feature image by Zackary Drucker for The Gender Spectrum Collection
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 “realwp_poststrans 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.
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.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.