Just a decade ago, we seldom heard a word about being transgender, and dating transgender women and men was a kind of love that dared not speak its name.
The invisibility of trans people was everywhere—many had no idea that they existed, and few knew anything about what it meant to identify as transgender. There were occasional books about people who had transsexual surgeries, or medical articles, but generally speaking, the subject was rare or taboo.
Unless you happened to know a transgender person personally, the only things you heard were whispers.
Being transsexual was considered either a medical disorder or delusion, or a perversion. Today we use the term transgender instead, referring to a person who is assumed at birth to be male or female, but later decides they are more comfortable identifying as the other gender, or as no gender.
In the past few years, there has been a major push against invisibility and the prejudice, violence, persecution, and misconceptions that went along with it. Equal rights for transgender people and recognition of their right to autonomously identify themselves and live as they see fit have become important touchstones in every aspect of life, from healthcare to military service to religious life to equality in the workplace.
Because of our past misunderstanding of transgender people and our medicalizing and pathologizing of their identity, people who were sexually attracted to trans people were also medicalized and pathologized. Not only were transgender bodies fetishized as abnormal or kinky, but attraction to trans people was considered abnormal and a kink or fetish.
This history was shameful to the human rights of transgender people. Since transgender people may have suffered disproportionately in terms of having family and community support, as well as discrimination in the workplace, many turned to sex work to survive. This perpetuated a stereotype that transgender people were a “specialty” or fetish. People who were attracted to them, either uniquely (only or especially attracted to transgender people) or occasionally (people attracted to cisgender and transgender people) were considered kinky or worse, as perverts.
A long tension arose between transgender women and the guys who loved to date and have sex with transgender women. Interested guys were seen as “tranny chasers” and men who used transgender porn were viewed as objectifying trans women or fetishizing them.
This was born in part because of the “she-male” fetish, a porn category created essentially out of the invisibility of transgender sexuality. “Chicks with dicks” or “she-he” porn fetishized the hermaphrodite body, specifically transgender women in physical transition who still had penises. This kind of porn did not accurately reflect trans women’s sexuality or even their bodies, but was created as a kind of fetish because it was considered “freaky” or “exotic.”
Made worse was the reluctance of men who consumed transsexual porn to date, love, or marry a transgender woman. Society’s disdain for both sides meant furtive secrecy, with guys willing to watch porn or meet with a sex worker but ashamed to take trans women home to meet Mom and Dad.
In fact, men who were sexually attracted to transgender women preferred to call themselves transgender admirers. This was more affirming of both the object of their affection, and their own desires. Many were more than willing to date, love, or marry transgender women, but social pressures made it difficult or impossible.
Others did not see themselves as being in a special category at all. They were simply attracted to women, including transgender women. They were personally open to dating and bringing dates to the family picnic or office party, regardless of whether their beloved was trans or cis. Society called them kinky but they did not view their attraction to women as a kink at all. Many men were open to a relationship or sexual affair with a woman who happened to be transgender, even if they did not specifically seek them out in porn or dating.
As transgender visibility and human rights continue to advance forward, transgender attraction is more and more visible too. More people are aware that there are transgender men and women and aware that we all have acquaintances, relatives, and friends who are trans. More people have dated transgender people or met them at events or in day-to-day life.
In other words, the natural progression of civil rights is slowly turning in the right direction, and transgender people are being recognized as human beings. When society unfortunately viewed transgender people as abnormal, dating or being trans attracted was also viewed as a kink. It was something that was kept on the down low. Guys who were turned on specifically by transgender women were dismissed as fetishists, so they kept their desire secret. This perpetuated the hostility, fetishization, and misinformation.
In much of the world, transgender people are still misunderstood and their admirers are still considered abnormal. We haven’t quite moved past this here, either, but thankfully we are moving forward to equality.
It is not much different than the slow progress made towards equality for women, equality for Black people, equality for gay people. When you think about it, it is only in the past century that there has been major change from age-old attitudes.
Not long ago, it was considered disordered if you loved someone outside of your skin tone. It was a crime to date or marry a Black person if you were white, and it was given an ugly name: miscegenation. People attracted to the same sex were considered “sick” and chemically castrated as punishment, and are still to this day capitally punished in many parts of the world.
I am personally looking forward to the day that transgender people and transgender admirers are just people. It’s coming.