On What Chokers Aren't Asking for, and Allying with Trans Men

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe,

I’m sure you saw this viral interaction going around last week, where a guy sent a girl an unsolicited dick pic, and explained it by blaming her for wearing a choker. Everyone rightly defended the girl, but my friends and I have experienced different variations of this – guys assuming we want sexual attention because of what we’re wearing. Are chokers a new thing we need to add to our list of things that will get us this type of bullshit? Where does that even come from? What do you think?

Dear Reader,

For you lucky people who haven’t seen this post and had your definition of “Oh for fuck’s sake!” expanded yet again, here’s the scéal: Guy sends woman unsolicited dick pic. She explains to him that this generally is not a good idea and that he is in fact a creep for doing so.

Guy then offers up this explanation for sexually harassing her with unwanted photographs of his genitalia: “You had a choker on in your avi I misunderstood I apologise.”

Now, I had a rant all prepared about the particular idiocy of this specific man … but then I had to search for the article about this bizarre exchange in order to link to it.

And let me tell you, when you do a Google search for the terms “girl choker guy”, the results are somewhat terrifying. (Yes, by the way, that is how I do my research. Thanks, MA in journalism!)

There are a worrying number of discussions among men asserting that if a woman wears a choker, she’s a “slut”, a “hoe”, that she – and I did not enjoy typing the following – “has a master’s degree in slobbin meats”.

Now, I am going to try be as fair as possible here.

In the kink community, there is a link between wearing a collar and being involved in certain aspects of BDSM, particularly being a submissive. Collars with a metal ring in them are especially popular, as the ring can be used while performing fellatio.

Howandever. Even given this information, there are a few vital contextual details that render false any and all assumptions men are making regarding chokers and a woman’s sexual desires:

1. Collars are not chokers. Chokers are a fashion accessory that was particularly popular among women in the ’90s, and has made a resurgence. Chokers are pieces of jewellery, and jewellery is not now and never has been a reliable indicator of sexual desire or consent.

2. Even if a choker does resemble a collar, clothing and accessories that imply one thing in a fetish context do not mean the same outside of a fetish context. And even when worn within a fetish context, such as a kink club, they still do not act as an indicator of consent.

3. Most importantly, someone wearing an item of clothing, even if it can have sexual implications, does not mean they are consenting to sex or sexual harassment from you.

In a way, the choker issue is irrelevant; this interaction between this woman and this sexual harasser is part of the general problem of men slut-shaming, harassing and objectifying women because of their own misogyny, and coming up with an endless stream of nonsensical reasons to justify their Neanderthal behaviour by blaming the women.

Her skirt’s too short, her jeans are too tight, her hair’s dyed, she has too much makeup on, she’s been drinking, WHATTHEFUCKEVER.

And this objectifying and blaming of women is accompanied by a sense of entitlement that I’m almost jealous of.

Men who send unsolicited dick pics or who otherwise sexually harass women based on some misogynistic assumption of their sexual desires don’t just assume the woman wants sex – they assume the woman wants to have sex with them.

These men feel so entitled to and expectant of sex that they skip all the basic elements of communication, let alone consent.

They feel like their desire for sex overrides any need to put in any time, to show any interest in or respect for the woman as a person, to try create any sense of spark or connection, or to establish any of the trust necessary to make a woman feel safe communicating with them, let alone being sexual.

Oh, to go through life with the self-confidence of a fuckboy.

And yes, I know that once, somewhere, at some point in history, a woman has positively responded to an unsolicited message, and I hope she had fun. But she is the exception.

The amount of women who will respond to dick pics and unsolicited sexual messages will always be far, far less than those who will feel threatened and objectified and harassed by the such messages.

Men who send these messages are thus explicitly choosing to sexually harass people, because they feel so entitled to sex that they feel that the infinitesimally small chance that they might get laid is worth abusing random women.

So, let’s break this down to the basics.

Dear Boys Who Have Randomly Decided That A Girl Wants To Have Sex With You Or Wants a Dick Pic Based On Some Arbitrary And Misogynistic Reason That You Just Invented In Your Entitlement-Ridden Little Mind:

You don’t get to decide what a person’s sexual desires are without them telling you.

You don’t get to decide that you’re going to fuck someone until they’ve given you permission.

You don’t get to decide that someone is going to fuck you until they say so.

You don’t get to decide that you have permission to send someone a photo of your genitalia unless they specifically ask.

You don’t get to decide that you saying, sending or doing something sexual to someone is consensual until they agree to it.

You don’t get to decide what sexual attention you’re entitled to or get to inflict onto others.

Because consent is a conversation, and so it’s dependent on communicating with the other person BEFORE you say, send, or do anything sexual to them.

