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The Sexual Orientation of Transwomen

 

There has been amazingly little investigation in to the sexual orientation of male-to-female transsexual women.   This is very surprising given the psychological and social importance of "sex" and sexuality, and it's presumably deliberate incorporation in to the term "transsexual".  

It's unclear how the crude but very real differences in the sexual priorities of men and women are reflected and adapted in transsexual women. 

A man's innate priority is often to seek a physically beautiful (aka fertile and child bearing) woman; whilst women enjoy a physically attractive man, this often a lower priority to seeking the wealthiest and most successful man that her own physical beauty can attract.  From this difference in priorities it's unsurprising that according to one study women are far more confident that they can get a date with an attractive man then men are with an attractive woman (38% vs 26%).

 

Sexual Orientation

For sexual orientation, the baseline we perhaps should work from is that apparently about 85% of adult natal "XX" women consider themselves as being purely heterosexual - interestingly this is a percentage that (unlike men who are stable at about 89%) increases steadily with age group from less than 80% to over 90% for women aged 50+. 

However, very limited studies of the sexual orientation of post-Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) transsexual women indicate that a rather varied picture exists in reality:


Joyce Meireles


Robyn (right) and wife Georgiana Browning

Study Name Sample Size Hetero-
sexual
Lesbian Bisexual or
Nonsexual
Wiesbeck & Täschner, 1989 [Note 1] 10 7 1? 2?
Eicher, Schmitt & Bergner, 1991 40 26 (65%) 5 (12.5%) 8 (20%) + 1
Ross & Need, 1989 14 12 0 2
Lindemalm, Körlin & Uddenberg, 1986 13 9 1 3
Sörensen, 1981a 23 17 0 6
Pfäfflin & Junge, 1990 42 (13 kept SRS secret from partners) 28 (76%) 9 (24%) 5 (12%)
Wålinder & Thuwe, 1975 11 11 0 0
Schroder 17 9 3 5
SUB-TOTAL 170 119 (70%) 19 (11%) 32 (19%)
Lawrence, 2005 [Note 2] 232 79 (34%) 58 (25%) 95 (41%)
TOTAL 402 198 (49%) 77 (19%) 127 (32%)

Notes:
1: The allocation of "1 Lesbian" and "2 Bisexual" is done by myself in order to make the totals add up.
2. Numbers are calculated by myself and could be slightly out.

 

Enjoying a night out!

The variance is substantial between studies, making it hard to develop a "rule of thumb".  There is also a suspicion that the woman's own true sexual preferences may, or may not, be reflected in the option she selected. 

The best that can be concluded is that about of half of post-SRS women classify themselves all themselves as heterosexual and choose male partners, but a similar number either prefer female partners or amenable to them.

 


It can get complicated, from the top: a pre-SRS woman with her legal husband; a post-SRS woman with her post-SRS FTM husband;  post- and pre-SRS women;, a woman with her now post-SRS husband and their baby.

Age Seems to Matter
A major weakness in the available studies is the age of the participants.  However a very inexact analysis of the available evidence would suggest that age of transition has a strong correlation to to sexual orientation. 

A large proportion of MTF transsexuals who have surgery while still under age 30 categorise themselves as a heterosexual woman.  Some of these are undoubtedly the rather rare "genuine transsexual", who has from an early age considered themselves to be a female and sought  hormones and surgery as soon as possible.  Controversially - as discussed below - there also seems to be a substantial number of highly driven young homosexuals who decide to live as a woman as far as is possible. 

Sexual orientations tend to be far more diverse among transition'ers over 30.   In practice, some of the these seem to play "safe", having lesbian relationships with a former female partner or other transsexual women.  If the controversial autogynephilic theory (that some transsexuals are motivated by an erotic desire to become physically a women) is correct, then this seems to reach a critical point only after age 30, and might have little effect on actual sexual orientation.

Based upon the limited available evidence it can be suspected:

A) The younger a woman's age at SRS, the more likely an apparent heterosexual female orientation will be, the obvious corollary being that the greater the woman's age at SRS, the more likely a lesbian or bisexual orientation is. 

B) The more "passable" a woman is (which is partly linked to her age at the time of SRS), the more likely an apparent heterosexual orientation is. 

The conclusion is that young and passable MTF women are very likely to be heterosexual, while old and unpassable transwomen are likely to be lesbian.  [I welcome additional evidence to help prove or disprove this.]

