This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Cis men who love trans women are all around us. They’re our coworkers, our friends, our family members. And yet they’re rarely represented in the public view. The secrecy they keep has only led to misunderstanding, and in the worst cases, violence, as cis men often fear their masculinity is at stake. We’re breaking the silence and telling their stories.
Today we’re talking to a member of the U.S. Army from New York. He asked VICE to withhold his last name in the interest of protecting his privacy.
I'm a 27-year-old Asian American, and a member of the United States Army. It's my job to establish reliable internet services for my superiors when we're out in the field so that they can communicate further up the chain of command. When people first meet me, they usually notice that I'm quiet. There are two men in my life that I can truly call friends, and the closest thing to a romantic relationship right now is me seeing a trans sex worker. Nobody knows about that.
I’ve always identified as straight, but now I'm not so sure, and I don’t know if I really care. I grew up in New York City. In some ways, I had a typical Chinese American upbringing, in others, it wasn't. My parents didn't force me to become a doctor or a lawyer, they just wanted my sister and I to be happy. I’m trying my hardest to do that.
I’m a bit of an introvert, and I’m very creative. I’d rather have a small game of Warhammer 40K or play old SNES games with my friends than go out to clubs. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading, and I have a BA in English literature. I love music, like Iron Maiden, Slayer, Swans, and Joy Division. I can’t wait to leave the Army.
My earliest memory of trans women is when I was in the fifth grade and someone showed me a photo of transgender porn. I guess he was trying to gross me out. I got aroused instead. When you're like 10, you don't want to be seen as gay or effeminate, so from a young age I put that attraction, and the accompanying feelings of anxiety, fear, and shame in the deepest corners of my mind. I’m trying to work through them, but I've struggled because I was afraid of someone finding out and painting me as a lesser man. I’ve already been seen that way, given my bookish and non-athletic nature.
As I've grown to accept myself as a man, I'm also starting to accept my sexuality too. Ultimately, I had to stop running from the truth about my attraction to trans women and accept it as part of who I am. This has required a lot of introspection over the years; it's not some kind of thing that happens overnight. Being in the Army has, at times, helped force me into positions to confront it. For instance, whenever I was placed into an uncomfortable situation or out of sheer boredom without anything to distract me, like all those sleepless nights in a cold truck, stranded in the swamps of Louisiana. Out there in the dark, I was forced to confront my own thoughts and fears. It was painful, but so is writing these words. It's painful to go through it, but I always feel like a better man when I'm on the other side.
In real life, I don’t know any other men who share this attraction to trans women. I still feel alone in this experience. To be honest, I don't even know if I want to meet other men in real life who are like this because it's just such a personal issue. But in online communities, I see a lot more men opening up to their attraction to trans women. That has been kind of life-affirming in its own way, to know I’m not really alone.
There has to be a few men in the Army who have these secret desires. They'll probably project it in the form of jokes or just outright transphobia. I think what's keeping service members from being open with our feelings is the masculine and conservative environment we work within, especially in an infantry battalion where everyone is super “hooah.” Service members are already seen as weak if they want to seek mental health resources from the behavioral health clinic. Hopefully that gives you an idea about how stupid this place can get.
Most men seem to treat this desire like it's a fetish, and they objectify trans women as sexual objects. I wouldn't mind being in a relationship with a trans woman, but I value things like integrity and honesty over whether or not she's trans in a relationship. If my colleagues, friends, or family knew I were dating a trans girl, I think the worst is that I'd be ridiculed for loving a trans woman, but I wouldn't be willing to ditch anyone who makes me happy just because a few people disapprove of my partner. That would be pretty fucked up. The way I see it today, as long as I'm still protecting and providing for my trans partner, who cares if being in a relationship with her makes me a “lesser man" to other people?
Part of the anxiety men have around this desire has to do with our gender. When you like trans women, there’s a perception that you're somehow a lesser man, because that makes you gay and being gay is sadly still seen as a form of weakness. And I think about religion in the U.S., and how deeply it informs our beliefs. People probably believe that they'll get zapped by God if they have feelings for a trans woman, just because the Bible said so.
[If you're a cisgender man who is attracted to trans women and want to share your story, contact email@example.com (you can keep your story anonymous).]
If I had seen other men being openly attracted to trans women when I was a teenager, I bet it would've probably helped me. I could have looked to them as references whenever I had conflicting thoughts about my sexuality. For example, if in some imaginary reality, Lemmy from Motorhead had said that dating trans chicks was cool, then that would've probably lessened the burden because who wouldn't want to be cool like Lemmy? It probably wouldn't help me now to see someone like that out in the open, because I'm comfortable with myself today, but it might help someone in their teens who is in the same boat that I was in.
I do feel isolated because of my sexuality, but I've always been kind of a loner, so I'm used to it. I'd rather live in a cabin away from civilization than be like some kind of Patrick Bateman-esque yuppie always trying to fit in. I don’t think I fit in. A majority of the comments that I hear about guys like me are negative. It's usually dumb shit like, ‘They're not real women, why should I accept them as such?’
We need to change our social idea about what it means to be a man, or even the idea of heterosexuality. It would help men who like trans women to struggle less with this part of themselves. I wish we could dismantle this idea that everything with gender and sexuality is binary, rather than on a continuum. When these hard-coded ideas are dismantled, it becomes easier to express ourselves. That’s something men already have a hard time doing, to our own detriment.
Deciding to write this wasn’t easy. At first, I didn’t know if I should; looking at myself this closely fills me with fear, but I’m tired of living in fear. Fear is a terrible leader. When I think about it, I've never really had real life consequences from hiding these feelings. It's like being in Plato's cave. I was more terrified of the shadows, in this case the self inflicted perceptions of being ostracized from my community. But once I stepped outside of the cave and my eyes adjusted to the dizzying sunlight of reality, nothing really happened.