Earlier this summer, dozens of trans women across various social media outlets created a motion to “Boycott DL Men” via Instagram, Twitter, and so forth. The overall intent behind this motion was to call-out the double-bind that we trans women find ourselves hegemonically placed in as a result of men’s treatment towards us, whereas all the while they pick us up on the curb and worship us in the bedroom, they laugh about us with their friends and kill us in alleys. Cisgender men are, as are every single one of us, raised in a toxic white-supremacist, trans-misogynist state that highlights racist colonial ideologies of gender binary and cisheteronormativity, enabling such exploitation and violence on trans women’s bodies disproportionately as a result. Trans women, Black and Indigenous trans women especially, are subject to heightened levels of harm because our society has instilled the narrative that trans women are not real people but solely sex objects for cis men’s fantasy. Cis men who sexually manipulate and exploit us are simultaneously secretive about their attractions toward us. Referring to the initial “boycott” post, there is a lot to be said surrounding this conversation had about DL men, especially considering the emergence and prominence of down-low (DL) culture among gay Black men during the HIV/AIDS era of the late 20th century, which I do not think was ethically referenced and linked to in the original post started by other trans (primarily white women) activists. However, I do think it is critical to further analyze cis men’s sexuality from another tangent, and to recognize the intersections between such implications of internalized trans-misogyny within their own sexualities and their manifestations of such ideologies through interpersonal sexual relations which thus lead to the violence and murder on our trans feminine bodies.
Throughout my early years of my transition, I like many other trans women found myself traumatized yet ironically complacent in repeatedly opening myself up, literally, sexually for cis men. In the very initial stages, I slept with many self-identified gay men (which obviosuly did nothing to boost up my own self-confidence as a woman). Some would be married and have husbands, others would be single and just looking for something quick. Either way, what they wanted was obvious–dick. The cis gay man I would sleep with would justify getting off sexually to me while maintaining his static identity as a gay man because, regardless, he saw that I possessed, like him, a dick. What I took away from this notion was that his definition of his sexuality was based on the essential characteristic that I possessed a dick–a sexual characteristic similar to his; thus, his “same-sex” attraction was literally based on our assigned sexes at birth instead of our actual gender identities.
This perception of sexuality never made sense to me. As I got older and wiser, I realized that the reason it never made sense to me was because it was explicitly transphobic and left no room for my body and other trans women’s bodies likewise in the conversation. To base one’s sexuality around genital preferability completely abides by a cissexist, two-sex pathology that all men have dicks and all women have vulvas and that’s that. If a man is straight (i.e. heterosexual, i.e. attracted to the “opposite sex”), we are automatically assuming that this man is cisgender and possesses a penis and, thus, could theoretically never be attracted to a trans woman with a penis because he would then be sleeping with the “same sex.” For a cis man who is gay, however (i.e. homosexual, i.e. attracted to the “same sex”), theoretically there should be no questioning of his sexual identity in this situation because for him to be sexually attracted to a trans woman perfectly makes sense because he would then be sleeping with the “same sex.” This sounds fucked up, right? That’s because it is.
Later on for whatever reason in the first few years of my transition, I branched out and began sleeping with the other enemy–cis straight men. Just like the cis gay men, some would be married with a wife, others would be sugar daddies who pervertedly sought out trans women like it was their day job. Either way, what they too wanted was obvious just the same–dick. However, it seems that the cis straight man is more obsessed, specifically, with ochieving the possession of, for lack of a better word, girldick (side-note: if you’re cis, you may never say the word “girldick”). The cis straight man I would sleep with, in this case, would be able to justify getting sexual gratification from me while maintaining his fragile identity as that as “strictly-straight” because, even though I possess a dick, my identity as a woman would still be positioned far enough away from his to not intimidate his own gender in the bedroom. As long as he could push the reality that he was sucking my dick far enough down his throat, his brittle sexual identity would remain unaltered.
Cis gay men don’t sleep with women.
Yet, I have slept with many cis gay men.
Cis gay men say they don’t sleep with women
because they’re gay.
because they’re not sexually attracted to women.
However, I have slept with many cis gay men
that say they are incredibly sexually attracted to me.
Cis straight men don’t suck dick.
Yet, I have had many cis straight men suck mine.
Cis straight men say they don’t suck dick
because they’re straight.
because they do not get sexually turned on by a dick.
However, I have had many cis straight men
that beg to suck me off and get fucked by me.
The issue when putting these two situations side by side is that both of the justifications for sleeping with a trans woman ironically contradict one another entirely. The cis gay man justifies sleeping with us, even though we are women, because we have a dick. The cis straight man justifies sleeping with us, even though we have a dick, because we are women. Whereas the cis gay man bases the defining character of his sexual orientation on the other person’s genitalia, the cis straight man bases his on the other person’s gender identity and isolates himself from the complex reality that is the construction of his own sexuality.