Doing otherwise makes you a sexual harasser, predator, or even abuser.

Cop on. Put your dick away. Treat women like people. And most of all: get over yourselves.

Love, Roe

***

Dear Roe,

I love the column and appreciate that you discuss trans issues. But it seems that when media addresses trans issues – whether in the news or pop culture – trans men are very rarely discussed. When people talk about trans celebrities, they’re invariably trans women, and I can’t think of any film or TV show since Boys Don’t Cry that features trans men. Why does society invariably define “trans” as “trans women”?

Dear Reader,

I’m really glad you asked this question. There are some trans men who are visible within pop culture – Chaz Bono, for example, or Ian Harvie, who is a comedian and actor who has appeared in Transparent, but they haven’t reached the cultural level of fame and recognition that trans women like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner have achieved.

Now, let me state the obvious: MOST trans people – and most cis people – haven’t reached the level of fame and recognition that Cox, Mock, and Jenner have. Trans people face a huge amount of discrimination, abuse and silencing, so let’s not pretend that three visible celebrities mean that trans women are adequately or accurately represented.

(The fact that Cox, Mock, and Jenner are the three major trans celebrities that people know demonstrates that we still equate being a trans woman with being a successfully passing, ultra-femme-presenting trans woman. This is merely one limited example of the trans experience, one that’s often accompanied by a certain amount of class privilege in terms of the surgeries, make-up etc. available to the individual.)

However, when trans issues are addressed in the media and pop culture, there often is a focus on trans women over trans men. There are a myriad of different reasons for this.

One issue is society’s love of a spectacle, and mixed with transphobia, it can be a dangerous combination. Both news media and pop culture are obsessed with the idea of the “pathetic” trans person who is a pitiable object, or the “deceptive” trans person, who usually “tricks” men into sleeping with them.

Inherent in this idea is the belief that trans women are “really” men, and that the act of applying make-up, hair extensions, dresses etc is an elaborate visual deception. It’s the obsession with this idea of what’s “real” and what’s “fake” when it comes to gender that leads to the “before and after” presentation of trans people.

And, simply, the visual of trans women’s transformation feeds society’s voyeuristic tendencies more easily than the visual of trans men. If trans women pass, we’re obsessed with the “deception”. If they don’t pass, society gets to laugh at and pity a “man” in a dress.

Trans women thus fascinate because they not only have to adhere to superficial ideals of femaleness, but due to the artifice involved, they’re also denied the status of “real” women – even though cis women also wear make-up etc.

Trans women suffer the misogyny of being treated like an object to be looked at, but also the transphobia of having their gender undermined no matter what they look like.

Trans men don’t offer the same spectacle, and by moving away from femaleness and the visual spectacle of femaleness, they don’t hold the same voyeuristic appeal.

Because we still see femaleness as passive and appearance-based and maleness as active and behaviour-based, trans men can also present more of challenge to the concept of gender to transphobic and essentialist eyes.

If we judge trans women’s femaleness by how they look, but judge trans men by how they act, then trans men raise far more complex and nuanced questions about masculinity, and gender itself. And fuck that, who wants to think when we can just judge, ammirite??

None of this, by the way, is to say that trans men’s experience is somehow easy. In fact, the lack of visibility and representation of trans men is extremely damaging and isolating. Their experiences remain unexplored, while trying to fit into male spaces can often result in violence and abuse.

Their relative invisibility, and misguided beliefs that trans men automatically benefit from male privilege often mean that they don’t get as much support from inside the LGBTQ community.

There’s also the issue of support and allyship from outside of the trans community. Sadly, there are still a lot of transphobic women and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) who still do not support trans women.

But many feminists do, and use their privilege and platform to help bring awareness to trans issues (I do mean “help” – trans activists have always and still do the majority of work themselves; feminists don’t get to take the credit for their hard work).

However, trans men are often ignored by feminists, even though many trans men have experienced misogyny as well as transphobia.

And for all of the talk and trolling by “men’s rights activists”, they’re not doing much for trans men either. So trans men have essentially been abandoned.

So, what can we do? We can demand more representation of trans men, both in pop culture and in the news media.

We can support trans men and use whatever privilege and platform we have to elevate their stories, and our own understanding of their experiences.

We can stop defining “trans” by the one, very limited and limiting image of the trans experience that we’re currently being presented with.

And cis men and cis women need to step up and support trans men and trans women, for the very simple reason that they’re people, and deserve it.


Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

Author:

Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Reader responses

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Rhiannon
at 27 May 2017 at 16:38

WHY are unsolicited dick pics STILL not classified as indecent exposure? There is no difference between a male exposing his penis on a bus and one sending a picture. Both are sexual assault and should be treated as such, treated the same as those who distribute child pornography.

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