reader questions about attraction

edit: i bet you’re wondering why i called this post “pansexual attraction.”  yeah, me too.  i think i was working on another post at the same time that was actually about pansexual attraction, but i got mixed up and misnamed this post.  really, this post is about attraction in general.  sorry about that, cats!

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one of my totally wicked readers sent me some really good questions and i answered them as best i could.  i figured i’d better share our conversation with you neon cats just in case other people have similar questions and/or folks have stuff to add to the conversation.

I read your article about pansexualism and I had some questions. You said that if you say you’re sexually attracted to ‘men, women and trans’ that’s cissexist. But what if you’re a heterosexual man who is just not attracted to any kind of genitals other than a vulva, and any other kind of person than somebody that identifies as a woman? Or what if you are bisexual, but you only are attracted to people with penises that identify as men or people with vulvas that identify as women? Can you really help what kind of genitals you are attracted to, and what you like your ideal person to look like? I think saying that you’re attracted to transpeople makes it sound like you don’t consider them to be male/female, especially if they are binary identifying trans people, I just wonder about bisexuals and heterosexuals and homosexuals that only are attracted to people whose genitals match their identified gender. I guess, can you be attracted to a certain sex of person and a certain gender? I don’t really know.

Also I read your post about the tits and the pumpkins and I totally always buy the last thing in the discount bin because I don’t want it to feel lonely. Just thinking about it kinda makes me teary eyes.

I’m also very sorry if I was offensive, I’m just learning. That’s no excuse, but it’s the truth, and I’ve combed through it trying to get rid of offensive language.


hi!  i love questions!

the problem with saying you’re attracted to “men, women, and trans* people” is that you’re placing all trans* people outside “men” and “women.”  this sucks because some trans* people ARE men or women; they don’t need any well-meaning pansexuals to erase their existence.  society already tells trans* men and trans* women they aren’t “real” men/women and that they’re “really” the gender they were designated at birth; and they don’t need any more of that kind of thing.  i think you already know this, but i want to make sure we’re on the same page.

moving on.  by definition, a heterosexual guy is a (cis or trans*) guy who only experiences attraction to women.  he may experience attraction to some bodies/genitals but not to others, but that doesn’t impact his heterosexuality.  so a straight guy who only likes vulvae is no more straight than a straight guy who likes all sorts of genitals.  as long as he’s only really attracted to (cis and/or trans*) women, he’s heterosexual.

same thing goes for the bisexual person you describe; they’re no more or less bi than a bisexual person who’s attracted to people with all sorts of genitals.

the other thing to remember is that lots of trans* people get bottom surgery and, in many cases, are thereafter indistinguishable from cis folks.  that means that a straight guy, for instance, who only likes women with vulvae may experience attraction to trans* women with vulvae as well as to cis women with vulvae.  if the mere fact of transness is a problem for this hypothetical guy, he’s kinda cissexist/transmisogynist.  however, if he really just likes (cis/trans*) women with vulvae– cool.

so, yes, it’s totally ok to only be attracted to certain genital configurations; it’s a healthy part of some people’s sexuality.  i’m going to include some relevant reading: the “ethical” imperative of disclosure and the question of fetishization.  they’re both natalie reed articles that discuss trans* bodies, attraction, and all sorts of interesting stuff.  you may have already read them, but i thought you might like them.  also, attraction down the privilege gradient by lisa millbank is kinda relevant.  it discusses how our attractions don’t develop in a vacuum, but are informed by our social/political climate.  anyway.  just in case you love reading.  <3

your message isn’t offensive at all!  i’m really not very uptight about stuff like that (though i think i know why so many people think i am).  we all mess up (me, too!) and i think it’s important to call each other out so we can learn from our mistakes.  that’s all.  no public shaming or stoning or anything like that.  :)

thanks for asking and please lemme know if you have any more questions or if i didn’t answer these questions well enough.  stay splendid!

mx. punk <3

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any thoughts, readers?  how’d i do?  any further advice for the asker?

