Another day dawns in England, and with it another predictably unpleasant article about trans women from the BBC. Today’s strange addition is this peculiar piece of journalism.
Yeah, I don’t even know what to say about this one.
I mean, where do I start? Do I have to start at the very beginning? Based on what I just read I suppose I have to.
So let’s start at the beginning, with some simple but important truths. Every person has the right to bodily autonomy. Sexual assault of any kind is a violation, no matter who does it or who the victim is. Sexual predators exist in every demographic, as do survivors of sexual violence. These are facts that nobody disputes, not if they have even the smallest amount of intellectual and moral integrity.
Okay, that wasn’t too hard. Let’s add some facts about me. I’m a trans woman, I’m a rape survivor, I’m bisexual, and I’m exhausted. I am worn down from people like me being used as a debate topic and I am literally begging everyone to please just … slow down. Slow down a moment and think about what is happening here.
Because of who I am and what I’ve experienced, my own reaction to the BBC piece is fractured. I’m a rape survivor myself, and in my case the rapist was a woman. Not a trans woman. An otherwise ordinary, quite attractive middle class woman. A predator too, as it turns out, but she probably didn’t have to be very skilled to take advantage of me: I was young and and I was easy prey.
So, having had the experience of being abused by someone you wouldn’t normally expect to be a predator, I read the BBC piece and I think … “You know what? I’m entirely sure that the pattern of abuse described in the article really does happen”. There are trans women out there who are sexual predators. Some of them probably seem like nice people too. My rapist certainly seemed quite lovely at the time. So yeah, the mere fact that I share demographic characteristics with some abusers doesn’t change the fact that they are abusers and their victims deserve the same sympathy I wish I’d received when it happened to me.
But I’m also a middle aged bisexual and so I find myself thinking that over the years I’ve had many people attempt to coerce me into sex I didn’t want. The people I’ve experienced that pressure from have come from vastly different demographics. That pressure has come from cis women, from trans women, from trans men, and oh my god from so many cis men. I’ve felt pressured in sexual contexts before I transitioned, and I’ve felt pressured after I transitioned too. So I am certain it will happen again, and when it does it will be just as uncomfortable as it has been every time in the past.
All of this diversity among predators makes me wonder: if sexual predators come in every demographic, and if coercion comes from any direction, how many articles does the BBC publish each year about each group? Are there a lot of articles about women who rape men? I guarantee you that it’s a real phenomenon – it happened to me back when I lived as a man – and the survivors of that kind of abuse suffer no less than other survivors.
So perhaps we really should be having this discussion about basics, since apparently there are a lot of people who don’t seem to be aware of the facts. Some lesbians are abusers. Some gay men are sexual predators. Some straight women are too. Trying to guess who is an abuser and who is a victim of abuse isn’t actually very easy, and certainly not something you can do just by looking at a picture.
The BBC article, perhaps accidentally, gives a good example of this. It didn’t take very long for people on Twitter to notice that one of the cisgender lesbians, described in the article as a victim of attempted coercion by a trans woman, is in fact the confessed perpetrator of multiple sexual assaults: a woman who preyed upon other cis women. Including, ironically enough, within womens bathrooms. Here’s her apology for her behaviour, by the way.
So now what?
Upon discovering this plot twist, I feel tempted to make a big deal out of the obvious hypocrisy of the BBC piece. It’s a pretty glaring reversal of victim and offender, really, and it’s not at all okay that the journalist here has given the cis woman a pass on her sexually predatory past in order to write a piece decrying sexual coercion by trans women. At a minimum it’s hard to believe the author of the article is writing in good faith.
But. Here’s the thing.
While the author of the article seems to be operating in extreme bad faith, I meant what I said about sexual predators existing in every demographic, and I meant it when I said that I believe some trans women do attempt to pressure cis women into sex. It’s not okay to turn a blind eye to sexual coercion of any kind and I won’t do that.
It’s a point I feel very strongly about. No-one has an entitlement to sex. If nobody wants to have sex with you then too bad. That’s a thing you have to live with. It’s bullshit when self-described “incels” complain about how women won’t have sex with them, and it’s bullshit when anyone else does it too. Anyone and everyone has the right to decline sex, for whatever reason they feel like.
Absolutely any reason.
That means that yes, if someone decides they aren’t interested in me because I’m a trans woman, that’s entirely okay. One of my favourite dating stories is the time I accidentally discovered that swiping up on Tinder is a “super like” that pops you onto the top of someone’s list and informs them that you like them. And look, he was attractive and seemed like a nice guy but that’s not what I was intending to do. He saw my picture, liked me too on the basis of seeing what I look like, and only then did he read the profile where I made clear that I’m trans. Here’s what happened next…
Him: oh I swiped without reading the profile. I’m not into trans women sorry
Me: no worries!
…and then we both went on with our lives. I presume he has gone on to live happily ever after.
This kind of thing happens all the time. There are people who are attracted to me specifically because I’m a trans woman, there are people who are unattracted to me because I’m a trans woman. It’s fine. It’s normal. It’s such a boringly commonplace and bland fact that I don’t know why I feel compelled to say it out loud. Having sexual preferences based on someone’s body doesn’t strike me as discriminatory in the slightest. If you don’t want to have sex with a trans woman, I have some very good news for you: you don’t have to. You really don’t, and that’s completely okay. Bodily autonomy is an absolute right. Anyone who suggests otherwise can fuck right the fuck off.
So if it’s not transphobic to be unattracted to trans women, what’s the big deal? Why are there people talking about transphobia in this context? I suppose I can’t speak for anyone else, but let’s go back to my Tinder story. Suppose that, upon discovering that I’m trans, the guy had responded by saying “oh fuck off tr***y I don’t fuck dudes.” That would absolutely have been transphobic. Not because he’s not attracted to me (which, again, is totally fine), but because he’s treated me as an object of disgust and contempt on the basis of the fact that I’m trans. If you treat trans women with derision and mock us for what we are, then yes, of course you are being transphobic. You’re being transphobic even if you do it in a dating context. It would be transphobic if a lesbian did that to me, and it would be transphobic if a straight man did it to me.
Having a sexual orientation that means you’re not attracted to trans women is not transphobic: not even a little bit. Treating trans women as objects of disgust, however? That is transphobic. Deliberately pretending that you can’t tell the difference between the two so that you can write a poorly-researched news article that portrays trans women as sexually coercive predators? I hate to state the obvious yet again, but yes that is transphobia also.