Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse
6 min

The guy I’m dating is really into trans women. Is it love — or a fetish?

Credit: Aerial3/iStock/Getty Images Plus; Francesca Roh/Xtra

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Dear Kai,

I’m a trans woman who’s always struggled with my body image, feeling beautiful and dating. It seemed to me like no one could ever be interested in getting involved with me romantically because I’m trans, which has been really hard on my self-esteem. Lately, though, I’ve been dating this guy I met on Grindr and it’s been going really well. He’s sweet, kind and, honestly, really hot! The only thing is, he’s really into trans women — like, really into trans women. He exclusively watches trans woman porn and most of his past girlfriends have been trans. My trans women friends say that this means he’s a “chaser” and he’s only with me because he’s got a fetish for “chicks with dicks.” Thinking about it makes me feel really awful — do I have to dump this guy? Will I ever find love? Help!

Troubled & Trans in Toronto

Dear Troubled,

The course of true love never did run smooth — and certainly not for girls like us, whose bodies and sexualities have been contested, demonized and pushed to the margins for centuries. I don’t think there’s a trans feminine person in the world who hasn’t grappled with these same issues, namely: What does it mean to be trans, a woman and in love? Does our transness prevent us from being loveable, or from giving love? Is it possible to be our authentic selves and be loved authentically at the same time? All this to say, you are not alone. You are worthy, and you deserve the best that the world of romance and sex have to offer. We all do.

To answer your question more directly, Troubled, the infamous “tr*nny chaser” has long been the bane of the trans girl dating world, but I don’t know that you necessarily need to run for the hills just yet. To get a better sense of whether you should stick with this budding romance, it may be helpful to take a dive into the meaning of the term “chaser” to understand where it comes from and what it means — both historically to trans communities, and to you personally.

For those readers not familiar with the term, “chaser” is a colloquialism that refers to someone with an especially strong sexual interest in a particular physical “type.” In this case, we’re talking about folks (usually men) who are specifically attracted to trans women. Chasers, however, are not by any means exclusive to the trans feminine community. There are “chubby chasers” (people who are especially attracted to fat folks), “rice queens” (non-Asian gay men who are especially attracted to Asian men) and many others.

If that sounds distasteful or offensive, there is good reason for that: chasers often fetishize the group that they are attracted to. That is to say, they reduce individuals to interchangeable sex objects that exist (in their mind) only to embody their sexual fantasies. This can result in some seriously disrespectful behaviour on the part of chasers. For example, when I was still on dating sites, it was not uncommon for so-called “rice queens” to refer to me as “little cherry blossom” or “fortune cookie” (nope, not a joke) and for “tr*nny chasers” to immediately start asking invasive questions about my genitalia (without even saying hello!).

One particularly dehumanizing element of the “chaser” dynamic for trans women is that, historically, our sexuality has been heavily stigmatized; we are seen as unnatural “perversions” of womanhood, and have even been stereotyped as pedophilic predators. Men who are attracted to us are often stigmatized by association.

As a result, these men are typically afraid to commit to relationships with us, to be seen in public with us or to be associated with us in any way. Indeed, there are very real social consequences for men who choose to openly date trans women — their masculinity is impugned; they are accused of being closeted gays who are too afraid to pursue other men; they are told that their feelings for us are dirty and disgusting. In other words, men who are attracted to trans women are at risk of losing their masculine privilege — and, all too often, their fear of such loss turns into anger and leads to the dehumanization of the trans women they desire.

This has given rise to an intensely charged dynamic between trans feminine people and our “chasers.” For many of us, the only way to experience any kind of sexual or romantic attention has been to allow ourselves to be fetishized. Additionally, because many trans women engage in sex work as a result of employment discrimination, the chaser/trans woman relationship can take on an even more complicated dimension in which chasers hold financial power over us.

So when your trans friends warn you about chasers, Troubled, I would guess that it has something to do with the above. Trans women are liable to get hurt in love, and chasers are known in our community for acting in dehumanizing, entitled and sometimes even abusive ways. While I wish we lived in a better world, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for behaviours that seem disrespectful.

On the other hand, the eyes of love tend to look first with innocence rather than suspicion, and I would urge you to hold on to that beautiful sense of possibility. Just because your current beau is (really, really) into trans women does not mean that he is a chaser in the negative sense. I want to resist the idea that any time a cis person is primarily attracted to trans people that means that they are fetishizing us — because what does that say about trans folks’ bodies? The only way we can be sexy is through fetishization?

I don’t believe that for a second. Our society is so confused about sexuality that we have come to see any kind of non-normative (which is to say: heterosexual, vanilla, missionary-position) sexual attraction or activity as suspicious or unhealthy. But the truth is that attraction to stigmatized bodies — fat bodies, trans bodies, racialized bodies — is a wonderful thing that is perfectly healthy. The difference between fetishization, which can be dehumanizing, and a healthy attraction is simple: the former is focused on sexual objectification while the latter is about genuine connection.

Here’s a trick that often worked for me, Troubled, when I was dating a lot: when I was getting to know a new sexual or romantic partner, I would stay observant of the way he acted in our sex life. Was it all about recreating “shemale” porn scenes or specific sex acts that he wanted to do? Or was he truly attentive to what I wanted, to giving me pleasure, to making sure I felt respected and delighted by the things we did together? That’s the difference between sexual objectification and sexual connection.

Troubled, I think we need to challenge the idea that attraction to stigmatized bodies is a fetish, while attraction to stereotypically attractive bodies is normal. The mainstream social expectation is that trans people, fat folks and racialized folks have chasers, while thin, white, cisgender people have admirers. I don’t accept that, Troubled, and I don’t think you should either.

Trans women are deeply sexy, and as someone who has both academically and informally studied sexuality (by which I mean that I’ve dated a lot of people!), I can tell you with absolute certainty that many, many men are attracted to us — and not only in a fetishizing way. Indeed, many men who are primarily attracted to trans women have started to push back against the term “chaser,” seeking to replace it with “trans-attracted” or “trans-amorous” as a way of connoting a more respectful relationship with the women they seek.

My hope is that sexual attraction to trans women evolves from a stigmatized, so-called “fetish” to a genuine celebration and admiration of our unique, gorgeous bodies. I see this type of evolution happening in other areas as well, such as in aspects of the fat acceptance movement, in gay “bear” culture and in the growing push to celebrate racialized bodies as beautiful.

At the end of the day, Troubled, I think it comes down to the way this man treats you, and the way he makes you feel. Does he seem really interested in you as a person, beyond the context of sexuality? Is he willing to be seen with you in public without hiding the fact of your gender identity? Is he ready to stand beside you and fight with you as you face the day-to-day challenges of existing in this world as a trans woman? Do you feel joyful and beautiful when you are with him?

If the answer to those questions is “yes,” Troubled, then I don’t think it really matters what porn he likes or who his past girlfriends are. What matters is whether he treats you as a full human being rather than a fantasy or sex toy. What matters is whether he sees your complete womanhood, offers you authentic connection and deliciously consensual sexuality and supports you living your best life.

Which is, of course, exactly what you deserve.

Kai Cheng Thom is no longer a registered or practicing mental health professional. The opinions expressed in this column are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content in this column, including, but not limited to, all text, graphics, videos and images, is for general information purposes only. This column, its author, Xtra (including its parent and affiliated companies, as well as their directors, officers, employees, successors and assigns) and any guest authors are not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this column or the outcome of following any information provided directly or indirectly from it.
This story is filed under Trans Issues, Relationships, Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse, Opinion
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