Cassandra Keenan

Orientation labels peel away

Filed By Cassandra Keenan | January 25, 2010 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: orientation, relationsips, sexual labels, sexuality

If a heterosexual guy finds himself attracted to a non- or pre-operative trans chick, is he gay?

The vast majority of people I interact with routinely inquire about this whenever I tell them that I have a date with a guy, or that I am in a relationship with one. Sometimes they ask in a crafty, underhanded fashion. Other times, the question is point-blank: "Is he gay?"

The guys I go out with self-identify as straight. In fact, a number of them were in heterosexual marriages previously and fathered kids. Yet, they are attracted to me. And this happens a lot. Meaning, it's widespread and common -- at least in my experience.

For instance, I started an account on a dating site a few months ago, and I received tons of messages (literally hundreds) from self-proclaimed hetero men in my community, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, who were open to going out with me, despite the fact that my profile stated up front that I was a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual. Some of the online contact materialized into offline dates. And rarely were the dating site inquiries from rude dorks who merely wanted to explore a sexual fantasy.

Most people tend to believe that guys who consider themselves straight are somehow straying from their self-identified sexual orientation when they go after trans chicks. Is this the case? In my opinion, there are two ways of examining this question:

  • Redefining heterosexual -- Maybe in reality what these guys are doing is expanding the definition of the word heterosexual. Because, what does heterosexual mean, after all? According to the American Heritage College dictionary, it means: 1. Sexually oriented to persons of the opposite sex. 2. Of or relating to different sexes. And according to the New World College Dictionary, it means: 1. Of or characterized by sexual desire for those of the opposite sex. 2. Of different sexes.

    Do either of those definitions mention body parts? No. The fact that there is such a thing as gender identity means that the definition of heterosexual (as stated in the dictionary) is pretty abstract and flexible.

  • Rethinking all orientation labels -- At one point I was dating a guy who identified as gay. And he couldn't understand his attraction to me. It genuinely bothered him that his label no longer fully adhered. Is the answer that he should have slapped a big old "bi" label on himself? Is that the answer for the hetero guys, as well? Or should they adopt the label "heteroflexible"?

    Does any label fit? I mean, how many people are really 100 percent of their stated orientation? I happen to believe that there's always a little wiggle room. The question is merely how much wiggle room. Maybe it's 5 percent for some people, or 0.5 percent, or 25 percent. Or maybe it's a certain percentage under one set of circumstances and a different percentage entirely under another set of circumstances. For instance, being exposed to certain situations or people who spark something inside of you that you didn't know existed.

It really does get complex. I for one am increasingly losing all faith in orientation labels. They can be restrictive, unrealistic and divisive. In fact, when someone asks me what my orientation is, I am more and more inclined to preface my reply with, "I'm human." And then I elaborate, perhaps by explaining what sort of relationship I'm in at the moment, or who or what I tend to go after.


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My wife and I are both transwomen and we began dating when we were both preop. We sometimes joke that we've been L,G,B *and* T -- and straight -- just within this one relationship.

Depending on your definitions, of course.

Personally, I've started to rely on the terms 'gynophilic' and 'androphilic' to describe orientation. They can really simplify things a lot.

in my veeerrrryy un-professional opinion, it all falls back on what you see as what, we all have our own definition of the lgbtq community, we all feel differently about what is what

"The guys I go out with self-identify as straight. In fact, a number of them were in heterosexual marriages previously and fathered kids."


Impregnating a womb is not "fathering"...
two different things.

A VERY important distinction.
A "detail". . . I know.
But a very important detail.

Just saying.

OH?

THAT is why I was SO "confused".
I didn't take that class @ "Community Q" of Queer 101.

Just lived/witnessed a lezzie life.
My bad.

"Hetero" men who... are married and fuck around w/TGs or /TS or /XD's are just "redifining" heterosexuality.

How convenient.

Steven Kirk Lammert | January 26, 2010 2:39 AM

Sounds like someone has got a problem. Dieks, that is. I also noticed that you used "[i]were[/i] in marriages" not "[i]are[/i]," so I'm assuming that they were no longer married or separated when they were seeing you.

Myself, I happen to know a hetero married couple where the husband loves to be penetrated by his wife using a strap on but doesn't want anything to do with a man. Does that make him gay?

Human sexuality is SO much more than homo/hetero. There are many varieties and flavors. Some folks just take longer than others to try more than their version of vanilla.

