June 12, 2013

On lesbians who watch gay pornography and what it means for transgender crossdreamers

Did you know that many lesbians watch gay male porn?  

I didn't either, before I saw the movie The Kids are All Right with Julianne Moore and Anette Benning as a lesbian couple with kids.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian
mothers liking gay male pornography

In one scene we can see the two of them watch a movie with men having sex with men in order to get into the mood.

By accident, their son finds the movie later on, and in wonderfully akward scene we see how the two parents try to explain what this is all about.

In the name of fair use I have taken the liberty of embedding the relevant scenes here. (This is not office material.)

And yes, this has a lot to do with crossdreaming. Read on!

An illuminating anomaly

Here is the thing: The scene represents an anomaly.

According to nearly all dominant theories about sexuality and sexual orientation homosexual women are not supposed to be turned on by men having sex with each other, at least not to the point of making gay porn an integrated part of their love life.

The reason for this is that sexual orientation is supposed to be triggered by sex specific visual stimuli: big breasts, broad hips and a general feminine appearance for those loving women, and broad shoulders, tight asses and a masculine look for those attracted to men.

Yeah, I know that this is not always the case in real life, but some scientists are really not that interested in real life.

Anyway, gay women are therefore not supposed to be aroused by the sight of men having sex.

And yes, I have checked. This is not something the movie makers have made up. A simple Google search reveals that this is a common phenomenon.

So what is going on here?

Jules explains

In the movie one of the mothers, Jules, try to explain this to their son, Laser:

"Well, sweetie, human sexuality is  complicated. And sometimes, people’s desires can be...counter-intuitive... For instance, since women’s sexual  responsiveness is mostly internal,  sometimes it’s exciting for us to  see sexual responsiveness more, you know......externalized... Like with a penis."

For them an erect penis is exciting, because the man's arousal is so obvious and visible. Or so Jules says. The fact that Jules is explaining this in a very embarrassing context may lead her to hold back some information.

The explanations given by lesbians online are very diverse, which tells me that many of them have no clear idea of why they find such movies exciting. Still, I am beginning to see a pattern.

More reasons 

Gwennie B over at Yahoo! Answers have listed some reasons given by lesbians:

"1) Although it's changing, most lesbian porn kinda sucks. It's made for men, with plastic Barbie doll pornstars who usually aren't even bisexual, let alone lesbian. That porn lacks the passion and chemistry of straight and gay porn."

This does not explain the paradox, though. Lesbians are still not supposed to get turned on by the male physique.

"2) For lesbian women who are part of the butch/femme dynamic, straight or gay porn most often resembles that much better. If you're a butch woman who likes getting her strap-on sucked, for example, it's very easy to mentally place yourself as the guy in some gay or straight POV [Point of View] porn. It's easier to relate to than femme-on-femme porn."

This makes more sense to me. Even if lesbian women are oriented towards the female body, they may express the sexual need to be receptive or penetrative. In other words: These basic sexual instincts are independent of their sexual orientation.

This may also explain why some straight men (non-crossdreamers included), take part in pegging, where their girlfriends penetrate them with a strap-on.

"3) Gay porn is more visual. When you're with a woman in real life, you can feel and smell and touch her arousal. In porn, it's a lot more difficult to tell if the woman is faking it, as is so often in porn. You can't do that in gay porn- the guys have visible erections that prove their arousal, and the visual pop shots of ejaculation. It can make the porn feel a lot more authentic than lesbian or straight porn."

Again this is an argument that makes no sense according to the traditional science narrative. But if you accept that lesbian women can be turned on by the sight of an erect penis without buying the whole male package, this is starting to make sense to me.

"4) In straight porn, there's often a lot of misogyny and anger, which can be a turn-off for more feminist-minded lesbian women. Gay porn, on the other hand, is supposed to be more equal and egalitarian- two guys doing what they want."

This does not explain the fascination of the male body, though.

"5) Queer is queer, baby. Lesbian porn is made with a straight aesthetic- despite being two women, it fits into ideas of heterosexuality. Obviously straight porn does this as well. Gay porn tends to appeal to the queer aesthetic of many lesbian women."

I will take her word for it.

"6) It's kinky and taboo and different. People like watching porn that doesn't reflect their real lives. Ergo, gay porn!"

The need to explore the borders of the acceptable is very human. Maybe the straight man's reluctance  to watch gay male porn is caused by a strong cultural conditioning.

