Monica Roberts

Let's Talk About Transsex

Filed By Monica Roberts | February 18, 2008 11:40 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: African-American, Monica Roberts, sex, transgender issues

Monica Helms wrote an interesting February 6 post called Sex, Love and Transsexuals in which she discussed her thoughts on why most transpeople are squeamish about the issue.

I have a different take on it for you dear Bilerico readers to consider

Transpeople of color live lives more similar to our biological brothers and sisters. One reason I believe that we've consciously (or subconsciously) abstained from publicly discussing our sex lives is the knowledge that we're still fighting for our human rights to be respected and protected.

We African-American transwomen are acutely aware from our history as to how sex has been used as a weapon against us. Over the centuries we have seen it used by the dominant society to dehumanize us, paint us in a negative light, justification to deny us civil rights coverage or as a pretext to visit violence upon us.

Like our biobrothers and biosisters, African-American transpeople are stereotyped as hypersexual beings and that plays into our reticence to publicly discuss our sex lives.

Transgender porn is another factor. Unfortunately its face is overwhelmingly an Asian, Latina, or African-American one with all the accompanying negative baggage that goes with it. Yes, there are white transwomen adult film stars who freely participate in that world. But for every Gia Darling, there are far more examples of positive white transwomen role models that offset it. Transwomen of color don't as of yet have the critical mass of positive role models or the positive PR to offset that gross imbalance of negativity our images get slimed with..

We transpeople of color are more conservative about publicly discussing our sex lives thanks to being raised in Catholic or Protestant/Baptist churches. We grow up in more socially conservative cultural environments and communities and those values stay with us even into adulthood.

But get us in a small, intimate gathering or with a few trusted friends and we'll tell you stories that'll make 'Sex In The City' seem like a nursery rhyme. Many of my transsistahs have no problems atttracting or keeping a partner happy in the bedroom be they pre, non or post-op.

We just don't talk about it in front of strangers.

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It is a shame and many of us both of
color and not have had to deal with the
sexualization of TS/TG folk since the
early 90's. The amount of tranny porn exploded
in the 90's and through the first few years
of this decade. Then the internet moved much of that out of adult book stores and into the margins of the net. I worked for a GLBT newspaper that also published "Adult Contact rags" also. One of those
Publications was created and edited by one of my coworkers a Non-Op.
I asked this person one day "do you feel that you are exploiting the TG community" her response was
"If we don't someone else will".

I don't know if this kind of human exploitation can ever be stopped unfortunately it exists and many of us who live and work in the mainstream must overcome that image as part of making our place in the real world.

Good post...
Got me to thinking about some things i had put our of my mind for a couple of years now.

Take care

I never thought about trannie porn, but I guess you do always see those sensationalistic sites - "Chicks with dicks!" shit. huh.

I'm a White MTF TS so I can't assume to know about the Black experience. But, something a straight White female friend told me last year may be relevant. I thought I was encountering prejudice from someone due to my being transsexual. My friend pointed out that maybe the person just didn't like me.

When Blacks encounter what appears to be prejudice this same issue may be be in effect. Few White people consider the history of the entire Black race in making negative judgements about individual Blacks. I also feel that few people consider the history of transsexuals when they make negative judgements about individual TSs. In both situations it is more common, as my friend mentioned, that they just don't like us.


you are a positive example for transwomen, and we are all people of color. even pinkish beige is a color. color doesn't have anything to do with anything in relation to transwomen. for the transgender community, all of the negative stereotypes are attached to women. gender has been used - and continues to be used - to oppress all women. women did not receive the right to vote until 50 years after black men. even today, certain cultures deny women the right to drive or walk unescorted, to have employment, to receive an education. color of skin or hair or eyes is irrelevant. women have been oppressed since the beginning of time.

like women born women, trans women are consistently over sexualized. we are represented as autogenophiles, or sex workers, or practitioners of fetish. men and women alike are obsessed with our bodies, our surgeries, our daily grooming habits. the mundane act of getting dressed or putting on lipstick is considered worthy of air time in a documentary.

