and over and they never change, no matter the consciousness raising.

    I’m not asexual. I’m less sexual, and not because of the hormones, though that does contribute. I am painfully shy, like I would rather hang myself than ask a girl out.

    I wish so desperately for some manner of events to come along and allow me access to SRS. And even though genitalia in potential partners isn’t problematic for me, I do prefer vulvas. But I am not interested in being the person who penetrates. I love cunnilingus. And so, I can empathize with someone who does want sex with a vulva but not a penis. I just can,t respect someone who has use their orientation and preferences to define my identity and influence the potential attractions to me from other people.

    I don’t like the phrase “cotton ceiling” as I find it too one sided, giving the trolls an excuse to claim we lesbian trans women want to violate cis women. Why bait the trolls? Besides, I’m not anti-sex worker, but I don’t really want a porn actress fighting for me on this. Seriously, could anything make for a perfect storm to bait the radscum into furthering their agenda to kill us (emotionally, if not literally).

    Yeah, sex is great, but I want love. I don’t want to live another 38 years of my life the same as the last. My heart just can’t take it anymore.

    • says

      I think your comment really touches the key to this whole debate. We’re not solely talking about random hook-ups and such, we’re also (and probably predominantly about relationships, of which sex is usually a part. And it’s very difficult to love someone when you think they are gross in some way.

      Hmmm… I’m not sure if I’m making sense, so tired… I guess your comment struck several chords with me (whether they harmonised with your meaning or not is another thing)… I’m very shy, but I am asexual… but I want love too… But in light of this whole cotton ceiling business, I’m not feeling very confident. Rejected because I’m trans, and therefore undesirable, or rejected because my erstwhile hypothetical girlfriend wants something I’m not really able to give, either way it’s still rejected…

      • Sinéad says

        Yeah, I am not asexual, and therefore not able the speak for that added bit of rejection, but I have been rejected because I would be making out with a girl, then days later she’d be cold to me because she didn’t think I was into her because I didn’t fuck her…like I can’t be judged by cis-hetero standards of sexual intimacy, nor by non-shy standards of intimacy.

        I’m also woefully oblivious to signals of interest, the girls I think ‘like’ me don’t and the ones who I’ve always thought just wanted to be friends were always…but YOU NEVER RESPONDED TO MY OBVIOUS FLIRTATIONS BUT I’M IN A RELATIONSHIP NOW SO I’M TELLING YOU THIS NOW AFTER THE FACT BECAUSE YOU’RE COMPLAINING NO ONE LIKES YOU!


  7. Timid Atheist says

    I encountered this same argument in regards to body size and weight while discussing why Star Wars: The Old Republic failed when they created an overweight female model. The basic argument was the too fat and too skinny models were gross and creepy, respectively, and that the person making that statement was well within their right to not be attracted to anyone who looked like that. I gave up having a conversation at that point. Once someone decides that it’s a personal opinion that they’re a bigot, there’s no sense in trying to persuade them that they’re a bigot.

    I was rather boggled by the demand not to be called cis in some of those threads. I mean if we call people trans then why can’t we call people cis? We call people black and others white. If that’s what they are, that’s what they are. I admit when I first heard the term cis I was very confused, I’d never heard it before. But now that I know it’s reason for use I see no problem with it. I’m a white cis woman who still has a lot to learn.

    • Rasmus says

      I realize that’s a rhetorical question, but the answer to it is interesting. You see, calling us cis robs the transphobe of an important part of his or her privilege, which is to refer to cis people as “normal”.

      People love to call things that they like normal, because that word basically single-handedly makes those things sound official, scientific and god-ordained to the uncritical ear.

      It allows you to phrase your transphobia (or other bigotry) in a nice and moderate and official-sounding way.

      “Trans people are all right I guess, as long as there are proper checks and balances on who gets access to treatment. We can’t use quite the same rules that we use when we’re treating us normal folks and our health problems.”

  8. Timid Atheist says

    This whole discussion makes me just want to stop existing. I just want to crawl into a corner and cry myself into a puddle. It just reminds me, that at the age of 38, I’ve experienced the same things over and over and they never change, no matter the consciousness raising.

    Yeah, sex is great, but I want love. I don’t want to live another 38 years of my life the same as the last. My heart just can’t take it anymore.

    This breaks my heart and makes me want to offer you hugs. No one should have to feel like they don’t get to have what they want, especially when it comes to love. I can’t imagine feeling like this for so long. I wish you only the best moving forward, Sinéad.