Heterosexual Transwomen
From consolidated sources it would seem that about half of the transwomen who were heterosexual man (i.e. were exclusively sexually attracted to women) before their SRS, become heterosexual women afterwards (i.e. exclusively attracted to men).   This is a possible corollary from the dominance of a heterosexual orientation in natal women - even if a woman is known to be a transsexual, a heterosexual inclination (i.e. a sexual preference for men) is still subconsciously expected by society and even the woman herself, and any other orientation presents problems.    


Jennifer Hiloudaki with male friend


Transwoman Jacqui Gavin and husband Stephen Gavin


Kathi Stringer and friend


Emma Packer (formally Martin) with wife Linda (right)


Six foot tall Kelly is easily identifiable as a transsexual woman - but  also very attractive to heterosexual men.

A large study by Dr. Lawrence found that just 9% of the 232 male-to-female participants were attracted to men before their SRS, this rose to a substantial 34% after SRS, but percentages are still very low compared with other (smaller) studies.  However there may be some problems with this study which may make it difficult to generalise from - for example the age or self selecting nature of the participants.

Post-SRS heterosexual transwomen appear to fall in to two main categories - those that were homosexual (or bisexual) men before SRS and have simply continued to select males as their sexual partners, and those that changed their sexual preference from women to men after their SRS.  


Athena, an Iranian male to female transsexual

It's been controversially suggested that some transsexual post-SRS heterosexual women are former homosexual men driven to have a sex change by their sexual preferences.  The theory is that as men, these individuals unambiguously desired and loved other men - especially 'straight' heterosexual men - but they could only attract and enter in to relationships with the later by becoming women.  The homosexual theory is perhaps supported by evidence from Iran where homosexuality is strictly banned on religious grounds, but sex change surgery is allowed and is subsidised by the state.  After surgery, the transwoman can have her birth certificate and all other official documents re-issued as 'female', and legally marry a man.  The high prevalence of transsexuality and SRS procedures in Iran - one surgeon suggested 8 times greater than western countries - leads to the suspicion that many homosexuals (and lesbians) are claiming to be transsexual. 

Regardless of how correct the "some [MTF] transsexuals are homosexuals" theory is, it certainly doesn't account for all the heterosexual transwomen, and other factors must be considered.  One such factor may be hormones.  The radical hormonal changes in the body of a transwoman, to approximately female norms after orchiectomy or SRS, may well give her a push towards a heterosexual orientation.  This can happens sometimes to their own surprise - them blaming (perhaps correctly in part) the hormones they are taking.  For example a 27-year old MTF transsexual in love with her already post-SRS transwoman partner, admitted that "I'd now categorise myself as bisexual because since taking hormones I find men attractive too." 

Non-transsexual observers seem to find that post-transition transsexual women are often more "female than [genetic] females" in their life style and social beliefs, and a few (usually those that transition in middle age) do indeed seem to be almost a living stereotype of the feminine ideal.  Some transwomen undoubtedly strongly feel that as a woman they should only want to have sexual relations with a man, and in this instance any residual sexual attraction to women rather than men becomes both unimportant and something to be suppressed.  Going further, for a few transsexual women (like for some genetic women), marriage and even motherhood via the adoption of children becomes their overriding goal, and perhaps an ultimate symbol and proof of their womanhood.  Indeed, the Stepford Wives may be still be alive and well - albeit transwomen!

While most heterosexual transwomen are heterosexual for reasons of choice and preference, it seems likely that in some instances the adoption of a heterosexual orientation is closely related to the transsexual woman's success in passing and assimilating herself as a woman.  Social conformance - even in the twenty-first century - encourages the successfully passing transwoman to enter in to "normal" sexual relationships with men as far as she is physically capable, while intimate relationships with other women risks "rocking the boat" and unwanted curiosity and gossip.  

Entering into a committed relationship with a man undoubtedly tends to pull a transwoman away from any open acknowledgement of her transsexuality and male past, and encourages an apparently heterosexual orientation in public - what ever her secret inclinations might still be.  As the table above shows, many heterosexual transsexual women hide their male past from partners and even their husband, feeling (unfortunately often correctly) that the relationship may not survive this becoming known to him.  Even if the partner knows about and accepts the woman's transsexuality, their friends and his family might not be so open minded, and external pressures and prejudice could eventually destroy the relationship.  When the marriage of an apparently successful transwoman with a man come under stress - as every marriage inevitably does at some point - a background awareness of the wife's former life as man often seems to be a decisive factor in the divorce. 


