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Confusion around changing sexual orientation for trans people

I’ve been working on an article (hence the lack of posts lately) and midway through I went on a little tangent (OK, it was a rant) about this issue of confusion around changing sexual orientation for trans people, so I thought I would excerpt it here:

There is a commonly heard idea in the transgender literature and community asserting that the transgender individual will sometimes change sexual orientation after transitioning.  I have found that many patients come in with this belief.  Arlene Istar Lev (2004), a family therapist, clinical social worker and gender expert notes that “gender transition can have a tremendous impact on sexual orientation, sometimes affecting one’s sexual interests…” and in the next paragraph “Sexual orientation is not malleable and cannot be changed through force or will” (p. 301).  There seems to be a good deal of confusion and disagreement on the topic in the transgender community.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that transitioning is a long process with no particular end point (where a change in sexual orientation could be assessed) and can often mean different things to different people and that most transsexuals do not have surgeries; perhaps what is really happening in these cases is that individuals are choosing partners more for the complex array of factors that help the individual feel confirmed in their authentically felt gender rather than for their desirability based on their maleness or femaleness.

Just thinking about this logically for a minute one sees that claims of so called “reparative therapies” on non-trans homosexuals have been thoroughly debunked over the past few decades (for summaries see Haldeman, 1994; Drescher, 1998  and Bright 2004).  What bit of alchemy would then achieve this momentous transformation on the transsexual?  Hormone replacement therapy?  By this same logic, scores of menopausal lesbians taking feminizing hormones would have suddenly switched to becoming attracted to men.

A 1998 research paper titled “Changes in the Sexual Orientation of Six Heterosexual Male-to-Female Transsexuals” by Christopher Daskalos of the Department of Sociology, Arizona State University asserts that

“These respondents stated that before transitioning they had been sexually orientated towards females. After transitioning, these same respondents reported that they were sexually orientated towards males. Five of the six respondents reported having various sexual encounters with males since transitioning. The respondents explained the changes in their sexual orientation as part of their emerging female gender identities. Three of the respondents claimed that the use of female hormones played a role in changing their sexual orientation” (from the abstract p. 605).”

 

The paper was challenged in the same journal in a letter to the editor by Anne A. Lawrence (an arguably controversial figure in her own right due to her advocating the concept of  ‘autogynephilia’) who noted that “Daskalos purports to document dramatic changes in the sexual orientation of six of his transsexual informants – changes that seem to have occurred almost effortlessly.  However, a careful reading of Daskalos’ paper reveals that he has demonstrated no such thing” (p. 581). Her reasons include that sexual behavior is not the same as sexual orientation, that (a somewhat dated idea) “Sometimes such self-reports may be conscious deceptions, designed to increase the likelihood that the transsexual will qualify for sex reassignment surgery” and that “In other cases, such self-reports by transsexuals may reflect the autogynephilic fantasy of sex with a male partner” (p. 581).

However none of these refutations shed light on the reasons behind changes in behavior.  I believe Dozier’s (2005) comments from her cohort of 18 trans men to be most in keeping with what I have seen with trans people in my practice:

Respondents also challenge traditional notions of sexual orientation by focusing less on the sex of the partner and more on the gender organization of the relationship. The relationship’s ability to validate the interviewee’s masculinity or maleness often takes precedence over the sex of the partner, helping to explain changing sexual orientation as female-to-male transsexual and transgendered people transition into men (2005, p. 297).”

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

References:

Bright, C. (2004). Deconstructing Reparative Therapy: An Examination of the Processes Invovled When Attempting to Change Sexual Orientation. In Clinical Social Work Journal, Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter 2004 (_ 2004)

Daskalos, C. (1998).  Changes in the Sexual Orientation of Six Heterosexual Male-to-Female Transsexuals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 27, No. 6, 1998

Dozier, R. (2005) Beards, Breasts, and Bodies: Doing Sex in a Gendered World. In Gender & Society, Vol. 19 No. 3, June 2005. 297-316

Drescher, J. (1998).  I’m Your Handyman: A History of Reparative Therapies in Journal of Homosexuality,Vol. 36(1) 1998

Haldeman, D.C.  (1994) The Practice and Ethics of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy. In Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 62, No. 2, 221-227

Lawrence, A. (1999) Letter to the Editor. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 28, No. 6, 1999

Lev, A. (2004). Transgender Emergence. Binghamton, NY: HaworthPress.


Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.


