Author discusses new book on relationships between cisgender women and transgender men

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 6:59pm

Carla Pfeffer, assistant professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of South Carolina, answers questions after her talk on cisgender women and transgender men at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender Tuesday.

Carla Pfeffer, assistant professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of South Carolina, answers questions after her talk on cisgender women and transgender men at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender Tuesday. Buy this photo
Carolyn Gearig/Daily

 

About 25 students, faculty and staff members gathered Tuesday evening in Lane Hall for “Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men,” a lecture that focused on the unique perspectives of cisgender women who are in relationships with transgender men.

Carla Pfeffer, assistant professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of South Carolina, discussed her recent book, “Queering Families,” that describes experiences from 50 cisgender women who are in relationships with transgender males.

“I studied these partnerships because I wanted to get the express vantage points of cisgender women partners of transgender men since so little was written about that group and from their perspectives at the time I began studying them,” Pfeffer said.

The lecture began by introducing the inspiration for the subject of the book and its cover, an image of an upside-down tree. Pfeffer said while watching an interview between Oprah Winfrey and Thomas Beatie, a transgender male who became pregnant, she was intrigued by the intense audience reactions that ranged from shock and anger to acceptance and curiosity toward his relationship with his wife.

She said she was first attracted to the cover image of “Queering Families,” an upside-down, barren tree, because it was simultaneously recognizable and ambiguous, reflecting the complexity of the relationships the book features.

“Were those barren branches or life giving roots?” Pfeffer asked. “Are those blue clouds floating in the sky or a water source towards which the roots are stretching? And the branches or roots where someone might see barrenness, Halloween or death, others might see something more arterial. A pathway. A place where vital sustenance and growth can happen.”

The rest of the discussion was based off one specific chapter from “Queering Families,” titled “Partners Negotiating Bodies, Sexuality, and Intimacy.”

“(The chapter) really details sexuality, bodies and intimacy in the context of cis women’s partnerships with transgender men,” Pfeffer said.

It discusses five different themes: trans sexual embodiments, destabilizing the penis, new queer lexicons and sexual imageries, penetrating myths and realities, and monogamy. During her remarks, Pfeffer introduced each of these themes and used information from the interviews in “Queering Families” to provide context.

For example, Pfeffer discussed trans sexual embodiments and addressed the varying positions on bottom surgery within the relationships of cisgender women and transgender males. She said she found that many cisgender women reported being disinterested in the surgery due to the expense and risk.

In regard to monogamy, Pfeffer found just two of her interviewees were raising children with their transgender partners at the time the interviews were conducted. For younger queer cis women, forming an open relationship with a trans partner was more common.

“For younger, queer-identified cisgender women in particular, forming an open relationship structure with a trans partner may serve as one way in which this group engages in social innovation,” Pfeffer said.

She discussed the fourth theme, penetrating myths and realities, by explaining what she called a broadening sexual language and practices that have occurred as trans people become more visible in society.

“Trans people and their partners are carving out innovative and generative pathways full of pleasure and joy that are nuanced, complicated and deserving of broader and more focused sociologic attention,” Pfeffer said.

Several students at the event declined to discuss the lecture with Daily reporters.