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Cotton ceiling

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The term cotton ceiling refers to the difficulty trans people experience when seeking relationships, especially lesbian and gay relationships, and inclusion in lesbian and gay social spaces in general.[1][2] The term was coined by Canadian trans woman and activist Drew DeVeaux.[3] A play on the similar term "glass ceiling"[4], the "cotton" refers to underwear.[5] The phrase has been interpreted by some as referring to the underwear of a sexual partner unwilling to have sex with a transgender person, with DeVeaux stating that the term "cotton" is meant to refer to the transgender person's undergarments.[5]


Some people have described this as transphobic exclusion. In 2014, Julia Serano wrote that "when the overwhelming majority of cis dykes date and fuck cis women, but are not open to, or are even turned off by, the idea of dating or fucking trans women, how is that not transphobic?"[6] Cisgender lesbian Andrea Zanin wrote in 2013 that "a lot of cis and otherwise non-trans gals need to ... take the opportunity to really examine how much of our desire rests on cissexism, and how much of the sexual culture we create and consume excludes trans women".[7]

In a 2014 article by Eliza Steinbock for Transgender Studies Quarterly, Steinbock wrote that "The marginalization of transwomen in queer sex scenes echoes the status of transfeminity in queer erotic communities, which has been dubbed the “cotton ceiling.”"[8]


The concept is almost universally condemned by radical feminists. Academic Sheila Jeffreys wrote in her 2014 book Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism that "the campaign relies on guilt-tripping, in which women who resist are accused of transphobia or transmisogyny, in an attempt to induce them to admit unwanted penises to their bodies".[9] While in the same year blogger Julian Vigo wrote on CounterPunch that "while many are sympathetic to the fact that trans women wish to be accepted within social circles as women, they find it preposterous that lesbians are now being asked to deny their sexuality as proof of their solidarity with trans women, lest they be labelled a bigot."[10] Writing for Curve, Cassie Brighter has in turn criticized these interpretations of the term, stating that they felt that the term was meant to foster discussion and examination of inherent bigotries.[11]

A 2013 Everyday Feminism article by an anonymous trans woman also stated that "the 'cotton ceiling' should be considered an unhelpful concept for this type of discussion and should be set aside by trans activists moving forward."[12]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rossiter, Hannah (November 23, 2016). "The cotton ceiling and the ghost penis: Sex, sexual orientation and a transwoman's body". Conference of the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand.


  1. Bell, Lenore (2013). "Trigger Warnings: Sex, Lies and Social Justice Utopia on Tumblr". Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network. 6 (1): 40. doi:10.31165/nk.2013.61.296.
  2. "The silencing of the lesbians". The Spectator. 2018-05-16. Retrieved 2019-03-01.
  3. Householder, April Kalogeropoulos; Trier-Bieniek, Adrienne (2016-06-17). Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays. McFarland. p. 103. ISBN 9781476663920. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. "My Adventures Using Tinder as a Trans Woman". Vice.com. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Srinivasan, Amia (2018-03-22). "Does anyone have the right to sex?". London Review of Books. pp. 5–10. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  6. "The Struggle To Find Trans Love In San Francisco". thedailybeast.com. 14 January 2014. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  7. "If trans women aren't welcome, neither am I". transadvocate.com. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  8. Steinbock, Eliza (2014-05-01). "Pornography". TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. 1 (1–2): 156–158. doi:10.1215/23289252-2399893. ISSN 2328-9252.
  9. Jeffreys, Sheila (24 April 2014). "Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism". Routledge. Retrieved 22 January 2018 – via Google Books.
  10. "The Left Hand of Darkness". CounterPunch. 7 June 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  11. Brighter, Cassie. "The Misunderstood Premise of the Cotton Ceiling". Curve. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  12. "Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide To Dating Trans Women For Cis Women". Everyday Feminism. 12 May 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2018.

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