The Often-Misunderstood Premise of the Cotton Ceiling
The term "cotton ceiling" was coined by porn actress and trans activist Drew DeVeaux in 2015.
Photo by Laëtitia Buscaylet on Unsplash
This is the second article in a series. To read the first article, click here.
The term "cotton ceiling" has been viewed as quite the incendiary phrase. It was coined by porn actress and trans 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.
Several trans activists have very lucidly addressed the various prejudices that play into this position. I believe Riley J. Dennis nails it here:
Sadly, I’ve seen at least two YouTube responses from irate vloggers who profoundly (and maliciously) twist Riley’s words to connote an obligation to sleep with trans women. If this interpretation has occurred to you, please stick around.
The point of such discussion is not, EVER, to exhort anyone to have grudging sex without enthusiastic consent. The point of such discussion is to exhort folks to examine their inherent bigotry. We change, we grow, we learn through familiarity and exposure. We can challenge and re-examine our prejudices and fixed ideas.
I wish I could include Avery Faucette’s full article at Queer Feminism here - but I’ll just drop this one paragraph (and urge you to read the rest):
I pinned a misogyny that at the time I attributed to almost all men onto trans women, as well. I assumed that sex with a trans woman would be penetrative and violent, that I wouldn’t have the camaraderie with a trans woman that I felt at the time with many cis women, that female history was somehow very important. I didn’t think about what a trans female experience might be like, or what a trans woman’s relationship to her body might be. I was pretty naive about sex. I put a lot of stake in body parts because I was fumbling with my own gender, body, and sexuality. I said that I was against transphobia but knew no openly trans people.
The OkCupid blog once reported that Indian men fare the worst on that site. A Redditor invited conversation on that, and some answers pointed out stereotypes ("Indian men tend to be geeky, and socially awkward"), and some brought up legitimate concerns ("Indian men are pressured to marry Indian women, and are only biding their time with American women").
The point was not that we are all immediately obligated to bed an Indian lest we be branded bad people. The point was to consider to what degree social prejudices and lack of representation are impacting our psyche.
Photo by Tallie Robinson
Some lesbians might be afraid of engaging with trans women because they might fear these gray areas — they might fear accidentally hurting a trans gal’s feelings. There’s a struggle with the unfamiliar. And some lesbians might not want to date trans women because they’re thinking about long-term commitment, and children. Trans women can’t give birth to children.
On the other hand, some lesbians don’t want to date women without a uterus because “these are not fully women.” See the difference between these two?
My best friend once told me that his parents, in 1970s Brooklyn, were dismayed that black folks were moving in. Not because they believed Black people were bad, but because it was driving depreciation of real estate on their street. Racism? Or simply a legit concern about savings? Or both?
There are a lot of nuances to such issues. And just to be very, very clear to anyone who might accuse me of promoting rape culture:
I am NOT saying anyone owes anyone a roll in the hay. I am not saying anyone is entitled to sex. If you don’t want to bed a trans woman, you do you, boo.
I’m just inviting you to sit with this a while, challenge your prejudices, and hopefully expand your thinking a smidge.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop
This article was the second of a series. Keep an eye out for the third installment, “The Most Marginalized, or Male Entitlement? The Definition of Womanhood.”
Cassie Brighter focuses her writing on intersectional feminism. As a public speaker, she has spoken and led panels on consent culture, feminism, gender identity, sex-positivity and polyamory. As a Board member for SexPositiveWorld.com, she teaches classes on consent and boundaries. Cassie is also the creator and host of the annual Empowered Trans Woman Summit. You can see more of Cassie's work at CassieBrighter.com