Can’t host, won’t travel: Let’s Navigate cis-behavior on the apps

I was newly single and very depressed. In an effort to empower me, my caring friends suggested I get laid. “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone,” they said. A true Pisces, I disregarded their suggestion. I didn’t need to get laid, I needed to wallow. And anyway, how was I supposed to meet someone in the middle of Covid? Especially when the main cruising spots, the gay bars and clubs, were off limits to me as a sober person? “Get on the apps,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. 

Though I’ve identified as a queer man for several years now, I had never gone on the apps before. There were two reasons for this:

1) I’m technologically illiterate, and 2) I’m trans.

I reckoned I would lose my boner by the time I figured out how to sign in. And then there were all the the transphobes and chasers that lurked there, according to legend.

But I knew my friends were right. It was time. Intimidated by Grindr, I started out by downloading Hinge and Scruff. The first several conversations were definitively awkward. So were the first couple of hookups. But it got easier as I learned to navigate the culture and its norms. I learned how to initiate a conversation, how to vet someone, how to talk about safety (after I got Chlamydia), how to avoid getting catfished, and so forth. I gained confidence, got bolder, learned more about what I wanted and how to ask for it. 

While I now use and mostly enjoy the apps (even Grindr) it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns. Three out of five cis guys who like/woof/match/tap me have something creepy or problematic to say about my transness. So in addition to the above-mentioned skills, I have also had to learn: how to spot a chaser, when to block someone, how to respond (or not respond) to unusual messages.

There are also guys who like to initiate a conversation, and then get bitchy when I clarify that I’m trans—as my profile clearly states. While on that subject, I would strongly prefer to not have to broadcast my transness, since doing so makes me a target for chasers, i.e. people who seek out trans people as a fetish. (For example the guy who asked if I’d shave my beard before I met up with him, or the one who expressed disappointment that I didn’t look “more trans.”) But I’d rather dodge chasers than transphobic assholes who assume that because I have a beard, I’m cis.

Unwelcomed feminization is another downside to being openly “FTM” on the apps. Guys will see that I’m trans, and be in my inbox talking to me like I’m the ultimate sub, or using hyper-gendered language to describe my anatomy, without even asking if I’m into it. One fellow, upon realizing that I’m trans, began referring to me as a “boi” and continued until I blocked him. 

I’m well aware that Grindr is not, nor is it intended to be, a place of cultured discourse. People go there to hook up, enact fetishes, get nasty, kinky, primal. This is the app’s primary purpose, which is great, and also why I’m on it. But we are all adults here (at least I hope so) and we should be able to get nasty without being completely disrespectful.

And when are white cis folks going to accept that not all fetishes are created equal? (No, Kevin, Tim’s preference for jocks is not the same as your preference for Black men.) There is nothing cute about racial fetishism. And there is nothing cute about transgender fetishism either. But some folks feel that they should be able to want what they want, without ever being questioned or challenged, as is their God-given right as white, cisgender, land-owning Americans. Oops.

Here certain cis gays will argue that anyone who is being viewed as a type, is being fetishized. They may give the example of a femboy, who is sought out for his femininity, you might even say he is reduced to it. However, “femboy” describes a form of gender expression, an external display of masculinity or femininity, which one can choose to pick up or put down at will. And no matter how femme he decides to present, the cis femboy’s maleness is never called into question. Trans guys do not have this luxury. No matter how masculine our appearance or behavior, our maleness is never secured / is ever under interrogation.

The chaser’s logic is inherently transphobic and here’s why. Just like cis men, trans men can be butch daddies or femboys, bears or twinks, wolves or otters. We can belong to any tribe, we can embody any type. In fact, the only thing that all trans guys have in common is the fact that we were assigned female at birth. In order to talk about us as if we are a type, you have to stereotype us (assume that we all look the same, act the same, have the same sexual preferences, etc) or sexualize the one part of ourselves that we had no say in, and which for many of us is a source of great distress. There is nothing wrong with genital preferences, but there is also no good reason to lump all trans guys into a category that’s defined by our genitals. That’s what our doctors did, and look how that went. 

Now, cis gays, if a trans guy wants to be fetishized, feminized, or reduced to his genitals during sex, then fabulous! Have at it. Nothing is off limits, as long as everyone consents. But for the love of god, don’t assume he wants these things—and definitely don’t assume he wants these things just because just because he’s trans.

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