Gwennie argues that some gay men may watch lesbian porn, even though there is -- according to her -- a vagina-phobia in the gay male community.

The relevance for male to female crossdreamers and lesbian trans women

You do find a parallel among male to female gynephilic (woman-loving) crossdreamers and lesbian transsexual women. Many of them report fantasies where they are having sex with a man. Many of them also display a fascination for the penis.

This phenomenon has become an important part of the very controversial "autogynephilia" theory.

Gynephilic and bisexual male bodied crossdreamers suffer from an "erotic target location error", this theory says. They get turned on by the idea of themselves as women, and the most important proof of this is that they imagine themselves being taken by a faceless man.

In other words: They are not attracted to the male body per se, but get aroused by the idea of being a woman. The male character in the imaginary bed serves only as a prop that reaffirms the femininity of the crossdreamer.

I have always found this argument strange, because it is depending on one important premise: That you cannot be fascinated by the penis or taking the traditional role of the woman in bed, unless you are a straight woman or an effeminate gay man.

The argument also requires that "visual attraction" is the only legitimate reason for having sex. In real life people have sex for a wide variety of reasons: For comfort, for the fascination with someone's personality or intellect, to achieve power or safety, to help someone and so on. All of these situations can lead to arousal.

The sexist angle

Note that no one is claiming that lesbians watching gay male porn are suffering from a target location error, probably because pairs like Jules and Nic  are clearly able to bond with another sexual partner.

For some reason being married to a woman does not count as sexual bonding for "autogynephiliacs", they are still locked into their narcissistic self-desire, according to researchers like Ray Blanchard, J. Michael Bailey and Anne Lawrence.

But what if the male to female crossdreamer has a receptive, "feminine", copulation instinct, and desire penetration in the same way a straight woman or a lesbian "femmes" want to be receptive?  Wouldn't this lead to fantasies where they were taken by men, women with strap-ons, pre-op transwomen or "futanari"?

Indeed it would. And these are exactly the kind of fantasies you will find among some (but not all) crossdreamers.

The strongest taboo

And it is this "womanly" desire to be receptive people find so offensive, because men are not allowed to take on the female role in our culture.

This taboo is so strong, actually, that even gay men will sometimes deny that they have been the receiving party during anal intercourse.

This is also an old taboo: In ancient Greece and Rome,  men would gladly have sex with men, but they would never admit to "taking the role of the woman".

The "autogynephilia" theory takes this taboo to its extreme.

The theory denies that male to female crossdreamers can have a receptive copulation instinct. They are attracted to women, right? And heterosexual men cannot have typical feminine desires per definition. Ergo: Their desire is a misdirected masculine urge to copulate with a woman, in this case themselves.

It is fascinating to see how the cultural stereotypes forces male researchers like Blanchard to select the most complicated explanation for a phenomenon in order to save the ruling paradigm of the day.

For Blanchard sexual orientation = copulation instinct = sex identity. In the real world these may be independent variables.

Women are never perverts

No one cares about what women do, however. A lesbian's fascination for the penis only confirms the dogma that women love the male sex organ.

Women who play the role of men may be considered strange, but this is not much of a taboo. After all, who can blame them for wanting to be a strong and powerful man? Being a man is good. Being a woman is... less so.

In other words: the pathologization of male to female crossdreamers is the result of a sexist culture that finds women inferior to men.

A second opinion

This being said, there are important differences between the MTF crossdreamer's desire to be receptive and the birth assigned female lesbian's fascination for the penis.

Their life trajectories are very different, and this also shapes their experience of life and their sexual fantasies.

I discussed this phenomenon with my Thai sexologist friend, Natalie, (the one who helped me develop the slider model of sex and gender) .

She points to an important difference between female born lesbians and MTF crossdreamers and lesbian trans women: They will normally find it easier to be confirmed as women by other lesbian women. The MTF gynephilic crossdreamer are most often confirmed as men by the women who loves them, which means that their inner woman gets nothing in way of affirmation.

Natalie on sexual validation

Natalie says:

"It is true that majority of MTF crossdreamers have always reported some kind of sexual fantasy about men although very few FTM crossdreamers have reported fantasies involving women, unless gynephilic [attracted to women].

This, I believe, has to do with the idea of being validated as a woman by a man rather than anything else. 

"It must be noted that it is with this same idea that many men like to have sex with women, even if they are not really gynephilic. One of the remarkable aspects of our contemporary sexual psychology theories is that they often miss the idea that people like having sex not necessarily with people they may find attractive but with people who validate them!

