What It’s Like Hooking Up in Cis Gay Spaces as a Queer Trans Guy
From dating apps to sex clubs, queer trans masculine people are fighting for visibility in the places traditionally associated with cis gay men.
(Illustration: Nadia Akingbule)
This month, the UK has a historic opportunity to improve trans rights. The government is currently consulting the public on whether it should make it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised through the Gender Recognition Act.
While many trans guys and transmasculine non-binary folk identify as queer for much of their pre-transition lives, it’s not uncommon for those new to taking testosterone to experience a significant shift in their sexual attraction towards cis men. For guys who’d previously been exclusively attracted to women and moved in mostly lesbian circles, this can be pretty unexpected terrain.
“I just thought I wanted to be like [cis men],” says Dan, a trans guy in his forties from south London. “I’d never even entertained the idea that I wanted to be with them until I’d started to [medically] transition. Now, whenever I get a form and it asks if I’m straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans, I just put ‘yes’ and tick all the boxes. I’ve done pretty much all of them at some stage, but I just didn’t expect to be a gay man.”
Early findings from my own research into trans men’s experiences of using gay hook-up platforms suggests a number of ways that virtual connections can bolster our online and offline self-concept. For some, using gay dating apps increases a sense of self-efficacy by optimising the control they have over the disclosure of their trans status. For others, being respected and desired as men in predominantly male spaces is a validating boost to self-esteem.
However, queer trans guys can still find themselves as an unexpected addition to historically cis gay networks. Unlike in the US and Canada, where transmasculine people seem to have integrated slightly more seamlessly into the gay bathhouse and sex club scenes, most (although not all) British sex-on-premises venues that openly cater to trans people tend to be for trans women. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that trans guys aren’t getting down in gay saunas or fetish clubs.)
As Dan explains, when the thirst hits, “sometimes you can’t be arsed with telling people. I’d just rather get laid, hassle-free.” In these cases, trans guys like Dan often make the most of the environment at hand, opting for cheeky exchanges through glory holes, in dark rooms or with alfresco fumbles at London cruising spots like Clapham Common and Hampstead Heath.
The tide has been turning in recent years though. “Sometimes, I’ll walk around the sauna without a towel these days,” Dan says. “Just like anyone else, I’ll get some guys who are up for it, and some who aren’t. It just feels a lot more accepting than it used to be.”
Trans visibility has increased significantly in gay virtual networks, too. However, this is not always in the most informed of ways. “I get a lot of guys on apps who tell me they’re really into trans people, which is a red flag for me anyway,” says Dan. “But then you dig a bit deeper and you find out they think you’re wearing stockings and suspenders.”
Although these misconceptions can be frustrating, being an openly trans man on gay dating sites has taken Dan on some interesting journeys. “I get a lot of guys telling me about their own gender because my profile says that I’m trans, so they think I must be open-minded.”
“It wasn’t sexual,” he continues, “but I made friends with this young guy who used to go on fishing trips with his mates and he’d put panties and tights on in his tent when everyone else had gone to bed. I got a call from him one night, ’cos he’d forgotten to take anything with him. So, there’s me, standing in the Tesco aisle, buying him some ladies knickers, and then delivering them to this fishing lake in a pizza box at two in the morning. The best part? He paid me 40 quid for it.”
While often entertaining, using gay hook-up apps as a trans man can require a lot of energy – and an awareness of the risks. Hidden in plain sight, in an array of overwhelmingly white six-pack abs, is the “chaser,” a serial pursuer of trans bodies. In other words, the “red flag” Dan mentioned earlier.
Chasers of trans masc folks tend to be interested in one thing, and one thing only: the bonus hole. Very rarely, if ever, does that interest extended to the person attached to it. This becomes clear when chasers ghost guys who disclose they’ve had lower surgery.
Although the majority of trans guys won’t undertake genital surgery for various reasons, how we might want to describe and use our “original plumbing” during a meet varies. Guys like Dan enjoy putting it to good use, while others find it can make them feel pretty dysphoric. Regardless, there are ways of exploring this without asking, “Have you still got a fanny?” before you’ve even said hello.
Admittedly, it can be reassuring to find gay guys who aren’t vagina-phobic, or obsessed with a concept of “real men” that hinges on the presence of a penis from birth. There’s also a really a hot middle-ground for cis/trans encounters that don’t cast trans men as a fetish. It’s a space in which both cis and trans guys can be top, bottom or vers, and where a huge range of sexual possibilities can open up for all involved.
Last month, Grindr launched a new campaign to stamp out the racist, ableist and transphobic toxicity that the gay community has been channelling through the platform since its initial launch. While the app is the same, the community rules have changed.
The move has been met with its fair share of scepticism. It might be a long time before we see the back of “you’re too hot to be trans,” “omg, I can’t believe you’re really a woman” or “could we do it in the dark?” But as trans masc visibility in gay and bi spaces increases, so too does our sexual agency.
For more information on navigating the gay scene as a gay, bi or queer trans man, check out cliniQ’s handbook of sexual health and wellbeing, Cruising: A trans guy’s guide to the gay sex scene.