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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jaz #

    This seems to be a puzzling idea related to transgender individuals. I am a transsexual woman who now almost exclusive consider men for a relationship and not very often women. This is opposite of my behavior when I was married, including a short 2 year marriage when I was in my early twenties. Why did this happen? I don’t think it is because my sexual orientation has changed. Like many transsexual women I have always been bisexual as have many other transsexual women. Much higher incidence than the general population. It bewilders me why bisexuality is never mentioned as a sexual orientation. Whenever a outward appearing “heterosexual person” has a relationship with the same sex they’re considered to be gay/lesbian and NOT bisexual. How many times has it been revealed that a married person, such as a politician, been outed for being a homosexual? Has it ever been revealed that a person has been bisexual? I would think that a married person who has a relationship with a person of the same sex might be bisexual?

    So back to the puzzle about the change of sexual orientation in transgender individuals. My sexual orientation has not changed. I am still bisexual although my behavior has been almost exclusively oriented to men for the last 15 years. Why do I say that I am bisexual? Because I have been equally attracted to both sexes, both physically and emotionally. I have been in love with both men and women during my lifetime.

    I think this is very common in the transgender community and should be considered as a major reason for explaining their so called change in sexual orientation. What do you think?

    August 9, 2010
  2. Thanx Jaz, I think you make an excellent point of people forgetting about the possibility of bisexuality and of the possibility of there being somewhat equal desire for male or female partners… I doubt very much there have been any studies on the prevalence of this, but I’m glad you spoke up to be counted!
    A question – why do you find that you focus on male partners for the last 15 years?
    Actually I’m writing a paper now discussing a trans woman’s transition through the lens of queer theory, so all this is very much on my mind. (I think they would reject all labeling & just focus on the performance & doing aspects, but that’s a subject for another post).

    August 9, 2010
  3. Jaz #

    Why male partners? LIving as a woman as I do, it is just much easier to date men instead of women. That said, I would never date a guy if I was not sexually attracted to him. If I wasn’t sexually attracted to men, then I won’t date them even if the relationship provided me with validation of my femaleness and other “perks”. Another reason that many transsexual women (like me) seldom date women is because there are very few women who are interested in dating us. Here is what you do. Go to an online dating site which has a transgender category. Search for women who want to meet transgender women and see how many matches you find. You will not find many, and more likely none.

    Back to the bisexuality issue. You say there has been no studies about bisexuality and transgender individuals. I’ve read more than once in the literature that bisexuality is much much higher in the transgender community.

    August 10, 2010
  4. Debra #

    A very interesting blog; thank you for sharing.

    Part of the difficulty I see here is trying to apply labels where they don’t fit. I identify as heterosexual. Pre-transition (mtf) I was exclusively attracted to females; post transition exclusively males. This switch did surprise. I dated a guy for the first time as an experiment and was shocked and amused when it just felt right.

    To the outside world it looks as if my orientation changed. Internally I feel completely congruent. The limitation is the terminology that only reflects behaviors of the birth gender stable population.

    August 12, 2010
  5. Jaz #

    A few thoughts about “confusion of sexual orientation” just to make it more confusing! How would you explain the following?
    1. Transmen very seldom change sexual orientation. Almost all are attracted to women before and after transition.
    2. The majority of transwomen come from the heterosexual community while transmen come from the lesbian community.
    3. A person leaves a heterosexual relationship (ex. married with children) and becomes homosexual. The common explanation is that these people did not change their sexual orientation, but were always gay.
    4. Transsexual women who are “more passable as women” are more likely to change their sexual orientation then other transsexual women (my observation). Following your explanation, logic would dictate that these women would be less likely to need to “feel confirmed in their authentically felt gender” by their partner (more confirmation outside of their relationship) and would be less likely to change sexual orientation. Does the degree of passibility (if it is a word) influence whether a transwoman changes her sexual orientation? I’ve noticed that transwomen who are attracted to women before and after transition are less likely to change to a more feminine voice. My explanation of this is that by keeping a more masculine voice they are more likely to attract a heterosexual female.
    5. What happens to the sexual orientation of transwomen who transition back to a man. Do some of these people change their sexual orientation too?

    August 30, 2010
  6. ActiveEvil #

    I wonder, what does anyone have to say, or to offer from research, for someone who has multiple gender identities…especially without DID? If someone is biologically female, but mentally both male and female, and is attracted to men…how do you classify their sexual orientation? Likewise, for someone who is biologically male, but identifies as both male and female? And further, how do you define the orientation of someone who identifies as truly hermaphroditic, or as asexual/androgynous?

    Food for thought.

    May 2, 2011
    • The usual practice in talking about the sexual orientation of trans folk is to describe it from the point of view of current presentation (or the presentation, i.e. gender expression at the time you are talking about). So a male to female individual who is attracted to women would have a ‘lesbian’ sexual orientation. Having said that, labels are not always necessary and people can choose their own… but I’d guess from what you’re describing “gender fluid” or “gender queer” and “bisexual” might be used.

