Is it Transphobic: A Response to Dan Savage

I’ve read/listened to Savage Love for a long time, since I was a teen. Dan Savage normalized my feelings of sexual difference, queerness, and kinkiness. I often felt emboldened to explore my developing sexuality with little self-grief because of his column. I generally like the guy, he can be a little bullish and say some uncouth things, but I usually admire that. I have a thick skin, and like Dan Savage, a low threshold for bullshit. Occasionally since I’ve been listening to the Savage Love Cast—the podcast version Savage’s column—he’s uttered some not quite anti-trans things, but aired opinions I thought were uninformed—after all, he is a cis dude and being gay doesn’t make you infinitely knowledgeable about all queer identities. (Look at Tan in the Queer Eye episode with the trans man—I cried.) Honestly, if his comments were really more than slight ignorance then I would have responded. I am going to do that now.

A few weeks ago—sorry I can't remember the episode number—a caller left a message that went something like this. "Hi Dan, twenty-something lesbian here from BLANK America. I totally think trans women are real women, but I don't want to sleep with them—I'll sleep with trans men though. My friends say this is transphobic. Is it?" I am paraphrasing, but with little liberty. Dan replied, and I am going to summarize more here because he went on for a bit, "NO!!! You don't owe anyone sex. You are a vaginaphile, you like VAG, I like cock. Some of my gay friends like young trans men, maybe if I was younger I would too, but COCK. Plus, X friend of mine who writes for X publication and is totally trans wrote an article about this and he doesn't think it's transphobic." Okay I thought, I mean you are right, you don't owe anyone sex, but I didn't feel good about this answer and it sat with me for awhile. There are several layers to the caller’s question and Savage’s response and I would like to pull them apart a bit armed with some new shiny data.

First of all, and Savage didn't really address this in his response, the caller, who identifies as a lesbian, likes trans dudes. This isn't new, and there is the whole issue with who we say we fuck and who we fuck, but some trans masculine people may take issue with this casual dismissal of their gender/sex identity implied by this comment. If a gay dude who is exclusively into guys wanted to fuck me I would feel delegitimized as a woman. Luckily, in the follow-up episode, a caller pointed this out (and give Savage credit for airing it). He said, "when I first started transitioning queer women were all over me and this made me feel bad about myself because they didn't see me as a guy." I have a trans feminine friend going through this very issue, but with gay men. So yeah, the caller's position, depending on how they show their affections for trans guys, could be transphobic—or not.

But let's go back to the other issue the caller brought up: she is a cis lesbian and won't consider sleeping with trans women. While I totally agree with Savage that you don't owe anyone sex, at the same time if you say you respect trans women as women, but don't consider they fuckable, then is that not kinda transphobic? Like, at least I would hope people interrogate their sexual preferences (which is what Savage usually preaches). I mean, okay, some trans women have cocks, but lady cock is its own thing, it’s not guy cock (I know, I have one and it is squishy and doesn’t get hard, she is also super shy). And if we reduce a woman to her body parts then, feminism (and if we limit a person because of their biology then, bad feminism). So then, this caller is transmisogynistic, and if they truly think trans women are women—which I suspect they might not—then they're guilty of regular misogyny too. But I get it, I am not going to make anyone sleep with me—like I could. However, I suspect a little time with trans people and a little education might change people's minds. I am not into guys, I tried, a few times, but I just am not. I am open to it if it happens. I am attracted to all femme spectrum identities though, regardless of what's in their underwear—no cotton ceilings. This attraction doesn’t exclude anyone within the bounds of my sexuality: gay for girls. But this caller and Savage’s opinion point to a lack of openmindedness and a kind of pervasive cultural transphobia. And now there is an initial study—as limited as it may be—that sheds light on just how much cis people aren't willing to fuck trans people—especially trans women. The caller and Savage have a lot of company. The numbers are staggering and point to nothing less than systemic transphobia, transmisogyny, and cisnormativity.

The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships just published the succinctly titled article "Transgender exclusion from the world of dating: Patterns of acceptance and rejection of hypothetical trans dating partners as a function of sexual and gender identity" (Karen L. Blair & Rhea Ashley Hoskin, 2018). In it, they asked almost 1000 people—958—with a median age of 26 if they would consider dating the following genders: cisgender men, cisgender women, trans men, trans women, and genderqueer individuals. "87.5% indicated that they would not consider dating a trans person, with cisgender heterosexual men and women being most likely to exclude trans persons." When we look only at cis straight people, only 1.8% of straight women and 3.3% of straight men chose a trans person of either binary gender. The non-heterosexual people didn't fare much better: 11.5% of gay men and 29% of lesbians were open to trans dating. Unsurprisingly, trans people included in the study were largely open to dating trans people—because we're cooler. "However, even among those willing to date trans persons, a pattern of masculine privileging and transfeminine exclusion appeared, such that participants were disproportionately willing to date trans men, but not trans women, even if doing so was counter to their self-identified sexual and gender identity (e.g., a lesbian dating a trans man but not a trans woman)." That parenthesis reminds me of the caller in question and the studies keywords: "femmephobia, masculine privileging, transgender exclusion, transmisogyny, transprejudice."

Look, this is an initial study with limitations, but it also matches common lived experience for many trans people: cis people think we are yucky. I am not sure how these number would change if the measured factor was one off sex instead of dating, or if participants had experience with socializing with trans folks—i.e. the openmindedness I spoke of above. Nevertheless, Savage and his caller seem to be part of a larger transphobic phenomenon. But at least they won’t be lonely. So, if your not trans, and you say you support us, but you don't want to touch us with a ten-foot pole, perhaps interrogate where that is coming from. I am going to continue listening to the Savage Love Cast, but I felt this was important to highlight. Now, I really have to just ignore media. This is my second response in two days. At least this study was less loquacious than that bloody Atlantic article.

TRANSPHOBIA RATING: C-

(this is a totally arbitrary scale ;) )

I’m trans, a PhD candidate in Gender Studies, and a researcher.

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