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I never thought I would have to come out about being attracted to women. But that’s the funny and sad position I’m in these days. Although I don’t see anything different about my sexual orientation, 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 avoided trans women, I saw no difference between them and cisgender women (women who were born biologically female). I was attracted to trans women, in other words, and I spent the next three years of my life in 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. I didn’t even know what to call my sexual orientation. Finally one day, after hours of searching, I came across two terms that described what I was feeling. Trans-attraction and trans-orientation. Neither one is official or common, but their use is growing due to the increasing demand for a way to categorize people who are attracted to transgender people. When I saw these words, a feeling of relief washed over me: 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.
My year in Thailand made it a second home for me, and I returned last spring for a study abroad semester. Once again surrounded by the transgender community, 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, I stopped feeling so backward. It was the shaming of trans-attraction that was ridiculous — not my sexual orientation.
However, I wasn’t ready to be open, because I wasn’t yet aware of the desperate societal need for me to do so. I didn’t realize just how damaging my shame could be to trans women. It wasn’t until I fell for a transgender girl in Thailand that my own toxic 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 rage and responded with my fists, or even a weapon. This certainly happens to transgender women, 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 who 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 it, though, 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’ve had enough of this shaming. It’s 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 who 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 who 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’s so important for trans-attracted men to start coming out of the closet. Personally, I am proud to be attracted to women who are so strong.
Thomas Matt is a Global Studies major at St. Lawrence University. He's studied in Thailand twice, where he became interested in issues concerning gender and sexuality.More Thomas Matt.