  9. CP says

    I won’t deny that it probably happens more often to trans women, but this happens to gay trans men too, especially to those of us past our teens and tweens. In my experience, the somewhat older gay male crowd seems much more intensely focused on bodily appearance and genitals than the younger guys, so they probably feel their gay identities are more threatened by the idea of sleeping with someone who has a vagina.

    • Dalillama says

      Yeah, this has been a problem that my husband has run into in the past, definitely. I can’t really speak to the article, though, because I’m not, in fact, a lesbian. As a bi/pansexual cis male, I can personally say that I don’t concern myself particularly regarding a potential partner’s genitals or gender identity, but I’m aware that not everyone feels that way.

  10. Vicious Jane says

    I’ve only ever seen the sentiments that trans women are innately less desirable (or that being into them is a kink) from Gen X lesbians, one of whom told me “You’re not a lesbian yet, you’re still a heterosexual man until you’ve had bottom surgery.” I only ever felt this from Gen Y queers before I had the privilege of passing (although now I have so much of that it feels almost like cis privilege, so my experiences might not be typical.)

    Still, despite my non-op status other lesbians don’t appear to be particularly avoiding me or seeking me out. I’m very much stone, so perhaps that pushes genitals further into the realm of irrelevancy, but it feels like younger queers are much more likely to understand that gender is not what’s in your pants.

  11. Andronomea says

    Not trying to derail anything but I’m rather confused about the ‘whole trans men are seen as sexy but trans women are not thing’.

    It seems so counter-intuitive to me. I’d expect it to be the other way around.

    As far as I understand SRS is both more common and more successful in trans women.

    It seems to make the whole ‘trans women just aren’t sexy’ thing like someone who is likes skinny sexual parters dismissing a potential partner because they might be skinny now but they used to be chubby … and potentially getting angry/violent about not being informed about this before having sex … and that’s just weird.

    Whereas if someone likes sexual partners with a penis they might understandably be less enthusiastic about a parter without a penis or about a partner whose penis doesn’t function the way they’ve come to expect.

    Is this just me?

    • Alex says

      I won’t claim to be an expert on the issue, but I’ll try to address some of it…

      My understanding is that this is more specifically a *queer women’s* community issue – trans men not infrequently get grandfathered in, as it were, as people-who-formerly-identified-as-women, or as “butches, but hipper” or whatever. While they continue to be viewed as acceptable partners for queer women, queer trans women are NOT.

      Also, you’re focusing on surgery, which is inappropriate and irrelevant. The problem isn’t “post-op trans women aren’t seen as acceptable partners, even though they’ve gotten rid of their penises and everything!” – the problem is trans women [ALL trans women] being generally considered unsexy/unacceptable partners for queer women. For more on why it’s not a question about any individual’s penis status, see Natalie’s reply to comment #4 [the part after the “BUT”].

      Also also, on trans men’s surgery options being “less successful” – TOTALLY unacceptable. You do not get to judge trans bodies. You do not get to judge trans bodies by cis standards. Not cool.

    • Sinéad says

      The “trans are sexy and trans women aren’t” in queer women/lesbian communities isn’t as simple as it appears. It is almost like a fetishized sexuality toward trans men from some women. Basically, what my experience has been…a cis woman can claim to be a lesbian and still date a trans man. Some, if not most, cis queer women and lesbians will act like trans men are just super butch. That trans men are “radical” and “edgy” because they are surpassing the condition of being a woman.

      And amongst the same group, trans women are not made to feel welcomed. Hell, I have seen gay male drag queens treated better than me.

      Basically, my walk away feelings are that there is some sentiment of trans women as being seen as predatory but trans men aren’t no matter how much of a misogynistic douchbag he can be, and I’ve seen cis women excuse their trans man partners’ behavior on the testosterone.

      Oh, I could go on, but I don,t want my cynicism to be misinterpreted as generalization of this.

  12. says

    Some of this reminds me strongly of a typical homophobic ‘argument’ about ‘gays in the military’: “I’d be afraid to take a shower around ’em, ‘cuz they’d always be trying t’ cornhole me!” Like, whoa. No matter how pretty your ass, moron, you’re /straight/ and /homophobic/, so NO THANKS, you’re safe!

    I don’t claim enlightenment, here. I have my ‘beauty’ prejudices and preferences, too. I have questions based on many personal blogs and entries in lists such as this one. Primarily, something I keep reading is how refreshing or liberating or whatever it is for a transwoman to finally take leave of her ‘improperly assigned’ original-equipment genitalia and finally be free of all that (“dirty”, “nasty”, “disgusting”, “horrible”) sex drive. That hits me as a real turn-off.

