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 hearing from Andy Markham, a 55-year-old software project manager in California.
I spent my 20s living in Japan and studying Japanese culture and language. I was cycling between music and writing as my expressive outlet, with serious work and time put into making a career out of them. Eventually, music won the shootout, and I went back to the U.S. with a record deal and an assortment of happy delusions. I remember the exact moment I saw trans women as women I love.
I had finished recording my first album in LA, and a friend of mine who lived there offered to share his newly acquired mushroom stash with me to celebrate. I asked him to take me somewhere that was a part of LA’s cultural “alt” history—some glimpse of a native demimonde that I wouldn't know about as a newcomer. This turned out to be The Queen Mary, a now defunct but longtime drag venue in Studio City. The front room was the show, with the usual complement of bachelorette parties and tourists in the audience. But the back room was where I found a part of myself that I’ve never let go of.
[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).]
It was a bar and dance floor, designed to be a safe space for trans women and trans-attracted men. When I went out that night with my friend, I had absolutely no idea I was a member of that latter group. But there was a stunning Diana Ross impersonator named Candice there who enlightened me by sheer force of personality. [ Editor’s note: Drag and transgender nightlife cultures have historically overlapped, with lines often blurred between identities spanning the gender spectrum.]
Perhaps the mushrooms made me more open to that side of myself than I normally would have been. I’m not sure. I know I had some anxiety about what it all meant; straight men tend to overthink this natural desire for trans women, to the detriment of ourselves and our potential partners. Even though I struggled in my own way, I ultimately was able to accept it on its face, and even openly talked about what I'd experienced with my friends, and my brother. After that night, I made a point of calling Candice, and returning to the Queen Mary fairly regularly.
The next part of my story is fairly familiar to the stories of other men in my position that I’ve come across. After I was exposed to the world of gender bending, drag queens, and trans women at The Queen Mary, trans women became a kind of sexual playground for me. This was some 30 years ago, and trans culture was still pretty underground. The avenues of expression or socialization were pretty ghettoized as well. It was easy for me as a successful educated outsider to dip into that underbelly whenever I wanted, get what I came for, and leave without being accountable to the community I was connected to. So that’s what I did.
But after a while, I started to feel a bit queasy about how easy it was for a straight white dude like myself to just pop in and out of that world for my delectation. I don’t deserve any congratulations for that fairly obvious realization. Even though I felt uneasy about my role in our inequitable exchange, I didn’t feel queasy enough to stop altogether. Instead, I kept exploring, but I did try to change my approach.
I tried to learn more about trans women and their lives, to engage more actively with the women I met, and be more a part of things, rather than just a tourist. In practice, this meant I went out on some proper dates, and found myself as happy to have a conversation as a hook up. What I found was that trans women are incredibly textured people, often canny about the human condition, and full of possibility that they tragically had almost no chance of realizing in the cultural climate of the time.
As I studied trans history, I would come across stories like Dog Day Afternoon, or novels like The World According to Garp, in which trans love and acceptance are addressed, however imperfectly. But in the real world, it was mostly pathetic stories like Eddie Murphy's alleged associations with trans women. His denial (and the resentment implicit in it) was something you could see written on the faces of most men in clubs like The Queen Mary. No joy or gratitude in it, just grim obsession.
There just aren’t men like me visible in the world. I did have one good friend who shared his own trans attraction with me after I had copped to it myself. After some cajoling, I brought him to a notorious club in West Hollywood, Peanuts. The way he responded says a lot about how ill prepared men are to confront themselves. We got to the club, and he couldn’t walk across the length of the bar. He had to sit down on a stool, in a sweat. He never left that seat until we decided to go home. It was too overpowering for him, somehow.
My music career didn’t last forever. Today, I’m a 55-year-old, straight white guy who works in tech, as a software product manager for a small neuroscience startup. My work is rather solitary. I don't know if my attraction to the kind of things that require a lot of solitude is a result of being solitary by nature, or just coincidental to it. That solitude is a personal thing, but it's certainly reflected in my isolation from any other men who love trans women.
Trans-attraction is a cultural outlier unto itself. I think it’s necessary to distinguish the affection a man like myself has for trans women from the dreaded chaser designation. For those unaware, chaser is the popular terminology used by trans women to refer to men who objectify and sexualize trans women without accounting for their humanity. To me, a trans-attracted man probably starts as a chaser, then realizes that he has genuine, healthy affection for trans women, in addition to the heightened desire.
It would have been great to have established literature and resources; a “So, You're Attracted To Trans Women?:” brochure you could send away for. I’m sure I would have found that useful to quickening my personal experience of acceptance. Representation matters, no matter how you identify. Thankfully, I don't feel isolated at all. I am absurdly fortunate. Next to my daughter, it's probably the most important revelation of the last 20 years of my life.
It’s no wonder men like myself are so often so alone. The stigma against being into trans women is ubiquitous in American culture. It’s treated as a moral failure, a failure of gender, leaving men with a nagging sense that it's a perversion. There's an incredibly powerful, awful scene in 'A Fantastic Woman,' about a trans woman whose husband is killed. The widow, Maria, is living with a man who berates her, calls her a “chimera,” and says that her husband's interest in her was a kind of pathology. I had some of those same thoughts about myself initially, even though deep down I knew they were bullshit. If you are unable to process such things on your own, there aren't a whole lot of resources to help you see your way clear.
I have been dating a trans woman openly for four years. When it comes to family, friends, and colleagues, they all know.
I mainly had anxiety around sharing that attraction with cis women I was involved with. This anxiety grew exponentially when I got married, and had a kid. I wasn't active, but I did still consume trans pornography, which sent my wife at the time (whom I’ve since divorced) into a panic that receded ultimately, but I don't think ever really went away. That could all have been handled better today, I imagine, but that's in part because the stigma about it is so much less pronounced than it was back then. We all get sold a bill of goods about what's O.K., what's scary, what's transgressive, etc., and even those of us who tend to live outside the mainstream—and even actively avoid it—are still influenced by it.
It's self-evident that men like me almost never come to terms with who we are. If we did, you’d know that we exist. But we’re practically invisible in society, which is wild since there’s so many guys like me out there. I know; I’ve seen them. And we all know of the stories of celebrities who are caught secretly engaging with trans women. Thankfully, I haven’t had to live in secret forever. Part of that is due to my personality, it probably plays enough into my own tendency towards cultural defiance and iconoclasm that it's been easier to own it.
Now at 55, I have been dating a trans woman openly for four years. When it comes to family, friends, and colleagues, they all know. As people have learned about this part of who I am over time, I have wondered with some individuals whether they could handle it, but I also always remembered that if they did have an issue, that would be on them, not me. I have been so happily surprised; I remember telling my father, a good ol' boy in his 70s, about my current girlfriend, and he didn't blink.
The media landscape has accelerated the pace at which acceptance and inclusion are a part of the culture. And representation, such as with the mainstreaming of trans celebrities, slowly starts to expose the public to the people those women are dating as well, when those men are visible. The current trans role models we have are all quite beautiful, which in turn makes them more palatable to the skeptic.
But imagine if someone like Eddie Murphy would have just had enough inner resources to say he was trans-attracted 20 years ago. My girlfriend has about a half dozen trans friends who are partnered with white men, none of whom are open about it. This still astonishes me, and I count my blessings I'm not trapped in that particular prison.