Sexual preference and transphobia

Submitted by Matthew on 4 October, 2017 - 10:36 Author: Ruth Willis, Angela Driver, Janine Booth, and Carrie Bright

Solidarity 448 (20 September) carried an article called “Changing gender without defending boundaries”.

In general we agree with this article’s stance on the Gender Recognition Act, opposition to scaremongering arguments and support for transgender rights. However, we have serious concerns about some of the content, particularly that which deals with sexual preference.

This paragraph in particular causes concern: “Pat cites the idea of lesbians who refuse to have sex with transwomen who have penises being labelled transphobic. But it is legitimate to ask what the issue might be here. Assume this woman is indistinguishable from a cis-woman. You are attracted to her, until you discover she is trans and/or has a penis. Is that not transphobia? In Australia there have been excellent studies about race ‘preferences’ in sexual partners, which show that the preferences are indeed just covers for racism.”

There are many issues with this position.

Firstly, instead of rebutting the continued focus on lesbian sexuality the article delves further into questioning the sexual preferences of lesbian women. If we look at the situation of being a lesbian in the world today and into recent history, some of the most vile ideas are things like “lesbians are just in need of a good fuck from the right penis”. The notion that lesbians just haven’t had good sex with a penis is widespread and lesbian sexuality continues to be oppressed.

We need to be clear that people are allowed to have genital preference and this isn’t illegitimate or an expression of transphobia. It’s also not just about penises. Lesbians are entitled to be attracted only to “natal”/cis women or to prefer women who were socialised as girls/women. That does give you a different experience of life. There is a need to talk about the way people are socialised and those modes of thinking that can’t be covered by gender identification.

Fundamentally we believe that people should be free to choose who to sleep with on whatever basis they want without being labelled as having some form of bigotry. Human sexuality and sexual preference is complex. While it is influenced by socialisation for sure — and so prejudices will affect preferences — genetic and evolutionary aspects will also play a part. Preferences can be informed by prejudice. It doesn’t follow that they all are.

We also query the logical idea behind this part of the article that essentially all sexuality is fluid. That if all things were equal sexual preference shouldn’t discriminate for anyone. But preferences are by their nature discriminatory. That doesn’t mean they are based in prejudice, specifically transphobia as discussed here.

There is also a need to discuss in more depth the growing use of the term cis. In the struggle for full legal equality some trans activists see it as necessary to define a group of the population as born with their gender not aligned with their biological sex (presuming then that a majority of the population are born with their gender aligned with their sex). There is a political value and explanatory power in the term “trans”. The political or explanatory value of the term cis is less clear.

These issues go to the heart of people’s personal identities and as such need to be discussed in a framework of respect and honesty.

We hope to continue these discussions.