Thanks Sieran for tackling a fraught topic that always provokes a lot of strong reactions from cis and trans people alike, but which rarely gets the nuanced, compassionate treatment that it deserves.
Before I came out, I was at a party with a cis gay acquaintance (let's call him Allan) who downed a few beers and then began ranting about how outrageous he found it that Grindr had "cis" and "trans" tags on their app. The fact that trans men could be freely listing their profiles on the app just as cis gay men could, and that cis men's identities weren't being treated as the default absolutely incensed him. "When I'm in a gay dating space, I think I should know more or less what to expect," was what he said.
I fought with him over it -- and thankfully, so did another cis gay man present at the party, my friend Joe. "I list myself as cis on the platform," Joe shared with us. "It's the least I can do. Trans people always have to explain themselves to other people. By being open about being cis, I show that men like me are not the default standard. And as a fat man, I know what it's like to be criticized for how my body looks and told that I don't belong, and I wouldn't ever promote that being done to anybody else."
It meant a lot to me that Joe took this perspective. But still, I could not keep Allan's hurtful comments out of my mind. They echoed in my head for years afterward when I visited gay bars and clubs, making me fear that other cis gays around me were sizing me up and judging me as a person who didn't belong. I was terrified to enter the gay dating scene, certain that I'd find rejection and disgust all around me. I still remembered reading Dan Savage's sex advice columns as a teenager and the way he, a gay man, had described vaginas as "canned hams dropped from great heights" with disgust. Whenever I was in queer spaces, everyone presumed I was a lesbian. I felt dysphoric and undesirable, and believed I would always have to choose between being read correctly as a man, and being found attractive by people who didn't respect my identity but wanted my body.
But one fateful night in late 2020, during the worst of lockdown, I caved and uploaded a few risqué photos of myself to Grindr. I listed myself as trans and posted images that revealed clear underboob and the curve of my hips, as well as my masculine jaw and boyish style of dress. Wow, had I been wrong! My phone literally overheated from the sheer number of notifications I received. There was even someone in my own apartment building fewer than twenty feet away messaging me, expressing interest. I wasn't ready to venture out yet, because of COVID and because of other baggage in my life, but it gave me a huge rush of reassurance.
The next year, once I was vaccinated, I took a chance on visiting gay male cruising spaces like Steamworks. I was still all nerves and self doubts, certain that men would stare at me and pass me over. Well, I sure did get stared at -- but the way a cartoon wolf stares at an enticing sheep it wants to swallow whole. Even in a sports bra the clearly revealed my breasts and with a haircut just this side of tomboyish, the gay men were all over me. I came back time and and time again to that sauna as my T dose increased and my body became more masculine, and each time a man cruised me or ran his hands along my body, oohing and ahhing at it, a little bit of my old trauma dissipated.
I'm certain there are men in these spaces that don't want to be anywhere near a vagina. As someone with pretty bad dysphoria around receiving oral myself, I have struggled being sexual in certain ways with vaginas too. But at Steamworks, that too changed. I've had sex with numerous gorgeous, hunky trans guys there, some with straps, some without, and that too helped healed my worst self-perceptions -- and my own biases.
I've met guys who weren't interested in me because I was trans, of course. I remember once I started messaging with a guy on a fetish hookup discord, and when I revealed I was trans he affirmed that I was his brother in the community and that I was as much of a man as anyone else there. But he wasn't interested after I sent him a picture of my body as it was then, tits and all. He still wasn't an asshole about it. He told me I looked cute, which I certainly did, and moved the conversation to more superficial things. I had no problem with that, aside from a twinge of dysphoria at my having boobs. I wished I could be a cis man in that moment, but I was also thankful to this man for being respectful and open to being with some trans guys, even if I wasn't gonna be his type at that point.
At cruising spaces like the back room of the bar Cell Block, I've had guys walk away in the middle of fooling around with me. I don't know if it's because they found a vagina in my pants after a few moments of making out, or if it's because I went to grab a condom from my pocket. But I've also had a cis gay guy happily roll with the discovery of my "bonus hole" on the dancefloor and begin to fuck me, quietly asking if he was doing it right and requesting my help lining up the angles. He'd never fucked someone with a vagina before, and it showed, but he was completely respectful, and he and his friends both had a good time with me, and I with them.
I've flirted with people on the apps and sometimes noticed them only responding back politely. And I've heard from the chasers who are only after some "boypussy", and been with plenty of bisexual and pansexual people who tend to be more mellow about the whole thing. But I also pass as a cis guy now and sometimes idly hear from random Allans who don't want to be with trans guys at all and don't realize that I hear what they're saying and internalize it.
I think already in a matter of a few years, the times have changed a lot. Many cis guys who used to associate vaginas with the trauma of having heterosexuality forced up on them have learned that there are numerous ways transmasculine bodies can look, and more and more gay spaces are defiantly, vocally trans affirming. I hate the defensive people who believe that even talking about this stuff is an attempt to "force" trans sexuality on cisgender people. I see a fair share of them in the comments on this post. To them, all I can say is that you sound a whole hell of a lot like the straight guys who say they don't want gay guys flirting with them. Honey, we don't want you. There are plenty of guys out there, trans and cis, who are worthy of our time. And more and more of them are finding themselves every day.