A very sensual and sexy transwoman, but the reality for many transsexuals over 40 is depressing - intimate relations with "normal" heterosexual man are rare.

The other side of the coin is that post-SRS heterosexual transwomen who are unable to pass well are often faced with great difficulty in attracting and having a relationship with men.  One night stands with 'normal' men often end in tears.  Brief relationships with tranny chasers may occur, but these are usually seeking pre-SRS girls and thus often disappointed.  Eventual sexual abstinence is common among those in their 30's and 40's; whilst those over age 50 may struggle to get any sexual interest from men at all.  One post-SRS transwoman in her 40's - who desperately wants a relationship with a 'straight' man but finds herself to be out'ed within minutes - despairingly says "no man wants to have sex with a transsexual when they can have a real woman".   [MTF women thinking about transition and surgery should bear this in mind] 

Finally, it should should be mentioned that some transwomen consider themselves as to be heterosexual, but in practice have little interest in the actual sex.  For example, Samantha Kane (who had SRS at age 37) concluded after five boyfriends that sex as a woman was rather boring - indeed far less interesting than the preliminaries to a big night out such as a shopping trip.  There's no doubt that quite a few genetic women would agree with her!


Amanda Lepore, age 45

More Female than Female
An emerging phenomena is sexually active transwomen who don't hide their transsexuality, but whom attract heterosexual men by being physically more "female" than most genetic females.  High profile examples include Allanah Starr, Kimberly James and Amanda Lepore.  Amanda started hormones and transitioned at age 16 - already wearing push up bras.  When still just 19 she had SRS - the first and most painful of her many feminisation operations.  She aims for an extreme movie star look that's more female than even Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe or Jessica Rabbit!

 


Kimberley Langley legally married her lesbian partner after having sex reassignment surgery.

Lesbian Transwomen
When a post-SRS transwoman enters in to lesbian relationships, the reason seem to almost always fall in to one of just a few categories:

  1. A continuing a sexual attraction to women, if strong this may lead to a drift in to lesbian relationships, if weak it may lead to an avoidance of any sexual activity at all;

  2. Continuation of a relationship with a former wife or female partner on a sexual or non-sexual basis;

  3. Sexual relationships with other transsexual women.  [see below]


Transwoman Lisa-Anne (right) with her former 'XX' partner Lisa-Marie.  Lisa-Marie could accept Lisa-Anne's hormone feminised body but found that she was no longer attracted to Lisa-Anne after her SRS.  Their lesbian relationship failed and they separated.  Lisa-Anne has now transitioned back to a man.

Anne Lawrence found in her survey that 54% of the participants had been predominantly attracted to women before SRS, and 25% still were afterwards.

Non-Sexual Transwomen
Non-sexuality can also be caused by one or more of:

  1. A genuine lack of sexual urges;

  2. Poor surgical results - for example lack of vaginal depth, poor appearance of the vulva, or intercourse is painful;

  3. Failure to attract desirable partners, for example due to an inability to pass convincingly;

  4. A conscious suppression of inconvenient or undesired sexual urges, e.g. due to having AIDS or fear of possible discovery during intercourse;

  5. Participation in a relationship in which the other partner doesn't want to engage in sexual relations.

From non-scientifically obtained evidence - around 15% of all post-SRS women have never had an intimate sexual relationship since their surgery.



Transcouple Kristen (left) and Mary


Transcouple Revana (left) and Natasha


Transwoman Clair Farley and her FTM fiancée (now husband) Jim Howley

 

Bisexual Transwomen
A relatively high percentage of transwomen enter sexual relationships with both men and women.  The reasons are varied, for example: one night stands; curiosity; and social conformance (e.g. a public relationship with a man but secret lesbian relationships).

 

Transcouples
It is not unusual for a transsexual woman to enter in to a relationship with a another transsexual, usually another male-to-female MTF) woman but occasionally a female-to-male (FTM) man.  When a MTF woman enters in to a relationship with a FTM man, generally both partners are insistent that it is a conventional, heterosexual relationship.

