Showing at Penthouse Cinema 22 Nov 2020, the film ”Ambisexuality: Seeing More Colour in the Rainbow” was advertised to include a panel discussion by GMA National Coordinator Ahi Wi-Hongi, Dame Catherine Healy DNZM, Georgina Beyer MNZM, and director James Watson.
Gender Minorities Aotearoa explains it’s position on the concepts the film discusses, and why Ahi did not speak at this event.
Content Warning: Film trailer contains transmisogynist slurs. Article discusses genitalia using medical terminology.
”There are more colours to the rainbow than you might realise. While awareness, acceptance and inclusion around sexual orientation has been increasing, there is one expression that is virtually unknown: ambisexuality. To fill this gap in the spectrum, director James Watson spent more than 20 years undertaking doctoral studies and writing a book which focuses on the men who love and admire non-operative trans women. – Film Advertising
As you may have guessed, the topic is cis men who are attracted to trans women, but specifically only if the trans woman is ”non-op”, meaning that she has a penis. According to the write up:
”Ambisexual people have not been recognised by the LGBT or straight communities and they experience extreme prejudice and marginalisation.
It’s ok to stop and take a breath.
We recognise that it is in fact trans women who this prejudice is being directed toward, and that men who will only have sexual relationships with trans women in secret, are – at the very least – complicit in this prejudicial treatment.
There is no shame in being a coward. But it does have it’s price. Those who want to have a very specific sexual experience with a trans woman in secret will often have to visit a sex worker and pay for her services.
Broadly speaking, most men and almost all clients of sex workers who are attracted to trans women identify as heterosexual, though some may identify as bisexual, pansexual, or transamorous, etc. When men are predominantly attracted to trans women only on the condition that the trans woman has a penis, they are generally referred to as a ”chaser”. Our Trans 101 Glossary defines a chaser as:
”A person who sees trans people (usually trans women) as inherently sexual, and sexually objectifies them. As opposed to someone who simply is predominantly attracted to trans women; a chaser does not view trans women respectfully as whole people with humanity and agency, but rather as players in a sexual fantasy.”
We are not opposed to the existence of chasers, as trans sex workers need clients and chasers are their bread and butter. However trans women are not interested in being valued only for their penis outside of a work relationship. Even within work relationships, many trans women prefer clients who don’t fetishise their penis excessively.
As ”recreational” relationship partners, chasers are more likely to only value trans women for the sex acts they can do with their penis, to keep the relationship a secret, and to be abusive partners in other ways.
The effect of promoting chasers as having a legitimate sexual orientation is that it supports the thinking behind common coercive relationship practices. Examples include when partners of trans women pressure them to not-have genital reconstruction surgeries (GRS), or pressure them to use their penis to have sex in ways that they do not want to.
Written by the director, the book “Ambisexuality: The Anatomy of Transerotic Desire” coins the concept of the ‘Elective vs Extant’ typology, which was defined as choosing to “appropriate some female sex and gender attributes but not others” vs “complete their transformation”. One of the reasons we find this extremely offensive are that this ‘choosing’ is framed as ‘choosing to stay masculine’, which we reject.
There are many issues around access to healthcare, including the enormous cost of surgeries which are severely under-funded and difficult to access. Most trans women can’t think about planning GRS as their healthcare is uniquely undervalued in NZ society. Trans women’s experiences include a huge diversity of embodiments, given the massive range of procedures and practices that exist. Thus, there is no meaningful divide between trans women who have or have not taken steps toward different surgeries or medical treatments.
Beyond issues of access and diversity, we reject that a woman’s penis is masculine – if a woman is ‘feminine’ and has a penis, then her penis is part of her feminine self. We support that women should not have to change their bodies to be considered feminine, complete, or “extant.”
We had (and have) a genuine interest in seeing the film and discussing the nuances and differing perspectives on a seldom-made-public topic. We offered the above feedback to the director, and let him know that Ahi is not a trans woman so another member of GMA staff would speak instead. We also had a request:
“Many trans people and our supporters may attend if we publicise the event, but they will likely also bring criticisms about legitimising chasers via the term ‘ambisexual’, and potentially also bring lifetimes of trauma about sexual partners and wider society obsessing over their genitals. In light of this, we would like to see a copy of the book or e-book, and a copy of the film beforehand, so our promo can be accurate and include a nuanced content warning.
Unfortunately, as we were invited a little over a week before the event and provided our feedback and request just 4 days prior, the director was unable to provide us with a copy of the film, book, or e-book.
We would love to hear your thoughts, and are hoping to hold a community workshop on sex and sexuality for trans people at the upcoming Wellington PRIDE Festival 2021.
Check out our resources on sex and relationships here.