      May 3, 2011
  7. Felix #

    I am a FtM Transsexual Male coming to my final lower surgery in July. In my previous role I was married had children and for a time labelled myself as bi sexual because of this. I knew at a young age that my true preference was women but being Catholic forget that! I also new from age 8 I was a boy and that I had the wrong body. In my 30’s I came out as a butch lesbian still not able deal with my inner male. I had a long term relatioship of 7 years with a woman confirming what I knew already. I started transitioning December 2008 and I am in a 2.5 year relationship with a woman. I see myself as hetrosexual which I guess I have always been but now I can truely be myself….Felix

    May 30, 2011
  8. Octavia #

    I find this conversation enjoyable. Its not often I can speak about this small segment of the spectrum of sexual orientation.

    I am a MTF who has lived openly as a bisexual male for 20 years, Within the bisexual community there is an understanding that not all bisexuals are alike. Some want long term relationships only with one gender but are happy to play with either. Others feel that LTR and Play can happen with either gender. And if you spend enough time in the bisexual community, you will see people shift between any combination of these two streams of the fluid sexuality.

    All of that said, the nature of my own bisexuality has shifted to match my current feelings. I would consider myself a lesbian who is willing to play with some men. As a group, I have no interest in men. I am certain this has do to my boredom of living as man.

    To through my own relationships into this confusion, what is it called with two transexuals date? What is a man called who only dates bisexual women and lesbians? Neither of these relationships have names.

    There is a point in the world of transexuals at which there are no labels, no theory that can explain: just people living.

    December 7, 2012
    • Jenna #

      I agree that there are many kinds of bisexual relationships. One important characteristic in defining a relationship is if a person is emotionally involved with the other person and it is not just involved on a physical level. I suppose a LRT could be either of these two kinds of relationship so not very precise. So I’m asking the question…. is a person bisexual if they can’t be involved emotionally with the other person? If the answer is yes, then maybe a person with a fetish, getting sexually satisfied by who knows what, should be considered a bisexual. What about people who have sex with animals? Aren’t they bisexual?

      Regarding your other question about a relationship between two transsexuals. I don’t think there is any exception here. First, define the gender of the person (a transsexual who identifies as a woman is a woman and a transsexual who identifies as a man is a man.). Then define their sexual orientation. Presto! Just two normal people having a relationship!!!
      Jenna

      December 7, 2012
  9. Octavia #

    I do not wish to get in a flame war but I cannot allow Jenna’s statements to stand without counter arguments.

    Jenna states:
    …is a person bisexual if they can’t be involved emotionally with the other person? If the answer is yes, then maybe a person with a fetish, getting sexually satisfied by who knows what, should be considered a bisexual. What about people who have sex with animals? Aren’t they bisexual?

    Response:
    Bisexual is someone who has sex with both genders. So, any inclusion of sex with animals or an unknown fetish under the bisexual umbrella is wrong. In addition, as a bisexual, I find Jenna’s statements offensive.

    Jenna states:
    First, define the gender of the person (a transsexual who identifies as a woman is a woman and a transsexual who identifies as a man is a man.). Then define their sexual orientation. Presto! Just two normal people having a relationship!!!
    
Response:
    I find Jenna’s reasoning highly reductive and clinically wrong. First, a transexual is defined as male to female. A transexual cannot identify as male. Second, I do agree the label ‘lesbian’ accurately describes two transexuals dating, if based on their genders. However, the ‘lesbian’ label avoids the unique nature of a loving relationship between transexuals.

    A related example- if two bisexuals are married, a man and a women, their relationship does fit the general heterosexual category. But, the unique nature of their relationship deserves its own category.

    December 12, 2012
    • Debra #

      Octavia wrote: ” First, a transexual is defined as male to female. A transexual cannot identify as male. ”

      HUH? I think all the Female to Male Gender Variant individuals out in the world might be shocked to know that they can not be Transexual. Since you are trying to be clinically accurate I would suggest you look a lot more closely at clinical definitions. Of course an individual born XX can transition to a male gender and would be called Male and Transexual.

      December 12, 2012
      • Jenna #

        Some transexual humans do not consider themselves to be either a man or a woman, but consider themselves to be androgenous or gender fence-sitters. Boy/girl, that seems like it would be painful?

