To me, objectification is the act of reducing people with a particular characteristic to (sex) objects. Seeing them as people first (or even at all) is incompatible with this state of mind - they are desired because of what they are, and not who they are. I regard blanket objectification (that is, reducing a whole group of people to sex objects) as a bad thing because in ignoring the humanity of the target of the attraction, the one who objectifies them is likely to ignore their wants and needs, should they ever get close to them. They're not a partner or a lover; a partnership goes both ways. Drafting someone in to fulfil a role, a desire for a sex object, reduces them to the status of a masturbation aid.
To me, a tranny chaser is someone with a fetish for trans people, who objectifies us and reduces us to the status of a fantasy sex toy, a masturbation aid. The term was traditionally applied to (usually heterosexual-identified) men who sought out sex with (almost exclusively) pre-operative trans women, or male-to-female crossdressers, but more recently it has been applied to another group of people. These are women, usually queer-identified, who fetishise and objectify trans people, almost exclusively trans men. It's the latter kind of "tranny chaser" I want to talk about in this post.
I subscribe to a brand of feminism which can broadly be described as "sex positive", and I'm aware there is a fine line to walk between condemning the objectification and sexualisation of under-privileged groups (i.e. not just women, but anyone in a position where the group sexualising them has some sort of social position of power over them), and condemning healthy erotic activity between consenting adults. As a practitioner of BDSM who has had occasion to find myself caged, tied to crosses, and so on (in other words, objectified by choice), it would be easy for me to fall victim to hypocrisy here. I think there is a key difference between mutually consenting adults negotiating role-play which may involve temporary objectification for the purposes of a mutually satisfying erotic episode on the one hand, and a general objectifying attitude towards a whole group of people, most of whom one will never meet, on the other.
I think the process of objectification can be pervasive within a culture too. The most obvious example is the large-scale sexualisation and commodification of women's bodies in our culture, which has whole industries behind it. Racks of glossy magazines prey on the insecurity of women, constantly reinforcing the message that if they want to have any kind of self-worth, and any chance of snagging a mate, after the age of 30, they have to spend their money on the latest gloop from the cosmetics industry, pimped by people in lab coats past whom one must run a gauntlet (excuse me madam, like to try a tester? Are you happy with your foundation? Do you keep your nails natural? Would you like to talk about your skin?) to acquire a new pair of socks, or tube of toothpaste. That much of this
And so it is with "chasers". The message that trans people constantly get from society is that we're freaks, that the relatively androgynous looks that most of us end up with are not conventionally attractive, that nobody will want a relationship with us, that we are figures of fun, and perhaps pity. We must adjust our expectations, because if "real" women struggle to live up to the airbrushed ideals of the Cosmo and Marie Claire, and "real" men struggle to live up to the toned, tanned, six pack on the front of Men's Health, what chance do most of us have when our starting line is even further back?
It's my firm opinion that this is bullshit - you don't need to be caked in makeup and be wearing the latest fashions to enjoy a fulfilling relationship as a middle-aged woman, nor do you need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on painful cosmetic surgery (attending a presentation by a facial feminisation surgeon is an interesting experience - my experience as someone in their target demographic has been that they make used car salesmen look like rank amateurs, which is not to say one shouldn't go for FFS if it's what one wants), or accept that you're going to be the dehumanised sex toy of a tranny chaser to have one as a trans person.
It's highly persuasive and pervasive bullshit though, and I don't think those who fall victim to it are to be blamed - fending off a relentless assault on ones self-esteem is never going to be the easiest thing in the world.
Which brings me to this webcomic. My little Photoshop Cosmo skit/snark above is derived work of part of it, and I think that it, and the author's LiveJournal entry discussing it (please don't take this as an invitation to go over there and flame/troll en-masse) are very illustrative. The comic talks about how hot trans men are, hints at how it's all really about women doing a sexy performance act, and when a trans man speaks up to object in the penultimate panel, explaining that he's not just a sex object, that he's a man, his concerns are dismissed. In a grotesque inversion of the misogynist's old favourite, he is "asking for it" by being provocatively hot. It's his own fault he is objectified, his own fault his gender identity is treated as a joke, perhaps to be paid the merest lip service to with the odd male pronoun (as long as the chaser finds that erotic), and if he were a "real man", he wouldn't be getting this unwanted attention.
Quite apart from the way the author seems unapologetic about her quite blatant objectification of trans men (she jokingly adds that when she is queen, there will be "hot transguys for all" in one comment), what is interesting and disheartening for me is the number of trans people who actually thank her for "writing about trans issues" (is that analogous to how Hugh Hefner writes about "women's issues", I wonder?), and for finding trans people (mostly meaning trans men) "hot".
One might say that as a woman, this isn't my fight, but I don't think that's true, because a) I feel some sense of community and solidarity with trans men, and b) there's a way in which female tranny chasers hurt trans women as well. Unlike her male counterparts over at, say, www.hungangels.com (I deliberately didn't make that a link; yes, it's a real website, no, you probably don't want to go and look at it - trust me on this, and if you do, at least turn images off in your browser first), female chasers quite often pose as "good queers". Quite a large proportion of the women who fetishise trans men self-identify as lesbians, and apparently see trans men as just another part of the lesbian community. The nasty corollary is that, if trans men are really "just another kind of lesbian", then trans women are really "just another kind of men". I've seen lesbian discussion/dating sites which claim to cater for "Femmes, Butches and Transguys", and the message I take away from that is that women like me are not welcome, or even considered women at all.
I don't know if I should be angry with the trans people thanking the author for this comic because they're contributing to the further marginalisation of trans people (and especially trans women) in the queer community, saying that it's OK not to take the identified gender of trans people seriously, and that it's OK to treat it all as an erotic (if you're a trans man) or pathetic (if you're a trans woman) piece of performance art. I don't know if I should feel sorry for them because they've apparently bought into the lie that their only chance for happiness/love/sex is by welcoming the advances of trans-fetishists. What I do know is that I find it all really annoying, and terribly depressing.