Shannon, I appreciate your honesty in this piece and empathy toward trans women. However, I have to disagree with some of the conclusions you reach.
First, let me start by saying that boundaries and consent are paramount; coercion of any form — guilt or anything else — is absolutely wrong. That said, I see no evidence of coercion or “guilting” in your story. You say that no one can tell you who to date, have sex with, or be in a relationship with, and that is as it should be, but I don’t see where anyone is telling you otherwise. You share your story about Marla, but — unless you left something out — you don’t mention that she tried to make you feel guilty for not wanting to date her. She did ask if it was because she was trans, but that actually was the case: if she were not trans, she would not have the body part that you find unattractive.
The narrative among gender critical folks is that trans women are trying to guilt cis lesbians into having sex with them. That is what the “cotton ceiling” is supposed to be about, and it just doesn’t happen that way. Even if this were something that happens, the individuals who did so would be wrong for doing so. See what I say above about consent, boundaries, and coercion. That would not be a reason for discriminating against other trans people. Most of us would rather not date someone who hates us for who we are (and how we were born). Therefore, the “cotton ceiling” sounds like a wedge issue made up and used by GC’s to alienate lesbians and others in the LGBT community from us.
Finally, your main point is that saying people who aren’t attracted to non-op and pre-op trans women are transphobic plays into the GC “cotton ceiling” narrative and drives lesbians into the arms of the GC crowd. I can’t reach that same conclusion. Elsewhere in your piece, you say “if that makes me transphobic, so be it.” And that’s exactly it. If you, as a woman attracted to women, for any reason are not attracted to trans women (any trans women), you are in essence saying that you do not see some trans women as women. Does that mean you have to be attracted to all of us? Not at all. It just means you have a bias. And as you say, “so be it.” When I was single and pre-op, I was rejected more than once just for being a pre-op trans woman. I am fortunate that I eventually found a woman who cared more about what was in my heart and my head than between my legs. I readily said yes when she proposed.
Does that mean it doesn’t hurt to be rejected? Of course not. My heart especially goes out to Marla, who might have read your signals wrong and suffered for it. It is humiliating to think someone cares about you and then to find out they don’t think of you that way. After having a hard time with transition and losing so much in the process, I imagine she felt especially vulnerable.
Thanks for the thought-provoking piece. I actually took several days to write this because I wanted to give it the amount of thought and care it deserved in return.