This article originally appeared on VICE US
Owen’s girlfriend never expected to see transgender porn on his phone. No one knew he’d been hiding his attraction to trans women since middle school. Despite the discretion, deep down, Owen optimistically hoped his fear was unfounded; “I always figured she'd find out and be so accepting that I’d feel like I never should have hidden it,” he said. He was wrong.
Instead, Owen's girlfriend was devastated, the 22 year old recalled. At first, she cried and interrogated him: Was he gay? Was she just a prop for him to look straight? Why did he hide this from her? Then, she got mean. Over the course of a month, Owen said she used his sexuality as a weapon against him. According to Owen, she pitilessly mocked him, remarking on how disappointed he must be that she doesn’t have a dick. He obviously “wanted to be a bottom,” he recalled her saying; to “get a good fucking.” Sometimes, when they were intimate, Owen said that she would climb on top of him and mockingly simulate fucking him in the ass.
She ended the relationship in March. Though she didn’t say, Owen knows why: “What did my attraction to trans women have to do with my attraction to her, a cis woman?”
Owen lives in Upstate New York, and was taught to respect trans people from an early age, he said. But the shame he received from his girlfriend made him question himself. “I immediately tried to change, [after] six plus years of loving myself,” he said. “I unfollowed all the trans girls on Instagram and Twitter.” He stopped watching trans porn, too.
But abstinence was ineffective. “It just made me desire trans women more,” Owen said. “I couldn't go back.”
He’d love to have a healthy, public relationship with a trans woman. But it feels unlikely. He doesn’t really know where to meet trans women, and if his next girlfriend is a cis woman, he expects to keep this secret from her. The trauma of being shamed by his ex has marked him with paranoia. If found out again, he’s afraid he’d be ostracized completely, “scarlet letter style.”
Owen is one of countless men who are attracted to trans women but are too afraid to say so publicly. I’ve reported on this for years, but the coverage rarely draws these men out of hiding. In July, though, an interview I conducted with four straight guys inspired many such men to speak up, across the internet, onto countless social media timelines, and in emails to me. Their reasons for hiding may seem obvious, a blend of homophobia and a fear of being stripped of their masculinity.
But there is another source of pressure to conceal trans-amorous desire that may be even more powerful, yet has long gone unspoken. I have seen it myself many times over since I first transitioned—and I saw it again quite recently, wrapped up in many of the notes men wrote after reading my article. They had all been impaired by the same, devastating rejection by cis women in their lives.
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Owen’s story is the most typical example of this rejection, and perhaps the most damaging, but the stigma against trans amory is much more complex than that story alone.The rejection doesn’t always come in the form of transphobia. Sometimes, it’s a matter of misguided advocacy.
Allie, a 31-year-old cisgender woman in London, was in an open relationship when she learned her boyfriend was attracted to trans women. At first, she wasn’t upset. Allie has many trans friends, and considers herself an ally. But her commitment to that alliance began to disrupt her understanding of her partner’s sexuality. Allie began to worry that her partner was a fetishist, dehumanizing trans women as sexual objects—what’s known in the LGBTQ community as a “chaser.”
That’s shorthand for “tranny chaser,” a term referring to men who secretly fuck trans women, and fetishize us as pornographic fantasy objects: chicks with dicks self-created for male consumption. This is how we’re typically treated by men, and have been for decades. Understandably, many trans people reject empathy for them. We’re forced to endure expansive social assault every day, while they literally hide from it. Trans culture is defined by resilience, theirs is defined by fear and a pattern of sexual discretion that at best breeds mutual loneliness, and at worst violence.
“I was really concerned that having a specific attraction to trans femininity meant essentially disqualifying trans women from total womanhood,” Allie said. “An attitude I saw on the internet a lot was that anyone who was specifically attracted to transness or trans people was a chaser, and that chasers are gross and horrible and objectifying.”
Rather than outright, angry rejection, Allie told me that her failure to her partner was more quiet, spread over time. “This little internal conflict I was having was actually on a path to destroying my relationship,” she said.
This is the danger in stereotyping all trans amorous men as chasers. Many are just discovering their sexuality, or finally want to be honest about who they are. They may well be living with severe anxiety or depression due to their reasonable fear. So the outright rejection of all men expressly interested in trans women ultimately alienates whatever number of trans amorous men are capable of, or actively are trying to overcome that fear. The men in this article are not chasers. They’re an example of people who desire an authentic, fulfilling connection with trans women; rejecting them has only caused harm.
Allie finally realized the unfairness of her position. “Like a lot of imperfect people who want to improve the world, I am imbued with a sense of moral outrage that sometimes inadvertently motivates me to speak over the people I'd want to advocate for.” People like the trans woman that her partner is currently dating: “If she feels loved for who she is in every way, including for her transness, and doesn’t mind that my partner likes that about her—then how the fuck is it my business?”
Although well-meaning, Allie said she now realizes that her thinking was flawed and based in the idea that anyone who loves trans women is abnormal—an idea nearly as harmful as thinking that trans women themselves are abnormal.
“They're two sides of a coin,” Allie said, “the total value of which is that transfeminine people have desire for them negated completely.”
Whatever the motivation behind the rejection, it’s clear that the shaming can have deeply harmful, lasting, and violent effects—for both men, and for trans women.
For Lucas, a 40-year-old man from Brazil, the consequence has been a lifetime of depression. He’s been attracted to, and dated, trans women since he was a teenager, but, neither friends nor family knew or know about it, he said. In 2011, he began experiencing depression, which he attributes to “a long time hiding and not having anyone to speak about my attraction and involvement with trans women.” At that point, though, it was manageable.
Then, in 2013, Lucas fell in love with a trans woman named Natasha. “At the time we met, she was in prostitution, and I was a client,” he said. “We became friends and went to the movies, bars—just regular things every couple does.” It was the happiest time of his life.
After a year of dating Natasha, Lucas was tired of hiding, and felt it necessary to finally share this increasingly important part of his life with another woman he loved: his sister. Like Owen with his girlfriend, Lucas optimistically hoped that his sister would accept him. Instead, she went into a rage. She said she couldn’t understand why he was “doing this to her and to the family,” he recalled. She threatened him, promising that his “life would be ruined” and that his whole family would turn their backs on him if he didn’t end his relationship with Natasha. He believed her. “I thought I was the worst person in the world because of what my sister said.”
Horrified at the thought that his sister’s promise of ruin would come to pass, Lucas set fire to his life. In the days and weeks that followed, he slowly removed himself from Natasha’s life. But Natasha, he says, was obviously the one, and pushing her away tore him apart. He began thinking about suicide, and has continued contemplating it ever since. “I could not carry on,” he said. “[My sister’s] words marked me for life.” His sister never mentioned it again. “I regret the day I spoke to her about it.”
Today, Lucas has a son, and fears that openly dating a trans woman would negatively impact his son’s life. He says he’s shared his attraction to trans women three times in his life and has received a negative reaction every time. “So it just feels like you are alone, and will have to deal with it yourself for the rest of your life.”
Lucas used to be a relatively healthy, happy, handsome man in love. While his sister has spent six years forgetting what she said, he has struggled with the desire to end his life. “I take medicine to get out of bed, and to go to sleep,” he said. “I really wish the world was different. I feel like I am an actor living a soap opera in which I hate my character, and what he represents.”