“So He’s Straight? Are You Sure?” –Where Queers Fail in Understanding the Trans Experience

Recently, I called my dad to catch up on details regarding a big family trip. This conversation was meant to discuss the hassles of traveling to another country. Securing tickets, passports, and lodging were anxiety inducing thoughts that neither of us could tackle alone. He rarely does this, but my dad asked me about my love life. I bit at his attempt to connect (he’s “handled” me being Trans rather well for a gen-X military guy) and described a relationship that I’d been navigating for a few days; that it's been fun and cool and still has that “new love smell.” Things were going well and he displayed genuine interest in the ongoings of my incredibly complicated love life.

Then he asked me a question that makes me cringe with embarrassment: “So. . . is he straight?”  

*Cue end of bonding moment—Begin internally brewing rage.*

When someone makes an inquiry pertaining to the sexuality of a heterosexual transperson’s partner, they are displaying simple ignorance. You might think this could be corrected with an attempt at education: explaining the difference between sex and gender, or the simple fact that sexuality isn’t entirely fixed on a person’s genitalia like aging societal “values” would have you believe.  That it’s hardly radical for a heterosexual individual to be attracted to a transperson.

If ONLY it were that fucking simple.

In my experience as a transwoman, it appears that two out of every six people I have this conversation with leave with a new point of view. The other four simply cling to their beliefs.  They morph from a supporter of my transition to some warped version of Grandmother Willow sent to bring my naïve ass back to earth and acknowledge the limits stemming from the thing between my legs. Most interestingly—and this is totally anecdotal—is the fact that a lot of these people have been queer. This is in part due to my decision to chiefly surround myself with queer, “like-minded” individuals. Even so, I have had many a gay man lecture me about my partner’s sexuality; wagging their finger in my face and making puppy dog eyes while they gently remind me that “no man who ever dates [you] could be straight.”

This is where the real problem manifests, because what they consider to be a loving reality check is really just a self-exposure of inaction in their journey to truly understand the Trans experience. When someone tells me any of my partners are not straight or that they have “done something like that before”—especially when my partner identifies as heterosexual—they are essentially saying, “You, I’m sorry to report, are not a woman.”

To them, I’m not a woman; I’m just a medical experiment meant to fit the mold of a fetish object. So when my own father committed this offense, I decided the battle wasn’t worth it and sought to end the conversation quickly. If I have to fight with my queer brothers and sisters to gain acknowledgment as the embattled transgender woman I am, then what are the fucked up odds that I will be able to show my father, the first-generation, career military man, his misstep?

This is where we need to stop kidding ourselves and discuss just how out-of-touch the queer community is with transgender rights.

Three months ago, a group of gay/bisexual men and women submitted a Change.org petition to “drop the T from LGB” because the inclusion of trans people’s rights is “regressive and hostile to the goals of gay men and women.” This petition may seem like a reason for outrage, but before criticizing any of the asshats who coordinated—probably over brunch—this awful mission, ask yourself if you are truly more woke to the Trans experience than them.

Have you ever met assertions of heterosexuality from a transperson’s partner with incredulity? Have you ever criticized a transperson for not being out and upfront about their gender identity while they navigate the dating field? Have you ever believed that transpeople probably “trick” every person they date? If you have done any of these things, you are no better than the sponsors of that despicable petition.

But, maybe you are. Perhaps you can be the change the queer community needs. Even so, many queers need to wake up: while it may be great that gay marriage—the final frontier of LGBT rights—is legal (though under a constant state-level Republican barrage), transpeople’s genitalia are still an embarrassing subject of national debate. Lawmakers think we’re a new threat to American values and would love nothing more than to see us go back into hiding. School district administrators go as far to police who is able to use the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms.  Great!

You can get married but what about us? We still can’t acquire and keep jobs. We don’t have appropriate access to healthcare in the private sector. We can’t even exist without the spectre of murder looming over our heads: the US had the third highest incidence of transgender murders (all transwomen) in 2015, with twenty reported murders that year—only Brazil and Mexico beat us on that front. Further, Brazil had the highest with eighty-one; from 2008 to 2015, nearly eight hundred transgender women were murdered there. For the same period of time, the US had nearly two hundred murders, coming in just shy of Mexico’s two hundred and thirteen. Sadly, these numbers aren’t truly indicative of how many transwomen were actually killed in those years. Governments and families often identify the victims by their pre-assigned gender in death. Apparently, being a murder victim isn’t enough to stop the world from pissing all over your grave.

So, why don’t we have the full support of other queers? Personally, I don’t understand why we have to fight for external acknowledgment of something I know to be true and undeniable.  I am a fucking woman. I’ve endured unspeakable horrors to get here, and at times contemplated taking my own life because I didn’t feel valuable enough to take up space in the world. So when someone asks the simple question “Is your partner straight?” I am reminded that even though the road here was hard, the rest of the way is probably going to be harder. The only balm for this is the fact that while I live this life—I at least get to do it as me, myself, Zaida. Hopefully, this goes for all transpeople—at least those of us who have made it to this safe mental space after traipsing through an incredibly thick fog of bullshit fumes.

So. . . let’s do fucking better, shall we?