II’m not sure I’ve ever posted a warning like this before, but given the derail that happened in the last trans-centered thread: this is a post about fetishization of trans people. Cis people are welcome to post here, but please do try to advance the ball. Transphobic, transmisogynistic, and disrespectful language is unwelcome.)
In comments here, voz linked to this Annalee Newitz article on Nerve–I may even have linked it back when in a post about trannychasing and Margaret Cho. (Newitz also wrote an earlier essay about trans people–trans women, really–which is just straight-up transphobic; in the newer essay, she says that she used to be transphobic, in part because of internalized shame.)
A lot of commenters to the article pointed out that Newitz recites transphobic tropes about trans people, like this one, even as she talks about what awesome sexual partners they are:
Of course, there’s also something frankly pragmatic about my trannychasing. As a bisexual, it’s more convenient for me if I can date someone who has lived on both sides of the fence. Many trannies — although certainly not all — give off a kind of bisexual eroticism. Even if they’ve had sex-reassignment surgery, they can’t erase their memories of having been treated like a member of the other sex, and it affects the way they interact with me.
She can always tell. No matter what you’ve done to your body, some of that original gender just doesn’t rub off. Note too the way that she places the responsibility for a gendered interaction squarely on the shoulders of the marked class. It’s not that she treats them differently, but that they are different.
This passage also makes the same mistake that defines the essay: briefly, Newitz defines trans gender as transgressive gender. Trans gender is a visibly incongruent blend of gender cues that sets itself up against cis gender, which is conventional. Trans genders are different. Trans people are not like us.
Trannies make me hot because their gender transformations are transgressions, as well. I know this might sound old hat but, for me, sex has always been about some sort of transgression — I like to pull a boy’s hair when I kiss him, or pinch a girl’s nipple hard after I’ve licked it. If sex isn’t inappropriate or shocking, it isn’t pleasurable. Transgendered bodies are transgression incarnate. They don’t conform to expectations; they’re surprising; and they are often in the process of being utterly changed. Desiring a tranny comes out of a deep pull toward people who feel like they don’t fit in, and have done something radical about it. They’ve taken their bodies into their own hands and made something completely new.
Newitz prefers trans gender as she defines it. Different is better. Cis gender is implicitly defined as boring. Cis gender identity is also fetishistic in its way: dedicated to maintaining its status as natural and correct. But Newitz says some of the same things about trans gender identity and community. Hidebound clinginess happens when trans people find her annoying. Because she identifies herself as somebody with a transgressive relationship to gender, any wariness about her presence is reactionary. It’s not that someone might find her creepy or anything, or that trans people might not like hearing that they’re just plain different.
The problem with articles like this–with essays that use identity politics to describe the way that some kinds of ally status leave you vulnerable–is that they’re not exactly wrong about the popular treatment of subcultural companions. If it’s wrong to be something, it’s also wrong to want to be near it. It’s far worse to desire it in ways that aren’t bounded by segregationist social arrangements, and worst of all to desire it because you think it resonates with the same quality in you. So someone who does feel attraction to trans people is doing something wrong according to the dictates of a transphobic society. When Newitz identifies her experience as a marginalized one, she is right. That’s what it is.
Newitz makes a common mistake, though: she loses the distinction between having to want and having to be. Ranking oppressions is never productive, but desire carries the potential for distance as well as intimacy; someone who has the choice between the two has the option of escape, even as they keep the parts they enjoy.
Then she ignores the traditional way of obtaining social permission for desire: using sex as a way to cement hierarchies rather than disrupting them. It’s really easy to have sex that keeps one person intact and degrades the other. We’re very used to this practice, because we constantly draw borders and want across them, and because one of the brightest lines is the one we call sex. Sex is messy, volatile–when your body gets mixed up with someone else’s, lines will tend to blur–but this is precisely why some of the most vicious humiliations have become linked to sex. We inoculate ourselves with cruelty.
Trannychaser did not refer to someone attracted to trans people, although people like Newitz do use it that way. Nor exactly, as Newitz says, to a man who had sex with trans women but insisted that he was totally absolutely one-hundred-percent not like that. (The problem wasn’t that he insisted he was straight rather than gay.) It referred to a man who had sex with trans women in ways that allowed him to maintain, to himself and to others, that he was a normal upstanding man and she was scum. His treatment of her echoed the appropriate treatment of transsexuality. Sex as scapegoating.
The word hasn’t lost its original meaning. More importantly, the practice hasn’t died out, the need hasn’t dissolved. Most people relate to trans people in ways that allow them to maintain that they are normal upstanding citizens and trans people are scum. Our laws and the self-appointed watchdogs thereof define trans people in ways that carefully differentiate between the normal upstanding citizens and the gender trash. Gender as scapegoating.
(This is one reason public restrooms are one of the bloodiest battlegrounds in the struggle for trans gender equality. It isn’t only about preserving a man/woman dichotomy. It’s about preserving a cis/trans hierarchy. If a trans woman can sit on the same toilet as other women, there’s nothing unclean about her body, nothing inferior about her gender, nothing obscene about her sex.)
A commenter on the post argues that Newitz can’t reclaim “trannychaser” because trans people own tranny and thus trannychaser. I think it’s more than that. I don’t think any person from the hating class can take a term used by the hated class to denote an especially insidious form of hatred, no matter how sincere their intentions or unadulterated and proud their desire. Especially if it originally denoted hatred posing as love. They’re in the wrong place. Newitz wants trans people to be her allies:
But my identity owes no allegiance to any particular gender, and I keep falling in love with trannies because they’re my darling comrades, my co-conspirators. In a world where people cling to gender roles as if they were sacred objects, trannies blaspheme beautifully.
But she isn’t offering them respect. Her understanding of their genders is as self-serving; it’s just that camaraderie is part of her special conceit.
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