Many straight cisgender men struggle with their attraction to trans women and nonbinary femmes, so their relationships with us often happen behind closed doors. But Pose on FX exposes these clandestine interactions, as the series depicts cis men who desire and have secret relationships with trans women through the story arcs of both Angel and Elektra. Both of these women date cis men who pursue them due to the fetishization of their bodies, and leave them once they become more than a fantasy. Cis men’s curiosity for transfeminine bodies subjects trans women to intense objectification. Instead of becoming a significant other, trans women are treated as cis men’s easily dispensable toys.ra (Dominique Jackson) has gender confirmation surgery, her partner Dick (Christopher Meloni) firmly tells her he does not want to be with her anymore. Angel (Indya Moore) unexpectedly finds herself alone as well — after months of living in a bubble with her married boyfriend Stan in the confines of their apartment, Stan leaves after their first public outing.
While Pose depicts trans women living in the 1980s, many of the same dynamics between trans women and cis men exist today. I spoke with several young trans women and gender-nonconforming femmes who described their experiences around feeling fetishized and objectified by men.
“In the realm of sex and dating, my body does not belong to me,” 22-year-old NYU graduate student Teagan Rabuano tells me. “I’m just an object for men to derive pleasure from, only to be discarded immediately afterwards.”
Cis men often seek out trans women out of pure lust with little desire to pursue a fulfilling partnership. “Men were less interested in dating me, and more interested in fucking me,” says 20-year-old UC Berkeley student Cueponi Tlacatl. “You could say that’s just the sign of the times. We live in a hookup culture that emphasizes sex over relationships.” The interest of cis men often stems from selfish desires, as exemplified when Elektra was told that her affirming procedure broke her partner’s “cocoon” — meaning that he only wanted her physicality, from her modelesque facial features to her genitals.
Trans women’s relationships with their bodies, and especially their genitals, can be complex. According to many of the women and femmes I spoke with, cis men who desire trans women want someone who has a penis, with little to no regard for how the person they lust after relates to their body.
“I generally don’t like interaction with my penis,” says Xitalli Sixta-Tarin Sanchez, a 22-year-old student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “[Men] say they’re okay with it and they won’t touch, but they always do. I’m not sure if it’s some pseudo-phallo fixation or what, but they just can’t get over it. It sucks because it feels like all of the attraction they had for me somehow just gets blurred by this one thing. I feel like they mostly relate my body to theirs, and how they get pleasure — not thinking that I could experience pleasure in so many other ways — which ultimately makes me dysphoric.”
Rejecting sexual advances from cis men often results in violence for trans women. Whether catcalled on the street, approached in the club or pursued on a dating app, trans women are immediately presented with cis men wanting sexual favors. When their requests are denied, these disgruntled men’s requests transform into life-threatening demands. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly 46 percent of respondents experienced sexual assault. From sensational media portrayals to deeply-biased, right-wing articles, trans women are assumed to be carnal creatures who exist for the entertainment of men.
“What kept popping up with the men that were interested in me, was that they weren’t interested in me” says Tlacatl. “They were ‘curious’ about what it was like to be with a trans girl. Any trans girl. I felt more like a circus freak than a person. And when I expressed that I wasn’t interested in being someone’s experiment, men would get really aggressive and violent. One minute there was a guy who was complimenting me and calling me a beautiful woman, the next minute he was calling me a man.”
Online dating further exposes the nature of cis men’s fetishizing desires. “So many guys want to have sex with me but no one wants to take me on a date” Rabuano adds. “It’s frustrating to feel that my only role in the lives of men is to fulfill their sexual fantasy when I have needs and desires of my own. I’m not suggesting that I expect to find the love of my life on Grindr, but it would be nice to receive some of that attention in my everyday life.”
Cis entitlement subjects trans women to harassment both online and in the streets, a situation that is familiar to model and actress Jorja Brown. “People really see me, an openly trans woman expressing my femininity, as an open invitation to mock, harass, catcall, touch and abuse, when just like any other human, I deserve to have autonomy and ownership over my body.”
Trans women looking for love are trying to exist in a world fraught with labelling them hypersexual. “We are in constant transition and always at the brink of the next step,” says Brooklyn-based MC Ms. Boogie. “This has made it difficult for a significant other to ‘figure me out’ or better yet [for] me [to] have the mental freedom and patience to explain my needs as a woman of my experience, with a very clear past and a future full of beauty, turmoil and metamorphosis.”