On the Nature of Trans Sexuality

I had an interesting conversation last night. It’s been a while – quite frankly too long – since I’ve had time to write a blog-piece despite both inspiration and intention, but I’m hoping that will start to change today. I’m hoping that this conversation will, in a strange way, mark a turning point in more ways than one.

As with many interesting conversations, the context is irrelevant. The time, the setting and the framing all fade away into insignificance when placed alongside the topic which was on the proverbial table. The topic, in this case, was the nature and nomenclature of sexuality and how in some strange way – unrelated as they maybe – the concept of gender identities divergent from biological sex once again complicates matters to such an extent that a complete re-evaluation is required. Predictable though the question might be, the root of this discussion was simply; “If a girl – who happens to be trans – is dating a [cis] guy, would that be a heterosexual or a homosexual relationship?”

The vast majority of people I know – choosing my friends and acquaintances the way that I do – would consider this to be a heterosexual relationship since to them – at the end of the day – the girl who happens to be transgender is still a girl, and as such it is a relationship between a guy and a girl (What can I say? My friends are well trained ^_^). More generally, were the average person to pass such a couple holding hands on the street they would see a man holding hands with a woman, and as such the little “heterosexual” flag in their head would fly high. It seems, therefore, that the sexuality of a transgendered individual in the eyes of society is dictated less by the person themselves and more by the perception of strangers passing by on streets. So, in some strange way whether a transgendered individual is deemed heterosexual or homosexual is based solely on how well society judges them to “pass”.

On the other hand – and [somewhat disgustingly, I might add] often in the case of pre-operative transgender individuals – some people have a tendency to believe that sexuality is defined simply by the number of penises or Y chromosomes in the room. In my experience, the people which rely on this method are often prone to miscounting but nevertheless entitled to their opinion. The issue with this, however, is that I don’t imagine that many people would be willing to expose themselves publicly or to schedule a karyotype simply so that tallies can be verified. As a result, I feel it is fair to say that – regardless of what these people might claim – most people define the sexuality of others based solely upon what they perceive, rather than what they see (or do not see, as the case may be).

So, when gender identity and sexuality are so distinct – by which I mean a transgendered individual might be into guys, girls, both or neither – why should gender identity have such a bearing on how sexuality is defined? The issue, I believe, is one with the nomenclature. Whilst the terms heterosexual and homosexual are thrown around commonly, the clarity that they have when applied to cis-gendered individuals falls to nothing when applied to a transgendered individual. Without prior physical examination, with any given couple (or poly group/family) which involves a transgendered individual you would be unable to say whether the intercourse that they were having would be considered to be heterosexual sex or homosexual sex, in the traditional sense of the terms. In essence, the terms heterosexual or homosexual lose all meaning when the sex of a person involved has changed.

The issue with the terms heterosexual and homosexual is that their meanings are gender dependent [by which, in this context, gender refers to “perceived sex” (i.e. that which is assumed by ‘strangers on the street’ when they pass by)]. By heterosexual we mean “male and gynephilic” or “female and androphilic”, whilst by homosexual we mean “female and gynephilic” or “male and androphilic” – both of which turn out to be unwittingly sex-based statements. Even if we momentarily ignore this issue, what of the terms androphilic and gynephilic? These are defined to be “attraction to males or masculinity” and “attraction to females or femininity” respectively, but these definitions fail to mention whether they should be taken to be speaking in terms of the sex [physical element] or the gender [psychosocial element] of the person in question. In essence, is androphilia the attraction to people who are male, or merely attraction to the male genitalia?

If we break down these words into their component parts, androphilia would quite literally translate as “love of men” [‘andro-‘ stemming from andros; the greek word for ‘man’; ‘-philia’ meaning love] whilst “gynephilia” would be “love of women” [‘gyne’ meaning woman]. Neither psychosocial nor physical elements are touched upon here, and we are simply left faced with the words “man” and “woman”. As such, it seems we have managed to go full circle and are left to question what it is that makes someone a “man” or a “woman”? Is it a purely physical divide which can be based purely on genetics and genitals, or is the perception of others what actually defines gender in this way?

