As a man, I never thought I would have to come out about being attracted to women. It is simultaneously funny and sad to me that I have to come out about being heterosexual. I do not see anything different about my sexual orientation, but most people do. About four years ago, I was an exchange student in Thailand, a country known for its large, open transgender population. While most men seemed to treat trans-women as if they were people to avoid, I saw no difference between them and cisgender women (women that were born biologically female; see glossary). After realizing that I was attracted to people that identify as women, whether they are trans or cisgender, the next three years of my life were full of confusion and shame.
The heteronormative world in which we live had successfully convinced me that being attracted to transgender women meant I had a fetish. I began questioning my sexuality and even my masculinity. For three years I did not even know what to call my sexual orientation. Finally, one day after hours of searching I came across two terms that could describe what I was feeling. Neither one is official or widely used, but their use is growing due to the increasing demand for a way a categorize people that are attracted to transgender people. Trans-attraction and trans-orientation were the words that I discovered. As I discovered these words, a feeling of relief washed over me when I realized that this meant I was not alone. I don’t always describe myself as trans-attracted, but the label helped me feel like I had a place in the queer community and it helps others understand my sexuality.
After spending my junior year of high school in Thailand, it became a second home for me. I eagerly returned last spring for a study abroad semester and was able to see my host family and friends for the first time in three and a half years. During this second trip to Thailand, I was re-exposed to the very open transgender community there. Again, I started thinking about my sexuality almost every day and this inner-conflict re-arose. That was when I started reading queer theory. Julia Serano, a transgender activist and writer, pointed out that it is not acceptable to consider attraction to trans-women a fetish, because that reduces them to fetish objects. Trans-women are treated as if they are not worthy of love. In her speech titled “The Beauty in Us”, she said, “Because our culture deems us undesirable, our lovers and partners are often expected to explain why they choose to be with us.” After reading that powerful speech as well as many other queer theorists, heteronormaitivity, transphobia, and the shaming of trans-attraction began to look backwards and ridiculous instead of my sexual orientation.
However, I was not ready to be open because I was not yet aware of the desperate societal need for me to do so. I did not realize just how damaging my shame could be to trans-women. It was not until I fell for a transgender girl in Thailand that the prison bars of my own silence finally melted away. When we met I thought that she might be transgender, but I was not sure. Regardless of what might be between her legs, I found her confidence, independence, and grace inspiring. We started seeing each other.
We met three times before she told me she was transgender. It breaks my heart when I remember how nervous she was. She was afraid to tell me for two reasons. One was fear of rejection. It must be so painful to be turned away and shunned by someone you like because he does not see you as a “real” woman, whatever that means. The other devastatingly sad fear that she had to deal with was fear for her safety. I could have exploded into a violent, transphobic rage and responded with my fists, or even a weapon. This happens to transgender women all the time, often when all they are doing is searching for love. According to Trans Murder Monitoring, there were 265 trans people murdered in 2012 alone. Somehow, facing those fears, she mustered the amazing strength and courage to tell me.
I watched relief pour over her face when I told her that I didn’t care. It’s a strange world that we live in when two people that are attracted to each other have to come out to each other. Later that evening, she turned to me and said, “I feel free.” Finally being open about my sexuality was liberating for me too.
So why bother coming out? I could easily hide this since I am attracted to cisgender women too. I decided to be open about this because of how few openly trans-attracted people there are in the world and how this silence contributes to stigma about trans-people and sexuality. Although trans-attraction is hardly a rare phenomenon, it remains hidden because almost all trans-attracted men are in the closet. As a result, the common assumption is that men who date trans-women are desperate and simply put up with the fact that the woman is trans. Yet, we are not just OK with it; we are just as attracted to trans-women as we are to cis-women, regardless of their biological sex.
A few weeks ago, in September, DJ Mister Cee, a prominent figure in the hip-hop community, was “caught” with a transgender woman. After being outed and admitting to being attracted to trans-women, he was so ashamed that he resigned from his job at the radio station Hot 97. His trans-attraction was turned into a scandal. The only thing that should be considered scandalous is the fact that he had to hide his attraction in the first place. I want to be open about my sexuality because I have had enough of this shaming of trans-attracted men and the damage this does to trans-women. It has created a disgusting culture of trans-attracted men using trans-women for sex, but never forming a committed relationship with them. Most trans-attracted men are only trans-attracted at night. Then during the day they run back to their heteronormative relationships with cis-women of whom they are not ashamed. Even men that are in committed relationships with trans-women will often tell those women that they could never introduce them to their friends or family. Imagine a woman that has been to hell and back trying to transition into who she really is only to be told by her lover that he is ashamed to be with her. The hardship that trans-attracted men go through (and believe me, it is hard), does not even come close to what trans-women have to go through in their day-to-day lives. That is why it is so important for trans-attracted men to start coming out of the closet. Personally, I am proud to be attracted to women that are so strong.
Many men are not attracted to transgender women, and that is OK. But some men are attracted to trans-women, and that is also OK. I am attracted to women, period.