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 M., a 35-year-old financial and economic consultant. He requested anonymity to protect his identity in his small town and within his industry.
I’ve never told anyone else that I am attracted to transgender women. I’m afraid of what would happen if I did. I first realized that I was transamorous when I went to university and, for the first time, I was allowed to explore my own independence and sexuality organically. Until then, because of my fairly sheltered upbringing, I didn’t know trans women existed.
My first introduction to trans women was through porn. I was captivated and hooked then and there, but at the same time, I was anxious and confused. Having perceived my sexuality as being purely attracted to cis women, this was a curve ball I probably wasn’t expecting, and I didn’t possess the knowledge to evaluate it rationally. But also, I struggled with my attraction to trans women, in part, because I knew I was only receiving an objectified, stylized and somewhat fetishized version of a trans reality within porn. I don’t want my personal life to contribute to the inequity I am politically opposed to.
As a 35-year-old white, educated, employed, cis male, I know that my life has been aided by assigned traits, and not necessarily the strength of my values or intellect, and others are not afforded the privileges I’ve been freely granted. I like to think of myself as a compassionate person who thinks of others, but I am struggling to see how I can be that person when I’m not an open ally for the women that I admire. In that way, my affection for trans women holds a mirror to what I really am, and not who I imagine myself to be. It showcases the difference between how I ideally perceive myself and how my action, or inaction, contradict that.
When I realized that I like trans women, I was also fearful. I knew the values of my friends, family and society as a whole, and it was not the most accepting, not only of trans women, but the entire LGBTQ spectrum. Rather selfishly, I was filled with dread about how I would be perceived if people found out. But today I see that fear as selfish. Here I was, a voyeur gratifying myself, yet more concerned about the potential discrimination that would be leveled at me, and not really thinking about the stigmatized, discriminatory, lived experience that trans women contend with every day.
Ultimately, I dealt with those feelings through educating myself. I read up about the trans community and men like me. I learned the term transamorous. I wanted to know more, to equip myself with the knowledge to understand the community that I would eventually come to grow immense affection for, and am now navigating my place in.
[If you're a cisgender man who is attracted to trans women and want to share your story, contact firstname.lastname@example.org ( you can keep your story anonymous).]
In some respects, realizing that my sexuality included a desire for trans women was cathartic. I felt that this could at least partially explain why I felt I could never fit in with others; I have more acquaintances than friends and family I love but am not close with. At the time, it felt like evidence that I’m wired differently. But today, I am ashamed of thinking that way, because there is nothing wrong or abnormal in being transamorous or being trans.
This part of me has been challenging to accept in various ways. For instance, when I first realized I like trans women, I questioned whether I was gay and what this would mean for me, as I suspect most men who awaken this within themselves do. I was also fearful. I knew the values of my friends, family and society as a whole, none of whom are very accepting of LGBTQ people in general.
My first-ever sexual experience was with a trans woman. I have since had trans partners but I am currently single. Looking back however, the term ‘partner’ is a misnomer, as I can’t honestly say that we were true partners. I was getting far more out of the relationship than I was putting in, mainly by pushing for discretion, and denying their agency. Needless to say these “relationships” have tended to be more fleeting, owing to my need to maintain being closeted. So right now I’m not pursuing trans women.
I want to be a better man before I try to be a partner to a trans woman. There are times where I wistfully desire to have a fully fleshed out relationship with a trans woman, but those thoughts quickly feel unreal, like the sepia-tinged nostalgia you may have for an ex-lover. Fantasy makes it easy to gloss over the difficult truths of reality. In this case, fantasy can forget my own inability to break out of the cowardly thought processes that dictate how I view my sexuality, and my fear of consequences if I outed myself. in order to focus on the best case scenario and ignore exactly what it may take to make that scenario happen.
On a social level, I know my experience and that of other men like myself is shaped by outside influences. I don’t know any people in my life who are open about this, which is where the cultural issue is connected to the personal experience; I understand the inherent contradiction of being privately transamorous while bemoaning the lack of visible advocates.
When straight cis men find themselves attracted to trans women, that desire cuts across the stereotypical archetype of what a man is ‘supposed’ to be. For many men, I suspect they view their trans attraction as a fetish or fantasy, dip their toe in, get their fill, then leave before it becomes serious, or they actually have to face up to their actions and consequences. They have the privilege to come and go as they please under the veil of discretion. This privilege is not extended to trans women, who have to deal with public scrutiny 24/7. Sometimes I feel that I could potentially be the change I would like to see, but the fear of being stigmatized weighs heavily on me.
Men like myself need to back up their thoughts with actions. The more of us who become open, strong, allies to trans women the more society will approach a level of acceptance of the normalcy of trans sexual attraction. In saying that it’s somewhat of a chicken and the egg type situation: If a critical mass of ‘other’ men become more vocal and open about their feelings, the more embedded into our social mores it will become, and the more likely I will feel comfortable to join the ranks. But still, knowing this, and knowing that I could help catalyze this, I remain paralyzed to do anything about it.
I think if this were normalized, the ability to talk and express ourselves freely, without fear of prejudice would be life changing. But I expect this would pale in significance to the impact that such a change would have on trans women. On a personal level, the secrecy is eating away at my life. It is mentally debilitating to mask my true self. I feel like I constantly have to wear a mask, and maintain an absurd pretense. The toll on my mental health has been quite severe. I don’t have anyone to talk to.
I’m a principled person, but when it comes to trans women, I have chosen self-preservation over acceptance or love. Because of my inability to currently live openly, I have intentionally retreated from engaging in relationships with trans women. It is unfair to expect trans women to put up with my own unresolved issues. How can I be true to them if I can’t even be true to myself?
A relationship is a coming together of equals, and I can’t see how it can possibly be an equal relationship if one person keeps a significant part of themselves hidden, or is unable to come to terms with it and insists on keeping things on the down low or discreet. It must feel demoralizing for trans women to always feel like their potential partner could flee at the drop of the hat. As a cis-male I have the privilege and opportunity to come and go from the trans community as I see fit. Trans women don’t have that luxury, and guys ghosting or flaking would be a constant mental toll. We all have feelings, and we all have a right to love and be loved, but I feel that the current imbalances result in trans women invariably bearing the brunt of the negative impacts and consequences. I’m part of the problem, and right now, I’m too frightened to be part of the solution.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.