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Trannychaser by Annalee Newitz          

“The seduction emanating from a person of uncertain or dissimulated sex is powerful.”
— Colette

The back room was studded with them. Their hair shorn or pomaded, their bodies lanky, thick or muscled, they wore suits, rock n’ roll star drag, wife beaters and Ben Davis work pants. They played pool like James Dean. As I stood there drinking in the room full of wild, butch girlboys, a person with breasts and a beard nudged me away from the pool tables. “Hey,” the trannyboy said gruffly, “I’m setting up this shot here.” I had just arrived for the inaugural night of Pink Pony, an “FTMs and friends” nightclub at San Francisco’s Paradise Lounge.

My lover Charles was the only MTF (male-to-female) femme in sight. In heels, fishnets and a miniskirt, he tried vainly to scuttle behind my back as we moved away from the pool player. “Charles, you look so fetching when you try to run in heels,” I teased. The pool player turned back around and glared at me, muttering disgustedly, “What’s this Charles stuff?”

Charles and I raised our eyebrows at each other. Tranny politics are so ridiculously complicated, I thought. When you fuck with your gender, everybody’s got an opinion about it. If Charles is dressed as a girl, people will assume that he should use a female name and pronouns — he can’t just be a boy in a dress, or a girl named Charles. Other people assume he’s gay, and whisper condescendingly to me about the tragic lives of fag hags. Still others will wonder aloud why he hasn’t started taking hormones and preparing for gender reassignment surgery. When you’re part of the still inchoate transgender community, there are so many desires on the line that it’s hard to draw a clear boundary between your gender, and the gender other people want you to be. But later that night, it was easy to forget about politics. People had finally started dancing, and the club was sweaty, smoky and packed — the perfect place for a naughty little trannychaser like myself.

If attraction to the same sex makes you homosexual or bisexual, does attraction to people of indeterminate or transfigured sex give you an identity, too? The only word we have for such an identity is the mostly insulting term “trannychaser,” an epithet I’ve generally heard applied to sexually repressed men who suck MTF cock but still claim that they’re straight. This “I’m a straight guy who likes chicks with dicks” scenario is probably what spawned the term trannychaser in the first place, and it’s the bane of every chased tranny’s existence. It seems like all sorts of trannies, from drag queens to transsexuals, have a story about some creepy guy who fucked them or flirted with them and then expected a quiet nod in agreement when he declared his hetero status. “I don’t care whether you’re male or female,” a pre-op MTF told me once, “if you’re attracted to me, you’re not straight.”

Rarely is the term trannychaser used playfully, or as a form of self-identification for people like me, a bisexual girl who likes genderfuck. And yet it was only by embracing that term that I was able to untangle the snarl of my sexual appetites and resolve the confusion that had been following me my whole life.

Trannies make me hot because their gender transformations are transgressions, as well. I know this might sound old hat but, for me, sex has always been about some sort of transgression — I like to pull a boy’s hair when I kiss him, or pinch a girl’s nipple hard after I’ve licked it. If sex isn’t inappropriate or shocking, it isn’t pleasurable. Transgendered bodies are transgression incarnate. They don’t conform to expectations; they’re surprising; and they are often in the process of being utterly changed. Desiring a tranny comes out of a deep pull toward people who feel like they don’t fit in, and have done something radical about it. They’ve taken their bodies into their own hands and made something completely new.

Of course, there’s also something frankly pragmatic about my trannychasing. As a bisexual, it’s more convenient for me if I can date someone who has lived on both sides of the fence. Many trannies — although certainly not all — give off a kind of bisexual eroticism. Even if they’ve had sex-reassignment surgery, they can’t erase their memories of having been treated like a member of the other sex, and it affects the way they interact with me.

I’ve been smitten by trannies for as long as I can remember. My first major crush was on D, one of my best friends in elementary school. When we hit puberty, he revealed to me that he wanted to be a girl. He told me that when he grew up he was going to get a sex change, a concept he’d picked up on a cable TV special. I had always been drawn to him because he didn’t ignore me and run off to play soccer the way other boys did. He treated me like a respected equal, never questioning that I might be just as much of an authority as he was on Dungeons and Dragons rules or the meaning of a particular science fiction novel.

Perhaps for these reasons, his confession made immediate sense to me. Or maybe I wasn’t shocked because I, too, felt alienated by my gender — I didn’t want to be a boy or a girl, just neutral. I resented being told by my teachers that I should be “lady-like,” which seemed to mean that I should shut up and let boys take the lead. I clearly wasn’t a lady, but I wasn’t a boy either. My main interests were reading and watching movies, pursuits that weren’t really characterized as masculine or feminine.

D was only the first of many, many crushes and romances I subsequently had with people whose genders did not fit their anatomy. Of course, it’s one thing to be besotted with androgyny, and quite another to come out and call yourself a trannychaser. There is a difference between dating a girlish boy and dating an MTF who is shooting estrogen. Trannychasing means getting involved with the politics of gender rights, an issue that is hotly contested in the sexual minority community.

Politics stopped me from plunging headlong into trannychasing over a decade ago, when it first dawned on me that what I really wanted to do with my downy-faced, cherubic boyfriend at the time was strap on a cock, spread his legs and make him scream like a girl. Back then, in the early 1990s, I was a student at UC Berkeley, and although it would have been cool to be a lesbian, wanting to turn your boyfriend into a girl was at best weird and at worst some kind of betrayal of the feminist cause. Although most feminists have since changed their minds, at that time transsexual women were viewed with suspicion, as if they were hatching a sexist plot to control women by becoming women themselves. Feminists distrusted MTFs for upholding sexist stereotypes (since many of them were traditionally femme), and sneered at FTMs because they were assimilationists who had been disloyal to their sisters.

When I became involved in the radical intellectual scene while studying for my Ph.D., my queer, leftist, theorist friends convinced me that transgendered people were copping out, perpetuating sexism by conforming to gender binaries. (And they were probably heterosexuals, too!) I tried to be a good queer, so I ended up fucking around with my gender in half-conscious ways, like dressing mostly in women’s lingerie for a year, then dressing only in suits and ties. I pursued people who were also confused about their gender and equally repressed.

But desire has a way of transforming even the most rigid of agendas — no matter how much I tried to purge myself of my proclivities, I kept finding myself in relationships with people who would eventually reveal to me that they wanted to play the role of the opposite sex. At one point, I went out on a date with a young man who told me over dinner that he had reoccurring dreams of being pregnant and giving birth. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I convinced myself that his dreams (and, later, his cross-dressing) were repulsive.

My struggle made me feel like the “straight” male lead in that notorious scene from The Crying Game where we discover that the ravishing female love interest has a cock. Just as they’re about to have sex, our hero recognizes that he’s fallen in love with a tranny, and vomits uncontrollably. Like him, my trannychasing was more neurotic than erotic. Every time my pussy would swell up over a genderfucked person, I would also feel a wave of fear so powerful it verged on nausea — but that didn’t stop me. I would go to a club and want the girl in the sparkly dress who got up on stage and stripped enough to reveal her shaved male chest. I wanted the boy with hard biceps, tattoos and a motorcycle whose tight jeans were packed with silicone cock. And I especially wanted that person on the street whose crazy hair, geek glasses and sweet ass gave me absolutely no clue to what I’d find if I saw them naked.

What I needed, and eventually got, were some experiences with transgendered people who didn’t conform to my stereotypes, and who knew very well exactly how sexy they were. When I first met my lover Charles, he was wearing hot pink pants, matching nail polish and a turquoise backpack adorned with images of tranny anime character Ranma. And I wanted to ravish him, to grab her head of blond ringlets, to moan “good girl” or “good boy” when I was out of my mind during sex and not have to worry if I’d gotten the gender right.

When Charles and I began dating, I confessed to him awkwardly that I had “gender issues,” and that I wasn’t sure how I felt about his cross-dressing. “Well, I’m a confident tranny,” he grinned, stretching out nylon-encased legs and playing with his bracelet. “Your issues won’t be a problem for me.” And from that moment on, it was official. I wasn’t just somebody with “issues,” or politically suspicious desires, or horrifyingly ambiguous sexual needs. I wanted trannies, and I had finally found somebody who was part of a whole community who understood exactly what I meant.

I’ve considered the possibility that I’m actually an FTM, but I don’t want to change my sex. I’m more chaser than tranny, although of course those terms aren’t mutually exclusive — many trannies are trannychasers, too. But my identity owes no allegiance to any particular gender, and I keep falling in love with trannies because they’re my darling comrades, my co-conspirators. In a world where people cling to gender roles as if they were sacred objects, trannies blaspheme beautifully.

Annalee Newitz and Nerve.com