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Why are so many men and women interested in transgender pornography?
The interest in transgender pornography is increasing. What can this tell us about gender roles and human sexuality?
James Cantor (part of the transphobicBlanchard/Toronto clan of “evolutionary psychologists”)reacted to my tweeton the Pornnhub report on an increasing interest in transgender content. As often is the case with him and his friends he explained the phenomenon by giving it a pseudo-Greek name:
But does this term help us understand such interests better? No.
Coming up with words like "gynandromorphophilia" is what I have called an effect of "paraphiliphilia" (as in "an obsessive need to classify and label sexual desires that do not fit old norms set up by old, white, cis and straight men.")
For those who do not frequent this murky side of contemporary science, “gynandromorphophilia” (GAMP) is (according to Cantor’s friend J. Michael Bailey) an “attraction to gynandromorphs (GAMs), who are natal males with both breasts and a penis, colloquially known as ‘she-males.’.”
Yepp, you can count on these people presenting transgender women as men and associating them with one of the worst transphobic slurs around: "she-male". The term "gynandromorph" does not sound like a respectful way to address transgender women, either.
I personally do not find this kind of erotic content exciting, but I know of a lot of people who do, including crossdreamers and gender variant people. I think there is something to learn here, regardless of whether we see porn as destructive, a simple fact of life or something helpful.
Pornhub is obviously not representative of the population as a whole. Still: Its main target group has, for purely demographic reasons, been cis/straight men, and since so many men do watch porn, these numbers can teach us something about their sexuality. The interests of queer people are also relevant for this debate.
The fact that Transgender was the #1 most viewed category in Brazil in 2022, and third most popular in the US and Italy, tells us that this is not an outlier interest. Indeed, the Transgender category grew by +75% to become the seventh most popular category worldwide, Pornhub reports.
Normal or abnormal?
When a sexual interest or desire is so common or “normal” as this it makes little sense to call it a sexual outlier or “paraphilia” (sexual perversion). It becomes more constructive to ask why so many people find this so interesting.
Mind you, this interest cannot be seen as "normal" in the Blanchard/Bailey/Cantor universe of evolutionary psychology, regardless if how many people search out such content.
For them the vanilla norm of straight sex which potentially can lead to procreation is the natural, default, kind of desire. This is why "gynandromorphophilia” must be classified as a sexual perversion, according to them.
(See our article on Blanchard and Cantor's bizarre understanding of "paraphilia" for more on their culturally and personally defined understanding of mental health and normalcy.)I would argue that it makes more to see variations in both male and female sexual desire as something that grows out of the same ground, and where there are no absolute, clear and distinct boundaries between the desire for what culture normally defines as male/female or masculine/feminine. Men and women have the same genetic blueprint, with genes for both both male and female sexualities (whatever these words mean in this context). The hormonal environment in the womb, which is thought to shape our sexualities and sense of gender, is not binary, but a matter of grades and the result of the interaction of many different factors. On top of that we are shaped by cultural and personal factors. If we open our minds to what really turn people on, we often find some elements of "masculinity" in the attraction to women and "femininity" in the attraction to men. "She looks good in jeans and boots, doesn't she?" "He has such kind eyes."It therefore makes perfect sense that some develop an interest for crossgender fantasies and gender ambiguity. Few, if anyone, follows the norms of the archetypal woman or "perfect" man when it comes to sexual desire.
The transgender woman with a penis
Let me make one thing clear, in order to avoid any misunderstanding; I have so far been writing about the world of erotic fantasies, and not about the real lives of real transgender women. I will come back to the effect all of this has on trans women and men further down.
The transgender woman with a penis represents many visual and mental triggers: She represents femininity, which is the main attraction for gynephilic (woman-loving) men. But she also has the phallus, which is a symbol or sign that is deeply engrained in the human psyche and in human culture. In fantasies this opens up for an exploration of the dynamics of penetrative and receptive or "top" and "bottom".
Attraction to femininity is not always followed by a desire to be the top. These are two separate phenomena.
The fact that there is a strong increase in searches for transgender porn does not mean that the Pornhub visitors have been "groomed" by transgender activists to like trans women. In fact, most transgender activists argue against this kind of objectification of trans women's bodies and the commercial exploitation of their lives.
I suspect this increase is partly he result of a feedback loop whereby increased interest leads to the creation of more porn which again leads to an increase in consumption.
The potential for this kind of interest has always been there. The taboos and social conditioning forcing "men to be real men" are strong, and the fact that so many overcome this barrier says a lot about the strength of the underlying desires.
The fascination for transgender men
There are some other interesting numbers in the Pornhub statistics. Some of you will remember the Blanchard clan's reluctance to accept the existence of erotic crossdreaming among women. The Pornhub numbers tell us that there is a strong interest in transgender porn, also among those assigned female at birth.
“FTM” (female to male) searches were 8 times more popular than “MTF” (male to female), with “transgender threesome” and “transgender surprise” among the top searches. Men view Transgender videos +22% more than women, while women view the “Trans Male Transgender” sub-category +115% more than men.
In other words: There are quite a few women out there who are attracted to transmasculine expressions and bodies. Some of them may be lesbian, bisexual or pansexual women, I suppose.
Lesbian culture has long traditions for exploring transmasculine, "butch", expressions. Some lesbians explore the role of the phallus. That does not make the less lesbian.
Bisexual and pansexual women are often attracted to both male and female "signifiers". And there may be cis/straight women who are fascinated by the ambiguity of trans male bodies.
The Pornhub press release does not distinguish between the sexual orientation of the women watching these movies. However, the FTM searches grew +202% among visitors to PornhubGay, which tells us that lesbian women represent at least a section of this female cohort.
Followed by an increase in transphobia
I noted that the interest in trans women with a penis is partly caused by an underlying spectrum of sexual desires. But such a "natural" basis will always be shaped by the surrounding culture and its language. I see a pattern here that I think requires further exploration.
We are in the middle of an intense transphobic backlash, where the far right, helped by "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs) are doing their best to erase the very existence of transgender people.
The overall narrative is based on an old fashioned vision of "normal" and "natural" sex that grows out of 19th century science and the cultural prejudices of the past. This backlash is clearly an attempt to uphold traditional ideas about sex and gender, and to defend gender roles upheld by these ideas.
This also applies to TERF ideology. Yes, "gender critical" thinking does contain feminist ideas about women's liberation, but the fundamental ideas about what it means to be a woman or to be a man are copied from the patriarchal ideas of the past.
This includes the idea that women are innocent and demure, and defined by their ability to have children, while men are seen as dominant and aggressive, with an intense sexual appetite that threatens women. This is what far right extremists use to argue that women needs to be "protected" and controlled by men.
The penis is seen as a symbol of this dominance/threat by both the right wing and the left wing transphobes, which is why TERFs cannot wrap their minds around the idea of a woman with a penis.
This obsession with the penis is also found in transgender porn, but while it leads to hatred among TERFs, it leads to fascination among many porn consumers. I suspect that these two types of obsession are related.
Porn and other types of erotica often challenge the taboos of the day, as the "forbidden" is seen as tantalizing and mysterious. Transgender porn does, for instance, open the door to the idea of the dominant woman who feminize men, a direct threat to the narrative about "real men" and "demure women". A man who wants to succumb to a woman threatens the very idea of male dominance.
Porn and erotica are seen as forbidden, yet protected, places outside normal society, which makes them "safe" areas to explore taboos. Sexual desire is not rational. It can in some ways be seen as a realm beyond good and evil. It is what it is, and demands to be heard.
Cultural taboos may exile such fantasies from "polite conversation", but the social conditioning cannot extinguish them, which is why people establish rooms for such interests outside the socially accepted spaces.