"If for example, I remove the connection between masculinity and heterosexuality, and make it socially feminine, many otherwise straight men may lose interest in women strongly and exclusively. It is all about the validation factor. 

"Just like many men may live in heterosexual relationships solely due to the validation of their being masculine, received from women (rather than other men, with whom an intimate contact may make them feel feminine or queer), many MTF  transsexuals may find that they are better affirmed as women by men rather than other women.Things may totally change if the artificial connection between gender and sexuality is removed.

"That said, a gynephilic MTF crossdreamer being turned on by man may not have much to do with a genetic female lesbian turned on by male porn. This is because the contexts under which they operate are different. .A lesbian's turn on by a male porn may well have something to do with fascination with penis."

I think she is spot on in her analysis of our need for confirmation. The only difference between her and mine interpretation is that I put a little more emphasis on the fact that many (but probably not all) MTF crossdreamers have a dominant receptive copulation instinct.

So, Why Did The Lesbians Watch Gay Male Porn InThe Kids Are Alright?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This was very interesting.. especially the thing about sexual validation as feminine or submissive.

    This might be what the typical guys with otherwise straight fantasies meant when they said they get aroused by crossdreaming / crossdressing stuff sometimes.

    Instead of it being related to any gender issues, they expressed it like: "It's not the man per-se or the wish to really be a woman, but it's the submission and validation women get from men and/or the validation to be feminine, which is nice!".

    Furthermore, if these fantasies include men, it's still in a straight context, only roles reversed.

  3. There is very clearly a double standard going on here Jack and at the end of the day its much more stigmatizing for MTFs because society frowns much much more to the idea of a man needing to express feminity than vice versa. So simply paint straight men who crossdream as perverts...for me its all been discredited now...

  4. I hadn't really given the subject this much thought and you do weigh a lot of considerations that never occurred to me.

    I have always wondered, though, why so much "slash" fan fiction (mostly gay porn about fictional characters) is written by women. I mean, there is an awful lot of it out there and I'm sure that some of the women are lesbian. I didn't understand what about gay porn would fascinate both straight and gay women.

    I'm not sure I agree with everything you wrote but at least it helps me begin to understand.

  5. @Liz

    It is my understanding that much of both slash and yaoi is written by female to male crossdreamers or girlfags (women who often fantasize of being a man in a gay relationship) and not lesbians.

    But I may be mistaken.

    See this blog post for a discussion of slash and yaoi.

  6. If we are talking "in bed", I know myself as a crossdreamer, the fantasy is being controlled, dominated, possibly even humiliated. I think my desires border on BSDM. I'm always playing the role of leading in real ife (as a man typically does), and the thought of completely reversing roles is attractive.

    Sidenote: That son is also the lead character in "hunger games".

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  8. "There is very clearly a double standard going on here Jack and at the end of the day its much more stigmatizing for MTFs because society frowns much much more to the idea of a man needing to @ @joanna Santos

    express feminity than vice versa. So simply paint straight men who crossdream as perverts...for me its all been discredited now..."

    You know, such fantasies are not inherently "perverted", and are not inherently illegitimating of other areas of your life.

    @ tg_captioner

    "I know myself as a crossdreamer, the fantasy is being controlled, dominated, possibly even humiliated. I think my desires border on BSDM."

    I know what you mean, but on this blog you will only find that that experience is crudely conflated for political reasons, to what is thought to be "normal female sexuality". I have worked on a better analysis of the fantasies in my own blog if it interests you

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  10. well yeah, I knew it since so long ago, actually some girlfags are lesbians or bi. I thought it's strange too the first time I heard about it but I guess it's a case of crossdreaming; like, no matter what is your orientation, you may have a man inside(it makes sense for butch lesbians) so wearing like a guy and a male body is desirable to you. As a ftm crossdreamer, I know myself so much like a butch lesbian; the only difference is that I'm gay not lesbian!!!!!!!!!!!! I also like those butch women and sometimes have some fantasies about them, you know it kinda looks like a gay relationship! oh, it looks so strange to myself!

  11. I once embraced a guy in a totally heterosexual way. I overheard one of my female friends say to some other women friends that she enjoyed watching male bonding.

    I didn't know it at the time, but she later came out as a lesbian.

    Fascinating, no?

  12. I agree! think this huge diversity of sexualities and gender identities are liberating and amazing.


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