    I’m not in a position to test this, as I’m “functionally straight” and married and I don’t cheat, but were I ‘in the market’ I would have to say I’d think twice about hooking up with a transwoman because I might be going into it thinking ‘well, why bother- she’s likely not going to be into sex anyway’, and I might also have less confidence in a way, because the anatomy might not work as a cis’ would. I acknowledge that’s not a positive thing to say or think, but I’m trying to be honest and while every ciswoman will vary in erotic response at least I know where all the ‘buttons’ are- everywhere.

    I can imagine it feeling a little like dating an alien species- someone humanoid, but not human. Wow, that sounds nasty, and I really don’t mean it in a dehumanizing way. The “uncanny valley” thing, see? I’m well aware that over time one could get deeply familiar with one’s lover’s body and be able to make a satisfying sex life, but that initial moment? Hmm.

    I think that’s also perhaps part of the perceptual problem the disabled have, in that irrespective of one’s personal, platonic relationship with the person, when it has the potential to get physical the differences leap into the forefront.

    • Sinéad says

      I don’t particular know if you are trolling with that comment, but it is really kind of condescending.

      Not all pre or non op trans women are on hormones, nor are they dysfunctional if they are. It is about one’s comfort.

      But it also strikes me of ignorance that we aren’t talking about straight cis women!

      I have never had a cis woman disappointed in my abilities with my hands, since I feel like with proper communication, I have been able to have a much more intimate experience of her insides than I have with my penis.

      Your comment is also sort of bringing up my dislike of when people call trans women “the best of both worlds” as if we should have towering Viagra induced erections and natural plump perky breats. As if our bodies failures to grow breasts or our lack of massive cocks is a big let down to people because that’s all we’re worth.

    • Sas says

      I can imagine it feeling a little like dating an alien species- someone humanoid, but not human. Wow, that sounds nasty, and I really don’t mean it in a dehumanizing way.

      Seriously? Why would you even think it’s OK to say something like this? Like, you know it sounds nasty, but you didn’t think, “Hey, since even I know this sounds nasty and dehumanizing, maybe I should not post it, or at least think of a less horrible analogy.”?

      I kind of wish I was an alien, so my people could come and rescue me from this fucking planet.

      • says

        I’ve had straight cis men assert that, because they’re attracted to me, it’s only natural that they see me as a woman.
        Someone pass the barf bag, plz?
        (And yes, I’m fashionably late to this convo.)

  13. says

    I really hope you’re able to track reblogs in places like Tumblr and Facebook, because the commenting in THOSE places has gone utterly berserk. Which means you’ve struck a nerve.

      • Valerie C says

        Personally, I think you should allow or should combine them into their own blogpost (you did mention you had forgotten a few things, so perhaps a part 2 is already in order?). Some of the comments these pro-ceiling lesbians are making are absolutely infuriating, blatantly transphobic, and utilizing fallacies at every turn and I’m certain seeing them would inspire some of the other freethinking bloggers on here to comment. Especially the ones that might have dealt with lingering interracial dating ceilings and bigotry there (they are remarkably similar). Going out to find the reblogs are likely outside of their reading sphere, so you need to bring these comments in to where more people can see them and debunk them thoroughly and publicly. That’s just my two cents.

      • Eris says

        Personally, I’m rather glad that Natalie isn’t allowing it. If it was here, I would feel the need to read it and respond, and if I did that, I would spend a lot of time being sad. It helps me minimize my investment in that whirlwind of shit.

      • Movius says

        I’d love to see what gets blocked here. Considering some of the vile shit that is posted in other threads, the blocked ones must really scrape the bottom of the barrel.

      • Sinéad says

        I’ll throw my voice out there in favor of Natalie’s decision to not allow their comments. They already have their own places to spew their hatred

  14. Eris says

    I don’t understand why these rad fem people can’t just say “I’m not interested” without adding on a nasty, “because your trans status makes you terrible/horrible/disgusting/etc.” One would think it’s just common courtesy and basic decency. I mean, how would they respond if an overweight woman walked up to a man, started trying to flirt with him, and he said, “I’m not interested because your weight makes you terrible/horrible/disgusting/etc.” I think they would say he was a bad person, and I would agree. It’s just so mean, with the clear intention of not just refusing but also of hurting.

    There’s nothing wrong with a group of people arguing that they aren’t inherently sexually disgusting. Arguing that we/they aren’t inherently sexually disgusting isn’t a demand that anyone sleep with us/them. It’s a statement of self, not a statement of other. “I am not disgusting,” not “I’m going to make you sleep with me.”

    I feel like people should be able to understand that.

