Trans Struggle: A Story of Cis Men?

28 May 2016

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I recently read Wayne Mahon's article for the Huffington Post, Trans-Attracted Filmmaker Learns the Responsibilities That Come With Loving Trans Women, and boy, did my blood boil.

Wayne Mahon is a straight man, described on the Huffington Post as a "man who proudly, openly loves and honors transwomen". For himself, he uses the term "trans-attracted". He's currently promoting a documentary about himself, titled "Leaving Vogue Moran", detailing how he came to openly love transgender women.

But What Is Love?

The amount of straight men attracted to trans women is far greater than you can imagine.

Shouldn't this be all straight men? Straight men are attracted to women, and that includes transgender women. All trans women. Not being attracted to a specific person or set of genitals does not preclude attraction to the group.

I've been involved with several straight men, and hit on by plenty of more. None of these men described themselves as anything other than "straight", and the ones who stuck around after I disclosed my trans history were willing to date both cis women and trans women, and at first I assumed Mahon was the same way, but then he explains how he became his alter ego, Vogue Moran:

For me, in the late 1980’s, after several humiliating experiences of not being able to “perform” with cisgender girls, meeting, kissing and sleeping with my first trans woman was the most freeing, joyous moment of my young 18 years, immediately followed by soul-crushing guilt and shame.

Does an entire identity change seem extreme in today’s day and age? Maybe? But after growing up bullied by kids at school, laughed and pitied at by so many cisgendered girls when I couldn’t achieve an erection in the back seat of my 1979 Grand Lemans, and escaping into the fantasy of masculine comic book superheroes, it was time for me to become the “ultimate man.” A month later, Vogue Moran jumped on a plane and moved to LA.

This man can literally only get an erection with transgender women - but why? What makes transgender women existentially different from cisgender women, outside of genitalia? Between the lines, he means to communicate that he's only attracted to women with penises, so much so that it goes beyond a genital preference: he has no interest in women with vaginas. But what about those of us who have vaginas? He claims to "love" trans women, but would he be so quick to jump in joy at those trans women?

Mohan is not "trans-attracted", he's a fetishist. This is not about genital preferences. He's what we in the transgender community refer to as a chaser - a person, typically a straight man, who fetishizes and exoticizes transsexual women, who are already fetishized through pornography. It is equally unacceptable to harbor these feelings about trans women as it is to apply them to various other genres of porn featuring marginalized women: Asian, Black, Latina, and fat, the list goes on.

A Straight Man's Problem

Let me be clear - men do experience pressure to not openly date or be attracted to women of other marginalized groups. Mahon is right about this - and describes how the trans women he involved himself with felt the full force of this pressure:

During sex, I would tell a trans girl she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen; she was precious; she deserved to be treated like a princess; but as soon as it ended, I’d be overcome with self-disgust and coldly, simply say, through gritted teeth, “Elevator’s across the hall.” As the morning came, I needed all proof of what just happened to disappear, so I could go back to my “normal” life.

While Mahon could have used this to talk about trans women's struggles with domestic abuse - trans people are 1.9 times more likely to be abused by an intimate partner - he instead turns the framing of the issue around, choosing to center the experience of straight white men:

Besides denying myself any intimate relationships, I denied myself from seeing the true beauty of trans women; the strength to be true to themselves in a world filled that hated them for being brave enough to be themselves.

This isn't a story of transgender rights, as a matter of fact, sometimes it's downright offensive. It's a story of a man who realized he liked transgender women and the awful choices he made by living in denial.

Rather than talking more about the transgender women he hurt, Mohan chooses to make the conversation entirely about himself, and how he was denied. In fact, this is the crux of Leaving Vogue Moran: re-framing transphobia as a straight man's problem.

#MasculinitySoFragile

Mahon talks a lot about his journey to self-acceptance, but it seems he's still got a long way to go. The trailer for Leaving Vogue Moran is set to Springsteen-esque rock music and has all one would expect of a manly man: baseball, comic books, and family time, painting a stark heteronormative picture of Wayne Mahon - an American, a man's man, a normal guy just like all the rest.

I don't mean this the way it sounds, but I don't want people to look at me like I'm a faggot.

Wayne Mahon thrives off of being normal.

Mahon wants you to know: he's definitively not gay. This fragility echoes the experiences of many trans women who date cis men, we're forced to bear the burden of reaffirming our partner's masculinity. Wayne Mahon is seeking validation - that's why he's centering himself in a conversation about transmisogyny, ignoring the emotional labor and violence trans women face.

In my last article, I mentioned that we should be wary of the kind of representation we're receiving in media. Much like Amazon's Transparent, Mahon's documentary is not about trans women, it's about the "struggles" cis people experience because of us.

Centering conversations about trans oppression around cis people is trans erasure, full stop. It is appalling that the likes of Jill Solloway and Wayne Mahon expect praise from the trans community for their "acceptance" - all while turning a profit at our expense.

The media is constantly pushing representation appealing to the cis palate - all at the expense of trans women, especially trans women of color. We ought to be wary of anyone seeking to monetize our stories. Not all love is kind.


Me

Marilyn is a sociology student at Georgia State University. She's also an activist and organizer for a number of student organizations.