Kirk Lammert | January 26, 2010 2:41 AM

Sounds like someone has got a problem. Dieks, that is. I also noticed that you used "[i]were[/i] in marriages" not "[i]are[/i]," so I'm assuming that they were no longer married or separated when they were seeing you.

Myself, I happen to know a hetero married couple where the husband loves to be penetrated by his wife using a strap on but doesn't want anything to do with a man. Does that make him gay?

Human sexuality is SO much more than homo/hetero. There are many varieties and flavors. Some folks just take longer than others to try more than their version of vanilla.

Any labels cease to be useful when they are used to proscribe rather than describe. I spent years trying to figure out what my sexual orientation was -- with certainty. I finally decided I was a dyke, and just about a month later I found myself in a relationship with a guy who knocked me off my feet with his chivalry.

I wasn't too shocked. I'd known plenty lesbians who hooked up with guys before, gay men who hook up with women, and we've all heard of straight men who have anonymous sex with men and straight women who get crushes on their female best friends. Nonetheless I found the situation fascinating.

In typical lesbian fashion I processed the situation to death with never asking him his orientation, only to discover he was actually gay and not typically into women. But rather then let our labels tell us what we could and could not do, we let the connection grow, it was fun, felt natural, and didn't change our overall patterns didn't change. I still call myself a dyke, although I'm happy to specify myself as a kinsey 5 and I'll still answer to bi and challenge biphobia.

It did create one difficulty, though, it was hard picking out porn we could agree on.

Cassandra, this is a great post on a tremendously important topic. I really believe that until it's safe to be attracted to a trans person, no trans person will be safe - and deconstructing the labels is an important part of making it safe to be attracted to us.

Thanks for getting us talking about this.

Why not just re-title this post "No to the notion of sexual orientation."

Gay fits me perfectly. When I realized I was gay, I know it like truth--my truth.

Every label has wiggle room including those that apply to gender, sex and sexual orientation.

WackoTheSane | January 26, 2010 6:35 AM

One of the first articles here that hits me personally, as it is something that I have thought a lot about. I am currently in a long term relationship with an awesome woman who happens to be preop. (Hi Babe)

Does that make me Gay?

Does that make me Bi?

Or am I Hetro?

The answer for me is, I am the same as I always have been. A man attracted to women. So I am hetro. Each reader here may have a different answer. So for me the paradigm has shifted, or has it? She is a woman after all.

Some will say that I am Gay, others will say I am Bi. Well whatever floats your particular boat. You see it really doesn't matter to me what label you put on me. At least online.

Offline, I have to be careful, as a man was killed just north of here for dating a Transwoman several years ago. So excuse me, I need to get back into my closet in the basement. I have to get ready for work as I have two people to support. You see she suffers from one of the worst side effects of Transition, unemployment.

I know exactly where you're coming from on this one. I've been there myself. With experience under my belt (garter or otherwise) I can tell you that in my opinion it's no-one's business but me and whomever I'm dating at the time.

Labels are things that we, as a society, invented and so we also choose what they apply to and what they mean. In the case of self-labels, they're also things that we adopt SOLELY for the purpose of describing ourselves to other people.

Once you're in a committed and loving relationship that will last... there's no need to describe it anymore... and certainly no weight behind anyone who would describe it differently.

So, call yourself what you like. Describe your sexuality or your gender using any combination you choose. Enjoy the process while it lasts, because once you've found someone to walk the journey with you without labels, you won't want to go back.

Not to burst your bubble, but...

I opened an account on two dating sites when I started transition a few years ago, mostly to gauge my looks based on men's reaction to my pictures, which I would update about once a month. It was a great indicator. In fact, I am now married to someone I met on one of those sites.

I dated about a half dozen men from those sites. I note with interest that you mention opening an account within the last few months, and have dated a few of the many who messaged you.

First of all, most men don't read profiles. They see a pretty face they haven't seen before, they instantly think of one thing: "Oooh, a new piece of tail that doesn't know how much of a jerk I am" and they go straight from your profile pic to the instant message or email button. That sums up probably 95% or more of the men who messaged you.

The ones who were willing to go out on a date with you, one was gay and the rest probably did because you are very attractive and they were curious. But I note that none of those relationships seem to have turned into anything long-term. That's pretty much what I experienced. You're not going to find a straight guy who's going to date a pre-op trans woman long-term. Oh, it happens, but with extreme rarity. It's just not the way straight guys work. They want a pretty house to settle down in and they want working plumbing and electricity to go with it, and they definitely don't want the thought that the person they are with has a Y chromosome. I'm not trying to be mean-spirited, it's just the way it is.

The last guy I dated from a dating site was part of an experiment to see how guys would react to my NOT mentioning that I was transgender. We hit it off wonderfully and he was totally into me. Then he found out I was transgender from a mutual acquaintance and that was the end of that and he and this acquaintance both thought I was post-op at that point.

You're probably wondering about the person I married... She's genderqueer and I am now post-op. These days I get hit on regularly and my answer is always the same -- "you can't have me" and I say it with attitude. I find myself attracted to some men physically but emotionally, no way. Most straight men are dogs. Even more of them are just not able to get past the whole "trans thing" much less the fact that you don't have a hole they can conquer and lay their claim to.

My point is, you're not re-defining anything. You're simply seeing the lighter side of straight curiosity. You may become one of the very, very few who actually find a decent straight guy. Probably not if you're pre-op, unless he is really, really into you and is willing and able to buy your ticket to Trinidad, Montreal or Bangkok, but I wouldn't count on that.

-Alana Mackie

First of all, most men don't read profiles. They see a pretty face they haven't seen before, they instantly think of one thing: "Oooh, a new piece of tail that doesn't know how much of a jerk I am" and they go straight from your profile pic to the instant message or email button. That sums up probably 95% or more of the men who messaged you.

LOL. Gay sites too.

I don't neatly fit into the definition of woman. But that doesn't cause me to lose all faith in gender labels. Nor does someone that I knew as a man for 20 years who is now a woman cause me to rethink gender labels. How many people are really 100 percent of their stated gender? I don't know, but I wouldn't begin to question anyone else's gender identity.

Gender can be as abstract and flexible as sexual orientation for some people. Sex isn't even always that clear cut for everyone. And I think that's all the more reason to have faith in how people identify.

If someone tells me they're a man or a woman, I believe them. If someone tells me they're gay or straight, I believe them. I'm not going to ask you to jump on a scale or subject you to some purity test. I won't use your past to question how you identify in the present. I ask for the same in return.

But if you must know, I've never had sex with a man nor had the urge to. And maybe you don't want to hear it, maybe it's politically incorrect, but I don't think I could have sex with a pre-op transgender woman.

There's something about sameness that attracts me sexually. It actually makes more sense to say I'm attracted to the same sex than to say I'm attracted to women. I think because my own gender is more androgynous, and sex with the same sex feels androgynous because there isn't a physical binary. Androgynous sex: I don't want something different.

But...that's just me and I'm just gay. You don't define gay for me. I define gay for me because it's my identity.

You know, the same thing could be said of gay men and transmen. I know from person experience that it can be hard to wrap your head around it from our side too. Eventually I fell back on that whole, "Well, he's a dude too so that just makes us both gay" and left it at that, but I had to talk for a long time with Alex and other friends to make sure I was parsing things correctly.

I dated a guy when I was much younger who - in retrospect - would have been called genderqueer or maybe even flirting with trans. When we started dating, he was my boyfriend. As we dated he got more and more into dressing like a woman while still keeping his male name. It became a little much for me (I was very young at the time) and we broke up, but I still always thought of him as a man. Interesting - I hadn't thought of that in a long while.

Thanks Cassandra. Great post.

I recently gave up on 'defining' my sexuality, and settled on the label of 'queer'. For me this means that I'm attracted to such a variety of people that even pinning down a 'type' is next to impossible; I just look at my attraction on a case-by-case basis. All that matters is if I like em and e likes me and that there aren't any other circumstances getting in the way of us getting together.

I don't think there's enough info in your essay to really think much about how men experience you. Are they responding because they found you attractive/intriguing as a woman or because you're the realization of their "chick with a d*ck" fantasies (sorry, but I'm channeling some of the objectification). Also, what are they expecting from you and you from them in terms of physical intimacy? Are they wanting to be topped by you or to give you oral sex? That's rather different than expecting you to give them oral sex and not reciprocating. Do you get what I mean? Yes, it all part and parcel of a "relationship/fling" but it's a very different way of experiencing you and your womanhood in transit (or as an object of trans objectification).

Another question I would have is how gender variant are you? You look very pretty in the photo, but online photos being what they are don't tell the full story in person. What's your voice like... does it sound "female" "androgynous/trans" or "male"? To me, these are all aspects of what people respond to.

I never dated men (or women) when I was pre-op during transition, it just didn't appeal to me. After SRS, I have dated and been in a long-ish relationships with several men (who were fully aware of my trans status). Despite their many good qualities, one of the aspects of them which drove me nuts was the extent which they would ask themselves the same self-flagellating questions about their sexual orientation... were they completely straight, were they fetishists (one had several prior post-op trans woman partners, one had not) yadda, yadda. Endless second guessing. I felt sorry they had to internalize society's messages about their interest in a woman like me no matter how positive they seemed to be about the relationship. Ultimately, while I appreciated their processing, it was a turn-off to me and my sense of myself as a straight woman and I decided to not continue the relationships. So there. It goes both ways.

Well Cassandra, welcome to Bilerico :D

I notice most of the questions focus on what is sexual orientation, and most of the answers are pretty much "whatever I say it is".

Interesting stuff given what I'll be posting sometime in the next couple days.

That raises another question -- if sexual orientation can't be defined readily, then how can it be protected?

To the point of your article, however, I live with a guy who likes women who lived as men for a while, and he likes men.

I have a roommate who engages in trysts with men and women, and both of them do it because she's trans.

And then there's me, involved in a relationship with a man 1800 miles away who wouldn't have typically thought to go out with a trans person and has no interest in men.

And he's mine.

just wanted to say I am enjoying reading these great comments. I feel that a follow-up post is warranted, since I would like to respond/elaborate on a number of the questions and points that were raised. Two that spring out at me at the moment are:

- Allyson Robinson's pertinent comment "I really believe that until it's safe to be attracted to a trans person, no trans person will be safe - and deconstructing the labels is an important part of making it safe to be attracted to us."

- and Antonia D'orsay's comment about protection of those with nonconforming sexual orientations. Looking forward to reading your post first, Antonia. :)

Lastly, @Bil: thank you. :)

I think discarding labels like orientation makes it difficult to convince people that LGBTs are discriminated against because if sexuality is fluid, then we should just choose to be straight.

Anthony,

Personally, I like having labels, but it helps me to have a fluid understanding of them. However, fluid identity has never before been an excuse for discrimination.

We've still got religious discrimination policies even though the heathens could simply choose to be Christian, for example. You don't just tell a light skinned person of color that they deserve discrimination unless they pass themselves off as white. A lot of places have non-discrimination policies around marital status and veteran status and no one complains that veterans could have simply chosen not to join the military or chosen not to be married.

1. The Prop 8 side of the trial is arguing that gays aren't a class of people and thus aren't protected by the equal protection clause. And they are using fluid identity that some folks have as a defense.

2. During Segregation there was "the one drop rule."

The one drop rule is still prevalent.

1. Yeah, I'm aware the religious right makes the argument that fluidity means the class of people is invalid. But I think it's much better to confront them on that point (that fluidity is valid) rather than claim that sexual orientation is never fluid. My point here is that in every other instance of non-discrimination law, fluid identities such as religion and veteran status have been deemed valid classes and their fluidity is was not deemed a reason to deny protections.

2. The one drop rule is a bit of the reverse of my example. The one drop rule is about refusing to see fluidity in identity, but it is still basing discrimination upon an assumed stability of identity. The fluidity of perceived racial identity is not currently considered a justification for denying non-discrimination protections, nor have I heard of a legal argument for doing so.

Sexuality isn't fluid for everyone. We can go round and round on this. I totally and absolutely believe that it is fluid for some people. But it's not for everyone, and it's not for me.

I am just sick of trying to tell people that my sexuality is not fluid. For, I dunno...ever since I came out. At first it was with guys, and then it was with bisexual women and straight women and now trans people. And pretty much any argument, no matter who it is made by, that implies everyone's sexuality is fluid, I will be against.

Did another comment I wrote get deleted? ::shrug:: How 'bout I put it this way. Details Magazine recently published a whole article for men on dating ex-Lesbians. Don't encourage them eh?

GrrrlRomeo,

Did you get the impression I was claiming sexuality was fluid for everyone? I didn't intend that at all. All I was trying to say here was that we should not fear the argument that an identity being fluid merits refusal to provide protections to that class of people, and gave some examples of other identities that are much more obviously fluid. In my previous comment I was only relating a personal anecdote that I don't expect to be true for other folks.

I can relate to the frustration of having other people tell you what your identity is. For years folks would hound me to tell them what my sexual orientation "really" was when I answered "none of the above." When I came out as bi I was terrified that people would tell me that I was "really" straight or some similar nonsense. When I finally realized that "bi" isn't a completely accurate label for me either, a bunch of bi friends tried to convince me that I really was bi. And when I told folks I'm a dyke who occasionally dates men, some of my friends felt the need to challenge me on whether or not I'd actually want to hook up with and form a relationship with a cis guy. When I tell folks I've had about half a dozen sexual orientations the most common response is a flat out "That doesn't count."

Identity policing is a near universal impulse that is not limited advocates of fluid sexual identity. Anyone who has an interest in your identity being one thing might tell you that your identity is invalid when you claim it is another.

Great post, Cassandra.

Lots of people don't get it. I think we had a commenter here a while ago insisting that any gay man who dated or slept with a trans man isn't gay. I was like, um, really? Tell that to the gay men I've known who have had no problem with trans men.

I don't think we're about to discard sexuality labels any time soon, though. We'll just get to better understand gender identity, but sexuality will be around as long as there's homophobia.

Alex Blaze you are twisting words. I remember the post you cite and the person did NOT say that gay men who had sex with trans men were not gay -- YOU twisting his meaning to that. The person actually said that sexual desire for men for him only involved men with penises -- just a boner fact of his personal experience. Alex Blaze and Jerame countered that they had sexual desire (boners) for both men with penises and for men with vaginas and that somehow their desire was better than the man with penis desire only. The right to one's own desire experience was twisted by Alex and others into an example of some kind of sexual bigotry. The question was asked -- is any sexual desire for any specific body parts or gender or genitals a form of bigotry or a just sex desire? Alex claimed not to be into "women" sexually -- this bigotry was challenged and Alex never responded. What is it about women that you are avoiding? So who is the sexual bigot Alex Blaze???

Let's go back to what the commenter in question actually said, not what you think he said:

If some gay men are attracted to a transman who has a vagina that is their business (I have never met any other gay men who are other than those who want to "do a trans man" as a sex fetish kick like trying something once). The label gay to me has meant sexual desire for men with all the man package especially the cock and balls. I have NEVER met a gay man who is NOT into cock. The men who are not into it, are not gay -- they are often confused and not sure of their sexual desire. They are very few in number. Any gay men out there not into cocks? If you are not, you should explore another label/identity.

I don't think anyone was saying that there was anything wrong with this person not being into men with vaginas, just that, as another commenter put it, he was obviously trying to be "gayer than thou" by saying that any man who's ever been attracted to a trans man "confused."

And I'm not into women, and that's not bigotry. Don't really get how saying anyone who isn't 100% bisexual is a sexual bigot really works with your position against sex with trans men.

No, you don't see that do you. That is precisely the issue. But label semantics is where it's at on this post, so be it.

Regan DuCasse | January 26, 2010 5:17 PM

I've been working on a literary project that requires this question to be a strong part of the story.
I was out with several women (all lesbians)at the time, and one of them asked me what I would do if I became attracted to a transperson.
They specified if it was a former woman (since I've always identified as hetero), pre or post op, didn't really matter they said.

I have thought about that since. It was a great question.
In all honesty all I could answer was that I hadn't had to deal with that yet.
I do have trans friends I've known since before their surgeries, and for some their looks didn't change so drastically because of certain androgynous qualities to begin with.

I tend to have those qualities myself.
Tobi was essentially VERY helpful and supportive on this project to help me with this very question.

I suppose it all comes down to being open, without rigid expectations and essential needs being met.
The heart, in certain places and at certain time, as Gibran says: "finds it's morning".

Some days it's just best to go with it, and not over analyze it when you find the person who makes you feel your happiest, at your best and loved.

Reagan du casse: If you found that you actually did in your desire prefer cis males to any trans persons sexually -- would that make you a bigot? Would your sexual desire which turned out to exclude some body features and some people -- be the same as racism? Is sexual desire for anything specific over every possible person, gender and genitals a form of bigotry to you?

@ Alana Mackie re:dating site profiles - While what you said might be true in some cases, it wasn't in mine. Most guys brought up my trans status in their initial messages to me, saying (with sincerity) they respected me for making the choices I did and found it inspiring and so forth, and that they were more interested in finding a compatible mate than anything else. And when they didn't mention it in their introductory messages, I messaged them back promptly to make sure they read my full profile.