        So, what do you call the relationship between a androgenous bisexual person and a vanilla heterosexual woman? What if the androgens bisexual person actually identified as a man one day but one the next day identified as a woman

        December 15, 2012
    • Jenna #

      OK…. now if you know anything about the Greek Gods, there were many who had sex with mere mortals. For instance, Helen of Troy (the most beautiful woman in history) was conceived when her Mother had sex with the God Zeus who had transformed himself into a goose. It’s true, Helen of Troy was the result of her mother having sex with a goose. Now according to Octavia (that’s Greek, isn’t it?) Helen’s mother was not bisexual because you can’t be considered a bisexual if you have sex with a goose, a God, or even an alien!

      I bet the question about why some transsexual individuals seemingly change their sexual orientation after they transition could have some light shone on it by looking at other cultures, like the Greek Spartans, where the males were supposedly homosexual until marriage and then after marriage become heterosexual.

      December 14, 2012
  10. As a binary woman born trans my natural inclination was to explore “same sex” (pre transition heterogenital) relationships and “opposite sex” relationships (pre-transition homogenital). I was lucky enough to live my 20’s in an age where this was possible without a massive amount of social stigma attached to having same sex relationships. I don’t think either type of relationship has affected my sense of gender identity. My natural state in pre-transition gender confusion was bi/pansexual. Post transition I remain bi/pansexual.

    I think the primary driver for feeling authentic in my gender is simply living as my preferred gender. For me sexuality has very little bearing on it. And “gender roles” in relationships have been more bound by practical limitations than anything.

    So I’ve lived an outward life as a “bisexual/gay male”, a “straight male” and currently very happy in a post transition same sex relationship with another woman. For me it’s about an openness to explore and live in same sex relationships. And I agree, as others have commented, that it’s about availability of partners but also about geography (where I live there’s a big LGBT community), and a sprinkling of love and luck!

    I think there is a bit of a difference in relationship when you’re dating a straight guy in a heterogenital relationship and a gay guy in a homogenital relationship. I don’t know, It just seems different.

    I disagree that in order to identify as bisexual you have to have sex with both genders. I identified my attraction to both genders before I was sexually active, as do others in the bi/pan community.

    December 28, 2012
  11. Sam #

    I am aware of little to no non-anecdotal evidence about this topic and am hoping some more research will be conducted. It does seem to me that sexuality, including the gender(s) to which people find themselves attracted, is a part of human experience that is usually grossly over-simplified -just as gender is over-simplified. I was born female and attracted to males (although I rarely enjoyed sex with them) until, in college, I discovered I was attracted to women. From that point on I exclusively dated women and identified as lesbian. I was in no way interested in heterosexual sex. In my early 30s, having always felt gender dysphoric, I decided to transition to male and took testosterone. I was involved with a ftm community and met a lot of guys who were also transitioning to male or who were in some way not cisgendered. Once I started taking testosterone I gradually lost interest in women and gained a strong interest in men. I met plenty of other guys who also had a similar experience, as well as plenty of guys who remained interested only in women, who become pansexual, or who had always been interested in men and remained only interested in men. It is not true that there are very few gay or bi -or whatever non-hetero label you want to use- ftms, at least from my experience. Anyway, I found that this “change” in my sexual orientation was unsettling. For that and other reasons I decided to stop taking t. After a few months off of t my orientation seemed to switch back to me being only interested in women romantically and sexually. I have no idea why my attractions changed so dramatically. It would be a stretch to say that being a gay male seemed to confirm for me a sense of maleness within myself, or a sense of femaleness for that matter. It was certainly not a choice. Perhaps there is a neurological or biological element to attraction that interacts with hormones and this may be different for different people? I do not think we understand enough about sexual orientation to know. I would be interested to hear about other people’s thoughts or experiences.

    August 25, 2013
  12. Joe #

    The truth is that the doctors hide a lot of reality from both the transgender patients and the advocates for fear of worsening depression and PC backlash.

    February 8, 2015
  13. Mike #

    so this is a little awkward for me to talk about still figuring everything out with myself, so i am in a loving relationship with my soon to be wife, and we are looking into me getting hrt to go MtF but this whole topic of changing sexual orientation has me a bit worried i have never had any interest in men but i have seen people who say that were that way to and lost all interesting in women and only wanted men, i am worried that i will lose my connection with my fiance. as much as i feel like i would be more comfortable as a woman i would want to identify as a “lesbian” but i am afraid of the chance of losing that. Does anyone have suggestions or anything to offer

    May 18, 2015
    • sara19719 #

      Mike, i know it is awkward for you to talk about this, but only you can answer that question. When you go into your transition, you have to go in with an open mind that things can change. Hormones are a very powerful drug and can change a lots of things. You will become more emotional and your libido may drop to where sex is not that important to you. Your sexual orientation may change and it may not. You may become attracted to men, but that doesn’t mean you would act on it. You won’t ever lose your attraction to your fiance, but you may lose attraction to other women. You may end up falling as a lesbian, bi, or hetero woman. My wife worried about the same question too, but it can happen. Don’t worry about it and just be yourself and good luck with your transition to womanhood.