It is also crucial, in this justification of loving us trans women, to note that I am writing personally from the position and identity (for lack of a better term and, more so to get the point across) as a “non-op” trans woman. Across all media outlets, we hear stories about “pre-op” trans women (i.e. trans women who have not yet had gender reaffirming surgery (GRS) such as vaginoplasty and currently possess a dick) and “post-op” trans women (i.e. trans women who have had GRS and possess a constructed vagina after such surgeries) whose lives are completely transformed once they meet their final destination of total and complete womanhood. My personal qualm with this is its underlying expectation that all trans women must “completely transition” by navigating processes of hormonal replacement, legal document changes, and GRS. As a trans woman who never wants such surgeries (thus, I claim satirically the identity as a “non-op” trans woman), I see such expectations to only further push for a sociological ideology in which we understand genders across the trans spectrum to fall still within a binary system of ultimately cisheterosexism.
I am in community with many trans women who decide to seek out GRS and tell me, afterwards, how truly life-changing and euphoric it feels. I likewise know dozens of trans women who obtain facial feminization surgery and claim that it has saved their lives. And while I have the deepest respect and celebration for every single one of my trans sisters who have been able to navigate and achieve such affirming care, I nonetheless question why we are so quick to abide to hegemonic assertions that us women must look a certain way and have certain sex characteristics, whether it is to soothe our personal dysphoria or desire to pass and survive in society. Because, the reality for me has been, the more and more my sisters’ voices have been uplifted throughout their processes of surgical affirming care, mine and others who do not seek such medical services have been invalidated and forgotten as likewise being proud women with a dick. I am a proud woman with a dick.
I remember a couple of years back I really thought I wanted a vagina. I was sure of it. I remember calling my mom outside my room some nights, crying with my back against the wall, saying “I just want to be a woman already! I just want a vagina!” At the time, it felt like what I had to do in order for my identity to be validated. My hormones I had been on for months were doing only as much as they could realistically do, and my body still did not match the body I thought I wanted in my mind. I dreamt of taking off my undies and not feeling something swing across my thighs once they were off. I wanted to be able to lie down on my bed, spread open my legs, and have a man easily come inside me. I wanted, more than anything, I thought, to just be understood.
I went to Lyon Martin, a clinic that specializes in health care specifically for trans patients, for my initial consultation with a licensed mental health professional who would eventually write me my letter confirming my desire for vaginoplasty surgery. The person I met with asked me a bunch of demeaning questions–“Do you feel you want a vagina in order to feel more like a woman?”, “Does possessing a penis make you feel like a man?”, “Do you feel that having a vagina could minimize your idealization of suicide?”–to which every question my response had to be “yes” in order for the medical professional to write me a letter for GRS. Any response showing my confidence in my possession of a dick and its direct connection to my womanhood would eliminate me from the pool of candidates in need of surgery. I realized after this appointment that I actually understood exactly who I am and what body I truly wanted for myself; rather, I now understood that I was living in a society that repetitively beat the idea in my head that I had to “fully transition” to be a woman. I understood that the same society I was living in that was telling me I had to have a pussy was also the society instructing me on being economically-secure, heterosexual and monogamous, anti-sex and anti-kink, and on a very depressingly specific and narrow path that I did not even want for myself.
When I left this doctor appointment, I felt more dysphoric than I ever had in my entire life. I felt like I had sabotaged myself and my pride just to obtain some flimsy paper giving me permission to be more of a woman, when in actuality I was already one. I knew that being a woman is more than having a vagina with enough depth to be penetrated by some cis man. I knew that being a woman is more than wearing a thong showcasing a perfect cameltoe or a dress that accentuates any natural curves and femininity. When I told my friends I decided not to go through with surgery, most were supportive and more so just did not care because ultimately it was my own decision. When I told my parents or family, all of them were confused. “So then, do you just wanna be a guy again?”
If the prior paragraphs have only led to more confusion and more questions, then good. Because that was the intent. Because, just like gender, sexuality too is fluid. To prescribe to an expectation that one’s sexuality must remain static (and, more often than not, remain straight) is to assume that one’s gender is also not concurrently and consistently developing. Someone could easily make an argument that the straight men I had sexual encounters with were in actuality bi or gay…and that may easily be true. Someone could say the same thing about the self-identified gay men really being bi…maybe they had a certain level of internalized biphobia within themselves. But the goal of this paper is to rather illustrate the way in which trans women’s bodies time after time have to be justified by a cis man to fit into an archetype of some strict sexuality he has constructed for himself. Cis men of all sexualities are fucking trans women. And cis men of all sexualities are murdering trans women. The same cis men who pick us up for a night and tell us how perfect we are in a dark room are the same one’s implementing laws to ban us from every social service and civil right opportunity possible because they do not see us human, let alone woman. The same cis men who beg us to paint our toe nails and tie on a tight corset before penetrating them are the same one’s shouting violent slurs at us on the street and leaving us behind dumpsters unconscious.
Cis men of all sexualities have an important and critical role in shifting not only the dialogue centering our bodies as trans women but the treatment and love toward our bodies as well. Cis gay men, supposedly apart of the same LGBTQ+ community, need to consistently be showing up for the trans women around them who are disproportionately marginalized even within our own community. Cis straight men, with whom lies all the given power in the world, must wake the fuck up and see how their thoughts, words, and actions detrimentally affect us. Trans women, predominantly Black and Indigenous trans women, have a life expectancy of 35 years. Us trans women can do everything in our power to survive, but we likewise urgently need the cis men around us to openly and vocally love and support us, whether you want us to fuck you or not.