(Note: this post was sparked by a post on Fetlife on this topic. I am bringing my thoughts here because I want them to be publicly accessible. There is already a lively dialogue on the OP, which I encourage you to explore.)
I’m sitting at my computer, checking out another queer’s profile on Fetlife or OKCupid that I happened across or was directed to or followed via some internet rabbit hole, or perhaps I went to an event and am seeing who I can find on social media that I actually have already met in person. As I peruse the profile with the intention of being open to possibility, I am thinking: “Do I want to know this person? Do I want to invite them into my life? Is this someone I might want to connect to, date, or play with?”
This process of considering the possibilities of connection is often quicksilver, instinctive, and based on a combination of my experience, analysis, and personal tastes. That said, there are certain things that bring out a pretty immediate rejection for me. One of them is the statement “no cis men”, or variants of that, combined with the caveat that this particular queer person is interested in trans men.
I have an immediate distancing reaction, both for friendship, and for dating (much like the one described here). And it’s not as simple as “they don’t think I’m a man because I’m trans,” because my gender is more complex than that, and I don’t identify as a man, exactly. (Tg stone butch is more accurate, as is transgender or genderqueer.) It’s not only that I’m feeling for the trans men who are not being understood/read/desired as men, though that is definitely part of it, too. It’s also not the possibility that they may be equating abusers and cis men, a mindset that I don’t want to be around. (Though that can be a factor too, especially as a survivor who has been abused by folks other than cis men. And as someone who spent about 20 years in the anti-violence field, who is tired of that simplified assumption about violence which makes it too damn difficult for so damn many queers and trans folks to get support for the violence they are dealing with.)
One of the core parts of my immediate rejection is this instinctive thought: “I don’t need folks with that kind of unquestioned transmisogyny and cissexism in my life”. (**For clarity’s sake, I have added a definition of cissexism at the end of this post.**)
Let me unpack that.
These kinds of statements reference a very common mindset in queer communities, one that frames cis women and trans men as desired, cis men as excluded, and trans women as not even in the picture of desirability. Whatever the individual intention of the person who put that on their profile, that is the cultural mindset they are evoking when they make such a statement.
Jos Truitt breaks it down this way on Feministing “’I date women and trans men’ is the definition of cissexism. It’s basing your frame for sexuality on the gender coercively assigned to a person by their doctor at birth, not on that person’s actual identity. In this case, we’re talking about folks who were assigned female. Of course, “women” means cis women – trans women totally drop off the map.”
So one of the core aspects of this mindset—what Julia Serano calls FAAB mentality—is that when trans men are grouped together with cis women as the desired dating pool, potential partners are being reduced to what a doctor decided our gender was at birth. That assignment is being treated as our “real” gender, instead of what we ourselves know our gender to be. Which is pretty damn disrespectful to the trans men who are being desired. As cnlester puts it, this basically communicates: “cis guys are so boring/gross/I’d never be with a real man – but you’re so hot”.
The thing is, this isn’t just deeply undermining and de-legitimizing to the genders of trans men. (Though that would be bad enough.) It’s also a framework for understanding gender that is deeply disrespectful to all trans and genderqueer folks. Jos Truitt refers to this mindset as “the truth of gender lies in our crotches”, in her Girl Talk performance that discusses this issue. (Which I highly recommend watching, if you have not seen it.) She articulates how folks who date “women and trans guys” conceive of these groups as “people with vaginas”, despite the wide variation of crotches you might find in those identity groups, including penises. In terms of sexuality, these sorts of exclusions are, when you get down to it, about conceiving of potential attraction as primarily based on what’s in your pants.
(Warning: I am going to be blunt in the next paragraph and repeat some transmisogynistic phrases that I think “no cis men (yes trans guys)” is actually code for, ones that are sometimes used by queer folks who come from this framework of attraction. I will not mention this language again, so feel free to skip that paragraph should you wish to, and continue reading. If you can’t imagine what I might be talking about, the next paragraph is written for you.)
When I read “no cis men but of course I welcome trans guys”, I understand it as code for something else I often read on the profiles of some queer folks: some variant of “no baby cannons” or “no spitting penises” or “no bio-cock”.
