For Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating the breakups that shaped us, in all their messy glory. Because love is just as much about heartbreak as it is about romance. Read all the stories from our Love Bites series here. This piece is also part of MTF & DTF, a monthly sex, love, and dating column where Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard chronicles the amorous goings-on she's fascinated by (particularly, her own).
I’m single this Valentine’s Day, and I feel like shit. I feel undesirable, and I feel powerless to change that. Most of all, I want to know why the guys I crush on, namely cis, straight, male 20-somethings, won’t fuck me. So I slid into the only thing I could: their DMs.
My friends warned me about writing this column on why my crushes won’t crush me back. They said the guys I like won’t fuck me because they’re straight. He’s—you know—into women, they said, the transphobia as thinly veiled as a penis in a lambskin condom. My friends were implying that heterosexuality is male attraction to women—and I just don’t make the cut.
Explanations of sexual desire is a box of chocolates, ranging from dusty old white men to contemporary critical theorists. Freud attributes sexual attraction to damage caused by parents, while Darwin explains it is determined by traits competitive in the race to reproduction. Psychiatrist and postcolonial thinker Frantz Fanon and Black feminist scholar Hortense Spillers argue that desire is shaped by broader social forces like colonialism and the legacy of chattel slavery, respectively.
Simply, some say desire is a predetermined variable, while others find it to be something in which we are inculcated. But we also know that desire is flexible: for example, trans girls’ (and more broadly, trans people’s) sexual attractions often change after starting transition. And when studies support the obvious—that most cis people, queer and straight alike, wouldn’t date trans folks—I’m left wondering what it would take for someone to want to fuck me.
To be clear, whatever the indecipherable mechanics of male lust may be, it’s not that boys as a category won’t fuck me. (Grindr begs to differ.) Rather, it’s that I, along with many other trans girls, are quick to label guys who openly and eagerly desire us as “chasers,” a pejorative used for suitors who see trans women as a part-time kink or a full-time game. So, I quickly write off these sexual solicitors. Instead, I thirst for the boys who have only ever chased cis girls. It’s these guys who won’t fuck me.
Enter: Chris. He’s tall and witty—the kind of guy with a punchable smile. I’ve crushed on this boy—whom I also happened to room with in college—for the better part of five years. We are good friends, so much so that we used to pee into a mason jar and pour it out the dorm window to avoid braving the communal bathroom. We’ve shared more bodily fluids from friendship than from sex.
The idea that not desiring trans women is transphobic mistakes desire for rationality.
But we have exchanged more flirtations than your run-of-the-mill Bumble date. He cuddled me, told me I looked pretty before parties, and grinded on me on the dance floor. Once, on a walk, he mused, “I like the idea of hooking up with my close friends.” (He had the track record to prove it.) Maybe a total piece of trash, maybe a staunch proponent of polyamory, maybe both, Chris, I fantasized, was going to take me, Katniss Everdeen, as his next tribute.
One time, over dinner, he sighed over Kim Petras. Of course he did—it’s Kim Petras, Barbie’s most talented niece. He mused about a potential sexual encounter with the pop star, saying that maybe he was, in fact, open to sex with trans girls.
I decided that the time had come to act. One weekend last spring after a night of drinking, I crawled into his empty bed, ready to out my crush to him.
When he got back late that night, I was slurring, “Why won’t you fuck me?”
He smiled like the kid from the cover of Mad Magazine and made some joke—it doesn’t matter what. That was the end of it.
…Until now! Blessed with the ethnographic vantage point of a sex column, I texted him with a bone to pick; particularly, his.
I fantasized he would be baffled that his attraction to me was even a question. I wanted him to confess his tortured longing. I wanted it to be mutual, I wanted it to be romantic, and I wanted it to be hetero.
Why wont u fuck me? B brutally honest plz
His typing bubble cut in and out. My night wore on.
“I don’t understand how my attraction works,” he typed, “but I guess there are some characteristics/features I’m generally attracted to.”
He added, “Some of which you don’t have.”
I cried. (Of course I cried.) And then I moved on to my next victim. I asked my current roomate, Alex, a straight boy who is equally tall, equally slappable, and also someone I’ve asked to spoon me a few too many times. When I’ve floated the idea of smooching before, he didn’t bite. Why?
“It’s just not something I can put my finger on.” He’s talking about the reason he won’t bang me, and “it” plainly reads to me as my anus. “I can list things that come to mind…”
“Do it,” I bit, biting my tongue from slipping, “Wait, don’t!”
He brushed my snarl aside, continuing with his original thought, “…But that doesn’t mean that’s actually why I wouldn’t hook up with you.”
I don’t want to live in a world that has Valentine Sweethearts candies that read, Be Mine…Because I’m an Ally.
It’s because you’re trans!, some friends I know might chime in right about now. I told you so! My thoughts on that matter: Sure, it might be that— or my stretch marks, my misplaced moles, and every other shred of evidence of being a living, breathing female. I would scold any other trans girl for jumping to the fact of transness as the cause for rejection. But for me, the ‘trans card’ feels like it’s the only one in my deck.
When a straight guy says he is not into me, nor other trans women, I feel butthurt–emotionally and, unfortunately, not physically. Smart girls would just walk away and actually find someone who is into them. My desire is just as biased as these men’s. I don’t want to find others. I want them.
I may come off as a bit aggressive posing the question, Why won’t you fuck me? It may even sound that I feel entitled to their desire. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have fucking be a human right? Alas, it’s not, and it cannot be. Desire is not enforceable, nor can it conform to our politics. Some feminists might diagnose these guys’ desire with a bad case of transphobia (and probably all sorts of other social biases). I mean, it would be pretty cool if a Trans 101 was the new Viagra, if #TransIsBeautiful could be a command, and not just an affirmation.
But the idea that not desiring trans women is transphobic mistakes desire for rationality. You don’t want because you know; you want because you feel. Brains can understand that trans women are women–but a boner only knows the five senses. If I was a Good Feminist, after all, I would be fucking other trans women by now.
That’s the trouble with sexual desire: It is what it is, but it is also engineered by our social world.
I sympathize with Alex and Chris. I say I like guys over six feet who have stubble here and there and know their way around the philosophy section of a bookstore. But when I press on that desire (read: have to actually spend time with the dreadful, self-important delegates of that kind of man), it falls apart. Although scaffolded by the valorization of certain bodies over others, at the end of it all, nothing undergirds the desire besides the desire itself.
Alex, Chris, and I make clear the slipperiness of arousal. They can’t really explain why they’re not into me. Even when they grasped for solid answers, their desire vaporized into a diffuse cloud of uncertainty. And I didn’t want Alex and Chris to tell me they would try to fuck me, that they would change their desire. I don’t want to live in a world that has Valentine Sweethearts candies that read, Be Mine…Because I’m an Ally.
That’s the trouble with sexual desire: It is what it is, but it is also engineered by our social world. Celebrate your sexuality, as the sex-positive folks might cheer, but Don’t you dare forget that your wanting is violent all the way down, critical feminists would advise. Idealized romance encourages relishing the former, while side-eyeing the latter.
I want to be straight as an arrow, but my transness doesn’t quite square with that. I already changed to be a woman. I shouldn’t have to, and frankly cannot, change straight men. I feel like I’m failing at the game of heterosexuality–when actually, heterosexuality is failing me.