As you have probably gathered by this point, I do not posess any formal training when it comes to academic feminist theory; I am in fact entirely self-taught in this regard, having learned the basics of the subject out of a sense of curiosity combined with naked self-interest. One thing that I have gleaned with absolute certainty, however, is that to engage in any sort of feminist discussion of pornography is to traipse across a minefield of deep-seded prejudices. My own feeling* is that trying to read any especial political significance into people’s sexual preferences is usually an exercise both arbitrary and ridiculous, as I should hope that any even moderately-self aware person would be able to distinguish between real life and their own sexual fantasies.
However… there appear to always be a handful of people, whether through laziness or stupidity, whose opinions are genuinely informed by what they see in smutty titles whose only purpose for existing is to get them off. What is more, I think that transsexual women are particularly susceptible to this sort of thinking if only for the fact that pornography is one of the very few media in which we are regularly represented. And there has been very little analysis of this problem, for the very simple reason that the same Second-Wave “geniuses” who think that especial political significance can be read into the missionary position are also the ones who think that people like me ought to be morally mandated out of existence. So let me take a crack at it:
As anyone who has ever questioned their gender identity can readily inform you, it is not possible to read-up on transsexuality on the internet without coming across approximately twenty hundred bajillion fetish sites, each containing between several dozen and several hundred formulaically-identical stories about men who are forced by closet dominatrices to become women. This genre of fetish story is known, aptly enough, as “forced feminization” (it has its own wikipedia entry and everything).
Here is the plot of every single forced feminization story ever written [SPOILER ALERT]: A man (usually a misogynistic “bad boy”) finds himself at the mercy of a woman in a position of authority. Through a contrived set of circumstances, he will find himself being compelled to crossdress, consume female hormones, get implants, change his name, and undergo “the surgery.” During this time, his protestations of masculinity will gradually die-down (either because this was secretly what he wanted all along or because of some form of brainwashing), and he will adopt ever-more-stereotypical “feminine” characteristics**. Ultimately, he will have sex with a man, thus cementing his (or rather her) new identity as a (heterosexual) woman.
My guess would be that the primary market for these stories are heterosexual men, although they seem to have a significant “periphery demographic” amongst transgendered women during the pre-transition “questioning” phase***. I would guess, based on my own past experience (and yes, I must admit that I have, on occasion, amused myself by reading these stories) that the relationship is correlative rather than causative. Forced feminization is appealing to closeted transgenderists because it allows one to act on ones desires without having to take ownership of them. As someone who hesitated to come-out for over a year after realizing that she was trans (and hesitated for more than a decade before admitting even that), I can say that an absolution of responsibility for one’s feelings can be a very attractive thing. I reject outright, however, the idiotic claim that these narratives are responsible for creating, rather than merely reflecting transsexual feelings.
However, these narratives can be (as social scientists like to say) “problematic.” First and foremost is the assumption that, in order to be a woman, one must, universally, engage in behaviours XY and Z (going to the mall, painting one’s toenails, dressing in skirts, et cetera). Needless to say, this can feed-in to the transphobic meme that simply by transitioning, transpeople are “reifying the gender binary.” Most notably perhaps is the extremely unfortunate implication that real women must have sex with men (and, indeed, that penetration by a penis is the defining characteristic of womanhood); as a lesbian, I need hardly point out why this is offensive.
Secondly (and perhaps paradoxically) these stories tend to contain the implication that gender identity is a mutable thing: that, through the right combination of behavioural conditioning, hormonal treatments, and hypnosis, someone who identifies as a man can be forced against his will to identify as a woman. Needless to say, “reparative therapies” of this very nature have been brought to bear against transsexuals.****
These are, of course, merely implications of works of fiction. Unfortunately, some people appear to be in the habit of taking them very seriously. I have always had the impression that radical feminist “deconstructions” of transsexuality are rooted primarily in the unquestioned acceptance of the memes embodied in these stories. Perhaps even more insidiously, they seem to inform the views of a broad segment of the general population. To cite a specific example, I direct you to an exchange I one stumbled across online, in which a questioning individual, apparently in sincerity, talked about their feelings of transgenderism:
For a number of years now I have secreatly cross dressed. 2 years ago, my wife found my female clothes that I thought I had kept hidden. Initially she was very upset, but we talked a lot and over time she seemed to accept me cross dressing even buying me clothes and underwear for birthdays and helping me by going out together. My problem is that I now have such an increasing desire to actually become a woman and I need to tell my wife. We did discuss it early on and at the time I didn’t think I would feel this way, so just carried on with the cross dressing. Has anyone ever been through this and what do I say. Please help.
To which some well-informed idiot responded with:
Start wearing female clothes every day, but not in the closet. If you do not have the courage and ability to toss your male clothes and start wearing female clothes 24 / 7 openly, freely, and comfortably, you do not have what it takes to become a woman.
After you have openly dressed as a woman for a few weeks, start living as a woman, doing nothing as a man. If after several months living as a woman you still have the desire to become a woman, have the surgery done and make your desire real.
If you are lucky, you and your wife can become best girlfriends, and continue living together happily. To help her support this you will have to do most or all of the woman’s tasks in the household, because she is not going to accept waiting on another woman. Just understand that you would both be women, so if she decides to have a real man F*** her or sucks his C*** from time to time, or frequently, you have no complaint. If you are lucky, one of her MALE friends may have a friend that would be interested in F****** you or letting you suck his d***. Remember, if you do this, you are a woman not a man – and you have to live with the good and the BAD of being a woman. Are you sure you want a future of being f*cked and having to suck C***? There is more to being a woman than wearing the clothes you want.
I shudder to think that someone questioning their gender identity might wind-up taking this assinine advice to heart.
All of this having been said, I think that in the final analysis, the forced feminization genre is not, of itself, harmful to transpeople. The reason for this is very simple: namely, anyone who has access to these stories over the internet also has access to a wealth of legitimate information on transsexuality. If a questioning individual is unable to parse truth from pornographic fairytales, they ultimately have only themselves to blame. As for those whose transphobia is inspired by the tropes of this genre, I have little doubt that anyone stupid enough to base their opinions of an entire group of people on a work of fiction designed to give them boners would still be wrong about a great many things even if these stories didn’t exist at all.
Still, in the spirit of sex-positive feminism (and yes, I am very much a sex-positive asexual), it might be an interesting challenge to write a feminist, trans-positive forced feminization story. It is a challenge, though, which is probably best left to someone who actually has a sex drive.
*And I should probably point out, once again, that I am asexual.
**As understood by authors who have apparently never met a woman in the entire run of their lives.
***There is also such a thing as “forced masculinization” although it appears, based on my cursory google search, to be considerably less popular.
****With about as much success (or lack thereof) as anyone whose knowledge of Human psychology is not informed by pornography would probably expect.