A reality television programme kicked off a debate about whether it’s discriminatory or transphobic to refuse to date a transsexual person.
The argument started on UK reality television show Celebrity Big Brother, where minor celebrities are locked into a studio made to look like a house, then filmed 24/7.
As might be expected in such a situation, tensions run high and conversations can be fractious. One of the housemates is India Willoughby, a TV journalist who had an established career as a man before transitioning to become a woman.
Willoughby asked her housemates about their dating preferences, and the resulting conversation kicked off a social media storm.
“Would you go out with a transsexual woman?” she queried.
“I believe it’s your choice… I would choose not to,” replied the R’n’B singer Ginuwine. “That doesn’t make me scared.”
“You would go out with a woman?” Willoughby asked.
“But you wouldn’t go out with a transsexual woman?”
The conversation rumbled on. When Willoughby suggested “Let’s have a kiss,” Ginuwine replied “no” and leaned away from her.
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India was later seen telling another guest that “all this superficial stuff that you are a woman and all that sounds great and is the right thing to say. But it makes no difference if people don’t believe it – that’s the problem.”
While some housemates defended Ginuwine’s refusal to date a transsexual woman as a “preference”, the issue divided the audience on Twitter.
The debate has continued to reverberate inside the house. Viewers of the programme vote off guests one at a time until a winner is selected, and on Friday India Willoughby is one of two celebrities facing a vote and possible eviction.
Some viewers claimed Ginuwine rebuffing the notion of dating a trans woman was discrimination or transphobia – dislike or fear of transgender people.
But others backed the “preference” argument and said the singer was entitled to state his dating choices without being criticised.
The debate reverberated on other social networks and outside the UK as well. A video from New York radio DJ Charlamagne Tha God defending Ginuwine’s stance as a preference has since been viewed more than 350,000 times on YouTube.
“I do not want to call it transphobic,” says Miss Sahara, a transgender woman who works as a model and songwriter. “When someone is transphobic they don’t sit next to them. Ginuwine was having a very comfortable conversation with India.”
“What is transphobia? If you are afraid of trans people, if you are excluding trans women from womanhood then you are being transphobic.
“What Ginuwine said was that of an ignorant person who has not been with a trans woman before. It was more of an ignorance, fed by a media that often depicts trans women in a sensationalised way, with strong bone structure and husky low-baritone voices,” Miss Sahara says.
“The majority of straight men are worried about what society thinks of them if they date a trans woman,” she says. “Toxic masculinity makes them violent and rude about their attraction. When you don’t fancy someone you should talk about their characteristics. It’s not as black and white as many people think it is because whether you are attracted to someone or not is about being attracted to a fellow human being.”
However, Dr Liadh Timmins, who specialises in sexual orientation and gender identity at Kings College London, describes the comments as “transphobic”.
“Sexual attraction is a response to stimuli – that can be based on any number of things for example waist to hip ratio, certain behaviours, or breast size,” Dr Timmins says.
“If you have a trans woman who transitions very early on, she may be physically identical to a cis woman.”
A “cis woman” or “cisgendered” person is someone whose gender identity matches the one they were born with.
“There are hormonal sweet spots where trans women can transition and be effectively indistinguishable at a certain level from cisgendered women,” Dr Timmins says. “So being unwilling to date on the basis of someone being trans, rather than on the basis of individual stimuli is something I would personally call transphobic.”
“This is a philosophical rather than empirical discussion because their is not a lot of nuanced research into this area yet.
“Grouping all transgender women as the same and all cis gender women as the same is effectively prejudice,” Dr Timmins says.
Blog by Jonathan Griffin
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