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Why Are Right-Wingers So Obsessed With Trans Women’s Sexuality?

A group of trans rights protesters march.

Is there a Chick-fil-A boycott on the way? Maybe. On Sunday night, right-wing political strategist Joey Mannarino called on conservative Twitter to drop the fast food joint after finding out the company “just hired a VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

“This is bad,” he tweeted, not realizing the company’s DEI vice president has been in the role since November 2021. “Very bad.”

Mannarino went on to run a poll with over 65,000 responses, asking whether the right should take on a Chick-fil-A boycott along with its anti-Target and anti-Bud Light crusades. More importantly, he penned one of the strangest anti-trans statements of 2023 yet: “It’s only a matter of time until they start putting tranny semen in the frosted lemonade at this point.”

Uh … OK. I’m not sure where Mannarino got the idea that’s a normal fear to have?

In true expected fashion, Twitter responded to this strange, obscene conservative talking point by essentially saying, “Hell yeah, count me in” and “This seems like a kink of yours, Joey.” And it’s the latter that particularly interests me, because this is a pattern among right-wingers. For some reason, they have an intense sexual obsession with trans people’s bodies—particularly trans women’s bodies. It’s everywhere on the right, as if conservatives can’t stop thinking about trans genitals, trans sex, and the simple idea of a woman who penetrates.

The fear of the ‘micro penis’

Anti-trans sexual anxiety was pretty obvious to me when the Target boycotts first began in mid-May. As right-wing pundits complained about swimsuits with extra fabric and tucking space, I argued that conservatives obsess “over the appearance and aesthetic of the transfeminine crotch” in a way that implies “its existence is innately sexual.”

This isn’t new. During a February 2023 hearing on an anti-trans healthcare bill, an Arkansas state senator asked a trans pharmacist if she had a penis. Matt Walsh, a champion of anti-trans conservatism, warned in 2022 that a trans girl on puberty blockers will “go into adulthood as a sterile, physically underdeveloped man [sic] with brittle bones and a micro penis.” (For the record, puberty blockers are a normal and safe part of treatment for trans youth experiencing gender dysphoria, with doctors working closely with trans patients to maintain bone health.)

Right-wing public figures embrace their strange sexual obsession with trans women’s bodies in part because the larger anti-trans community is obsessed with our sex lives. On TERF Reddit clone Ovarit, users crudely comment on trans women’s bodies regularly, sometimes by posting trans people’s personal sexual experiences without their consent. One poster mocked transfeminine bottom surgery by simultaneously disparaging the transfeminine vagina while discussing its sexual properties. In another instance, users engaged in a 91-comment post speculating on whether trans children will “ever be able to reach orgasm when they are adults,” an objectively creepy thing to ponder about a minor.

The subreddit r/TERFisafetish does a fantastic job of documenting all the bizarre and extreme ways anti-trans bigots reveal their transerotic anxiety toward trans women. It’s a gold mine of sexual repression, such as one user writing in-depth about a trans woman’s bodily scent, or an intricate genital inspection guide so transmisogynists can find out if they’re sleeping with a trans woman or not.

Trans panic is a sexual panic

Strawberry lemonade from Chick-fil-A.
Who knows what’s in the Chick-fil-A strawberry lemonade? (Chick-fil-A)

The sexual obsession with trans women’s bodies is very real. Transphobes carry out this sexual anxiety by either being disgusted with trans bodies, curious about our sexual functioning, or obsessively fixated on the ways trans healthcare changes our bodies for a more gender-affirming appearance. More often than not, bigots express all three of these sentiments at once. That’s why a right-wing political strategist will randomly drum up the phrase “tranny semen in the frosted lemonade,” an image most people don’t necessarily associate with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

The trans body remains the battleground for right-wing gender panic because the trans body is deemed an outlier, an Other, a strange alien being that challenges our conception of sex and gender. This makes it both enticing and threatening, because the trans body is considered a destabilizing body.

A woman that has a penis, or can even impregnate another person, fundamentally shakes the core foundation of normative Western beliefs on gender. Physiological changes to the trans body, from hormone replacement therapy to bottom surgery, also reveal just how malleable each and every body is. Virtually anyone can have a body that we deem feminine, or we deem masculine, based on the amount of estrogen or testosterone they have in their system, respectively. And gender-affirming surgery reveals how genitals are much more flexible than society assumes. Just a little tinkering, and the possibilities for a penis, a vagina, or another genital configuration altogether (like penile-preserving vulvovaginoplasty) are all there.

This leads to a strange sexual undercurrent in transphobia, and transmisogyny especially. A suppressed transeroticism flows through every single TERF post speculating on trans masturbation or posting about “[looking] for hair near the anus”—you know, to confirm whether your partner is trans or not, a very normal thing to do. All this and more reveals how transmisogyny is ultimately a politics of control: controlling trans women’s bodies, controlling our sexualities, and making trans women subservient to cisgender conceptions of gender, sex, and sexual behavior.

And there’s no better way to control a marginalized gender than by projecting onto it, asserting they’re the real ones engaging in violation—or, “putting tranny semen in the frosted lemonade,” if you will.

(featured image: Matt Hrkac/Flickr (CC-BY 2.0))

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Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.