Cotton ceiling

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The term cotton ceiling refers to the difficulty trans people experience when seeking lesbian and gay relationships, and in lesbian and gay social spaces more generally. The term was coined by Canadian trans woman and activist Drew DeVeaux.[1] A play on the similar term "glass ceiling"[2], the "cotton" refers to trans women's underwear as an example of how their perceived genitalia prevents them from being recognized as women.[3][4]


Some trans rights activists 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?"[5] 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".[6]

However, other trans activists consider the concept problematic. Journalist Paris Lees wrote in 2015 that "there's a huge difference between denying someone a job versus not desiring someone sexually. Sexual attraction may be the one area that it's OK to 'discriminate' in—after all, it's up to you who you want to fuck—but you don't need to be a dick about your preference."[2] Meanwhile, a 2013 Everyday Feminism article, written by an anonymous trans woman, 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."[7]

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 '[t]he 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."[8], while in the same year blogger Julian Vigo wrote on CounterPunch that "[w]hile 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, least (sic) they be labelled a bigot."[9]


  1. ^ Householder, April Kalogeropoulos; Trier-Bieniek, Adrienne (30 June 2016). "Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays". McFarland. Retrieved 22 January 2018 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b "My Adventures Using Tinder as a Trans Woman". 28 May 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  3. ^ Reed, Natalie (4 April 2012). "Caught Up In Cotton". Sincerely, Natalie Reed. Retrieved 9 December 2017. [Trans women are] still always ultimately rejected when it comes to breaking the sexual barrier, and being accepted as women to such a full extent that [trans women] are accepted sexually as women.
  4. ^ Srinivasan, Amia (16 June 2018). "Does anyone have the right to sex?" (PDF). London Review of Books. Retrieved 10 December 2018. DeVeaux has since claimed that the ‘cotton’ refers to the trans woman’s underwear
  5. ^ "The Struggle To Find Trans Love In San Francisco". 14 January 2014. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  6. ^ "If trans women aren't welcome, neither am I". 25 September 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  7. ^ "Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide To Dating Trans Women For Cis Women". 12 May 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  8. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (24 April 2014). "Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism". Routledge. Retrieved 22 January 2018 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ "The Left Hand of Darkness". 7 June 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2018.