  15. Sarah says

    You know, I don’t understand making sex political. If you want people to sleep with people they don’t lust after, you’re *crazy.* Who really wants a partner who only stays with her out of political guilt?

    • says

      Again, missing the point. It isn’t about “making sex political” or “guilting people into sex/relationships”. It’s addressing a majour political issue in sexual representation. I wouldn’t want a partner who interprets our desire to not be portrayed as repulsive, sexless, unfuckable things as an act of needlessly creating “political guilt” either.

  16. says

    I’m not well-read on radical feminism, but I perused a couple radfem blogs addressing this topic before reading this post, and I agree mostly with this post’s take on things. However, I do agree with the radfem bloggers that “cotton ceiling” is a very creepy term in this context, that does have rape connotations.

    I am not so paranoid as to believe that men will go putting on dresses and getting hormones and facing ostracism and harassment just to use women’s bathrooms and realize lesbian fantasies, however. I am still rather confused about the transgender condition (and never will fully understand it), but from what I do know it is clear that no sane man would adopt the identity and attendant risks just to sit next to women peeing and have sex with lesbian-identified women unless there actually was something authentic about gender identity / genital mismatches.

    While it is definitely transphobic to categorically write off all trans people, and especially if you discount the idea of a relationship with someone you’re attracted to only after learning they’re trans, there is the important distinguishing factor of genitals. I oppose “orientation-policing” of other LGB people (whether by saying lesbians should only be/date femmes to be “real” lesbians), and while I am only interested in women with female genitalia, there are plenty of people who may be interested in one gender, but also the genitalia of the other sex that they’re not normally into (like a gay man with a non-op trans man).

    The idea is common that trans people are “really a man” if MtF or “really a woman” if FtM (the latter being part of why I suspect FtMs fit in more with queer (primarily cis) women communities, despite ostensible acceptance in the community). Even people who try to be trans allies default to this, having not completely shaken the social messages about sex and gender. I do see how the radfem’s interpret it as an entitlement to cis-lesbian sex, but it is more about the acceptance of the identity that is the key issue behind this. So it’s important to alleviate social pressures (in straight-land as well as queer-land) that you can’t be attracted to gender A simultaneous to sexual organs of sex B without it meaning you’re “not really” gay or straight. Not-so-subtle tones of biphobia underlie this attitude.

    I do think that it needs to be clear that it is not transphobic to lack attraction to a particular genital configuration. The radfem criticisms may not be restricted to non- or pre-op trans people, but a lot of people would interpret it to be referring to a lesbian not interested in a sexual relationship with a woman who has a penis. The whole point of transgender seems to be that gender and sex aren’t the same thing, so it follows that sexual orientation and gender orientation would be two separate things, correlated but with occasional exceptions (that may not be so occasional as we might think). So I would have no more problem kissing an attractive pre-op trans woman than kissing an attractive cis woman, but performing oral sex would be off the table for me with the pre-op trans woman, while still on the table with the equally attractive cis woman.

  17. Liz says

    You say it’s not about sex but that is just what the initial comments about a “cotton ceiling” were about. Transwomen feeling excluded as sexual partners by ciswomen. You go to great lengths to say that transwomen don’t want to sleep with “transphobes” but this is indeed where the conversation started.

    You are so articulate and I wish you had done some of the original advocating for transwomen and the argument this puts forth. It spun out of control pretty early on. All of this talk about representation, acceptance, I think everyone on all sides can understand that.

    Unfortunately, as I’ve read a fair amount of debate, reading arguments and heated comments on both sides it all seems to come down to this in comment threads:

    * Transwomen want to be accepted as fully female and, if lesbian, be accepted by lesbians.
    * Most transwomen are pre-op and still have male genitalia.
    * Transwomen self-identify as women, regardless of their biology.
    * Most lesbian are not sexually attracted to physical bodies with penises (but, admittedly some are more flexible).
    * Because most lesbians are not sexually attracted to pre-op transwomen, they are called transphobes. This makes them irate because they feel like they are supportive of women’s issues and sexuality is a private matter.

    I see the potential for this to cool down and for some bridge-building and tolearance…but there is a certain amount of incompatibility here that I don’t think is easily overcome. I hope there can be “an agree to disagree” detente established because it really doesn’t help the cause of women for women’s groups are tearing each other apart, saying hurtful things and (I can’t believe this, really) sending people death threats.

    There are such larger issues within a patriarchal society with affect all women–lesbian, straight, Asian, black, Tispanic, white, poor, affluent, trans or cis. How about challenging some of those structures of power instead of bullying those individuals who we disagree with? Within any movement, you’re going to have a variety of perspectives and points of interests but we are stronger together than working to destroy each other.


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