I am terminally online. Call it a by-product of being a child of the internet and a freelance journalist. I am loud and obnoxious, so obviously I spend a lot of time on Twitter. As a trans femme with a marginal digital platform, this opens me up to a lot of potential for harassment and abuse.
I frequently deal with anti-trans bigots cluttering my mentions. Sometimes they creep into my emails to remind me that I’m corrupting the youth, deserve to die, blah blah bah. I got used to it very quickly – it tends to mirror much of the transphobia trans femmes experience in their day-to-day lives. Plus, anti-trans bigotry gets solved pretty quickly with a good blocklist and a no-tolerance policy for engaging with bigots.
But there’s another more insidious form of abuse with which many trans femmes deal: chasers. Chasers are usually cisgender men who see trans people (usually trans femmes) as inherently sexual and so, sexually objectify them. The growth of the digital space and the anonymity that comes with it have encouraged chasers to pursue trans femmes ferociously. This translates to trans people being bombarded with vile messaging aimed at degrading them to sexual objects.
“Hey hun, show me your cock” is a frequent refrain in my DMs.
These earn an easy block. However, it’s the sneaky ones that deserve my contempt these days, the chaser who has figured out that the best way to get what he wants is to act ‘normal’. He has learned the red flags and how to suppress them. However, he doesn’t care about you as a person – you’re nothing but an animated sex doll. He won’t express any interest in your personality but he’ll do well to disguise that by showering you with affection. He preys on the physical insecurities of trans femmes, saying all the things you need to hear right now. He wants nothing more than to remind you he is highly attracted to you. Their attraction is natural… but not for the reasons you ever want it to be. It’s always loaded with a single desire: the thrill of sleeping with a trans femme because of their perceptions of it being taboo and kinky. You’re a fetish to them, an object to conquer and dominate.
It’s a symptom of a broader societal problem: the overt sexualisation of trans femmes. This ranges from experiences like catcalling to the distributing of sexualised imagery of trans femmes to the way trans femmes are represented in certain types of porn. The continuous exposure to these experiences and media reinforces gender roles that see men as predators and trans femmes as prey.
Porn has a creeping influence on the sexualisation of trans people. A 2021 report by PornHub shows that searches containing ‘trans’ increased by 141 percent and views of the transgender category grew by 23 percent, making it the 10th most-watched porn category by male visitors. A cursory scan of the category shows the extent to which the industry fetishises trans femmes – the words ‘shemale’, ‘tranny’ and ‘ladyboy’ dominate the titles. Hit ‘play’ on the majority of these videos and they’ll show trans femmes being subjugated or dominated by men.
The sexualisation of trans femmes is dehumanising and degrading. It is a complete deconstruction of our identities as complex human beings into objects for men’s pleasure. The experience is traumatic. A stranger bombards you with their incredibly detailed sexual fantasies in which you’re nothing but a passive sex toy for his enjoyment, and then he spits vile hatred at you if (or, more likely, when) you reject him.
The root cause of this sexualisation is hard to identify. Many academics point to the erroneous assumption that trans femmes start transitioning to be more attractive to cishet men. This belief erases the existence of trans lesbians or asexual trans femmes. It allows men to justify their preying on trans femmes. After all, we must be doing this to appeal to their gaze?
This fetishisation commodifies trans identity and perpetuates dangerous myths about the hypersexuality of trans femmes. This often leads to unrealistic expectations within relationships, constantly opening trans femmes to increased levels of risk in sexual situations. Furthermore, the stressors associated with this sort of aggressive sexualisation triggers numerous adverse outcomes, including eating disorders, increased body surveillance, and body dissatisfaction in trans femmes.
The reality is that as a trans femme, I’m forced to be hyper vigilant. Going out in public without constantly being aware of every little thing happening around me is a dangerous affair. Every trip to the grocery store is an exercise of vigilance. I can’t utilise social infrastructure without experiencing some form of sexual harassment. I am scrutinised at every turn because of the predatory cycle of sexualisation and fetishisation.