Dr. Rachel McKinnon, philosophy professor, cyclist, trans woman, came to fame in 2018 when she made history by being the first trans athlete to win the women’s 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships. McKinnon is a vocal trans advocate who has spoken out in favour of trans women competing in women’s sports, has physically dominated biological women in her own sport of cycling, and, most recently, has taken to Twitter to pen endless threads against the so-called “cotton ceiling.”
If you haven’t heard of the cotton ceiling, consider yourself lucky. Per Curve Magazine, the phrase was “coined by porn actress and activist Drew DeVeaux in 2015. It’s been used to refer to the tendency by cisgender lesbians to outwardly include and support trans women, but draw the line at considering ever having sex with them.” In short, if you’re a lesbian and you’re not attracted to trans women because they don’t have female genitals, you’re a transphobe, a no-good, prejudiced, privileged, cis-gendered bigot.
YouTuber Riley J. Dennis made a video to explain this issue. She asks “Would you date a trans person? Honestly? I’ll give you a second to think about it. Ok? Got your answer? Well if you said “no,” I’m sorry, but that’s pretty discriminatory. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’re a horrible person who hates trans people. There was probably a time in my life when I would have said I wouldn’t date a trans person. But since then I’ve thought critically about it and I’ve changed my mind.”
The idea here is that if a lesbian just thinks about it hard enough, and examines her internal biases, then she will find that there’s no logical reason she shouldn’t be attracted to trans people. In fact, she might find that there’s no reason she should not be attracted to any people. According to McKinnon, only the sexual orientation “pan,” otherwise known as “no preference of type of sexual partner,” is moral.
This whole thing of criticizing lesbians for being into women is so perplexing, but this is how we got here. The word woman became inclusive of persons who are not female but have a strong feeling that they were meant to be women. Because women are typically so amiable and conditioned to please, they just went along with it, out of compassion. Trans women said they were not just living as women, but actual women. After these leaps of logic were made, this reasoning comes into play: if a lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to other women, and trans women are women, then lesbians should be attracted to trans women, if there’s not, there’s something wrong with those lesbians.
It’s like a tongue-twister, where a woman can come to understand that the right thing to do is to conform to another person’s idea of what her sexuality means, in order to not be a bad person. The thought process lesbians are supposed to undertake in order to correct their sexual preference goes like this: I am a lesbian who is attracted to women, women are not defined by their bodies, therefore if a man who says she is a woman says she is a lesbian, I should find her sexually attractive despite her male body.
Okay, sure! Makes total sense. The only problem is that sexual attraction isn’t logical. Sexual attraction is not really a mind over matter enterprise. Sexual attraction is not a human characteristic that falls under the heading of rationalism.
In fact, the gay rights movement was able to gain mainstream societal acceptance precisely due to the claim that homosexuality is not a choice, but an innate characteristic, just like heterosexuality, or green eyes. If McKinnon, Dennis, and others who rail against the “cotton ceiling” want to overturn the idea that sexuality is innate, they might find themselves on unstable ground in the fight for trans acceptance. Once a thread is pulled, the whole sweater unravels.
Parker Molloy, Editor-at-Large for Media Matters and trans ally, pushed back.
But McKinnon did get some people thinking about their own complicity in the transphobia of sexual preference.
If being a lesbian who doesn’t like penises isn’t acceptable, and being a gay man who isn’t into vaginas isn’t alright, then what do these words and concepts even mean? Perhaps this is why movements to “Get the L Out” of the alphabet soup of gender and sexual identities has been picking up steam in the lesbian community. Lesbians are pushing back against LGBT advocacy groups like Stonewall UK, letting them know that they are no longer representing their best interests.
Lesbians’ sexual preference isn’t prejudiced against trans people, and the notion of a “cotton ceiling,” the cotton undies that “bar” trans women from women-only-attracted lesbians, is a complete insult to lesbians. Lesbians don’t owe anyone anything—not their bodies, not their voices, not their acquiescence. If McKinnon wants someone to enjoy her penis, she should find a sexual partner who digs that, instead of throwing shade on the people who don’t.