The Last Word on “Genital Preference”

It’s one of the last retreats and first rejoinders of people whose support of the transgender community isn’t rock-solid. It’s the base of operations of people who don’t oppose our existence but nevertheless find us grotesque and confusing. It’s tiresome, it’s exhausting, and it makes more of us more likely to date each other than our shared experiences and social spaces already did. We have to warn each other that our relationships might end if we transition, partly because of this specter.

The argument from “genital preference” simply will not go away, and that’s because its framing is tangled and often dishonest.

As a trans lesbian who herself finds one genital configuration more aesthetically and sexually desirable than the other, I come at this topic from a distinct perspective. And the most important thing I have to offer here is this point:

It is not the preference that is a problem, it’s how that leads a person to treat their prospective partners.

There are several classic scenarios that are unambiguously bigoted. Some people dismiss trans people as possible partners out of hand because of presumed or actual mismatch between their genitals and the ones they would prefer interacting with. Some regard trans people as a lesser tier of their gender, or think of us as “more compatible with bisexuality/pansexuality” because “you have to be attracted to both binary genders or not have gender as part of your attraction process or something” to tolerate such deviant bodies as ours. Some people have attraction focused strongly on one binary gender but figure they might make an exception for a trans person on the other side of the binary because “the genitals match,” or figure a nonbinary person is “close enough” to whatever gender one reads their genitals as having and not treating their nonbinary status as a meaningful part of them because of that. All of these scenarios are hurtful for a trans person to encounter, and they often provide cover for chasers who fetishize us without seeing us as people or truly recognizing us as the gender we say we are. A lot of the people who harp on about “genital preference” do so to maintain in the public discourse that people like me are “man-adjacent” or worse, to similarly negate the maleness claimed by trans men, and to deny that nonbinary people can exist at all or that intersex categories are meaningful. This often includes TERFs who claim that having been sexually assaulted by men at some point means that trans women with their original equipment simply existing in the same room as them is triggering, despite almost everything about most transfeminine penises being surprisingly different from cismasculine penises, as part of this same enforced alignment between trans women and cis men.

Discourse against genital preference is fundamentally about this pattern, and the ways that it writes trans people who have not (or not yet) had bottom surgery out of any sexual desirability that isn’t totally fetishizing. This pattern is one that needs to be challenged, and not just because of its bigoted premises. A lot of people are a lot more compatible with variant genitals than they think they are and leaving “preference” as an easy out means they never feel that giving folks like us a chance is something they could, let alone should, do. Maintaining “genital preference” in its current privileged position in people’s minds also routinely leads to trans women in particular being dismissed before anyone even finds out what genitals we have, because of the presumption that we probably don’t have the “right” ones for the gynophilic men and women who are nevertheless routinely attracted to us.

What would be wonderful is if people who claim an avowed preference for one genital configuration reacted to learning of the “wrong” one in someone they desire by discussing that limitation with their prospective partners in open, non-dismissive terms. There is a good chance that a trans person with variant genitals doesn’t really want their partner interacting with those genitals anyway, for one thing. Or it might lead to important conversations about how that person has some lingering biases about how genitals relate to gender that they need to challenge. Something I have both lived and seen firsthand is that desiring and loving a person with variant genitals can itself be a prod toward re-evaluating one’s preferences and becoming open to experiences one did not previously imagine they could want…but that can happen ONLY if people do not dismiss each other out of hand because of “genital preference.”

People who point out the harms of unchallenged “genital preference” are not demanding that every single person have precisely equal attraction to all conceivable genital configurations. They are most especially not arguing that any specific person who declines their specific advances is a bigot for so rejecting them. Those strawmen are sickening even when they are not getting me booted from online groups when this topic arises, and only bad actors could claim them seriously. The arguments around this topic are and have always been more nuanced. People challenging the idea of “genital preference” want this whole conversation to be more open and honest and trans-affirming. They want this conversation to recognize that “preference” should not be a euphemism for “dealbreaker,” that the reasons behind so-called “preferences” matter, and that most of them are not as rock-solid as they seem. They want the insidious parallel between “genital preference” and people who refuse to consider partners of minority racial or ethnic backgrounds recognized and understood. They want it recognized that, much like social ideals of beauty are influenced by popular art, that genital preferences are not as set in stone as people imagine, and people can surprise themselves with their flexibility.

Most of all, we want the idea of “genital preference” to stop being a convenient dodge for people who think their anti-trans sentiments should be respected alongside their appreciation for ladies who birdwatch or whatever.

The Last Word on “Genital Preference”

5 thoughts on “The Last Word on “Genital Preference”

  1. 1

    When I read about “genital preference,” I can’t help being reminded of the way so many (entitled) cis men will go on about the physical characteristics they demand of women. It’s not so much that they may like X and not like Y, it’s the way they act like it’s up to the universe (or at least the people in it) to cater to their “preferences,” and the contempt they express so loudly for those who fail to meet them, and frequently oft for people who don’t share their “preferences.” If everyone has to hear about your “preferences” whether they want to or not, it’s no longer “preference,” it’s bigotry.

    Ultimately, it’s a question of whether you treat people as human beings who are their own reason for being, or as body parts whose only reason for existing is to satisfy your urges. If you care about someone for who they are, would you let their hair color, or weight, or the conformation of their genitals make you not care about them? And if it did bother you so much you couldn’t be with them, wouldn’t you feel like it’s your own failing?

    Actually, it goes the other way, too. Women who fit current beauty standards very well often find that the men who hit on them frequently only care about their body and don’t want to think about the fact that there’s a person inside. I’ve always felt that one advantage of transitioning in my 60’s (i.e., past the “age of invisibility”) is that I don’t have to deal with creepy men hitting on me.

  2. 2

    re-evaluating one’s preferences and becoming open to experiences one did not previously imagine they could want…

    Each time I’ve done this, I realized that I really didn’t want that experience. Unlike what you think, most people know themselves well enough.

  3. 3

    I’m a 32-year-old cis gay male and vulvas really don’t don’t it for me. Believe me when I say, they really don’t excite me. I also don’t give cis men with micro-penises or erectile distinction the time of day. I think it’s silly that you’re suggesting that I don’t really know what I like and that haven’t really opened my mind.

    Trans men are real men to me. You can have a vagina and be a man. The penis does not make the man.

    When I date, I date for the purpose of getting into a serious relationship. Having satisfying sex is part of that. I also believe you should be upfront with want you want (or expect) in a serious relationship.

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