One could argue that if we want to think of sexuality in a purely physical context, then we could reduce it down to a mater of genitalia and ignore the whole concept of “men” and “women” entirely. Nomenclature for attraction to the genitalia of a particular sex is not in widespread use, and may in fact be worth considering when discussing sexuality; especially when that discussion is staged in the area when the lines of gender identity and sexuality overlap. Presumably one might use ‘phalliphilia’ [‘phallus’ being used as a term for the penis] for attraction to penises, and ‘yoniphilia’ [‘yoni’ being considered to be the female equivalent on phallus] for the love of vaginas, but is this actually useful?

Well, yes. If we take these words (‘phalliphilia’ and ‘yoniphilia’) to mean attraction to the physical aspect of what it is to be a “man” or a “woman” then it – for want of a better phrase – “frees up” the term androphilia to mean “the love of one perceived as male” and the term gynephilia to mean “the love of one perceived as female”, thus allowing us begin to untangle the mess that lies between the physical and the perceived. In essence, this allows transgendered individuals to move out of any grey area that could be seen to lie between androphilia and gynephilia by separating what it is to be male or female, and what it is to have male or female genitalia.

So how does this work in terms of heterosexuality and homosexuality? At the end of the day, in terms of pursuing a relationship, people are usually attracted to their perception of another person rather than what lies between their legs. Yes, someone may later feel uncomfortable if they find that the genitals present are not those they were expecting, but the fact of the matter is that a person – at least in the circles I run in – does not tend to find themselves in such an intimate situation without attraction having been felt (fleeting though this may have become). In essence, we leave these definitions as they were whilst simple clarifying what it is to be androphilic or gynephilic.

This system allows more specificity, better expression and greater self-awareness in terms of the sexual orientation of any and every given individual, whilst enabling transgendered individuals to fit within the realms of heterosexuality and homosexuality. The aforementioned relationship between the girl – who happens to be trans – and the [cis-]guy would be firmly heterosexual regardless of what lies between the girl’s legs. Were the girl to have male genitalia, and the guy to be attracted to that particular quality then the guy could be said to be ‘phalliphilic’, likewise if she had female genitalia and he were attracted to that then he could be considered ‘yoniphilic’. Of course, the two terms are not mutually exclusive and merely descriptive scales of genital preference, which will likely be considered alongside other factors – rather than exclusively – in the context of a given prospective partner.

 

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6 comments on “On the Nature of Trans Sexuality

  1. Abandon TV says:

    Interesting subject. I’m not sure I’m qualified to discuss the minutiae of gender and sexuality…. but here goes anyway…..

    Wouldn’t another way to define sexuality, rather than ‘genital preference’ LOL (sorry it just made me think of a menu with pictures!), be instead in terms of attraction to the ‘opposite of me’ (hetero) vs attraction to the ‘same as me’ (homo)?

    After all, a sexual relationship (or just a relationship) is defined not just by (1) the other person but also by (2) yourself and by (3) the combination of the two of you.

    A woman might be attracted to a man and his lovely manly form, but she is also attracted to being a woman (with her lovely feminine form) who is in a situation (or a relationship) with this alien creature called a man. She is attracted to his oppositeness in relation to her and her oppositeness in relation to him. His attractiveness is to a great extent dependent on her difference to him.

    There is a kind third point where we hover above a situation and judge it as a whole. We do not simply look at (potential) mates or sexual partners from behind a one way mirror – like a police identity parade. We are also part of the equation. If you love the thrill of opposites uniting then you will presumably tend to go for the opposite sex to yourself. If you love the thrill of ‘sames’ uniting then you will presumably tend to go for the same sex as yourself.

