In early July, trans activist and writer Zinnia Jones wrote a tweet about attraction between straight cis-men and trans women. “I don’t see a problem with telling straight guys who are exclusionary of trans women partners that they should try to work through that,” Jones said.

Jones wasn’t saying that straight men have a moral duty to date trans women; she was pointing out that who is and isn’t considered attractive is often tied to social or cultural prejudices. People know that they’re only supposed to find thin and/or young women attractive. By the same token, Jewish men are stereotyped as nerdy and bespectacled, so when you’re a very Jewish looking guy (like me!) people sometimes see you as unattractive without even really looking at you. Jones’ point was simply that men who tell themselves that trans women are ugly and unattractive might take a minute to think about trans women as individuals, separate from the cultural programming that says trans women are unattractive or unworthy of love.

The reaction to this mild request was a month-long outpouring of hate and vitriol that is still ongoing. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson used Jones’ comments to claim that trans women were forcing men to date them. Laci Green, a supposedly sex-positive feminist YouTuber, took the tweets out of context to make it look like Jones was advocating that straight men be required to have sex with trans women. Other smaller conservative outrage outlets have directed their wrath at Jones as well.

In all likelihood, Carlson and Green know that Jones wasn’t actually suggesting that men should be forced to date trans women. But the result was the same. Jones asked people to think about whether they might try hating trans women less, and the answer, amplified by Carlson, Green et al, was “no!”   Meanwhile, Jones has been deluged with hate mail.  She says she gets “comments on posts that have nothing to do with this, on Facebook, on Twitter, on any social media that I have. It becomes pretty clear that they are paying absolutely no attention to anything I really said. They just want to reaffirm this message that trans women are undesirable and invalid as partners.”   Despite all this, Jones doesn’t regret the tweet; after all, the idea that trans women are ugly and unattractive is actively dangerous. As Jones’ experience itself shows, it can easily be used as an excuse for people to attack them. For that reason, she thought it would be worth doing an interview to explain her ideas to folks who don’t want to take their marching orders from Fox News.

What did you mean in your initial tweet, when you said straight guys should think about working through their rejection of trans women?
What I meant by that was just that a lot of people are coming from a position of unfamiliarity with trans people on a personal level. A lot of people have an idea of trans people built up in their mind that isn’t based on personal experience. They have never gotten to know us as individuals. And that gap in knowledge gets filled in with stereotypes and misleading portrayals in the media.

Someone imagining a trans woman without ever having met one of us might think, “Oh, that’s a man with a dress.” And they think from the outset, “This could never be attractive; this could never be an appealing person to be around. This could never be someone that I could have a relationship with.”

And the thing is, straight men are often attracted to trans women. And if they date a trans woman and don’t know that she’s trans, they may be outraged to find out that she’s trans. Or a straight man might date a trans woman, but they may not be comfortable with their friends or family finding out that they’re with a trans woman.

Obviously, I know that there’s some true preference to some extent among plenty of straight guys who just won’t ever want to be with a trans woman. That’s something I completely acknowledge. All I was saying was, think about what social influences and preconceptions are affecting your view of trans women when you think about them as partners. Thinking about what informs your preferences is a million miles away from being told you have to sleep with a person.

Is part of this people wanting to publicly show that they hate trans women, or that they could never be attracted to trans women?
I think a lot of this really does have a very performative aspect to it. I just wrote a tweet saying, “maybe try thinking about this.” And then someone responds to that with, “How could you ever possibly imagine this is a thing anyone would ever do! How dare you! No straight men like trans women!” And then they start on the personal attacks. “You as a trans woman are completely hideous and no one will ever love you.”

There’s really nothing new about receiving and spreading cultural messages about how trans women are ugly, are not valued, are not someone you would date or have a relationship with or be open about dating in society.

There is a meme on Tumblr that says, “It costs you exactly zero dollars and zero cents to stay in your damn lane.” Someone who is not going to date trans people can just go about their life not dating trans people. Nobody’s going to stop them. Meanwhile, having thousands of people descend on me to call me ugly and pick my life apart because I suggested considering the social influences on perceptions of a minority group—that was disruptive to my life.

Do people often deny that trans women are women as part of these attacks?
Oh yeah. The belief that trans women are unattractive is related to the fundamental denial of our genders. When you’re trans, people believe that they are more qualified than you are to determine who you are, based on their incomplete information of you as an individual. It’s arrogant. And I call it arrogant in part because these people also make sweeping statements about people who date trans women. They will say that if a straight man does accept a trans woman as a woman, then that man is actually gay or bisexual, because of this axiom that trans women are men.

If that were the case, you would expect that straight men who date trans women would be going out and sleeping with men. They’re not. You would expect that lesbians who date trans women would be sleeping with men. They’re not.

Is there an issue in our culture that trans women being viewed as unattractive excuses violence against trans women?
Yeah, that’s absolutely an important issue. It continues to be an important issue, and it is tragic that so many people are unwilling to confront its implications. The idea that trans women are unattractive or disgusting is implicated in those cases where a man sleeps with a trans woman and then decides he needs to kill her so nobody finds out. It’s the attitude that underlies so much invalidation of trans women, and even extreme violence against trans women.

This is something that needs to be confronted. It is alarming how deeply rooted this resistance is to the idea that trans women could potentially be someone’s intimate partner. A simple tweet asking people to think about their prejudices should not be met with this magnitude of a response and a rejection.