You Need Help: I’m Afraid of Feeling Like Less of a Trans Man for Not Dating Men

feature image by Zackary Drucker for The Gender Spectrum Collection

Q:

Hi, I’ve identified as a trans man since my mid teens (I’m in my late 20s now), and identified as bisexual pretty much all of that time. Recently, I’ve started to question if I’m actually attracted to men at all, and it’s really hitting me with a shame/fear/dread cocktail that I don’t really know how to unpack. I hit a lot of points in That Masterdoc™ (bullied for perceived lesbianism as a child that got me really ashamed of liking women, enjoying the attention I get from queer men attracted to me but bolting when they want to do anything about it, picking the men I’m ‘attracted’ to)… except I’m very sure I actually am just a trans guy gender-wise. The complications this throws in are:

a) I don’t know if I get to use the language of compulsory heterosexuality when it’s… not really that because of the genders involved? When the questioning floodgates opened, I remember one of the things that got me sobbing was that my bullies who called me a d*ke as a child were right all along… and I don’t know if I’m allowed to try and work up to using that as a word of pride in future?

b) I genuinely do not know a single trans man in my real life who isn’t attracted to men, so I feel very alone and also (as silly as it sounds) like I’ll be less of a “real” trans man if I don’t like men? The straight (/only into women — I’m aware some people in my position still ID as queer, which I think is where I’m headed) guys I’ve seen online are very invested/interested in straight culture in a way that I’m not. I don’t really know where I fit if I’m not really gay but I can’t ever really be materially straight either (and don’t want to be).

c) I am worried what only dating women will do to my self esteem. Part of the reason I think I fucked about with men (and even now I’m still kinda tempted to redownload Grindr) is queer men actively hit on me and make me feel like I’m hot. I know my female partners like me and logically must find me attractive, but a lot of them are very vocal and enthusiastic about their attraction to women in a way they aren’t about their attraction to men. I can sometimes feel like a lot of what I have to offer is competency based/about what I can do (especially because I only top and there’s an apparent top shortage) rather than me being desirable as a person. I worry if I stop sleeping or flirting with men, I’ll just be dooming myself to being (or feeling) sexually invisible forever.

What do I do with all these feelings? What language do I get to use? How do I try and find at least somebody else in the world who feels the same? Should I just keep flirting with men anyway because I like how they make me feel, even if I don’t want anything to come of it? I’m not really sure what to do about anything.

A:

Thank you so much for writing in and for trusting us with this question. Okay, so I’m seeing three parts to this situation: 1) You need to figure out whether or to what extent you are attracted to queer men 2) You need to work through the shame/fear/dread combo you’re feeling about maybe not being attracted to men and 3) You need to figure out what you want to do with everything that you learn during these processes!

I’m actually going to start with unpacking the shame/fear/dread combo. First of all, trans, nonbinary and genderqueer people have a range of sexual orientations, just like everyone else, and despite what your social circle reflects, it is perfectly okay and normal and acceptable to not be attracted to all genders or to not be attracted to men. Plenty of people are not, actually, in fact, pansexual. Some people are just attracted to women. Some people are just attracted to women and nonbinary and trans people. That’s literally fine as long as you’re respectful and not shitty about it! In terms of dealing with internalized shame, I want to take a moment to unpack comphet or compulsory heterosexuality which you’re obviously familiar via the masterdoc. So, it’s typically used within the context of cis lesbians to discuss why many women might have trouble realizing they’re lesbians due to the overwhelming expectations around and enforcement of heteronormativity. However, we’re not just dealing with compulsive heterosexuality here, we’re also looking at compulsive cisnormativity and all the strict roles and binaries that cisnormativity strives to enforce.

It’s very okay to have feelings about not knowing yourself because of the pressures of the culture around you. It’s hard and often emotionally devastating even to face that because we aren’t allowed to feel comfortable as ourselves, queer / trans people often only learn things about ourselves later in life, well after people who’re aligned with cultural norms already feel pretty sure about their identities. I just wanted to hold space for that.

Then, there is something specific about the desire and approval of men, though, right? Not only were you made fun of for liking girls / not conforming gender-wise, but also, the attention and approval you get from other men is validating and maybe more so because it holds additional cultural weight. We’re raised and groomed to believe mens’ (especially cis men’s) opinions are more akin to fact: that if men think you’re attractive, then you have more value. This is both something that is tough to shake and also something that I think is really important to shake! You don’t need the approval or desire or even the love of other men to exist. You exist and are valid and hot and awesome completely outside of the realm of other men’s desire. We all exist and are valid outside of what anyone else is thinking. If the attention of queer men, however, is a thing you want and don’t mind getting, that’s perfectly fine, but I think that if you really spend time thinking about why you are so attached, that there might be some elements of this socialization mixed up in that. That might be part of the shame / fear / dread combo, right? You’re dreading a reality where you will feel unmoored without this attention. Unfortunately, in this case, I think the only way out is through.

