When discussing queerness in relation to loving or being attracted to transgender people, several realities must be acknowledged as to the lived realities of transgender people.
The first prominent point, and perhaps the most important for any discussion regarding transgender identities, is that transgender people as a group are composed of a wide variety of identities and physiologies. Even when the element of individual human variability is ignored, transition is not a straightforward shot towards an idealized, binary body. Instead, it should be the practice of an individual reclaiming ownership of their own body, modifying elements of that body in a way that they see fit to achieve personal satisfaction with their outward appearance. The existence of gatekeeping practices and the glorification of passing privilege by cisgender people contribute to an environment in which a discussion of the identity of queerness in regards to “people who are attracted to us and our bodies” cannot be fully explored. This environment itself is toxic to transgender people as a whole for rreasons extending beyond just this discussion as well, particularly when the influences of intersectionality and transmisogyny on transition are considered.
The second point is that, in regards to general public opinion, the perception of queer people is not based on nuance in that way that it is discussed within our community. It is instead limited by the scope of general public knowledge and perception. My relationship with my partner while existing in a public sphere is perceived by strangers to either by “queer” or “usual” based on both their perception of my gender identity and their gender identity, along with any indication of queer stereotypical behavior or appearance we may present. Whatever conclusion I draw here is only in relation to semantics – in regards to actual lived experiences, ‘the mileage may vary.’
The third point is that the existence of “tr*nny chasers” – those who are attracted to transgender people as a fetish – are not to be considered here as valid examples of individuals who are attracted to transgender people based on their gender identity. Chasers, like any other fetish based around a marginalized identity, based their fetish on a stereotypical and two-dimensional understanding of what a transgender person of any particular identity looks like. Considering the attraction of someone who reduces their partner to an object in relation to queerness in any way is to dehumanize the transgender individual that they believe they are attracted to; they are not attracted to a transgender person, but to a collection of parts that they choose to dehumanize.
Within my argument, I am engaging with Michael Hames-Garcia’s “What’s at Stake in ‘Gay’ Identities” as my framework for this piece. Although his piece does not address transgender people in particular, it addressed many points in regards to the origin of attraction and the inclusion of identity that I feel can also be applied in relation to the argument I am attempting to make in this context. Ultimately, I agree with Hames-Garcia in that homosexuality (within the context of this article expanded to queerness to include all elements of non-heterosexual/non-heteroromantic attraction – Hames-Garcia refers to “modern, Western homosexuality,” but as homosexuality is understood within the context of his piece it’s possible to include those who identify as other queer identities under the same umbrella) is “not simply the existence of homosexual desire or behavior” but an identity that exists in relation to other identities and oppressive forces.
Hames-Garcia makes the pertinent point that when viewed statistically, sexual behavior with someone of the same sex is more common than those who identify with the label of “homosexual.” There is in fact a well-known distinction between people who self-identify as queer and people who display sexual behavior that others may perceive as queer. This supports the argument that homosexuality in particular and queerness in general is an identity that one ascribes to rather than just a behavioral practice. With the advent of greater acceptance by Western culture, the number of people identifying as queer (both in regards to sexual and gender identity) has increased to challenge levels of self-reported same-sex activity, particularly among teenagers.
However, I would argue that there is a difference between self-identifying as a particular queer identity based on a knowledge of potential attraction and a sense of community (for example, a bisexual woman who is incidentally attracted to very few people who identify as men) and a person who identifies as queer based on their particular attraction to a transgender person. All queer identities include a sense of community that differs from practice, as established before. Therefore, it is possible to identify as straight, and feel as if one doesn’t belong in queer communities because of a lack of identification with these communities, while engaging in behavior that others may consider queer – such as being attracted to or in a relationship with a particular transgender person. A transgender person is not an individual’s pass into the queer community.
The practice of using the example of a transgender person here can be considered problematic. A valid criticism against this praxis is that if a transgender person’s identify isn’t considered – if it is possible for a transgender woman to date a gay-identified man, for example – then this invalidates the transgender person’s identity. It is commonly accepted as true that if a relationship with a transgender person who identifies as a particular gender does not automatically classify their cisgender partner as “queer” or “straight”, then we are invalidating the identify of that transgender person. However, we can accept that it is possible for a cisgender, heterosexual man to have relationships with other men and still identify as straight based on his own relationship with his identity and his self-ascription. It would be absurd to call into question the gender identity of those other men based on the choice of that individual as to whether or not he ascribes to that community. Therefore, a transgender person’s gender identity should not be considered when considering the identity of their partner any differently than a cisgender person would.
This rule of rejecting other’s perception of a transgender person’s identity in relation to if and how someone identifies as queer solves the “chaser” problem mentioned before. Chasers by nature are not inherently queer because they claim to be attracted to transgender people unless they identify as queer. Individuals who dehumanize transgender people (most worryingly and commonly, transgender women and trans feminine individuals) often do so from a position of privilege on multiple axises of oppression. They are overwhelmingly straight-identifying cisgender men. A cishet man chaser that is attracted to a transgender man should not be automatically considered queer if he doesn’t identify with the queer community.
The obsession with transgender people and their identities – particularly in relation to their sexual and romantic relationships – is one rooted in cissexism and transphobia. The concept that anything can potentially invalidate a transgender person’s self-identity, particularly the perception of someone outside of themselves, is transphobic. This practice rejects the essentialist knowledge of queer identify in favor of a realist one, and it does so with the acknowlegement that transgender identity is inherently not essentialist but one formed via relation of the transgender individual with their environment and themselves.