    (This works on many levels and not just in terms of physical/ sexual attraction. Introverts might seek out extroverts, or they might seek out introverts like themselves etc etc etc)

    This is (partly) why most of us love to dress up when we go out socialising (same applies to men). We love to make ourselves not just attractive, but AS DIFFERENT AS POSSIBLE to the opposite sex. The more different men and women make themselves (such as clothes, scent, hairstyle, mannerisms etc) the greater the polarity between the sexes and therefore the more the (heterosexual) attraction is generated. The bitter coffee meets the sweet chocolate. Bingo! The classic man/ woman frisson 🙂

    As with all things in life, human attraction and behaviour is a mixture of various (often contradictory or confusing!) forces all going on at the same time! I’m just adding another set of factors. I’m not trying to argue that my scheme is the only factor at play 🙂

  2. ytakery says:

    While there are lots of quirky and individual systems people use to express their sexuality, most people prefer to use the more common terms and will ignore or mock more quirky terms. As such, I see little benefit or use for such technobabble as you made. It may be of use to you, but some other random trans individual will probably have their own system according to their whims and most people will use the common words.

    http://xkcd.com/927/

    There’s nothing wrong with basing your sexuality on what’s between your legs, and some people do. Your standards are ok, theirs are ok too.

  3. TTBAMS says:

    All interesting thoughts, but what do you propose for people who are attracted to masculinity and femininity – androgynephilia? And what if they’re attracted to neither? Or if they are attracted to people, entirely regardless of gender or gender expression?

  4. transmedic says:

    Firstly, thank you all for taking the time to read through my thoughts and also for taking time to respond. It’s always nice not to go unheard 🙂

    ———————————————————-

    ytakery.

    I understand your point about technobabble and I am under no illusions that the words I’ve used here will spread forth across the inter webs and enter common usage, but the point I was hoping to make is that we currently lack terminology for these particular concepts and as such words like androphilia and gynephilia become ambiguous. By allowing these concepts to be expressed, we gain specificity in other areas – such as in terms of defining heterosexuality and homosexuality – which removes current problematic/grey areas. In a sense, this isn’t a new standard I’m trying to propose but instead a clarification of the existing [and commonly used (hetero- vs homo-)] standard.

    I couldn’t agree more with your last point – if people want to define their sexuality based upon genitalia there is nothing wrong with that and they’re welcome to do so. I guess I just feel that the problems which arise from this standard show are indicative of an underlying flaw which stems from a lack of consideration of certain aspects of sexuality [resulting in what are – currently – inherently trans-exclusionary concepts].

    ———————————————————-

    TTBAMS

    In terms of androphilia and gynephilia I do not feel that the terms are necessarily polarised, but rather mutually exclusive “scales” or “measures” which describe how attracted you are to one sex or the other. Someone who is attracted to both males and females might be considered to be both androphilic and gynephilic [or even biphilic; which would effectively be synonymous with bisexual], whilst someone who is attracted to neither would be considered to be neither androphilic or gynephilic [or even aphilic – note, however, that this would be different from asexual].

    Someone who is attracted to people, regardless of gender identity or expression is known as a [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pansexuality]pansexual[/url]. 🙂

    ———————————————————

    Kind Regards

    TM

  5. Ruth says:

    Your discussion reminded me of a rather fantastic article by Talia Bettcher: “Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers”

    http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/tbettch/Deceivers.pdf

    Bettcher points out that:

    “Gender presentation is generally taken as a sign of sexed body, taken to mean sexed body, taken to communicate sexed body.”

    By this she means that we determine gender to others according to their genitals. However, since we *cannot* know a person’s genitals without seeing them naked – and because we don’t tend to see other people naked in everyday life – we determine gender to others according to the genitals we assume they have(!) This assumption is in turn based upon the gendered cues we associate with a person, such as the presence of secondary sexual characteristics (e.g. beard, breasts etc), their gendered clothing and so on.

    This results in sexual attraction being silly and difficult to talk about.

  6. […] On the Nature of Trans Sexuality (transmedic.wordpress.com) […]

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