13 responses to “reader questions about attraction

  1. I’d say you’re pretty spot on with this one, cat.

  2. This is a great response to a complicated question.

    I think I’d like to open up a dialogue about cissexism and sexual attraction. I’m of the opinion that attraction, like anything neurological in origin, is extremely complex. As a trans woman myself I admit that it stings a little bit when potential partners are turned off by my particular match up of gender and sexual organs, but I don’t think that necessarily makes someone cissexist.

    Certainly if someone prefers that genitals and gender match this could be a symptom of cissexism or at least heteronormative values but I don’t think the attraction or desire is in and of itself cissexist. However if this hypothetical grue went out of their way to, let’s say, only hire cis folk, or harass and threaten trans folk that would certainly be cissexist (and transphobic).

    I say this because if we take other hypothetical situations and label them as cissexist or sexist we can see where this doesn’t work.

    Is it sexist if a hetero woman only dates cis men with intact genitals? Would it be sexist if she didn’t want to date a vet who lost his genitals in an accident? (Feel free to also comment on if the latter could be abilist, I don’t think so but I’m curious as to what others think).

    Is it sexist if a trans* individual is only attracted to other trans* folk (let’s assume regardless of whatever is going on down south)?

    Is it homophobic if a heterosexual man is only attracted to women with curves and not women who are pencil thin? Is it even sexist? Mind you I’ve met a few women who are curvy who think it’s sexist that some straight men prefer thin women and some thin women who think it’s sexist that some straight men only find curvy women attractive. Are they right? If they are I think Admiral Ackbar had it right when he proclaimed, “It’s a trap!”

    is it cissexist if a lesbian is only attracted to butch women? Is it cissexist if a butch woman is only attracted to femmes?

    Okay folks that’s all I have for now. I realize that this is a sensitive subject because there’s a lot of rad fems out there that think it’s okay to hate trans folk and blah blah blah and what I’m trying to get across here kinda sounds like one of those “lesbians can’t date trans women because they’re not women arguments” but that’s not at all what I’m trying to say.

    Anwyay I’ll pop back in this weekend to see what’s shakin’.

  3. Nothing to add, but I wanted to say I love your new avatar. I had no idea First Contact would be with a dinosaur astronaut! Or that queer space dinos had the ability to project rainbows on the moon. Fabulous!!

  4. @ harrow: queer space ANYTHINGS can project rainbows onto any surface, even in the absense of light and water. i’m totally a queer space-zombie kitty. just saying. <3

  5. @ bia: whoa! that’s a shit-ton of questions, cat. i definitely think it’s not necessarily cissexist to only experience attraction to people of (a) specific gender(s) with specific anatomies, but it has the potential to be problematic. basically, check out “the ethical imperative of disclosure” (linked above) for a full explanation of my opinion. cuz natalie reed says it way better than i ever could.

    “Is it homophobic if a heterosexual man is only attracted to women with curves and not women who are pencil thin?”

    hmmmm…honestly, i don’t really understand the question. (i’m sorry!) i don’t see how it could be homophobic unless the guy were specific about preferring curvy women over thin women cuz he thought thin women looked “like guys.” but then, if he really weren’t attracted to thin women, he wouldn’t be making a potentially homophobic/heterosexist choice. right?

    i also don’t really see how it could be cissexist for a lesbian to only experience attraction to either butch women or femme women. maybe i’m just failing all over the place cuz i’m not feeling well…

    thanks for sharing your brain, bia! and sorry for not being able to reply thoughtfully; my cold ate my mind.


  6. Hey cat feel better!

    Maybe I just didn’t read this article as attentively as I should have the first time because I forgot there were links. But really I was just wanting to discuss “if the mere fact of transness is a problem for this hypothetical guy, he’s kinda cissexist/transmisogynist,” and the idea that it is cissexist to prefer certain gender + genital combinations.

