I have seen some comments on various social media of late pertaining to dating and romantic relationships involving the transgender person. It seems to me that there are certain members of our community who seem to think that the transgender person has an (almost) inalienable right to a romantic relationship and that regardless of where they are on the spectrum or indeed where they are in the process of transitioning (assuming that they are transitioning), that they deserve to find a date. This gets rather political when a male to female transgender person wants to date a cis-gender woman who identifies as a lesbian, but who refuses to do so, sometimes citing the presence of a penis as a problem for them, or perhaps more problematically believes that the transgender woman is in some way ‘not a woman’ or lacks the shared experiences that are important to her in a romantic partner.
It is usually at this point that insults start flying. One side or the other hauls out the insults and allegations of prejudice, bigotry and sexism fly from both sides. With the cis-gender woman being called a TERF (trans exclusionary feminist) and the transgender person being called a ‘man without a cock’ or some other derogatory term. As usual this entrenches positions, stops people seeking understanding and is generally unhelpful.
I do not wish to conflate all legitimate concerns in this regard with the politics of sex and dating. There are of course very real concerns in the world that both transgender people and feminists need to deal with. But for the purposes of this article I am confining myself to the politics of dating.
I don’t think we can demand that anyone dates anyone else. Your choice of romantic partner is perhaps the single most highly personal choice (some may argue the only truly personal choice) we get to make in life. It is thus a choice that makes us accountable only to ourselves and perhaps the person we are choosing (or not choosing) to be romantic with. In the case of rejecting a random guy in a bar, perhaps there is no duty of accountability, when breaking up with a long term lover or life partner you probably owe them some sort of an explanation. That said who we are or who we are not attracted to is really no body else’s concern. It is a highly individual and highly personal matter. It may also be extremely complex in nature and not easily defined or even fully understood by the individual themselves.
I do not think that being highly or only attracted to people of the opposite sex is sufficient cause to call or treat someone as a homo-phobe.
I do not think that being highly or only attracted to people of the same race or ethnicity is sufficient cause to call or treat someone as a racist.
I similarly do not think that not being highly or only attracted to people who are transgender is sufficient cause to call or treat someone as a trans-phobe.
People get to choose who they are intimate with. Their reasons are their reasons alone and even if they do in fact later (based on other behaviours) turn out to be homo or transphobic or indeed racist, their choice of romantic partner remains their choice no matter what the reason. We simply do not get to judge that.
What we do get to judge is what other manifestations of the phobia, discrimination or prejudice there may be and how these manifestations affect our real legal rights. Are we being denied access to services that other people have? Are we being passed over for jobs or promotions because of our gender/race/sexual orientation? Do we have access to appropriate healthcare? These are the real issues we need to consider. Who people choose to date is really not important.
What people may think of us is also ultimately not important. Sure we may identify as a woman. It is hurtful when someone says ‘you are trans, you don’t know what it means to be female, you don’t have a uterus.’ But are we likely to change that point of view? Our identity is really our identity. We cannot force others to share that self identity. All that we can do is say that we have heard them and that what they say does not fit in with our point of view. Arguing the point beyond this is seldom helpful and usually just pushes the argument into a downward spiral.
It is also dangerous for us to say that we understand what being a woman is about because we have experienced whatever problems we have experienced as transgender people. We may have some understanding of what it is to be a woman, but the fact is that our experiences are very different to those of a ‘genetic’ woman. The experience of being transgender may not be easy, we may have been bullied, perhaps assaulted and even excluded, but these experiences are not the same as a genetic woman’s experiences. They are the experiences of a transgender person. We cannot know what it is like to be socialised as a female person because we were not. Some of us may wish we had that experience, but most of us did not. We had other experiences. Claiming our hardships to be the same is just not true. They are different. Perhaps our lives were worse, perhaps better. It is really hard to say as we (usually) lack an objective point of reference. But the experience most certainly have been different. Just as the male to female transgender person’s life has been different to the cis-gender male’s life.
If a lesbian woman is repulsed by a penis, she is repulsed by a penis. It is not up to us to judge her for this. If she refuses to engage in romantic relationships with anyone with a penis, that is her call to make and we cannot judge her for this. If she closes her medical practice to people with (or who may have had) penises, that is an entirely different matter. If a male refuses to be romantic with someone with a penis that is again his personal choice. If he starts assaulting people with penises who he is attracted to, that is a very different matter indeed.
Fundamentally, it is not up to us to police other people’s consensual sexual behaviour. Who someone allows to do what with, with their genitals (or indeed any other body part) is really none of our business. It is the individual’s choice. People have the right to make the choices they make in this regard and we should not judge them. No man or woman has the right to have sex with any other man or woman. Yes we all want to find love and we have the right to pursue this life goal but we have no right to judge other people’s choices in this regard. No one has the right to be sexual with me, I may grant that privilege to the person I choose. Similarly I cannot demand that people should be open to sex with me based solely on my gender identity correlating in some way with their sexual orientation.