Home/Rod Dreher/Of Cotton, Ceilings, And Puzzled Lesbians

Of Cotton, Ceilings, And Puzzled Lesbians

Hot on the heels of the Julie Burchill kerfuffle, one of you readers just tipped me off to even more about that vicious debate from within the cultural left. Verily, this is a Same Planet, Different Worlds situation if ever there was one. It is a to-do over what is called the Cotton Ceiling. What is the Cotton Ceiling? Glad you asked:

The Cotton Ceiling refers to discrimination against transsexual people at lesbian sex parties. It is called such because transsexual women are required to keep their underwear on while the rest of the lesbians have fun. Essentially, it renders the transsexual people in attendance as “asexual” and is another form of cissexist bullshit that transsexual people have to endure.

I, for one, had no idea that transsexual people had to suffer such unspeakable ostracism at lesbian sex parties. My goodness, and I thought I had problems. Here is an unintentionally hilarious e-mail exchange between a trans person and a lesbian over the Cotton Ceiling. Excerpts:

To: [redacted trans]
Subject: Re: What’s the cotton ceiling?
Thanks. Do you really think lesbians are transphobic for not wanting to have sex with a trans woman who is male-bodied?

On Mon, Mar 12, 2012 at 1:57 PM, [redacted trans] wrote:
Trans women are not male-bodied. There is nothing male about our bodies.

I think that everyone has the right to decide who they want to have sex with, how they want to have that sex, and when they want to have that sex, or to not have sex at all. Consent is incredibly important, and no one should ever feel pressured to have sex of any kind with anybody.

However, I also think that people’s desires are often influenced by (and even dictated by) an intersectionality of cultural messages which include transphobia, transmisogyny, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and xenophobia, among many other factors. This is a topic that many within the feminist movements and womanist movements have discussed in terms of racism, shade-ism, classim, and ableism, and is also being discussed now in reference to transphobia and transmisogyny. I believe that many cis queer women do not see queer trans women as viable sexual partners in large part due to the cultural messages that exist, both within queer culture and mainstream/straight culture, that tell us that trans women’s bodies are inherently undesirable except as a fetish for cis straight men. I also think that it is rooted in the belief that trans women are not women, which is transphobic and transmisogynist.


From: [redacted lesbian]
Sent: March-12-12 1:59 PM
To: [redacted trans]
Subject: Re: What’s the cotton ceiling?
Thanks. So, just to make sure I understand this, a trans woman with a penis, and who has no desire to have a sex change, is not male bodied – correct?

On Mon, Mar 12, 2012 at 2:02 PM, [redacted trans] wrote:
There is nothing inherently male about a woman’s body, unless she identified things about it as male herself. So, no, I do not consider trans women with penises to be male-bodied, unless that is how they identify.

From: [redacted lesbian]
Sent: March-12-12 2:04 PM
To: [redacted trans]
Subject: Re: What’s the cotton ceiling?

This is seriously problematic for lesbians. What you are saying is lesbians – who desire sex with females – are somehow bigoted for that desire, no? That’s exactly what nontrans males say to us.

Anyway, take care, [redacted lesbian]

I can understand the lesbian’s confusion, can’t you? Well, Angry Trans Person can’t, not one bit. ATP really takes off on the lesbian, insisting that yes, as a matter of fact lesbians who don’t want to have sex with a penis-possessing transperson claiming to be a woman really are bigots. The sex you are, he/she says, is the sex you choose to present yourself as — and to deny it is to show what a hater you are.

This is why, according to Angry Transperson, lesbians who want transgender “women” with penises to keep their panties on at orgies are the Worst People In The World.

Whee! The Cotton Ceiling. Who knew? The things you learn on this blog.

UPDATE: Let me clarify something. Yes, I think this is really funny, this “cotton ceiling” issue, but I also think there’s a serious aspect to it, and it’s this: At what point does reality defy our will and imagination? Is the world ultimately nominalist? When does, say, biology negate psychology? If my uncle claims to be Napoleon, that does not make him Napoleon; is that analogous to a man with male genitalia claiming that he’s really and truly a woman, not simply a facsimile of a woman?

Are words magical? Can they reshape reality? If so, are there limits to their power?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles