Columns / Discourse / May 8, 2019

Pillowtalk: Trans people in media are hypersexualized

Hey Pillowtalk,


I’m a trans woman! Most of the time it’s pretty great, but I’ve been seeing so many depictions of people like me in the media I consume, and it doesn’t feel true to life. The movies and porn (I’m only human, don’t judge) that I watch show the sexuality of trans women in a very specific way. Do I have to be like that? Is it even accurate? What about my transmasculine and enby siblings?


-Gay in Galesburg


This is a really important question, so thank you for asking! The easy answer is no, your sexuality is not dictated by your identities, or the media’s representations of your identities (in this article we’ll be referring to “sexuality” as sexual behaviors or attitudes, not as “sexual orientation”).

The long answer gets complicated. Sexuality is often a collaborative experience, so it tends to adapt to the situations it’s applied to and the people it collaborates with. In other words, sexuality is necessarily influenced by its contexts. So while your sexuality may exist independently of stereotypes and expectations of you, it’ll still be affected by them. Maybe partners will have had similar media experiences to you and internalized certain expectations. Maybe you will have subconsciously done that as well. Maybe you’ll find your body fetishized in your sex work.

My best advice to you is to be aware of your sexuality. Befriend it, get to know and understand it. Learn your body, your likes and dislikes, your boundaries and where they might come from. Recognize your own biases against yourself, your judgements of yourself, and critique them in a constructive way.

For trans people who experience body dysphoria, it’s sometimes hard to recognize where the dysphoria ends and where the internalized criticisms of your body begin. Often, I ask myself who this criticism is for; am I assuming the role of a partner or a “viewer” in my own sex life, and judging my actions or appearance based on some sort of constructed “should be?” Or, am I speaking as myself, uncomfortable in a more personal sense? Of course, when social dysphoria comes into play, the waters get muddy again. Asking yourself these questions, though, can help start a dialogue with your sexuality.

The harsh truth of the matter is that trans people in the media are hyper-sexualized when we aren’t outright despised or used as pity stories. It’s an easy way to dismiss something that isn’t understood: to reduce a need to a want, a bodily right to a fringe fetish, a person to an object. The tides may be turning, slowly, but this isn’t an issue that’s just going to disappear for trans people as representation gets better. We must remember that our bodies are our own, even when they don’t feel like it. It is up to us how we use them, how they are changed, who sees them and in what contexts. None of those decisions make you less trans or less human. Fetishization is manufactured, and falling into or out of the categories it constructs says nothing about your value as a person or as a sexual being.


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Elleri Scriver

Tags:  media sexuality trans people

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