About a year ago (yes, I’m very up on the news, in my defense I was doing other things at the time when this post was remotely relevant), there was a big flutter in the trans community about the “Cotton Ceiling.” Originally coined by transfeminist Drew DeVeaux, the Cotton Ceiling refers to how trans women are nominally accepted as women within queer communities, but treated as unfuckable and undesirable eunuchs when it comes to actually dating them.

(For the record: I’m a fairly masculine nonbinary trans person who was assigned female at birth and who almost exclusively dates and socializes outside the queer community.)

I am actually fairly sympathetic to a lot of the trans-exclusionary radical feminist critique (this is a fairly representative example) of the Cotton Ceiling. Because, yes, you should be allowed to say no to sex for any reason or no reason! “I don’t want to have sex with women with penises” is a perfectly valid reason not to have sex with someone! Facile “so you should have sex with any arbitrary trans woman you happen to come across” solutions to the Cotton Ceiling problem have the potential to get really nasty, social-pressure-y, and even coercive.

Where the trans-exclusionary radical feminists lose me is where they finish up the sentence “you should be allowed to refuse sex with people for any reason” with “NO LESBIAN WOULD EVER SLEEP WITH A TRANS WOMAN BECAUSE TRANS WOMEN ARE SECRETLY MALES AND NO TRUE LESBIAN FUCKS MALES.” Because that is, uh, treating trans women as undesirable and unfuckable eunuchs? Which is exactly what Drew DeVeaux was complaining about?

You have to be a very unique person to, in the course of arguing with someone, prove their argument correct.

I find it amazingly transmisogynistic that this conversation is happening about trans women. At this point, bottom surgery for trans women is much more advanced than bottom surgery for trans men is, and far more trans women get bottom surgery than trans men do. If you are not attracted to women who have penises or don’t have breasts, then there are lots of trans women you can fuck, while if you are not attracted to men with pussies, you’re going to be looking for a trans boyfriend for a long time. And yet trans women are considered unfuckable within the attracted-to-women queer community, while trans men are OMGTEHSEXY. Fucking transmisogynistic bullshit.

I’m really not sure if there’s a non-transphobic reason to choose not to date someone you’re otherwise attracted to just because they have a trans history. Maybe if you really value your partners being able to bear children? I dunno.

(Spare me the bullshit ‘socialization’ arguments. As if trans people get identical socializations to our cis counterparts. As if all cis women have identical gender socializations, regardless of race, class, religion, neurodivergence, ability, survivor status, region of the country, what their family was like, who they had as friends, what school they went to, or any other factor.)

Obviously, there are people who are repulsed by the mere fact of a woman being trans. (Or of a man or nonbinary being trans, of course.) And it is cissexist to do so. If you are attracted to women and really see trans women as women, you’ll consider the possibility of dating trans women who are attractive to you, the same way you’d consider dating any other group of women. Claiming that you won’t date any trans women, at all, ever, is a sign that you have some internal cissexism that you need to work on.

Ultimately, however, the Cotton Ceiling isn’t about fucking individual trans women; it’s about the community norms that treat trans women as unfuckable. (Here I want to link to Monica Maldonado’s excellent Hating Transsexual Bodies series, but unfortunately she took her site down.) The problem is acting like trans women just aren’t attractive or sexy at all; in fact, trans female bodies must be as much like cis female bodies as possible, or they’re gross gross gross forever! That is wrong.

I think it’s important here to point out that the toxic, transmisogynistic dynamic in the queer community is directly caused by the overall toxic, transmisogynistic dynamic in our culture. Queers didn’t invent transmisogyny, the elevation of masculinity over femininity, or the patriarchy. We just came up with exciting new forms of it. (Arty photos of teenagers binding their breasts with Ace bandages! “I date cis women and trans men”!)

Which, ultimately, is my problem with the concept of the Cotton Ceiling. If we are going to challenge people’s lack of attraction to trans women, we should challenge cis straight men’s lack of attraction to trans women too. Why are some cis straight men so repulsed by trans women, and others so creepy and fetishizing of trans women’s bodies? Why do some of them regard murder as an appropriate response to their being attracted to a trans woman?