I was glad to see Janet Mock writing about the shame that many men feel for being attracted to trans people. As she points out, this shame is based in fear, and the fear is real. She describes a torrent of negative comments directed at DJ Mister Cee in response to a revelation Wednesday that he had tried to have sex with a trans prostitute, and lists a number of other entertainers who have been publicly shamed for actions as simple as posing for a picture with a trans fan. I’ve got problems with the way that a number of people are trying to spin the incident with Mister Cee, including Mock, Bimbo Winehouse and Mister Cee himself, but that’s for another post.
Tonight I want to focus on Mock’s vision of trans acceptance. It’s an incomplete vision, but it has far-ranging implications, so it deserves to be explored. It begins with her moving story about disclosing her trans status to her boyfriend, and his decision to accept her, which you should definitely read if you haven’t already.
Mock goes on to say that her boyfriend Aaron is constantly challenged by others on his love for her:
Our relationship is marveled at largely because most people do not believe that a man like Aaron should have to “compromise” his heteronormative social standing by being with a trans woman or a woman who is not “real.”
It is rare for an openly trans woman – no matter how “passable” or attractive she is – to have a man who openly loves her, who has an unabashed desire to be seen with her, who proudly stands beside her — despite the stigma and other people’s curiosities and inappropriate questions. Those questions regarding Aaron’s sexuality are constant and fraught with assumptions that this essay can’t begin to unpack, and for a man less secure it can be difficult navigating these questions, especially if you also perceive the women you’re attracted to as shameful, as less-than-human objects you must keep secret at all costs.
She then articulates her vision:
It’s important that we begin truly accepting trans women as who they are, women. We are not objects to have secret sex with, to discard and to laugh at on the radio or the gossip blogosphere. We are worthy of being seen and are not dirty or shameful. Until we begin checking how we delegitimize the identities, bodies and existence of trans women and stigmatize the men who yearn to be with us, we will continue to marginalize our sisters, pushing them further into socially-sanctioned invisibility, left in the dark to fend for themselves with men who are don’t have the space to explore, define and embrace their attraction to various women.
As Mock acknowledges, her “passability” gave her some advantages in dating, but she wants other “trans women” to have the same advantages regardless of passability. When she says, “their attraction to various women,” she’s imagining a culture where transness is seen as just a possible trait that a woman can have, like green eyes or broad hips or freckles, and attraction to trans women is a simple matter of taste. I want to explore this vision and move a little past the scenario of her relationship with Aaron and the scenario of DJ Mister Cee and Bimbo Winehouse, to this scene of flirtation:
PAUL is hanging out with his friends, Steve and Dave. They’re laughing, chatting, catching up. All of a sudden PAUL stops for just a brief moment as he catches sight of a woman he’s never met. He slips away from his friends and goes to chat with her. After a few minutes he returns.
STEVE: So, did you get her number?
PAUL: Oh yeah, I got it. She’s cute, right?
STEVE: Eh. She’s got green eyes. I saw them as soon as she looked up.
PAUL: So? That’s a bonus! Green eyes are hot.
STEVE: They don’t do it for me. Not into green eyes.
DAVE: I’m not that into green eyes either, Steve, but did you see her smile? With a sweet smile like that her eyes could be purple for all I care.
STEVE: Whatever. She’s all yours, Paul! Maybe tonight I’ll find me a nice brown-eyed girl.
Replace “she’s got green eyes” with “she’s trans,” and you have Mock’s vision for men flirting with trans women. The men see trans women as just a kind of women that some guys like. Liking trans women doesn’t make the guys gay. There is no danger of humiliation, discrimination, or physical attack. There is nothing for them to fear.
The setup for the scene may be familiar to you, because it’s based on what happened right before Islan Nettles was murdered. This is another way the story could have turned out, if the culture had been different.
As I said, I have some problems with this vision. I’ll talk about them later. For now, I think it’s very positive that someone – Janet Mock – has articulated an alternative to murder, a vision of how things could be better. That’s important.