Ironically this the current backlash against gender variance and trans identities may lead to an increased interest in transgender porn. Maybe it is the reactionary traditionalists who are the "groomers".
Note also that gender critical activism is strongly influenced by lesbian thinkers, who – often because of abuse and sexist invalidation – have come to the conclusion that all men are evil. The penis becomes the symbol that captures the core of these feelings.
Trans women cannot be women, as these TERFs see it, because they carry around the very symbol of male dominance and violence. Furthermore, trans men cannot be men, because they lack this essential signifier. TERFs therefore treat trans men as sexist men treat women: As stupid and emotional women.
Note the overlap between the idea of the dominant trans woman in porn and the gender critical concept of the male oppressor. There is no room for dominant women in the world of TERFs, whether they have a penis or not. Sure, many TERF activists play the role of the dominatrix to perfection, but they pretend that they are the weak and oppressed victim. This is how TERFs are strengthening the misogynistic prejudices of our time.
But porn is bad, right?
In this post I have not discussed whether porn is bad or useful. I have used the statistics of Pornhub to explore the way some men (and women) become fascinated by the bodies of transgender people. That tells us something about the human mind, and in a time of strong cultural upheaval and polarization we desperately need to get out of ur intellectual traps and lock-ins.
There can be no doubt that while transgender porn can be seen as part of a more wider "normalization" of transgender lives, it also leads to a further stigmatization of transgender people, and in particular transgender women.
Transgender women who take part in transgender porn might very well be strong and independent women with much agency, but others are not. Some transgender porn models are, like many transgender sex workers, women with a past of invalidation and sexual exploitation.
The narratives told by such erotic movies (to the extent there are any meaningful stories there at all) may also reinforce the prejudices people have against trans women in particular and women in general. A common transphobic trope is the transsexual "trap". Sexy women apparently lure cis men into having sex with them, threatening to make these men gay in the process. This nonsense says a lot about the sexual fears found in some parts of society, but it explains why trans women are more likely to experience violence and abuse.
The sexualization of transgender women, both in porn and in the world at large, reinforces the anti-trans attitudes found in society, and strengthens the negative stereotypes.
This has to be weighted up against the way transgender porn disrupts the traditional gender narrative and sets some minds free, for sure, but this sexualization is a huge problem that has to be addressed.
Fantasy is not reality
I would argue that we have to distinguish with what the porn industry does to people and the fantasies themselves. You can perfectly well question the practices of "adult entertainment", while accepting the fact that the minds of people are full of both bizarre and scary and diverse and wonderful images, dreams and desires.
We should also keep in mind that a complete dismissal of the very idea of some men and women being attracted to transgender bodies ("Fetishization!!!") will also strengthen the idea that there is something wrong with transgender bodies, and that trans men and women do not deserve sex and love.
I would like to quote the transgender scientist, philosopher and activist Julia Serano here:
While there are legitimate critiques to be made of way in which some (albeit not all) cisgender men who “admire” trans women express their attractions (e.g., by exoticizing us, viewing us as mere sexual objects, not fully respecting our female identities, not treating us as human beings), I believe that the wholesale stereotyping of them and using psychiatric language to pathologize them only worsens the problem—not just for them, but for us as well. Once again, the underlying premise that drives these accusations is that there must be something wrong with them because, after all, they are attracted to us.
This suspicion extends far beyond those men who watch trans porn, solicit trans sex workers, or secretly occasion trans pickup bars. Cisgender women and men who are in loving committed relationships with their trans partners are also regularly dismissed as being “chasers” and “fetishists.” If they want to avoid these accusations, then they have to defend themselves via a convoluted (contradictory even!) set of claims.
A word like "gynandromorphophilia" is not only created to humiliate men who watch transgender porn. It is also a way of invalidating transgender women.
Link to the Pornhub press release: tinyurl.com/3v4ku2bh
Photo: SB Arts Media