The Cotton Ceiling. Really.
Porn rockstar Drew Deveaux recently linked this disturbing, uh, thing, on twitter. It presents an email conversation between a lesbian activist and a trans activist. In summary, the lesbian activist asked the trans activist what the “cotton ceiling” was. The term, which was entirely new to me, deals with the concept that trans women are welcomed into feminist/lesbian spaces, but they are largely ignored as potential sexual partners in these spaces. Think the feminist concept of a workplace “glass ceiling”, but with panties. I’ll admit that I’m biased against any glimmer of transphobia, but to my eye, the conversation quickly descended to the lesbian activist more or less asking the trans activist “Why are you trying to force me to acknowledge you as a woman and touch your penis!? Eeeeww!” Of course, this is just my interpretation, but here’s a direct quote:
Lesbians are sexually attracted to females. This does not include trans women with penises.
Hold the fuck up there.
First off, hasn’t feminism– especially queer feminism– been dealing for over a century with how fucked up it is that other people try to define “correct” womanhood for us? Distinguishing between “female” and “woman” here may seem deceptively okay because “female” refers to sex and “woman” refers to gender. But sex is so much more than genitals, and I cannot imagine feeling comfortable telling anyone else what their sex or gender is. If you feel comfortable doing that, please spend the next month speaking as little as possible and concentrating hard on listening to the people around you. You are not the boss of the planet: you can certainly say that women with penises aren’t female, but your simplistic view of bodies and selfhood and reality is not fooling the rest of us.
Second of all, and I can’t believe there’s even a remote possibility that this is going to blow anyone’s mind: Some lesbians want to have sex with women who have penises. Yes, really. Accept it now. I’m a queer woman. I love women. I am absolutely open to dating and fucking trans* people, including trans women. You don’t get to dictate to me whom I am attracted to. You don’t get to tell me what girl love means. I realize that my bisexuality might cloud this issue, but let me assure you that there exist full-blooded lesbians who feel the same way. Let’s put it this way: I can also have completely male-free lady sex involving a penis at any time with a cis woman. It’s called a strap-on. A penis doesn’t make someone male; I speak from a place of experience here.
I don’t think the trans activist or anyone else was saying that all lesbians are transphobic meanies unless they go out immediately and find trans women to have sex with. Obviously, each of us has the inalienable right to be attracted to the people we end up being attracted to. At the same time, there’s a big difference between saying “You’re not the type of woman I’m into” and saying “I’m into women and you don’t count.” I suspect that the plea here is to fully acknowledge trans women in the queer community as women, as lesbians (if applicable), to acknowledge their partners as female-loving people, and to open up to the idea that female-on-female sexuality is more diverse than all vaginas all the time.
In short, stop trying to make goddamn rules about other people’s sex lives. Maybe even consider reevaluating some of the assumptions that led you to create rules for your own.
Feminism doesn’t get to be an exclusive club. Feminism is the anti-exclusive club. We will joyfully include everyone in our goal of equality– including men with penises, women with penises, marginalized groups of all kinds, and even people we don’t particularly agree with, or we’ve already failed. We’re either dismantling hierarchy or we’re just rearranging it.