That’s what “no cis men but of course I want trans guys” says to me. That the basis of the “no cis men (yes trans guys)” thing is actually about crotches, and how crotches are being interpreted and assumed. And that has deep implications for the folks that are not being named explicitly as rejected or desired. Particularly for trans women, who often experience rejection and exclusion on this very basis in queer communities. (See the LSM party policy activism I was involved with several years ago as a case in point.)
Being reduced to our crotches is one of the things at the core of my own instinctive and quicksilver rejection. My response to that sort of cissexism is not only political, but deeply personal, and is not only about being both trans and a survivor of intimate violence. (Though those things play a role, for sure.) A good portion of my immediate rejection of someone who I understand as reducing me to my crotch is about being stone.
I don’t take off my pants when I fuck, or when I play. I have not for many years. Whatever folks might imagine about my crotch (in terms of what the doctor used to assign my gender at birth), the likelihood that they would ever get to interact with it, or even see it, are basically zero. That’s part of how my stoneness works. So the idea that folks might be using what they imagine about my crotch as the definer of who I am, or whether I am desirable as a partner, immediately turns me off in a very intense way. Just attempting to hold that possibility in my mind brings out a very strong visceral negative response in my body. I want those folks as far away from me, my body, and particularly my crotch, as I can get them.
The thing is, even if the person who puts “no cis men (yes trans guys)” on their profile does not consciously intend to reduce any of us to our crotches, it reads that way anyway, because of how this attraction framework is embedded in queer culture, and how it is based on cissexism.
So when I read “no cis men (yes trans guys)” on a profile, I interpret it like this: Trans men (and transmasculine spectrum folks) are desired because they supposedly do not have the rejected crotch configuration, and cis women are also desired based on the same assumption about their crotch. Cis men are rejected based on the assumption that they do have the rejected crotch configuration.
And trans women (though not specifically named as excluded or included) are in fact actually excluded or perhaps not even considered as possible partners because of what folks imagine about their crotches. Because that happens all the time in queer culture. When Julia Serano discusses this attraction framework in her piece about “FAAB mentality”, she points out, “there is absolutely no mention of trans women. We are absent, irrelevant, just as we are in most queer women’s spaces.” That’s the other piece of this, part of how I read “no cis men (yes trans guys)”, as a reflection of transmisogyny. Trans women are left out of the frame entirely. Whatever their intentions, putting that on their profile evokes a cultural trope that erases the presence and sexuality of trans women in queer communities and cannot imagine queer communities that could include the desire for and of trans women.
And I don’t want to be closely connected to folks that do that. Folks that leave queer trans women out of the queer picture, folks that frame attraction based on crotches, folks that conceive of gender as reducing down to what was coercively assigned by doctors at birth. I don’t want those folks in my bed or under my boot or in my home. I don’t want to give my precious time, attention, or limited spoons to building connection with folks that are not unpacking their internalized cissexism and transmisogyny.
I want folks in my life that question their attraction frameworks, think through them, and work on decolonizing their heads and desires. I think that’s a crucial life-long part of unpacking internalized oppression, and it is something I am committed to continuing to do in my own kink and sex life, in my writing, in my communities, in my daily living. As Natalie Reed has said in a related post, “Your sexuality is tough, it’s strong, and it’s your own. It can survive a few questions and a little inquiry. I promise.”
**Julia Serano (the person who I believe brought the term into popular usage) defines cissexism this way:
The belief that transsexual genders are less legitimate than, and mere imitations of, cissexual genders. Cissexism is most typically enacted through one or more of the following processes: trans-fascimilation (viewing or portraying transsexuals as merely imitating, emulating or impersonating cissexual female or male genders), trans-exclusion (refusing to acknowledge and respect a transsexual’s identified gender, or denying them, access to spaces, organizations, or events designated for that gender), trans-objectification (when people reduce trans people to their body parts, the medical procedures they’ve undertaken, or get hung up on, disturbed by, or obsessed over supposed discrepancies that exist between a transsexual’s physical sex and identified gender), trans-mystification (when people use the relative infrequency or taboo nature of transsexuality to mystify, artificialize or to “other” transsexuals), and trans-interrogation (when people bring a transsexual’s identified gender into question by asking them to answer personal questions about their life story, their motives for transitioning, medical procedures they have undertaken, or when they obsess over what causes transsexuality – such questions reduce transsexuals to the status of objects of inquiry). For further reading, check out Serano’s FAQ on cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege.