A little while ago I asked trans Bilerico readers to share their opinions and experiences in regard to shifting sexuality during gender transition. And share they did! A whopping 83 page comments and seven private emails gave me plenty of answers to peruse. (And I'm sure there will be people weighing in on this post, as well.)
I have no definitive answers to give - obviously this is no scientific study - but there are some observable trends in the responses. Before we dive into them, though, we should define our terms to avoid confusion. As commenter Monica pointed out, MTFs who are attracted to women before and after transition go from "straight" to "gay" even if the person(s) they're attracted to remains unchanged. That's not the sexuality shift of which we're speaking.
Rather, it's a shift in the attraction itself that is our focus.
Furthermore, there were many people whose sexual attractions didn't change at all. No one ever said every trans person's sexual interests change during transition, but it doesn't hurt to state it for the record. Kelly wrote, "I was primarily attracted to women before transition and still am today." Nikki said, "I was bi before and still bi, not leaning one way or the other. No change or more interest in any way."
Many people spoke about denying or ignoring their sexual attractions prior to transition. This doesn't exactly qualify as the "shift" to which I was referring since the same attractions are present before and after transition, and it's merely the willingness to acknowledge them that changed. Regardless, these cases do contribute to the dialogue.
Commenter Deja Nicole spoke of forcing herself to like women before transition: "I taught myself to be attracted to women when I was male because that's what I thought that I had to do. As I slowly transitioned to female, the real me came out and so did my attraction to men."
Similarly, Jennifer said, "I had always been aware of my attraction to men, in fact I knew it was my primary attraction ... When I began to come to terms with my true self I realized that I had never had an attraction to women and was simply trying to find a way to fit in."
Becoming more in touch with oneself and one's desires after transition was a common experience to most commenters, and many of those who did say their sexuality shifted cited it as a primary reason.
Finally becoming more comfortable with one's own identity/body/self/etc. during or after transition is probably the reason I personally give the most credit. I'm not saying that it's the only reason, or that everyone should give it the same primacy that I do, this is just where my two cents lie. Commenters explained themselves wonderfully in this area.
Commenter Natasha said, "It's an interesting question because when we transition we have to begin to look deeper within ourselves and accept what we feel, which often ends up with a startling discovery or two."
One email I received offers the blunt illumination: "How could I know what my sexual orientation was when I did not know what (my) gender was?"
This under-your-nose revelation raises an entirely new line of questioning: Can one even have an accurate sense of personal sexuality if one's gender identity is out of whack? If the self you are presenting is not your true self, what are the auguries for the attractions and relationships with which you engage? I certainly don't want to make the rash judgment of declaring them all false or devoid of meaning, because that's simply not true. However, it is a different kind of relationship/attraction/love ("different" not necessarily in a worse or better way). This is a tangent I could follow for another 1,000 words or so, but that must be left for another time.
In addition to one's personal relationship with gender, the social roles of gender also play a part. Bilerico's own Tobi Hill-Meyer wrote on this very subject, saying, "What gender you are perceived (as) makes a huge difference in what kind of relationships you can have. Be(ing) treated as a straight man, or a gay man, or a straight woman, or a lesbian can have as much to do with choosing a relationship as the gender of your partner. I know a lot of people who could not stand relationships with (fill-in-the-blank-gender) because they were always treated as (fill-in-the-blank-gender), but after transition, that was no longer an issue, and certainly people of that gender started looking more attractive."
A different trend among commenters came as a surprise to me. Many people attributed part of their shift in attraction to hormone replacement therapy. Now, back in the not-so-good old days, people thought being gay was caused by an imbalance in hormones. However, in a shocking turn of events, when gay men were given increased testosterone, all it did was make them want to fuck men even more. Hormones undoubtedly do have an effect on libido, but do they have an effect on the who, as well as the how-much?
At least in cisgender people, it's safe to say hormones don't completely overhaul the nature of one's sexual orientation. As commenter Janice rightly pointed out, "If hormones controlled sexual attractions, then middle-aged men with low T would all be turning gay. Women going through menopause would all be turning into lesbians."
If those hormones are a missing piece in the puzzle of gender identity, however, it's reasonable to assume they may play a role in sexual attraction. As just discussed above, the personal and social relationships with one's gender definitely does influence sexual attraction.
Commenter Stacey attested to this: "Since beginning transition, and now having been on HRT for over nine months, I've begun noticing physical, non-sexual characteristics of men in a way that can be described as intoxicating or mesmerizing. I've discovered that, while I do believe I could still enjoy physical intimacy in some form or another with women or men, for the first time in my life I am finding many men very attractive."
Violet shares this perspective: "(While I) still find myself primarily attracted to women, I have noticed men in a way I never had before transition. I find some men attractive, but not to the point I'd sleep with one. I suspect that estrogen has played a big role in the change."
Catherine cites HRT, too: "I never got butterflies or got all swoony for guys before I started HRT. But I don't know if it was the HRT or the shedding of internalized trans/homophobia. But whatever it is, it's a thousand times more intense than anything I felt before."
To recap: For those who experienced a change (remember, not everyone did!), the biggest potential causes people cited were increased self-comfort and -knowledge, HRT, or some combination of the two. Are those the only two reasons? Probably not.
This is very muddled subject matter, but nonetheless it's both interesting and important that we talk about it. Those who want to see some numbers on this phenomenon should check out commenter Colin's posts in the original entry with statistics from a survey (informal, I presume?) he conducted.
As far as I'm concerned, however, I have no hard data or conclusions to point to at the end of this little experiment. My observations here can best be summed up by yet another commenter, Natasha, who said, "That's the best way I can make sense of this, which often makes no sense to me at all."