Sometimes – whisper it low – even tawdry rags like the Sun can do minorities a favour. Nah. Not by coming out in favour of, well, coming out. But by giving issues a good airing – or perhaps, more accurately, public kicking – and in the end moving debate and attitudes on.
So it was recently with their front page shock! horror! exposé to the effect that a woman who claimed over 1,000 sexual partners was actually… a man!
Cue outrage! Cue cliché! Cue free rein to a bunch of gender essentialists who were seriously icked by the whole idea., and were pretty sure that “other blokes” would buy in to their ickness.
The essential debate
But also, in between the disgust and reaction and just general Sun readerishness were two other voices, both, with every passing month, getting louder. First up were interventions from the trans community: p[roviding a nice factual counter-balance; expressing outrage at the outrage; just generally making people aware of their presence.
Second, and I’ve seen this across pretty much all papers and – I don’t believe I’m being altogether too biased in this – coming increasingly from women, a view that is more a shrug and a “so what”: if Crystal – the woman in question – is happy, its her life. Get over it!
Which is all healthy. And necessary. Because I have never believed that papers are themselves intrinsically evil or slanted. Rather, the majority of papers are tarts, happily sleeping with millions of readers at any one time, avidly saying, doing whatever it takes to ensure a positive response to the eternal question: “was that good for you?”
Some see anti-trans agenda. I tend to see irresponsible populism in pursuit of circulation at almost any price.
T’fear of t’gay
And this ickness about transition is not something they’ve made up. Somewhere deep within the grown male psyche – however it arrived – is a sort of fundamentalist fear both of being thought gay and of doing anything that might give rise to that idea.
Once upon a time, I wondered if it was just disapproval of the mechanics of gay sex – the way some old-fashioned types go all “yuk!” at the very mention of anal sex. Its there, certainly: but I think it goes deeper (if that’s not an unfortunate turn of phrase in the context).
There really is some sort of male trope that regards sleeping with a guy, touching a guy, doing anything emotional with a guy as itself unmanning, demeaning. Not for all men. Not everywhere. But it does exist – and it is much more fundamental than women’s attitudes to lesbianism, which for many seems to be something you might just occasionally do out of curiosity, without doing quintessential damage to your femininity.
Underpinning this male fear seems to be two things. First, a degree of ignorance. One commenter rather touchingly inquired about the mechanics of having sex with a post-op trans woman. He seemed genuinely curious, unaware that, at base, the mechanics are pretty similar.
Confusion, too, I thought, about the difference between pre- and post-op trans bodies. Some commenters, I am sure, genuinely believe trans is all about “chicks with dicks”.
Deception – the logical result of essentialism
And there is this idea that whatever you do a trans woman is still, “really” a man. That plays to two issues: pure essentialism. And the idea that therefore, trans women “deceive”.
Do they? My own view, drawn from experience pulling pints of lager for truculent and pedantic customers many years back is: if you can’t tell the difference, what IS the difference?
If all you are after is sex and…the body you end up in bed with is, for all practical purposes, female, and you can’t tell? I dunno. Though then, I tend to be interested more in the thinking that goes on inside than the bits hanging outside.
I don’t see myself as heterosexual, because mostly, I find men.. . difficult, socially. Whereas their “bits” are both peculiar and, to some degree, fascinating. So if I were looking for a bed partner, its how they think that counts.
I digress. I commented on the piece and was pleased that the Sun carried my views. Less pleased to find my opinion of their agony aunt, Deidre censored. For she had pole position when it came to comment – and managed to observe both cattily and, I think, unhelpfully, that anyone sleeping around as much as Crystal was still thinking in male mode.
Hmmm. Wonder if she says that to cis women who also happen to be sex addicts?
In the end, though, a rough debate, a raw debate. But the sort of debate that needs to happen from time to time. Because without exposing these issues to the cold light of day, nothing will ever change.