An important benefit of a relationship with an another transsexual is that the partners can share their experience , and provide mutual support and understanding - something which a relationship with a non-transsexual person can not provide to the same extent.  Also, transcouples do not need to face the risks and worries of going stealth in order to establish and maintain the relationship with their partner.

A significant proportion of transsexual women admit to being attracted to other transsexual women, indeed one small survey found that half of the respondents were strongly attracted to other transsexual women.  Naturally this attraction often leads to relationships, both of a "one night stand" and of a more permanent nature.  Sexually, these are technically lesbian relationships, but interestingly the partners are frequently not attracted to non-transsexual genetic women.


A staged but effective p
icture of a young and petite transwoman in a locker room

 

Young Transsexuals

Unlike older transsexuals, the sexual orientation of young transsexual women (meaning those who transition and start treatment before age 20) is rarely in doubt, they are usually as fervently interested in boys as any teenage girl! 

'A' who had SRS at 17 says: "I just love sex, since the operation I crave it all the time.  I'm just a woman with needs!"

'T' who transitioned in her teens and had SRS at age 17 says: "I'm all woman and enjoyed being with [her partner] because he's all man.  I'm more feminine than most women I know.  The fact I was born a man is just an inconvenient technicality."

Tamalah, who transitioned at age 18, says "I knew from as early as I can remember that I was a girl.  I didn't consider myself gay, I considered myself a heterosexual female."  Both before and after the surgery, she presented herself as a woman and was often asked out by men. "I figured what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them, as long as I didn't sleep with them."

Claudia had begun to dress as a woman when at age 18 she met 'Martin' ("a cross between Jesus and George Best") and moved in with him.  He wouldn't admit that he was gay and Claudia soon felt pressurised in to transitioning, taking hormones and eventually getting surgery.  "Martin slept with women the whole time I was with him, and would say, 'If you were a girl, this wouldn't be happening,' and of course I believed him."  A year after her SRS surgery at age 28, Martin left Claudia - who now regrets having SRS but continues to live her life as woman.

In a similar early experience, Maxine notes "At age 14 I experienced my 'first time' while on holiday ... [he was] six foot tall, wash board belly, unbelievably sexy.  He chatted me up on the beach and we went to his hotel room.  He slowly undressed me.  It was beautiful.  There was nothing I wanted more that night than to be a whole woman."


To please her boyfriend, Maxine began taking female hormones and had breast implants at age 17. 

A few years later Maxine had a relationship with a strongly heterosexual man: "Omar was a beautiful man but everything had to remain secret.  The first time was very sensitive - however he missed me not having a bosom.  He got a terrible complex, ... deep down he believed that I was really another man.  I wanted to be the perfect partner for Omar, and dreamt of us having a family.  I longed to be a woman, and as I fell in love with him I resolved that it was Maxine or nothing."  Omar soon moved on, but Maxine had made her decision and had SRS three years later.

Like Tamalah and Maxine, many young transsexuals enter in to an intimate relationship as a girl with a heterosexual man long before undergoing any surgery. 

Whether the man is understanding or not, clearly the situation is extremely unsatisfactory.  The girls desire to normalise her body and have vaginal intercourse often becomes a key driver for her seeking surgery as soon as possible.  Waiting to her 18th birthday before having sex-reassignment surgery - as is required by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Standard Of Care that most doctors and surgeons conform to - can be a bitter and sexually very frustrating test of endurance.

 


A male face - the left version is feminised and the right version masculinised.

It's the Hormones...
Research has found that genetic women who are at the most fertile part of their menstrual cycle (i.e. have high oestrogen levels) tend to be particularly attracted to men with strong masculine features (big muscles, square jaws, prominent brow...) which indicate high levels of the male sex hormone testosterone.  Those women who are in the low fertility part of their cycle prefer less masculine but often more sensitive and caring men - who tend to invest more in relationships and are more likely to make a sensible long-term mate.

Taking of birth control pill upsets this cycle and women on the pill (with raised oestrogen levels) tend to generally favour the more masculine face all the time.  There's an implication that the high oestrogen levels of a transwoman on female hormones may also tug her sexual attraction towards a male partner. 

Additionally, pregnant woman apparently prefer glowing, healthy looking faces in their sexual partner - this appears to be caused by their raised levels of progesterone - which many transsexual women take in relatively high doses.

You can read a little about my own sexuality and experiences here.

  


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Copyright (c) 2006, Annie Richards

Last updated: 10 August, 2006