Finally, you’re afraid of being attracted to women, of being a “dyke,” of being something you were made fun of for. Guess what, though? Being gay or a dyke or queer is awesome, and I do think that even as a trans man who’s attracted to women, if you want to claim language like “queer” or “dyke” or whatever you feel describes you, that’s perfectly allowed and well within the realm of things that people have been doing with language in queer community for ages! Being attracted to women, to trans people, to nonbinary people — it’s a great way to be! We’ve dedicated a whole website to living in that world! I also cannot emphasize enough how it might be time to expand your friend circle a little. It’s important that you are able to talk with people with shared experiences and to be able to bounce ideas, thoughts, feelings off of each other. I’m sure your friends are awesome, but there’s nothing like sitting down at a table and just having a long ass conversation with someone who’s going through similar things.

Okay, so, *are* you attracted to queer men? You mentioned that you like flirting, but that you find yourself “bolting when they want to do anything about it.” Unless you have some fear or trauma around being with men sexually, I do think that if you aren’t really able to overcome any nerves in the name of desire that…the desire might not be there. This is especially going to be reinforced for me if you find it easy or easier to engage in physical activities with women, if you don’t feel like bolting. So, I want you to ask yourself, are you actually into the idea of having sex with men, or is that not something you fantasize about, think about or want? It’s okay to say that it’s not!

So, what to do about it? I think before you get back out there and flirt with any men, that it is going to be really imperative to sort out how you’re feeling. Try to see if you can learn to cultivate a deeper appreciation for your own sense of your value, and get out there and meet more queer people! I recommend going to queer dance events, to meetups, to pick-up sports games — whatever your speed is. I think you’ll find that surrounding yourself with other people who are living their best lives, whether they’re actively dating or single but who are in community and therefore aren’t all alone forever, will be healing and comforting.

I also want to address something you mentioned with your women partners not being as vocal about their attraction to you as they are with their women partners. Have you ever spoken to them about this? I think that if you wanted to bring it up, you could mention that you really enjoy compliments and words of affirmation and all those good things. What might also be needed is a discussion about what kinds of words and compliments you like to receive and how you like to be talked about. AKA do you want to be called handsome? Do you hate being called cute? Providing guidelines for partners can help them feel more confident when it comes to showing you that kind of appreciation, and then you’re getting your needs met, too!

When it comes to feeling like a person, not feeling used, I do think it’s important to communicate and to think about what kind of boundaries you need for that. Do you want to go on a couple dates before you have sex with someone, for example, so that you feel like you actually know each other? Do you want people you’re having sex with to also be up for texting and flirting with you? Are you communicating with partners about what you get out of and enjoy about topping and then seeing that reflected when y’all are having sex? Are there other things you can ask for and communicate to your partners and potential partners? I think that figuring out what you actually need and then being up front with it is a good strategy. In this article, Vanessa reminds all of us that TOPS ARE NOT VENDING MACHINES, and I agree and it’s not a way you should have to put up with being treated. So, at the end of the day, if a partner is treating you like a vending machine, it’s okay to walk away. You don’t have to accept that behavior and you can be up front about that. putting up with shitty treatment is not an effective strategy for avoiding loneliness — it just means you’re going to be spending your precious time on people who are shitty to you while people who would treat you with respect are out there, not getting any of your time. Cool people who will appreciate you as a whole person exist, and I believe you can find them.

Lastly, a return to the flirting with men question. Can you? Should you? I think the answer is simple. If you want, you can definitely create profiles and say that you’re only down for flirting right now. Just be clear, set boundaries and expectations, and trust that other people are grown ups. (They won’t always act like it, but that’s not your problem). But I am gonna caution you to only do this if / once you sort out the whole deep-seated desire for male validation thing.

Honestly, I’m excited for you to do some processing and to start to really refine what you want out of your sexual / romantic relationships. You’ve really, truly got this and I’m rooting for you.


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Nico Hall

Nico Hall is a Team Writer for Autostraddle (formerly Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director and For Them's Membership and Editorial Ops person.) They write nonfiction both creative — and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret longform project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 229 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. This ask reminded me a lot of this lovely piece by Emily St. James on her Episodes site (https://episodes.ghost.io/boys-men-heterosexuality-cool-url-right-question-mark/) where she talks about how her relationship to her sexuality changed after coming out as a trans woman! While her transition ultimately opened her eyes to an attraction to men that she hadn’t engaged with while still in the closet, I think the principle of giving yourself space to navigate an evolving relationship to your sexual orientation after transition is really important and under-discussed in a lot of conversations about coming out.

    • As a lesbian and also a trans woman, I can confirm that starting to live as a different gender can very significantly change the way you relate to your sexual orientation. I know for me, I suddenly was considering men as sexual partners more seriously because I was in a social position (living as a thin, conventionally attractive woman) that encouraged it, and so for two years after I transitioned I identified as bisexual and tried dating men with renewed fervor. But then, a little over a year ago, I realized that what I liked about men was the validation they gave through expressing their attraction to me, not me actually being attracted to them. In short, per the Masterdoc, I was dealing with a bad case of comphet. I’ve been actively avoiding and generally feeling grossed out by men (sorry) ever since.

