Bringing Sexy Mac! Educating and instructing on trans*folk relationships

Illustration+by+Kiah+Zellner-Smith+%E2%80%9914

Illustration by Kiah Zellner-Smith ’14

Illustration by Kiah Zellner-Smith ’14
Illustration by Kiah Zellner-Smith ’14

When I say something, I prefer to say it in full. After finishing the article “Not just a grammatical oddity: Transfolk’s erasure and asterisk” two weeks ago, I realized that I felt there is so much more to say about trans experiences in relation to sex positivity. I chose to define rather than elaborate on the way the two relate—an important project, but not enough if I am serious about working against trans* erasure in sex positivity. Because this past Wednesday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, I have decided to return to talking through the experiences of transfolk by detailing more specifically how they intersect with sexuality. Education around trans issues is the best way I know how to pay my respect to the memory of trans*folk we have lost and to remember the celebrations, triumphs, progress and vibrancy of the community that we have with us today and tomorrow.

As a reminder, here are some working definitions of some trans-related words I offered two weeks ago: “A trans experience is [one] in which your specific formation of gender, gendered presentation, and/or sex do not align with societal expectations of a gendered and sexed body at birth. It is important to note that [these expectations of gender and presentation] are usually initially projected from the sex assigned at birth. When your projected gender relates to the expectation based on your sex at birth (woman from female, man from male), you are cisgender. When this is not the case, you are trans*. What I want to quickly dispel is the idea that trans* is simple. [There is a wide] range of identities within the trans* umbrella.”

As with any identity, it should go without saying that there is variation within the experiences of trans* people. First and foremost, trans* folk can identify with any sexuality and can have extremely various expressions of sexuality. A nonbinary person can be just as gay, straight, bi, pan, asexual, queer, polyamorous, kinky, et cetera as any cisperson. To assume the sexuality of a trans* person is a decidedly trans*phobic practice.

In fact, seeing all those sexuality identities lined up, I would like to invite the consideration that we need to better establish a discussion around cis and trans* experiences with how we identify. I have heard the following story too many times to count: a cisperson who identifies as lesbian, gay, or straight falls in love and/or lust with someone. The cisperson then finds out their love-interest is trans*, and there is a moment of panic, confusion or contemplation as to whether the cisperson can be with a trans* person.

While I want to say I sympathize with this panic, I also know that it means I would have to sympathize with the trans*phobia and cissexism that this “dilemma” depends on. For a lesbian/gay/straight person who experiences this moment, they have to unconsciously associate their love/lust as directed to one kind of gendered and sexed body. A straight woman, for example, felt the need to assume that her straight identity depended on being with men. As in, “real” men. As in, men designated male at birth. Whether or not he has had a corrective surgery, is a man any less of a man if he was born with a certain body?

The thought that you can tell someone’s designated-at-birth sex is a fraudulent assumption of your ability to scan for transness, yet another transphobic practice you need to stop if you haven’t already. It is incredibly disrespectful to try to judge a person’s designated-at-birth sex, especially since for many trans*folk, the association between their birth sex, their sex, their expected-at-birth gender, and their gender can be tumultuous and painful.

One area of trans* experience in which this can be especially noted is the extent to which a person feels gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria describes the significant unease, discomfort, disgust and/or sickness a trans* person might feel with their body and sense of self due to their gender, presentation and/or sex. For a person who experiences gender dysphoria, there can be a marked incongruity between how they are perceived, how they identify, and how their body looks/feels.

Not every trans* person experiences dysphoria. Not every person who experiences dysphoria experiences it severely. Even so, acknowledging the possibility of gender dysphoria is still important for sex positivity because it can severely affect a trans* person’s ability to enjoy or participate in physical intimacy. Dysphoria can be a violent, frightening, and sometimes constant state of distress for a trans* person. For example, a designated-male-at-birth (dmab) transwoman with severe dysphoria may be ill at the thought of her genitals. When she already feels uncomfortable in her body unaroused, the thought of an aroused state might trigger an even worse sensation of incongruity, making masturbation or sex an unsafe or impossible experience. If she were with another person, sexual touch might create a cycle of pleasure, shame and dysphoria. And even if a trans* person does not want to have sex, their bodily unease may make any physical intimacy (hugs, cuddling, sleeping with each other) a time of discomfort even if they are excited by this intimacy in other ways.

There is no clear-cut manual as to how to manage dysphoria in a sexual and/or romantic relationship. If you are a trans* person with dysphoria, I won’t belittle the efforts you already face in managing dysphoria for yourself outside sex and/or romance by detailing a vague list of sex positive tips that might help. I want to affirm whatever techniques, tools, and methods work for you, and also re-emphasize the importance of community of friends and mentors who support you. If you do not have these yet, I suggest that finding such a community, friend, peer, professor, DML staff member or ally is a place to start because they can support you as you find techniques that will help you personally.

If you are a sexual and/or romantic partner to a trans* person, you need to work and research—as you should with any relationship. Every single partnership—from one-night stand to long-term monogamy—requires you to understand what you can give and receive from your partner(s). You need to allow room for experiences that are different from yours, for experiences that may be traumatic or triggering or particular, and for experiences that define who you are with who they are. That is the foundation of consent, which is necessary for every sexual and/or romantic encounter. For a trans* partner, you need to understand how to respect them and allow room for experiences ranging from dysphoria to basic contentedness of body to dorky fun play with gender and body. Talk to them. Learn to recognize ways you can better support your trans* partner. Learn about trans* stuff beyond just what I’ve given you. As I said at the beginning of this article, education is how I have found to respect trans* experiences. If you truly love/lust your trans* partner, show your respect by educating yourself.