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"If a straight man cheats with a trans woman, does that mean he’s 'really' gay?"

Transexual woman Ava Sabrina London, who was rumoured to have had an affair with Hank Baskett. Smart denies the claims. (Photo: Facebook).

Earlier this month, rumours were swirling that Jennifer Lopez’ boyfriend Casper Smart  had romanced two transexual women. More recently, reports have surfaced that Hank Baskett, husband of former Playboy playmate Kendra Wilkinson, allegedly cheated on Kendra with a transsexual woman.

At the same time, there are some pretty amazing trans public figures making headlines in a great way: Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black is one of our idols, for example.

Yep, suddenly it seems that everyone’s talking about trans people. Which got the Mamamia team asking in our editorial meeting this week: Is the trans community having a “moment”? What’s going on when men who say they’re straight start sleeping with transexuals? Are these men fetishising trans people, or are reporters being douches by reporting it like that?

And how can we — as writers who aren’t personally involved in the trans community — explore these questions in a respectful way?

We were nervous about offending members of the trans community, but we figured it was a heck of a lot better to ask those questions so we’d know the right way to talk about some of these issues in future.

So today, armed with the best of intentions, we set out to answer all our burning questions (and probably some of yours, too) and have done so by asking a representative from the trans community for their views.

Here we go:

First up: What are the correct terms to use when referring to a trans person?

A transexual is a person who identifies as a member of the ‘opposite’ sex to their birth sex. Transsexuals usually seek hormone therapy and often surgery to bring their body into line with their gender identity, as Transgender Victoria explains — but a person can be a transexual without having had that surgery.

Jennifer Lopez and Casper Smart. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Jennifer Lopez and Casper Smart. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
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A transsexual, or trans, man is a person who was assigned female at birth and who lives as, or identifies as a man; A transexual or trans woman is same in reverse.

Meanwhile, “transgender” and “trans” are umbrella terms used to describe all those whose gender identity is at odds with their biological sex. (Some trans people advocate writing “trans” as “trans*”, with an asterisk, but others say it’s not necessary.)

Transgender Victoria’s executive director Sally Goldner tells Mamamia it is “critical”, however, to check with a trans person what pronouns they prefer before addressing or referring to the person — regardless of whether that person has had gender reassignment surgery.

The key to respectfully referring to a trans person, Sally added, was to “ask what they want to disclose” and not make assumptions.

One more thing: don’t ever use the word “tranny”, Sally says, adding: “If someone identifies as that, then that’s their call too.”

So when Kelly Osbourne went on a rant about her ex-fiance cheating with a transexual woman, using words like “tranny” and “chicks with dicks”? That was transphobic, and not cool at all.

Why are we hearing so much about famous men allegedly cheating with trans women?

Hank Baskett (L) and Kendra Wilkinson earlier this year. (Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images.)
Hank Baskett (L) and Kendra Wilkinson earlier this year. (Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images.)

If you missed the rumours, this is what went down.

Earlier this month, gossip site The Dirty alleged that Smart had been exchanging explicit pictures with transsexual model Sofie Vissa — and a week later, transsexual star Xristina Marie also claimed to have been involved with Casper.

Then, this week, Hank Baskett was accused of cheating with a transsexual model named Ava Sabrina London — while his wife, Kendra Wilkinson, was eight months pregnant. 

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During their first meeting, “They mutually masturbated her and (Baskett) touched her breasts and penis,”Radar Online cites an ‘insider’ as saying.

“Before leaving, he gave her almost $500 and told her he wanted to stay in touch,” the source allegedly added.

So those are the stories – and to an extent, the media is always interested in reporting developments in celebrities’ personal lives. Nothing new there.

But the way this story is being reported has a real emphasis on the fact that it was a transexual woman Baskett cheated with. Sure, entertainment websites might have run a quick story on Baskett allegedly cheating anyway – but there’s also something a bit off with the way the media makes a huge deal of the reports because they involve transexual people.