      I know that the letter writer is still figuring out their sexual identity, but it sounds like he might just be a straight trans guy. Which is a totally valid thing to be! I think that people forget sometimes that there is a difference between being queer/gay and being trans, and that straight trans people exist. Either way, you get to decide what kind of man you want to be, sexually and otherwise. It’s okay to identify with the straight male experience while still maintaining a connection with the queer community.

      It’s also interesting to me how queer circles vary; I hang out with a lot of cis bisexual women as well as lesbians and trans people, and in those situations I often find the women around me talking more effusively about the men (especially queer/gender non-conforming men) that they’re attracted to than about women. As a dyke, it can be a little annoying for me sometimes lol.

      The point is that queer community varies a lot! I’m not really an authority on men’s issues, but you’re not alone in feeling this way: a lot of guys, cis and trans, struggle with similar insecurities when it comes to dating. And there are plenty of straight trans men as well as the gay/bi guys. Whether you want to get more connected with straight people and the heterosexual dating world or be in a more trans-focused scene that is accepting of your primary attraction to women, I’m sure there are spaces out there for guys like you. Best of luck to you, dude!

  2. It’s super interesting to me that you don’t know trans men only into women in your queer scene, letter writer! I know a fair few of them, but in my experience they’ve often been sidelined in queer spaces. Queer people are understandably often angry about/grappling with experiences with men and with straight people, but I think sometimes this comes out in ways that are unintentionally hostile to those in our communities like straight trans people or (trans or otherwise queer) men. There’s absolutely nothing inherently bad or wrong about being a man. There’s absolutely nothing inherently bad or wrong about being a straight man, either- or “straight but queer” or “queer” or however you decide you want to describe your attractions. You deserve a life and relationships where you feel happy and supported for all aspects of who you are.

    • “There’s absolutely nothing inherently bad or wrong about being a man. There’s absolutely nothing inherently bad or wrong about being a straight man, either- or “straight but queer” or “queer” or however you decide you want to describe your attractions. ” Yes! This.

  3. totally agree with everything Nico has said, and here’s some more thoughts in no particular order:

    1) I think lots of straight+cis guys don’t necessarily receive a lot of “you’re hot / sexy” feedback from women. ultimately, as a woman, despite the intensity of compulsory heterosexuality, there are not a lot of narratives about sexual desire of men as a woman, since “having and acting on sexual desires of any sort” isn’t really part of the game plan for when it comes to “societal expectations for women.”

    2) I was at a Dyke March (well, at the post-March festival) this weekend and one of the speakers on the stage said that a queer elder had told them that there were only two things necessary to be a dyke (but you have to have both) — be politically engaged, support your fellow queers in solidarity, show up for them and stand up for them; and LOVE fucking women and/or non-binary people. so definitely by that definition, that word is yours if you want it

    3) I forgot the third thing but I may add it later in a reply if I remember

    sending you lots of love <3

  4. I love this because I feel like less of a transmasc person because I mostly date men, and this really shows me how much we freak out over stuff that just doesn’t matter at all. :)

  5. Is there any chance that experiencing homophobia and being called a d*ke as a kid made you feel that it wasn’t okay to just exist as a woman who is exclusively same-sex attracted?

      • I am a trans man who is only attracted to women– but not, and I think you feel me on this– in a straight way. And it does feel like a lonely experience sometimes. I have been toying with the phrase “he/him lesbian”, and I think I like it. My friends are mostly queer women and nonbinary people, and I feel very culturally and politically dykey, and it would feel good to have a label for my identity that shares that. Especially because despite NOT being bisexual, I was married to a man for two decades. (Thank you masterdoc for helping get me out of there!!) I would like to assert distance from that part of my past, and alignment with who I now know myself to be!

        About women not being as aggressive as men in making us feel hot, especially as tops, I recognize that as part of my experience as well. I have noticed that sometimes it seems to come from a desire to err on the side of caution in order to respect my experience and sensitivities. Women have expressed fear that they will “say something wrong” and invalidate my gender. The men I have flirted with… do not share those concerns. To say the least.

        I really enjoyed your question, and thank you to Nico for answering it!

    • I was the original messenger. You clearly have transphobia (and very clearly transmisogyny) in mind with this comment, and I refuse to be accessory to this.

      When you say ‘same-sex attracted’ I see it for the only-vaguely-disguised dogwhistle it is. All the great loves of my life are transgender women, and I will always include trans women in my love of women. I am t4t before I am anything else, and I will always love trans women and other transfems, regardless of what this means for me gender/sexuality wise. I refuse to be an accessory to your transmisogyny.

      While I have known women who’ve realised they were dyke-y women after detransitioning (in less transphobic ways than you clearly have in mind, and in ways that love and respect trans dykes of all genders), this is not an experience I share. When I say I am “very sure I actually am just a trans guy gender-wise”, that is what I mean.

      • Thank you so much for these words, Q. While normally we’d remove the transphobic / transmisgynist comment above for violating our comment policy, I feel that your response is something we should keep up, so we’re leaving this as is for now. Let me know if you feel otherwise and would like this comment removed.

        And thank you so much for writing in <3

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