The categories defined by the acronym 'LGBT' are often seen as
mutually exclusive states of being. One can either be lesbian, gay,
bisexual or transgender/transsexual - there is no
This false assumption is perpetuated by contemporary cinema,
where trans protagonists - which are rare enough - are constantly
paired with a member of the 'opposite' gender. Just think of 'Boys
Don't Cry', or 'Breakfast on Pluto'.
When is the last time you saw a sensitive, nuanced portrayal of
a trans person and their partner of the same gender?
'The L Word' took a step towards such a relationship in its
decision to pair up the characters of Max and Tom. However, Max's
sensationalistic pregnancy storyline negated any claims that this
was a fair attempt at queer trans-inclusivity on television.
What do these invisible relationships mean for trans people and
their prospective partners in reality? The 'cotton ceiling' is a
theory that some members of the trans community have put forward to
explain their unique position. According to an
anonymous blogger, the cotton ceiling theory works to explain
the experiences that queer trans women have with "simultaneous
social inclusion and sexual exclusion" within female spaces.
In a nutshell, cis women (women whose gender identity
corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth) may be vocal
allies of the trans community but they still hesitate to consider
trans women as viable sexual and romantic partners.
Let's be clear here: 'cotton' refers to underwear. It's
definitely not a perfect metaphor, but there is no denying the fact
that lesbian and bisexual cis women can be reluctant to enter into
a physical or even romantic relationship with trans women. The
belief that trans women are not 'real women', and hence not
desirable, is hurtful and damaging - but so is policing who and
what people are attracted to, some may argue. It's a tricky subject
and one that doesn't look like it will be resolved any time
While it can be frustrating and hurtful for trans women to be
rejected in this way, the concept of trans women in female-centric
spaces has always been a volatile one. London's annual Reclaim the
Night march has repeated come under heat for its
failure to include trans women and many women are quick to turn
a beady eye to someone they perceive as being the 'wrong build' for
the ladies' loos.
I ask Eden from London if she ever experiences a backlash from
the queer community due to her status as a transgendered woman.
"Like trying to figure out the whole lesbian dynamic?" she asks.
"Or perhaps not even being able to look someone in the face because
I can feel the years of trying to live as a man kick me in the
backside, just in case I forget to be crushed under my own guilt
and feelings of being a fraud when in a female space?" Her tendency
towards self-preserving behaviour and her crippling shyness around
other women doesn't help matters. "I wonder how I ever managed to
have any partners at all," she says.
Trans women do not have an easy time of it, generally speaking.
murdered at an alarming rate, particularly transgender women of
colour, with little or no media coverage. Many of feminism's
greatest figureheads have notoriously anti-trans stances. Germaine
has been quoted saying that trans individuals are "delusional"
. Lesbian and bisexual feminists are not immune to expressing their
own transphobia either. Julie Burchill, journalist and author of
'Sugar Rush', once
deemed transsexualism "just another excuse for men to do as
One of the major manifestations of the cotton ceiling in our
culture, according to blogger Roz Kaveney, is
"the assumption that to be attracted to someone trans throws your
own sexual identity into question - that a lesbian who fancies a
trans woman has somehow gone straight." It's a troubling thought,
and one which betrays an inherent biphobia.
But Eden doesn't think it's all that bad. For her, the lesbian
and bisexual community allows her the type of freedom that the
hetero world never did. "Dating is pretty cool," she says. "I
suppose dating queer and gay women is just for me not as contrived.
Whenever I'd go on a date pre-treatment I always had to wear a man
ID instead of just being me, and that in itself is tiresome."
Of the women that Eden does date, some end up staying the night
and some don't. "That's just the way things go." As far as
long-term relationships go, she's not about to rush into anything.
"Granted, there are some women who just don't like me or who or
what I am," she continues. "But there are a lot more women who
aren't really bothered about it."
Photo credit: Kenji-Baptiste Oikawa