      June 10, 2015
    • Sarah #

      I began my transition in my mid 20s. Hrt made me very disinterested in sexual congress. However like many girls I had my share of interaction with admirers and one day on my 30th birthday despite never finding a male attractive prior I had what I assumed would be a regrettable night. After that I became less and less resistant to male attention and began to actively note and enjoy non admirer attentions. I liked the interplay, I loved teasing. 36 now and I am very happy as a heterosexual woman, I don’t think there is any magical change from hormones or surgeries for sexuality, but transitioning socially changes who you are, and once there you may find you enjoy and see things society prior did not give you.

      September 5, 2015
  14. Wrongsoc #

    I am three years in an post up. The only answer I found is you will be yourself. An the beauty is when this happens. May your love continue to find each other.

    My orientation did change through my transition. I went from bi male to lesbian. My challenge is dealing with transphobia in that community. It’s basically generational. Older lesbians respect me but question the topic. twentysomethings never understand the older lesbian view.

    For your transition, enjoy your coming puberty. Follow your hEart. Do not take the pains seriously. They are only growing pains.

    June 10, 2015
    • Very good post and i have been told the same things by others that you will just be yourself.

      I agree that there is a lot of transphobia in the lesbian community and it makes it very challenging at times. They either accept you or turn you away. Where you kinda surprised yourself that your orientation did change through your transition?

      June 16, 2015
      • wrongsock #

        I was not surprised my orientation changed and did not mind it. Having been in the LGBT community for 20 years prior to transition, I understood sexuality was fluid and change is natural.

        What has surprised me is how my sexual gaze has shifted from male to female. I no longer flip out over a cute girl or seeing nudity like I did while male. Instead I have the fickle sexual desire of a typical woman. Random stuff related to women turn me on. I could describe it as becoming more lesbian.

        June 17, 2015
  15. Adam #

    The article made me hopeful, but the comments suggest that people do have different experiences, and I don’t know what to think now. I am scared, and I don’t know what to do. I’m a trans-man with a very strong 6 on Kinsley’s scale. I’ve had sexual encounter with a female body only once in my life, and that wasn’t even because I was curious of how would it be with one. I was not. The friend of mine is also FtM but bisexual, and we decided to take a chance for our minds that work well together, even if our bodies are wrong. The result was poor, the way of getting me there was pretty traumatic, even though he’s generally my soul mate, and I love everything about him, but his body. It was just an awful experience. I love male bodies, and I find female ones absolutely repulsive (in sexual context of course). And it’s a huge deal for me.
    I haven’t started my hormone therapy yet, still am waiting for it, and I’m really puzzled, scared, and doubtful. Not because I doubt my gender, I know who I am, I know how desperately I want to look like a proper male and have a body that I will adore instead of hating. But I’m afraid of the whole sexual orientation change possibility since my therapist told me about it. I cannot take it lightly, I cannot go into it open minded and take whatever will happen. My currently male-obsessed brain is fighting the idea of ever changing this state and makes me anxious and stressed about the topic.
    Is it possible that there will be a shift that huge, for a person that has absolutely no interest in another gender, to have it changed? Who I find attractive is a huge part of my identity, and I feel like hormones can violate it and make me someone that I don’t want to become. I know transition brings a lot of changes, but this one is absolutely unwanted.

    February 20, 2017
  16. Mae Lyde #

    I was wondering if science ever consider treating the problem psychologically than performing surgery change. When i was young i wanted to be a cowgirl. I played with toy guns, very tomboyish and climbed trees i fought my brothers, threw rocks and wore my caps like a boy. I grew out of that at pre teen and stopped it all. I believe sometimes we can become confused and believe what out culture and societies claim. My heart is sad for thier pain, and i wonder does it really solves their real problem. Spiritually speaking believers are mostly concerned about their souls. Oftentimes it comes out looking and sounding like hate, but it is really about love and salvation. A man raping a woman is considered a crime. A person who loves killing and taking others lives is a crime. Some people are saying he was born like that or he is wired like that. Our society says it is wrong. Maybe he feels that he can not control these feeling. God gives us choices. Just because we may feel a certain way, wr must ask God to help us make the right choices of self control that lines up with his word. I pray daily that God will correct the gender confusion for these beautiful people. May God bless them all.
    .

    March 2, 2017

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