as trans women, we have been sold the concept that "true" transwomen don't like sex, and that masturbation is proof that we are men excited by wearing women's clothes. i don't think that there is any deeper insult to a woman than being told that she is a man. we have been made to feel ashamed in so many ways. It has been difficult for many (myself included) not to buy into all the rhetoric. it is the instinct of self preservation that keeps us from publicly espousing our sexuality. every transwoman who does speak openly is attacked, from outside the community but especially from within.

we are women, and like all women (or men, for that matter) we are sexual creatures. we have sexual fantasies and preferences. we experience both love and sexual attraction, and we know how to use our bodies to curl the toes of our partners - and we enjoy it. just like any other woman. and yes, get us together in a group of friends and i guarantee that you will hear about my preference for large men. we are women -we are human - we have a capacity to enjoy physical intimacy. if we did not, then we truly would be freaks of nature. unfortunately, many women have been so traumatized and brutalized that they can no longer express that intimacy. they are victims of a society that has deemed them to be unworthy.

monica, i respect you as a woman. as a trans woman. you are successful and articulate. but i also respect those who are not so successful. and color just doesn't fit into the equation. you and i agree on more issues and share more life experience than two other people who happen to have a similar shade of skin. we are sisters, and i don't think that we can afford to forget it for even a moment.

Thank you for elaborating on the issue if sex from the perspective of the African American trans community. As always, you have given us some good information.


I don't forget for a moment we are all sisters. But the reality is that some people do.

Monica, please just call me Jeri. And I am proud to be considered your sister. As far as those who don't share our opinion, what can I possibly say but more is the pity.

I love your articles; they are open and frank. I empathize with so much you have to say. I recognize that you are stating your opinion and are not seeking approval. With an audience as passionate and opinionated as this one, that takes courage. I hope I don't offend you when I say that I approve. Courage is an inborn trait that transgender individuals must possess. Without it, we can not find the strength to be true to ourselves. Keep being true, and be well....

Thanks Monica and Jeri. Good post. The one thing that had me twisted up with being a Black Trans Women was no Role model except for the porn industry. The one thing that revolted me more than Jerry Springer was the "Sissyfication movement" and the thought that i would be force to be someone slave. I rather have oblivion than be that way was my thought for many years. I was Blessed that i found support and self acceptance two years ago.

Monica: Thank you very much for this posting. It responds to my earlier question to you how I can reach out to African-American gender variant "peeps," as you so eloquently put it.

I have made progress in that I will be meeting someone from this community in just a couple of days.

I agree with Jeri, we are all sisters.

Some day I'd love to meet both of you. Some conference some day????


You have more courage in one little package than a busload of closeted pink senators. There are many transwomen of all colors who have miraculously risen above the oppression. You can, too.

It is a great misfortune and injustice that discrimination in employment often provides trans women with no better options than the sex industry or crime. It needs to end - yesterday. It is a national disgrace. More than half of the prostitutes on the stroll in our nation's capital are trans women, even though we make up less than 1% of the total population. Believe me, the lifestyle is anything but glamorous. They aren't there because it is their first option.


You are a sweetheart! You always say nice things! You are welcome to come and visit anytime. Maybe the NCTE lobby day in DC? Be well!


I agree with you on so many of your points, the sexualization of trans women, the expectation of hyperfemininity, and the suppression of our individual sexualities. However, I have to disagree with the following comments:

color doesn't have anything to do with anything in relation to transwomen.
color of skin or hair or eyes is irrelevant.
color just doesn't fit into the equation.

I really hope you aren't saying what I think you're saying, because this is exactly the attitude that Monica and other trans women of color have repeatedly struggled against in transgender spaces that are predominantly white.

White trans women (myself included) cannot disregard the impact that skin color (or class, or disability, or sexuality, etc.) has on the experiences and discriminations faced by other trans women. There are so many similarities, yet there are very real differences too.

