Taking Some of the Heat: the Obligations of Defenders

As a bisexual woman, I make an explicit effort to avoid dating straight, cisgender men. It started as kind of a lark, when I “gave up” straight people for Lent in 2016. I’d just ended a torturous on-again-off-again-what-is-wrong-with-this-man thing and decided “nope, no more straight dudes for a while.” About a month into that, I met and formed a relationship with a cool non-binary, pansexual person who presented as male. Dating someone who understood and experienced queerness altered my view of relationships, even though that particular relationship didn’t work out (we’re still friends though, which is another point altogether about people being able to remain friends post-break up!).

Since then, I’ve dated people from a lot of different genders, some aligning with their assigned gender at birth, some not. Mostly I’ve been dating women, which has been a nice change from worrying that a straight, cis dude is going to turn out to be anti-feminist/creepy entitled dude. It’s easy for me to be understood when someone I’m dating knows a lot of the same things about gender and oppression that I do—we connect easier, and understand what being queer means in this world.

And, increasingly, I’ve become fairly boggled by straight people dating. As I watch from the outside, I see a lot of questions and challenges and false ideas floating around about rigid gender binaries and what attraction is and means. Most recently, straight dudes on Twitter decided to proclaim that dating a transgender woman would, in fact, make them queer.

I’ve actually seen this a lot—the idea that as a cisgender, heterosexual person, dating someone who is trans is a ticket into the queer world, that dating someone with a “non-traditional” gender somehow make you, a straight, cisgender person, queer.

This, however, is pretty wrong-headed, as it fails to actually validate the transgender person’s gender identity while supposedly caring about them. If being willing to date a transgender person makes you queer, then what you’re saying is that attraction to transgender people is something outside of attraction to the opposite gender, outside of the bounds of heterosexuality. It means that this transgender man or woman is not in fact a man or woman, but is in fact some other, third gender that you have to have special capabilities to be attracted to (and therefore must be a little bit bisexual or gay).

What this really boils down to is that cisgender, heterosexual men believe it challenges their masculinity in some way to date a transgender woman. Their sense of themselves is built upon “having the penis,” and their masculinity is built from violent enforcement of that masculine standard. Just as men who learn their best friend is gay and immediately freak out, men who are repulsed by the idea of dating a transgender woman are engaging in a toxic, violent form of masculinity that demands heterosexuality. This demand for heterosexuality to prove masculine cred bleeds into all aspects of gender discussion, particularly discussion of violence against the transgender community.

Toxic masculinity, in short, creates panic over heterosexuality, and a man, angry at himself for being attracted to something he deems outside the norm of heterosexuality, will often lash out violently and caustically. Therefore, a man who wants to do good in the world would do well to examine his own conceptions of his masculinity and why he would feel challenged or angered by finding out his date is transgender.

Which leads me to what really prompted this blog post: I said basically the above on Twitter on Monday night after driving home from South Dakota. And I ended up spending my July 4th blocking hundreds of cisgender heterosexual men on twitter who decided to respond to my assertions in … deeply disturbing and violent ways. Over the course of the last 48 hours, I have been instructed to get electro-shock conversion therapy, to be correctively raped so I can “pick a side,” and called all sorts of names (my favorite of which was “vacuous wench”). One troll—based in the UK—took advantage of the time difference to go all the way back to June 11th in my tweet stream, responding to nearly everything in harsh, violent ways, before I blocked and reported him.

When toxic masculinity is challenged in any way, it lashes out violently, as my twitter mentions demonstrate. Interestingly, I also got a handful of cisgender lesbians screaming at me as well, claiming that transgender women are not women. These ladies, known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs, were engaged in the very same rhetoric as sexist men upholding their position of power and oppression of women. Their desire to hate and attack transgender women upholds the very patriarchal forces they claim to despise, leading them to attack a fellow queer woman simply for suggesting that cisgender, straight people need to think more deeply about gender and sexual attraction.

What I’ve experienced is a tiny portion of what my transgender friends experience on a near daily basis. It is a real world example of how much work straight, cisgender people have to do in order to make the world a better place. This type of thing is not on trans people to stop. It is up to you, those who call yourselves allies, to stand up and say it’s not okay. I’m willing to take some of the heat if it means it’s directed away from a trans person. Are you willing to be an ally in the same way? Or are you just going to be quiet when your friend repeats misconceptions and harmful ideas?

Dianna Anderson