Friday, June 09, 2017

Gender/Sex Preferences in Sexual Attraction: What Are They Based On, And What Does This Mean For Attraction to Trans, Non-binary and Intersex People?

OK, so many people have a sexual preference for people of a particular gender and/or sex. And the extent to which this depends on the target's gender as opposed to physical sex characteristics is controversial and often tied to transphobia.

But here, I'm just going to talk about the objective experience of sexual attraction that is influenced by gender and/or sex related characteristics, and how that could work. When someone is attracted, for example, to cisgender women but not cisgender men, on which features does this attraction depend on?

Let's talk firstly about primary sexual attraction. This is sexual attraction you feel instantly upon seeing someone, before you know anything about them apart from what's readily visible. And one thing that's pretty clear is that in the vast majority of people, genitals are not going to be visible. If your attraction to people depends entirely on them having a penis, for example, you're only going to feel sexual attraction to people you've seen naked. And that's clearly not the typical experience. So what can you generally see instantly, when someone is clothed, that will give clues as to their gender and/or sex?

Two things - secondary sexual characteristics, and gender expression.

I know for a fact that secondary sexual characteristics are a big part of many people's sexual preferences. My brother and father have both indicated that they're very attuned to the differences between the typical postpubertal male and female bodies, and prefer bodies with postpubertal female characteristics such as rounded hips, larger softer butts, and breast growth. Many women I know, meanwhile, describe a preference for bodies with a moderately high amount of upper body musculature and broad shoulders. If we look at gay and lesbian people, many echo similar preferences to those shown by straight people of the opposite gender.

For most people whose attractions are primarily dependent on secondary sexual characteristics, chances are that they will be attracted to people primarily based on their current and past sex hormone profile. They will be most likely to be attracted to people who have only been exposed to the hormones of their preferred sex, such as cisgender people, intersex people who produce only those hormones, transgender people who started medical transition prior to puberty using those hormones, and transgender people whose bodies naturally produced those hormones and who have not received treatment to interfere with or reverse those effects. To a lesser extent, they may also be attracted to people who have been affected by both sets of hormones, and people who have used surgery to alter features affected by pubertal hormones, largely based on the extent to which they approach the features of those who have only been affected by the person's preferred set of hormones.

Theoretically, there could also be people whose attraction is based on secondary sexual characteristics but with a preference for characteristics not typical of cisgender people, for example preferring people with low voices and breast development. Such preferences may underly some individuals who are preferentially attracted to transgender and intersex people.

Note that individuals attracted to people based on secondary sexual characteristics aren't simply going to be attracted to trans people based on gender identity or assigned sex. Instead, their attraction will depend on which of those factors is a stronger influence on the person's secondary sexual characteristics at the moment. If this changes over time - as in the case of a post-pubertal individual beginning to medically transition - their potential for attraction to this person might also change.

The other gender-related dimension that is readily visible is gender expression. I know for a fact that there are people who are attracted to masculine or feminine presentation regardless of the individual's gender, sex, or secondary sexual characteristics. So, for example, a person may be attracted to people with long hair, people who like to wear dresses or other traditionally feminine clothes, or people with feminine mannerisms and/or vocal patterns. Or to short hair, traditionally masculine clothes, or masculine mannerisms and/or vocal patterns.

In terms of identity, a person attracted to people on the basis of gender expression will most likely be attracted to gender-conforming cis or trans people of the gender associated with that expression, nonbinary people who present in that manner, and gender-nonconforming people of the gender not associated with that expression. So, for example, they might be attracted to masculine cis men, masculine trans men, masculine nonbinary people and masculine women (cis or trans).


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