    The questions are meant to be rhetorical (unless someone wants to discuss them specifically) not actual questions. As for guys being attracted to women that don’t look masculine being homophobic, the implication is that the guy in question is basing gender mostly on physical queues and isn’t attracted to women that look more like men. The question of Lesbian preferences is just a continuation of this, and possibly opening up a conversation about the idea that all of this gets really complicated when we discuss gender, expression, and genitals.

    We want others to recognize our gender identity, but gender and sex and sexual orientation can get stupid hard to keep straight (no pun intended) because there are so many different ways that a woman or non-binary individual or man can come (no pun intended). And I think it’s over-reaching to expect everyone (or even most people) to base their sexual orientation solely on gender identification.

    In fact I’d go so far as to say that when discussing attraction the idea of cissexism is more or less irrelevant.

    I think I just misread this because it seemed like you were saying it’s cissexist for heterosexual men and lesbian women to exclude women with a penis (that would be me!), and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It’s problematic for certain, and kind of sucks when it’s affecting a trans individual’s sexual and romantic life, but I don’t think it’s inherently cissexist.

  7. what i mean is, it’s cissexist for person y to be attracted to person x, have awesome sex with person x, connect emotionally with person x– then ditch them the second they find out person x is trans*. if person x has transitioned medically and person y doesn’t realize person x is trans* until person x discloses, that’s cissexist.

    i’m talking about trans* people who’ve had bottom surgery, do hrt, and are read as their gender even while naked. in this case, for person y to turn around and be like, “but i’m not attracted to trans* people!” is cissexist. cuz if you’re “just not attracted to trans* people,” stop being attracted to trans* people. if the very idea of trans*ness turns you off, you’re probably a grue. so, no, i’m not saying lesbians have to be attracted to penises.


  8. crazyqueerclassicist

    Speaking of terminology, I was wondering How do you pronounce “Mx.”?

  9. “mx” is pronounced like “mix.” thanks for asking, cat!

  10. So here’s an interesting twist: I identify as a genderqueer queer with transmasculine presentation except no-op. Meaning, I often get misgendered in the world and read as female cuz I have tits. My partner is queer, ftm transguy who is always read as male. Often, when we go out, we are read as het, which is funny to us both. Not so funny however is when I’m using “he” pronouns about my partner (his preference) and my listener makes assumptions about my sexual orientation. My queerness gets invisibilized! I felt really uncomfortable saying “my trans boyfriend” since I didn’t want to constantly out him, but not being read as queer felt really bad. After many talks, our solution is for me to say “my boyfriend is trans and I say that so that my queerness doesn’t become invisible” and move on. I get how it’s cis-sexist to tokenize and de-gender transfolx by sayin “I’m attracted to men, women and trans” and I think there are some situations where I’d prefer to hear that than just “I’m attracted to men and women.” Tricky stuff.
    Thanks for such a well written post.

  11. i think you and i are in similar situations, cat. i get read as a butch woman and my partner gets read as a guy; together we look kinda het. thing is, i’m queer, he’s queer, and i’m nonbinary.

    i have no trouble telling folks that we’re queer and that i’m not a woman anyway, but its not like i can tell EVERYBODY EVER. so we get read as cis/het all the time and it upsets me; my trans*/queerness is integral to my identity.

    yeah. shit’s tough. i wear a gender tag and lots of pride stuff, but i know my queerness gets erased sometimes.

    still, i think it’s reallyreally vital to not third-gender binary trans* folks. have you considered just telling people that you’re genderqueer? cuz queer is queer regardless of who you’re in a relationship with. <3

  12. Pingback: Being Functional: About functionally being who you are « Reneta Xian

  13. If gender is a social construct (i.e. there is no single way to be a woman or a man, as even you point out), then how can sexual orientations like heterosexuality and homosexuality legitimately be defined as an exclusive sexual or romantic attraction to one gender? That is counter-intuitive. If Joe claims to be straight, and is only sexually attracted to women — and womanhood is not defined by genitalia, personality, or behaviors (since that would be transphobic) — then Joe is in actually professing to be sexually attracted merely to the identity label, “woman”? That seems highly impersonal, not to mention sexist and cissexist in and of itself.

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