“All too often, I get people writing to me saying that they’re ‘into FTMs’ or ‘attracted to FTMs,’ which really always just baffles me (I do not feel any automatic sense of community on the basis of being trans with any other trans guy I meet), especially when it comes from people who also describe themselves as lesbians.
“I’ve tried engaging in a conversation about it with two people now, trying to question/challenge their preconceptions of FTMs (whether it be based in physicality or personality, there’s nothing I’d bet money on as a constant for all FTMs as a group). The first never replied, and the second tried to defend themselves by arguing ways they ‘can always tell apart an FTM from a bio male,’ at which point I gave up on the conversation.
“What is your take on this kind of sexual attraction label? And how would you reply, or not reply, to these kinds of messages?”
While I have never been particularly offended by people who are specifically attracted to trans men (or to trans women, but that’s a grayer area, because I’m not a trans woman), I also acknowledge that there’s a fine line between attraction and fetish. And I do have a problem with a situation where people are basically interchangeable – any trans man (or trans woman) will do.
So when someone says, “I’m into FTMs” or “I’m attracted to FTMs,” for me – on the surface – it’s similar to saying, “I’m attracted to blondes” or “I’m into brainy people (or geeks or bodybuilders or whatever).” There’s something about a certain “type” that a person is attracted to.
The person who is attracted to blondes doesn’t necessarily hit it off with every blonde he or she meets, but it’s a starting point. The person who’s into brains doesn’t necessarily mesh with every smart person he or she meets, but it’s a starting point. And, for some people, I think there’s something about the idea of a “female” past or a “female” socialization that seems – in theory – attractive, particularly to women.
“Maybe this guy won’t be such a control freak,” they think, or “Maybe this guy won’t be such an asshole,” or “This guy knows what it’s like to be a female in this culture, so maybe he’ll be more understanding of my situation and my concerns.”
Now, we all know that this is not necessarily true. It can be, but it’s certainly not a given, and I have met many trans guys who reflect male stereotypes as much or more than non-trans guys. But, for some people looking for a partner, it’s a starting point. And then, when they meet the guy and find out that he’s not really what they are looking for, they move on.
I believe that there are some people who are sincere about this. Maybe their last boyfriend (or girlfriend) was trans, the relationship worked really well, and they are hoping for something similar. Maybe they have friends who are trans and they are looking for a partner who is similar, or they know someone else who is in a great relationship with a trans person, and they hope to create that for themselves after failed relationships with non-trans people. I don’t necessarily consider this wrong or bad.
The problem comes in with both the generalization about trans guys (that they are all going to be a certain way) and the assumption of interchangeability (that no other characteristics matter, as long as the guy is trans). To me, that crosses the line into fetish.
In addition, there is the “fad” aspect. Trans people are kind of hip and cool right now (hip and cool enough to get television ratings, but not hip and cool enough to have equal protections under the law). There are people who want to be with a trans person to show how liberal, open-minded, and edgy they are (Impress your friends! Piss off your parents!). I’m about as hip and cool as a poodle skirt and about as edgy as mainstream country music, so I’m not the one they’re looking for.
And then, of course, there’s the body – and this is where major problems arise. Trans women have been fetishized to death (and, unfortunately, that’s not a pun or a joke – it’s real). Their bodies are literally not their own sometimes because of the ways they have been sexualized and the fantasies that have been built around what they might or might not “have” under their clothes. And they have often paid dearly for these individual and cultural prejudices and obsessions.
For trans guys, the absence of a penis (or at least a “factory-installed” penis) can be particularly attractive to some people who are attracted to “masculinity” or a “masculine” appearance, but not to a traditional male body type. Some women don’t want to be penetrated during sexual activity, and others can take it or leave it. For some women, a penis has very negative associations, up to and including sexual assault. Some men who have only had sex with men want to “know what it’s like to have sex with a woman” without really doing so (I’m not making this up, because I have been propositioned in this way).
The problem with the “body thing” for trans guys is that there is this underlying insinuation that the trans guy is not really a man. In some cases, a trans guy who is approached by a lesbian feels that the woman does not really see him as a man – if she did, why would she be interested? This is different from an ongoing relationship where a partner transitions, although I have heard doubts from guys even in this type of situation.
With regard to personals sites, such as the one you describe, I think you’re right that assumptions about personality, physicality, or both probably figure into these preferences that are being expressed. For me, that wouldn’t necessarily be an automatic deal-breaker. But not replying to my question about it, or telling me that trans guys are easily discernible from non-trans guys, would be. If someone could articulately express why she (or he) was specifically looking for a trans guy, and the reasons made sense, then I would probably be okay with it – but there are lots of guys who wouldn’t.
Now, finally to the short answers to your questions: “What is your take on this kind of sexual attraction label? And how would you reply, or not reply, to these kinds of messages?”
In the past, some women who have been specifically attracted to trans men have labeled themselves transsensuals. I don’t know whether or not that label is still in existence. Lesbians who are specifically looking for trans men would have to choose their own label (if it was not “lesbian”). Our labels for sexual attraction are limited, which is why I don’t like them.
I also think that a lesbian can be a lesbian and be attracted to a trans man (and I definitely think that a lesbian can retain her lesbian identity if her partner transitions to male), but she and her partner need to work on expectations with regard to how they see themselves as a couple, how the world will see them, and how each can retain his or her own sexual identity and gender identity, as well as respecting the sexual and gender identity of the other.
As far as how I personally would reply to these messages on a dating site, I would probably ask the person why she (or he) is specifically looking for a trans guy (or why that person is “into” trans guys), and what it was about me in particular that caused the person to message me.
But that is only if I was interested in the person who messaged me. If I wasn’t, I would follow the site etiquette, which might be to ignore the message or send back a polite “no, thank you.”
I think each person has to decide for him- or herself whether or not “into FTMs” or “into MTFs” is acceptable or a deal-breaker. And while I have written a little bit about this before, I was never a lesbian, so I can’t second-guess why a lesbian would be into trans men in general. Perhaps some lesbians and some trans guys involved in relationships with lesbians can shed more light on the subject.
Readers – thoughts?