Are Your Preferences Perpetuating Violence?
On the campus of Georgia State University, a debate ensues regarding the intersections of preference and oppression. I am arguing with my supervisor, an aspiring PhD in Race Studies about what constitutes transmisia/transphobia. I ask my supervisor, a cishetero black man, if it is anti-black or colorist for a person’s preference in dating to be a person who has lighter skin. He sanguinely states, “Yes, of course. Because that person’s preference is soaked in white supremacy and is partly [or mostly] because of their proximity to whiteness.” Okay. Great. I push his cognitive skills further. Hoping that the parallel of race that I have just set will help him answer my next question.
I inquire: “Is it then, transphobic or transmisic for a person to say that they 'prefer' women who are cis as opposed to women who are not?” His eyes widen. His brow furrows. I can see the frustration in his face. I have queered his heterosexuality and he was incredulous as a result. “It’s not transphobic!” he states. “Why?” I ask. “Bec-“ “Before you answer,” I interject, “be careful and think about your explanation. Because it very well may be transphobic.” He looks at me and leaves the copy room. How dare I, a queer nonbinary black person, challenge his white supremacist gender/biological determinist conceptualization of heterosexuality. I argue that this idea of preference and oppression intersect with one another in that the bodies that we find “desirable” are, more times than not, coded with some form of hegemony due specifically to capitalism.
One cannot explain away their “unattraction” to women who are not cis without perpetuating violence under cisheteropatriarchy (i.e. being transmisic or transphobic), since heterosexuality is the attraction to the opposite gender/sex (I conflate the two because both are social constructs). Therefore, if a person who is not cisgender and identifies as a woman is interested in another person who identifies as a man, cis or not, that is heterosexuality. Also, and I am not advocating for people to not disclose their status as a trans woman or a trans man, when cismen receive dances or go on dates with women who aren’t cis that don’t disclose their status from the very beginning (something that cismen need to understand is also a product of violence against people who aren’t cis under cisheteropatriarchy) they get angry after the fact if they are told that this person is trans. This is violence. This is transphobia. This woman is heterosexual. This man is also heterosexual. To get upset at this woman is to undermine her gender identity. It is as if to say that this woman is not a woman, but other. I recapitulate that this is transphobia.
In No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies edited by E Patrick Johnson, Johnson discusses in the introduction that gay men have to find dangerous avenues to be desired or to find love because of cisheteropatriarchy. I argue that the same is true for anyone who is not apart of the heteronormative and white supremacist narrative that must be traversed. Apps such as Grindr and HER are spaces for those who identify as gay or queer to meet up with one another. However, a myriad of gay men have been killed after meeting up with their partners in-person, which speaks to the dangers of trying to find love in a cisheteropatriarchal world. Interestingly enough, regarding the app HER, which was created for lesbians, women who are cis, women who are not cis, nonbinary and gender nonconforming folks, and queer folks, the same is not true. In fact, after a quick Google search, it is apparent that there aren’t nearly as many (if any) articles found that suggest that folks meeting up via the app are going missing or being murdered. This speaks to the idea that it is more socially acceptable for white women to be gay than it is for white men as a result of white supremacy and gender roles. And, of course, it is even less acceptable if the person is gay and of color. This social reality allows us to consider the larger conversation of desirability being coded through colonial and hegemonic language as it is evident that the further away a person is from the “normative” the more likely they are to be murdered or negatively sanctioned because of their identity.
Capitalism plays a role in the perpetuation of this violence from the moment a child is born. Doctors uphold the binary of “male” and “female” by assuming that if a child has testes and a penis or if a child has ovaries and a vagina that they are either “male”or ”female.” This erases the 1.7 percent of people who are intersex. When in actuality doctors could make an even surer assertion of a child’s sex by analyzing their chromosomes, in order to hold up this binary as well as save money from using expensive equipment, doctors only look at secondary sex characteristics (penis, vagina, etc.). Doctors will even lie to parents if a child has ambiguous genitalia, telling them that their sex must be changed or other medical issues will occur in the future and making the parent choose the child's sex to be either “male” or "female.”
This rings true for gender as well because gender itself is merely constructed upon cultural norms surrounding what it means to be deemed “male” or “female.” A good example of this is regarding the association of color and gender. Although the color pink is now associated with what it means to be a “girl” and the color blue is associated with what it means to be a “boy,” in actuality this concept was previously reversed. In the 1920s pink was actually deemed “masculine” and blue was deemed “feminine.” Society’s conceptualization of gendered colors today came about in the 1940s. Historical phenomena such as this unearths the violence and socially constructed nature of gender and biological sex. Gender is fluid and based solely on that person’s self-autonomy to identify as whichever gender they may choose.
I say this to emphasize that this is what cis people, who also identify as heterosexual, are upset about when it comes to their heterosexuality. They are upset that all bodies do not conform to a simple gender binary. These cis people then code their violence in words such as “unattractive” or “unpreferable” in order to further perpetuate a cycle of violence against the trans community. This is the product of capitalism because our “preferences” serve to benefit those who are in power: cis-ablebodied-heterosexual-white men. And, if our “preferences” do not align, in some variation, with what the plutonomy embodies, then there are material consequences, be it death or being negatively sanctioned. It is also more profitable for corporations and societal institutions to only recognize two genders (as explained above), enforce that being fat is “unattractive” (as companies can gain revenue by selling weight loss pills even at the detriment of an individual's health), or by emphasizing that lighter skin is better (as this allows companies to sell bleaching creams even at the detriment of an individual’s health).
Coincidentally, and I type that word sarcastically, cis men and the conceptualization of masculinity serve as the primary gate keepers which aid in the reinforcement of these violent and oppressive systems. According to NPR, Black and Indigenous women face the highest homicide rate. Hispanic women face the third highest, white women face the next, and Asian women/Pacific Islander women face the least highest. NPR also mentions that the majority of these murders were carried out by an intimate man partner. This is due to capitalism's perpetuation of masculinity/toxic masculinity (I conflate the two because I do not believe that there is a difference). To be “masculine” one must be emotionally unavailable, authoritative, and violent.
Cis men hold each other accountable to this toxic standard through vertical/hierarchical homosociality to maintain their dominance. This violent system relates to capitalism and cisheteropatriarchy because “masculine” cis men are deemed as more desirable due to the privileges within cishetero patriarchy. The profitability portion comes in because by dominating women, in both the private and public sphere, cis men get to manage their workforce (i.e. everyone who is not a cis man). This is shown through the fact that the majority of men are at the top of their companies and the fact that men are paid more than any demographic. Patriarchy allows cis men, particularly white cis men, to maintain and develop their wealth, while everyone else remains poor or becomes poorer. Because of the power that cis men are afforded, as noted earlier, white cis men have more power than cis men of color due to white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism, while also being coded as more desirable — a “preference” that is exceedingly toxic.
If your heterosexuality is based on systems of domination, such as gender/biological determinism/essentialism, colorism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and further, then it is oppressive. If one “prefers” a partner who is not fat, if one “prefers” a partner who is not disabled, if one “prefers” a partner who is cis, that person is aiding in the perpetuation of a violent cycle of the subjugation, murder, and neglect of lives and bodies outside of those who have been privileged to be coded as “normal” due to capitalism. "Preference" can perpetuate violence.