Thursday • 2014.10.02
Beware the Chasers: “Admirers” Harrassing Trans People
This article first appeared in Slate Magazine’s “Outward” blog.
There are cis people whose primary sexual attraction is to trans people. I’ve seen this described as “trans-oriented” or “trans-attracted,” and many such people self-identify as trans “admirers.” Unfortunately, a great many admirers demonstrate misogyny and transmisogyny. When these badly behaved admirers actively seek out trans partners and inflict their disrespectful nonsense on us, we call them “chasers.”
What’s it like to date a chaser? Once upon a time, when I was much earlier in my life as a woman and had more insecurity than wisdom, I briefly dated “Chad,” a chaser. I’ve considered that experience carefully and consulted other trans people on their chaser experiences: There’s a disturbing common narrative.
When a cis person is attracted to a trans person, that should never be viewed (in and of itself) as a fetish, because that would cast any relationships between trans and cis people as shameful—just as same-sex relationships were called sick and perverted in decades past. Author Janet Mock has explained this rather elegantly. But what about when cis people specifically seek out sex with trans bodies, in a way that serially objectifies us, and disrespectfully treats us as their kink?
Trans people are not fetish objects, but chasers’ behavior is highly fetishistic. And while their attraction for trans people mustn’t be stigmatized, their bad behavior toward trans people absolutely should be: It’s harmful, it’s demeaning, and it needs to stop.
Who exactly am I calling out when I use the C-word? I don’t mean cis people who are willing to date a trans person when they meet someone they like, and I don’t mean all trans-attracted people. I’m referring to individuals whose primary motivator in dating is that they really, really, really want to “be with” a trans person, one with original anatomy intact … to the extent that other interpersonal concerns are neglected and ignored. They don’t care to know us very well; they just want to date us. Date us so hard.
While there’s no way to know for sure how many trans-attracted people exhibit chaser behavior, it feels like a lot to me: I’ve only ever met one or two nice ones, whereas the jerks seem to come at me by the dozens.
It’s not unheard of for chasers to pursue trans men, but most of the attention on admirer websites and message boards seems to be directed at trans women. From what I can tell, there’s little awareness of non-binary people at all. They often proposition me. (Overwhelmingly, they’re men—I’ve only been contacted by women exhibiting chaser behavior a handful of times, and in each case they wanted me to join them with their boyfriend or husband.)
Here are some tips to recognize and deal with chasers, to help any trans person navigate safely through unplanned chaser encounters with dignity intact.
When they meet you, they won’t notice or care that you’re a skater, a writer, a gamer, or an avid reader. Whether you’re into documentaries, romantic comedies or the latest horror film, you’ll get to pick the flick. Shawarma, street meat, sushi, or steak? Eat anywhere you like, because it’s all about you.
Are you insecure about your looks, or about passing? He’ll compliment, reassure, and hold you (he’ll be very physically affectionate), and he’ll say all the things you need right now. He wants to be your dreamboat, to let you know that he’s extremely attracted to you. He’ll say this, and you’ll believe him, because he’s telling the truth.
His physical attraction is real, but he doesn’t notice details of your personality or ask much about your life experience, because those factors are secondary to his interest. The chaser is first and foremost hungry for your trans body. He’ll humor your interests for a while, but before long the conversation will inevitably turn (and return, repeatedly) to your transness. You might, very early on, be asked some eyebrow-raising questions like, “How long have you been on hormones?” From chaser websites, he knows hormone therapy can give a “svelte shape and more-than-ample boobage,” but also “often results in feminine mood swings.”
You might also be unpleasantly surprised by some of his word choices. My friend Maya told me that a man who was hitting on her once tried to impress her by explaining how much he “really respects trannies.”
Respectful terminology is a big problem for chasers, and there’s a simple explanation: They come to much of their educational material in an audiovisual format. Men who know us primarily from porn will be much more likely to casually drop grotesquely inappropriate slurs and demeaning labels like “tranny,” “T-girl/gurl,” and “she-male,” all of which are keywords in the exploitative trans porn industry … for which the paying audience is—wait for it—admirers!
Chasers may confuse or misuse terms like “transvestite,” “cross dresser,” “hermaphrodite,” “transgender,” or “transsexual,” and have a strange tendency (given their apparent trans enthusiasm) not to know much of anything about principles of gender identity, social justice, or basic Trans 101.
He may obsess over, even manipulate, your feminine expression. Chad used to praise me when I wore more makeup; he often described which of my clothing he preferred (“You should wear…”); and he continually pressured me to switch from flats to heels, even after I explained that I didn’t want to. (I’m 5’11”, and I don’t wish to appear taller or risk falling down stairs unless it’s for a special occasion.)
Pay close attention for clues that may indicate previous trans partners, especially if he’s a straight man with no real connection to the queer community and doesn’t identify himself openly to you as trans-attracted. A string of trans exes is a strong indication that he’s had multiple chances to fix his bad behavior and hasn’t. Remember, every single one of those women broke up with him for a reason, and you don’t just want to be the new replacement. Chad had a framed photo of his ex on display, a long-haired trans redhead (like me, except older). I should have noticed the warning sign, but I was too naive and inexperienced.
The night I finally went to bed with him, it ended abruptly after he whispered, “You are the cutest boy I’ve ever met.” Despite his intense attraction to me, that’s how he saw me: as a boy who was girly and used female pronouns. He couldn’t see past my penis to the young woman I was, because he was completely fixated on the idea of my penis and how I was different than other women.
Online chaser dialogue frames trans women as “a person with some combination of female and male aspect.” No matter how much the chaser gushes over how beautiful a woman you are, that’s not how he really thinks of you at all, judging by how they talk to us and how they talk about us on their websites and communities. Even if he doesn’t secretly consider you a boy exactly, you’ll never truly be a woman in his mind, either, because you’ve been exoticized as “the woman with something extra.” Something else. Something other.
Woman = (You – x). Solve for x.
You will never be “equal” to woman unless the value of “x” is zero: unless the body parts mean nothing to him. But to the chaser, they mean everything. You are an object, appraised against “normal” women (who are also objects to him), and found to have greater value, rather than being considered a thinking, feeling human being. He focuses on how you’re outside what is normal, without ever challenging that normativity in any way, and he seeks to possess you in the process. Chasers are entirely unhelpful—in fact, they’re harmful—to our cause of working toward eliminating cis-sexism and cisnormativity from society.
If you catch a guy who acts this way, throw him back: Chasers think they do us honor by offering their “love,” but they’re really just cis men expressing entitlement to women’s bodies … “with something extra.”