As Sally tells Mamamia: “It’s about separating the two, that there are two different issues (at play here, and) not sensationalising the trans aspect of it.”

So, where media reports make a huge deal about the sexual detail of what allegedly happened between a famous man and a transexual woman — and where an article reduces a trans person to only their gender identity, or even uses the fact they’re trans as a punchline? That’s not on.

But seriously. If a man who identifies as straight cheats with a trans woman, does that mean he’s really gay?

In the words of Zoolander, let us answer your question with another question: Why do you think you know what someone else’s sexual identity is?

Carrie Davis of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York.

Just because someone dates a gorgeous Hollywood starlet like Jennifer Lopez or Kenda Wilkinson, doesn’t mean he necessarily identifies as straight. In fact, that assumption “brings into play the whole binary thinking that ignores, say, bisexuality and pansexuality,” Sally says.

The question also suggests that a trans woman is not “actually” a woman – and again, seeks to categorise people into two camps that reflect a traditional, heteronormative model of gender.

Still confused? Let Carrie Davis of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York, break it down for you. As Carrie explained in a video made for the centre’s Gender Identity Project:

“Our culture has a pretty simplified model of gender; A model that says someone whose body has a penis would identify as male, they would behave in a stereotypically masculine way, they would identify as a man, and they would date a woman… But there are a huge number of people in this world who don’t fit into those models.”

What this means, in short, is: no, being married to a person born with a vagina doesn’t necessarily make a man straight. And having sex with a person who was born with a penis doesn’t necessarily make a man gay.

Basically, as Sally says: “It’s not up to anyone to tell anyone else what the identities of others are. Why can’t people just be attracted to people, regardless of gender?”

But Hank Baskett allegedly watched trans soft-porn videos online. Doesn’t that mean he has a fetish?

Okay you guys, repeat after us: being attracted to trans people does not mean you have a fetish. But as we’ve seen, society loves to insist on a pretty restrictive model of gender and sexuality — so anything that falls outside that model is often misunderstood and cast as freaky, or weird, or a fetish.

As Thomas Matt wrote for Salon last year, in an article reflecting on his own experiences with trans-attraction:

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“The heteronormative world in which we live had successfully convinced me that being attracted to transgender women meant I had a fetish. I began questioning my sexuality and even my masculinity.  I didn’t even know what to call my sexual orientation.

Finally one day, after hours of searching, I came across two terms that described what I was feeling. Trans-attraction and trans-orientation. Neither one is official or common, but their use is growing due to the increasing demand for a way to categorize people who are attracted to transgender people.”

Matt’s message? What needs to change is not that some people are attracted to trans women – but rather that society can’t handle that, and feels the need to brand it a fetish.

Another problem with considering attraction to trans women a fetish? That it reduces women to sex objects, essentially saying “they are not worthy of love,” as Matt explains.

transexual hank baskett
Sally Goldner, executive director of Transgender Victoria. (Photo: supplied)

BUT – and this is a big but – that’s not to say that transexual people are not often wrongly fetishised. As Sally tells Mamamia: “There can be that tendency to fetishise and sensationalise trans people,” particularly in some types of porn – and that’s a problem, too.

“There’s nothing necessarily good or bad about porn in itself – it’s about how well it’s made and how, whether or not the people driving the portrayals,” Sally explains.

“So if trans people are empowered to drive the portrayal of trans people, that’s a good thing…  The problem is a lot of porn hasn’t dealt well with trans issues.”

“It comes back to sterotyping, it comes back to people speaking for other people without authorisation.”

“It comes back to that slogan, ‘nothing about us, without us.”

Fair enough, Sally.

So, there you go – some of your questions, answered.

And what we’ve learned? Is that we have a hell of a lot to learn.

Here are a few prominent trans people. Any more you want to add?

For more resources and information in Victoria, you can visit the Transgender Victoria website here. The Gender Centre also provides more services for the Australian transgender and gender diverse community, while Ausgender is a community-based support and social group for the transgendered and transsexual community.

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