A recent Feministing post on transgender people having sex with cisgender people attracted many negative comments focusing on the "dishonesty" of transgender people.
First of I’d like to say that I completely agree that it is dishonest for a transgender person and a cisgender person to have sex, full-stop. We live in a world where notions of sexual orientation and gender are defined from a cisgender persective. Since transgender people don’t fit neatly into these cisgender definitions, we are always going to be viewed as dishonest from a cis-only perspective.
The whole notion of gender is commonly defined in terms of "biological sex". Interestingly very few people seem to see any need to decide what "biological sex" actually is, given that it has about a million different scientific meanings. Transgender people don’t fit into these ideas of gender, so we are dishonest always. I can’t say I am female without being accused of lying about what my assigned biological sex. And I can’t say I’m male, because that isn’t my gender identity nor is how I’m usually perceived, so that of cause would make me dishonest as well. And I certainly couldn’t say my gender identity is anything other than female or male, because those options don’t even exist in a lot of people’s eyes. So yes I am completely dishonest, because I can’t even give an honest (cisgender) answer to what my gender is.
Thankfully comments along the above lines have become rarer at Feministing, and transgender people are less often accused of being dishonest about their gender.
But now with this recent post, there was a lot of people making comments based on similar thinking. That transgender people should reveal their transgender status, because it’s something a partner needs to know. Yet the reason usually given is that its relevant to the sexual orientation of the cisgender person.
But this argument has the same problems as that of defining a transgender person’s gender. We have these artificial labels that people apply to themselves – heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or assexual. And this is what defines us, but when it comes to transgender people and cisgender people having sex, these labels become ambiguous and we no longer have an "honest" labelling system – which is of cause blamed on the transgender person who caused this anomaly.
It is this system of labelling sexual orientations that is the problem. The reality is that a human being is sexually attracted to some other human beings. But we then feel the need to categorise people into heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or assexual. But given that these categories are based on the gender of the person you are attracted to, this can not possibly be meaningful when the gender of a person isn’t straight-forward.
The reality is that you can be attracted to somebody, without even knowing what their gender (however you as an individual define it) or even being mistaken about the gender. This situation clearly makes a mockery of the system we use. Though I have no doubt that many people would just blame the person they are "mistakenly" attracted to for being dishonest about their gender.
And the other obvious anamoly which seemed to be completely ignored in most comments – that if a cisgender person is sexually attracted to a transgender person, then the attraction exists. The cisgender person can’t then say that they aren’t attracted to trans people, that’s just a plain contradiction. What of cause can be said is that the cisgender person chooses not to have sex with transgender people, which is of cause a valid preference – just as racism classism, biphobia, and ableism are also valid reasons for choosing sexual partners.
Now I realise that the above "systems" of defining gender and sexual orientation are very widely used in society. But I am disturbed that on a Feminist blog, people are defending the use of these cisgender-only systems – systems whose consequence is to oppress transgender people.
To call a stealth transgender person dishonest (or worse) for having sex with a cisgender person is a defense of this transphobic system. If people want to choose to only sleep with cisgender (or white/able/middle-class/non-bigots/liberal/conservative/etc) partners, then people should take care that their sexual partners satisfy their particular prejudices.
Even if a majority of people are transphobic (or racist/ableist/classist/etc) then that doesn’t justify obligating transgender people to partake in that oppression. Surely the real issue is tackling that transphobic culture, pointing out the absurdity of society’s ideas of gender and sexual orientation, rather than accusing transgender people of dishonesty or sexual assault because we don’t fit society’s norms and expectations.
And to be clear, I acknowledge that it is possible to construct hypothetical situations that would be dishonest and/or sexual assault committed by a transgender person (just as the case for a cisgender person). I am talking about the general idea of a cisgender and transgender person having sex.
And in this post I am not making any comment on the argument that being open about big things is important/necessary in a relationship – that is a seperate issue to this