This piece was inspired by a thread Bex Caputo (who you should follow) started on Twitter, where they asked trans people to talk about our insecurities around sex and dating, as well as by a piece by Red Hot Suz (who you should also follow), where she talked about the desirability politics she faces as a plus sized woman.
I also want to add that this piece is very ranty, and fully based on my personal experiences. My views and experiences do not represent those of all trans men, and should not be expected to, as expecting some kind of a singular transmasc experience is unfair to all of us.
The politics of desire around trans people are, in a word, complicated.
I came out as a trans man before I hit my first puberty. In a lot of ways, this means I was advantaged. I only went through a year of female puberty before being given blockers, I was able to change my name and gender marker documentation before I left home for college, I’ve been able to be stealth in my career. But it also means that I’ve never known how to have sex or relate to myself sexually except in the ways I see trans people (and trans men specifically) portrayed.
This is a weird mix of hypersexualisation and desexualisation, where both happen on cis people’s terms, not those of trans people. I am either unfuckable, a monster beyond desirability or desire, or I am an object on which sexuality is projected, a fundamentally sexual being but whose sexuality exists only in how it can be consumed by cis people (including cis queer folks).
There’s also something to be said about the types of bodies that are considered desirable- for mainstream society, I’ve found it’s very athletic and cis passing trans men who are considered worthy of desire, in the queer spaces I’ve been in it’s androgynous, and alternative presenting trans men. And either way I feel I don’t measure up.
I am not plus sized. I’m not saying this because being plus sized is a bad thing. Plus sized people are as beautiful and sexy as people who are not. I am just a person who is not. I am average, and I hold a little more weight around my belly than anywhere else. But the pressures I feel acting within MSM spaces in general, and especially the pressures I feel as a trans man in these spaces have and do make me perceive myself as fat, and then hate myself for it. There’s this joke in Will and Grace about somebody being ‘straight skinny’ but ‘gay fat’, and it’s uncomfortably close to the truth of gay and bi men’s perceptions of our bodies. To add to this, I feel like I have to “make up” for being trans by being otherwise completely perfect in terms of being what is conventionally attractive for gay/bi men. Every failure I have at achieving the ‘idea’ gay male body is one that makes me feel I am not desirable, that I am failing at competing with cis men, and therefore failing at manhood.
More queer spaces, I find, do not get better at dealing with the politics of trans desirability. At least in the ones that I have frequented, again a very specific type of trans man is considered desirable. And it’s one that I know I don’t hold up to, because I am too cis passing, because I want to present in a masculine way, because anything else makes me dysphoric, because I am repulsed by the idea of being desired in spaces or by people who wouldn’t or don’t also desire cis men. I feel like I fail at trans manhood in these cases. I don’t look like the trans men these spaces hold up any more than I look like the bodybuilder/model type of trans man that gets held up in other spaces.
And those are the only two ways I’ve ever seen trans men be presented as desirable.
So I struggle with thinking of myself as a desirable person. I struggle with it a lot, and I don’t know how to fix it. And even when I work through it enough to engage in having sex, I still can’t exist as a sexual person without being impacted by these politics of desirability.
The politics of desire also affect how trans men are expected to have sex when we are found desirable. I don’t always enjoy penis in vagina (PiV) sex, and I do not like to have it with people I’m not in an established relationship with. I also resent the assumption that this is the kind of sex I must like, that I must be a bottom and that sex with me that isn’t PiV is ‘pointless’, that the novelty of PiV sex is the only reason I am desirable to them. I’m not an actual person to people like that- I only exist as something for them to experience, something exotic to try once, both not worthy of anything other than being the target of passing sexual desire, and not worthy of having my own sexual desires. To expect me to want to bottom for PiV sex (and I want to be clear- it is the expectation I have issues with, not PiV sex or trans men who want PiV sex) is objectifying, defining me by a part of myself I’m already disconnected from.
Trans fetishism in general reduces us to our genitals, both pre/non op and post op. We’re either an exotic novelty for being men with vaginas or women with penises, or we’re ‘mutilated’, lesser than cis people. I’ve had somebody go from ‘I couldn’t be with you unless you had top surgery’ to ‘I couldn’t be with you post op, because every time I looked at you I’d cringe thinking about the surgery you’d needed to have’. These aren’t conflicting views- they are both based on the hypersexualisation and desexualisation of trans people in society as a whole, and it’s important to note gender affirming surgeries won’t fix how society sees you.
This is part of why I feel I fear having phalloplasty. Where I do feel like I am being desired, it is so often through a fetishistic lens that when I do not have anything that is able to be fetishised, when I am so much like a cis man that I am interchangable with one aside from being fundamentally treated as not as authentic as one, is there any framework in which I can conceive of myself as a sexual person? Once I cease to be able to be fetishised, but am not close enough to cis to know how to be a sexual person or being outside of that framework, what will I have left?
I think this is the part of the think piece where I’m meant to talk about how I moved on from these politics of desire, how I’m happy and stable and having sex I want now. But the truth is I’m still working through these things. I’m starting to centre other trans people in my life, and focusing my romantic and sexual interest on other trans people. And it helps, I think. I feel more comfortable and more fulfilled in relationships with trans people. And that’s not going to fix my issues, and I don’t think any one thing will. The process of relearning to have sex (with both others and myself) is a type of recovery.
And recovery can take time.