Sunday School: On Trusting One’s Instincts


I’m polyamorous and bisexual. I’m in two serious relationships right now, one with a woman in the early stages of MTF transition, one with a man who has recently discovered that he is a transvestic fetishist.

His discovery has led me to realize that I’m attracted to non-gender-conforming people. I think androgyny and genderfuckery are hot.

That kind of worries me. Partly, I’m worried that if I tell my girlfriend about this, she’ll think that I’m attracted to her because I see her as between genders somehow, and not as a woman. I do see her as a woman, but maybe I wouldn’t be as attracted to her if I wasn’t attracted to gender nonconformity, and that makes me feel guilty.

I also feel guilty about the attraction in general; am I “othering” or “exoticising” non-gender-conforming people? That’s bad, right? –Gender Guilt

Okay, Gender Guilt, I have a question for you: what are your three favorite things about each of your partners? That is, what would you say are the primary reasons you are in relationships with these people?

I’m guessing that “Their gender nonconformity makes me happy in the pantsal region!” is not on either of those lists. If your attraction to either of them were just sexual, I suspect that you wouldn’t feel nearly so bad about it. Either way, though, I think you are being too hard on yourself, and here is why.

Human sexuality is, as the esteemed Dr. Sweets would say, a gem with innumerable facets. If genderfuckery turns you on, and you treat your partners with consideration and respect, how could that possibly be a bad thing? Do you think your partners would prefer that you didn’t find them hot?

Several months ago, a friend linked me to a post on a fat acceptance blog where a writer tackled a similar issue. Fat people, and fat women in particular, are conditioned to view their bodies as objects of ridicule and disgust. But there is some pretty uncomfortable tension between that conditioning and the blanket messaging concerning sexual objectification that all women constantly receive. Consequently, when a fat lady finds a dude who’s totally into her, she may worry that he is “just a chubby chaser” or what have you. Internalized misogyny and fatphobia can make it really difficult for them to accept their partners’ attraction as valid and validating.

That is some kind of bullshit, right there.

For the average self-aware human, there is no reason whatsoever that one’s sexual choices or paradigms of attraction deserve higher scrutiny just because they tend to fall a little ways away from what is conventional or “proper.” It is fine and healthy and commendable to worry about whether or not you are treating your partners right. But worrying about whether your attraction to them is “appropriate” is, almost paradoxically, an expression of internalized cissexism. I know it’s way easy for me to say this, but you and your partners will all be much happier if you can learn to let that go. Your girlfriend especially needs your love and support right now much more than she needs for you to worry about the political implications of your attraction to her.

TL;DR version: Your kink is okay, I promise.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to look for more cosplay photos of Loki as a lady.

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  1. That’s a great heuristic! I’ve often had discussions about this basic issue: if something about a person, from their race to their body type to their gender identity, turns me on, am I fetishizing them or is it just a feature I find hot? Asking “What are your favorite three things about them?” puts the focus back on the whole person.

    I also think it’s okay to approach somebody who hits your hot buttons for nothing more than superficial reasons: if you’re generally attracted to androgynous South Asians and you see a hot androgynous South Asian, there’s nothing wrong with letting that fact alone drive your interest in getting to know them better. PROVIDED you are interested in actually getting to know them, and that you understand that the physical characteristics that sparked your interest don’t tell you anything about who they are and how well you’ll meet each other’s needs in whatever kind of relationship you’re hoping for. And also, of course, provided you’re willing to take “not interested” for an answer.

  2. Wait, worrying about whether or not it’s right to treat someone differently just because they’re trans is an expression of internalized cissexism? I thought a major point of making people aware of cissexism was to get people to realize that they shouldn’t be treating people differently based on their cis/trans status, and that part of doing this was to try to correct yourself when you find yourself doing this. This requires that people worry about whether or not they are being cissexist.

    Am I just completely missing the point here, or are you actually saying that trying not to be cissexist is itself cissexist?

    • I am sorry if I was unclear; the point I was trying to make is that second-guessing your attraction to a partner you are committed to, who happens to be trans, BECAUSE she is trans, is more likely to be an expression of internalized cissexism than it is likely to actually be addressing an actual problem with the relationship.

      Think of it in these terms: does someone with a thing for blondes, who is in a serious relationship with a blonde, worry that they are fetishizing their current partner for her hair color? Obviously it is possible that they do, but how often would that question even occur to cisgendered people?

      It was apparent to me that a partner who is willing to support a ladyfriend through transition is sensitive to these issues already, but that maybe her sensitivity was making an issue where there oughtn’t to be one, and I thought she could use some reassurance.

      • To a cisgendered person who is unaware of their cis privilege and who just treats people decently, it probably wouldn’t occur.

        To a cisgendered person who is just learning about privilege or who has internalized the idea that the only people who will really recognize privilege are those who don’t have it, I expect it will come up frequently.

        To continue your example, someone with a thing for blondes probably does not worry about whether or not they are fetishizing their current (blonde) partner, unless they are aware that there are people out there who do fetishize blondes and they don’t want to be one of those people.

        To be clear, I agree in general with your assessment – it sounds to me like this person is treating hir partners with decency and respect and I haven’t read anything here that indicates a problem with the relationships. I could be way off base but it looks to me like the worry being expressed is not an expression of internalized cissexism, but an expression of internalized privilege-correction mechanisms.

        I assume I am wrong in this regard, but I have no idea how that can be the case.

  3. As a woman in the early stages of her MTF transition, I can’t speak for Gender Guilt’s girlfriend, but I can give my reaction to trying to put myself in her shoes.

    My initial thought at imagining this scenario was kind of a sad little “Well, someone like me has to take what she can get”, which I’m afraid isn’t very flattering to either of the people I’m in serious relationships with or to myself. So after some thought, I realized it comes down to this:

    I would love if my partner were attracted to me because I represented some nebulous, completely non-dudely, totally physically female ideal, but that’s mostly because I would love to not have to go through the drawn out, painful process of transition that I’m involved in right now. Since I came out as trans to my most recent partner, they have never given me any reason to believe they see me as anything other than a woman. Neither have I ever felt like my purpose was merely to fulfill some particular kink.

    They’ve always treated me as a complete person. I feel loved as a complete person. If it turns out they find people who transgress gender boundaries hot, well, you know, if I could wave a wand and magically complete the physical and social aspects of my transition, I’d still be transgressing gender boundaries because gender boundaries suck! I’m not thinking to myself “I need to get this transition out of the way so I can conform to every feminine stereotype I can find”, after all. Some level of gender nonconformity is just a part of me, and will remain throughout my transition and beyond. And that’s about who I am, not about some unfortunate anatomical attributes.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s the way I feel.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, ma’am!

      This question honestly brought a “Yo, is this racist?” post to mind, too, but I am deathly sick and nyquil’d up and posting from my phone right now. Maybe I will dig for it tomorrow.

  4. Thank you Gender Guilt for wording a question I couldn’t, but which had caused me stress. And thank you Rachel for answering.
    I think this SS, the myths articles and similar pieces are very important, as they may touch a wider, or at least different, audience than many others. These are great for people who are on a quest from watching related porn to actually caring about these things and the people involved. I think this is a group that would be easy to catch and teach. They have already opened the door to the subject and articles like “So you like ‘shemale’ porn, here’s what you should know” might lure them in easier. If the first words are not soaked with quilt, insults and sadness they might be interested. I hope it will flow naturally from there to reality.

    I know many will disagree with me and I’m happy if I hear criticism. I think this is close to the “Should we be blunt to creationists or give them some rope and draw them in”-discussion. I, clearly, like rope.

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