Big dicks loom large in my mind as a gay man. Right? I mean, I’ve been taught since adolescence that because I’m gay, I must be into penises. If I weren’t all about the cock, well, that would mean I’d be a straight guy.
I’m not sure anymore whether that sounds like common sense, or whether it just sounds ridiculous.
Practically speaking, my whole life, I’ve exclusively formed relationships with, and had sex with, other guys born male who identified as men (also known as cisgender men, to use the technical lingo). Some people call this exclusively focused sexuality being a “gold star gay.” For me, it’s just who I am; it’s just what God created.
So you can imagine my chagrin when a really sexy guy recently got my figurative motor humming, and it turned out he was trans. We’re not talking about a crush here; we’re talking completely involuntary physical responses at the mere sight of this guy—good old-fashioned animalistic passion.
I was a bit confused. How could I, a gay man, be so attracted to someone not born male? Did it mean I’m—OMG—less gay than I thought?
It wasn’t the first time I’d found myself connecting with a trans guy. Years ago, on GrindR, one of the hottest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of exchanging messages with was also trans. What a wonderful conversation we had, too: He was candid and willing to tolerate my unintentional-yet-probably-still-annoying ignorance about trans life, and I was keeping my mind open just enough to entertain the possibility of meeting.
When he thanked me for asking him questions rather than rejecting him out of hand, I felt—as Obi-Wan Kenobi would put it—a disturbance in the force. Here’s what bothered me: The fact that he went out of his way to thank me for not being a dickhead about his gender identity suggested pretty strongly that he often did encounter gay men being dickheads about his gender identity.
We never got together, but not because he was a trans man; it just came down to insurmountable scheduling conflicts. We were two dudes who couldn’t find the privacy necessary to be two dudes naked together. When you put it that way, it sounds pretty gay, right?
And yet gay social mores being what they are, this situation—being sexually aroused by a trans man—elicits from my friends at least bemusement or, occasionally, outright hostility. “I thought you loved sucking cock,” one of them said when I told him about my attraction.
This idea of forcing sexual expression to match social identity is a pervasive one. And I was, I realized, close to succumbing to it myself: Here I was, overanalyzing my arousal and giving myself an existential crisis, instead of just running with it.
I mean, obviously, by virtue of what I was feeling toward this guy both sexually and emotionally, it isn’t always the case that gayness simply equals being born male and liking other cisgender males. So why did I need to be confused about anything? What the hell does the gender identity of those I’m sexually or emotionally attracted to have to do with my own identity as a gay man? Well—a lot, actually, and that’s sort of the point. I’m gay and attracted to men. Trans men are men. Ergo, it’s not at all weird for me to be attracted to a trans man.
Sexual expression and gender identity, after all, are two very different things.
You’d think gay people would understand that. And yet, even among the gay community, ignorance about how that fact relates to trans people is remarkably widespread.
Dr. Jillian Weiss, a law professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey and a trans woman, talks about her own difficulties with gay men and acceptance. Writing for The Bilerico Project (bilerico.com), she indicates that when she started transitioning, she “received much negative feedback” from her gay friends. And indeed, the reason she was discussing the topic in the first place was as a response to an outright transphobic diatribe by an “old guard” gay activist on that same website.
When you start to look at sexual expression through the lens of love and attraction, you start to realize just how ridiculous this situation is. The quaintly simplistic identities society has bestowed upon us—identities like “gay” or “straight” or even “bisexual”—just plain don’t say all that needs to be said in order to describe the true range of people’s sexual behavior.
Over a decade ago, U.S. soldier Barry Winchell was beaten to death. Most media reports, as well as the gay activist establishment, canonized Winchell as the next Matthew Shepard. There was only one problem: Winchell was straight, and his lover was actually a trans woman named Calpernia Addams.
David France writes for The New York Times: “The fact is that Winchell, killed for being gay, wasn’t gay ... [he] only ever dated biological women before [and] was in love with” a trans woman.
Winchell himself was cisgender. And he was attracted to women. That’s who he dated. It was just that this woman was trans.
Lots of media commentators ignored Winchell’s apparent straightness, though, opting to force a male identity upon Addams and thus a gay identity upon the couple. That wasn’t exactly unintentional, either: Queer rights activists needed a narrative, and the nuance of this scenario wouldn’t serve the rubber-stamp talking points too well. As France puts it: “The more that Winchell was held up as a martyr for gay equality, the less room there [had] been for explaining such sloppy complications.” Winchell and Addams, he said, “occupied a rare middle ground encompassing both, and neither: socially heterosexual, sexually homosexual, uncomfortably on the margins of all worlds.”
The irony is that the media’s oversimplification of the case played upon precisely the same ignorance that had fueled Winchell’s homophobic killers—to whom the practical details of Winchell’s sexual expression and his lover’s gender identity mattered little. They were different. They weren’t doing things right. If a man loves a woman who used to be a man, those murderous assholes figured, he must be gay.
When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous. Which forces me to ask myself: What’s the difference between that erroneous thinking and my own hand-wringing over my attraction to trans men?
There is no difference, actually. The reality is, I am operating from a place of social pressure, intentional or not, whenever I find my attraction to trans men “novel” or “curious.” All I’m doing is reinforcing the arbitrary idea of simple sexual identities—which, really, seem to do much more harm than good nowadays.
Inevitably, when you encounter something new, questions will arise. Some are rooted in a good-natured curiosity others, though, are just willfully ignorant. “How does it work?” a straight person will often feel entitled to ask a gay acquaintance, or a cisgender person will ask a transgender acquaintance, without having the sort of intimate relationship that would make that question relevant. I find it fascinating we feel OK asking these questions of queer folks when we’d never ask, say, our straight parents what they do in bed.
Really, at the end of the day, if your entire sexual expression is centered around one eight-inch detail (um, if you’re lucky), it is possible that you may just have an incredibly boring sex life. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I should limit my relationships—sexual or otherwise. We gay men, rightly, make many demands of society in terms of accepting our being different. It’s about time we demanded from ourselves this same level of acceptance: of trans men and trans women.
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4