While white people have the luxury of being 'colorblind', people of color do not.

Thanks Monica, for your contributions here and otherwise.

Being paleo-transgender and living nearly all of my life in the mainstream i am not sure i see the validity in the statements made regarding hyper-femininity. I do have to say i never was one to hang out at the TG bars where tranny chasers crused nor did i have a need to work in the "industry". I just had a typical middle class job working in high tech in the 80's and 90's and was accepted for who i presented as. I have come to find out that my experience is not uncommon and nearly all the girls i mentor today have similar experiences. I can't speak for color but can speak volumes for disability and how it plays into all of this. In all those years it didn't take ether a college degree or a lot of time to find out that mainstream folk really don't give a rat's output port about what you do when you are not around them. the less they hear about that the better they get along with you. They really don't care if your TG/TS or what as long as you don't rub their face in it.
They (including employers) just want someone who won't rock the boat. Someone who can do a good job. Someone who will laugh at the same jokes they do.

Maybe my 28 (in April)years of experience have been in a different community or on a different planet?
heck i don't know.
I just know what works for me and the girls i help.

Take care
Sue Robins

I was wondering when Sue would be trying to take us down that road again. Go figure.

There isn't any road Monica.
it's all about getting along.
28 years of experience taught me that.
Take care

Sue: I had the same experience as you. I agree with your observations, because I had a successful career in the federal government. I may have been one of the first to transition, and continue working for Uncle Sam. I went to work, did my job, kept my mouth shut, and kept my job. I changed agencies, but I did keep my federal employment, and have retired.

I wasn't an activist then like I am now.

But - I can't be fired from being retired.

The best activism is being the best human one can.
My employers were okay with my expressing my gender identity as long as it didn't interfere with my job of the jobs of others, and so things went from 1980 to the present. in those days the "woman trapped in a man's body" paradigm was acceptable to most all my coworkers. There is always a couple of schmucks who don't want to be respectful. Even forty-four years after the Civil Rights Act we still have a few bigots out there and always will. you can't make people's thoughts against the law.

Take care

Excellent article, Monica. I couldn't agree more with your point about transpeople of color. As a college professor, I notice that my African American and Asian American students intuitively understand concepts of identity and marginalization, whereas my White students struggle. I see a similar phenomenon in the comments here.

I recently read an article that explains this dichotomy: THE MULTIPLE SELF: EXPLORING BETWEEN AND BEYOND MODERNITY AND POSTMODERNITY
Minnesota Law Review, 81 MNLR 1481 (1997)
It discussed how the Western (i.e., White) world, steeped in Renaissance humanism and the virtues of the Enlightenment, conceives of the individual as sovereign and epistemologically central. This reconfiguration of the self, spurred by historical events such as the Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolution, led to defining the human self as its capacity for reason, abstracted from its experience, and seeing all people are basically similar despite their very different social positions. Thus, all differences among humans are trivial. Discrimination is merely a side issue since we all have to deal with hardships of one sort or another.

This ideology of individualism allowed construction of an ideology to justify certain practices, such as slavery and colonialism. By construing the essence of the human self as individual and autonomous, European thinkers deliberately excluded from selfhood members of non-White societies that were organized around non-individualistic norms. Similarly, the adherence of modernists to Christian beliefs also justified the conquest and subjugation of non-Christian (i.e., non-White) “infidels.” Other complementary ideologies have been employed as needed to provide scientific (e.g., eugenics and polygenics) and, more recently, cultural (e.g., the “culture of poverty”) explanations for the inequalities of Western society.

All this is to say that White transwomen must begin to grapple with the privileges, often unnoticed by us, granted to us by our whiteness and our male socialization.

Some of us White Transwomen who were borne physically disabled know what discrimination is and know how to overcome it.
we can make the as you put it White western world work for us, because we think outside of the box.
Some of here have long history of adaptation enabling us to work beyond discrimination and make our place in society instead of complaining how bad white heterosexual culture is.

Thanks Jillian that was a thought provoking comment.
Take care