Editors note: Please note that this piece includes mention of sexual assault. Mind yourself if you choose to read further.
In a world still obsessed over binaries of male and female, it can be challenging to navigate sex as a queer non-binary trans person. When you’re perceived as one gender but are another, it can be hard to find comfort in allowing yourself to be sexual and enjoy sex. Sex education in Ireland is still dictated by catholic ethos, where we’re shamed for even having sexual thoughts. Rarely are sexualities and genders outside the cis-hetero norm discussed in an open and accepting way. Consent isn’t brought up in any way. We’re taught sex is only for reproductive reasons. Inaccurate information is given about conception and abortion. We are then left on our own to discover who and what we like.
Trans people are at a crossroads when it comes to sex. In one way we are painted as sexual predators, and on another hand, we’re sexualised. We’re told we’re disgusting, while porn paints us as a fetishised object to be desired. While the media tells us we’re unlovable and undesirable, this can leave us vulnerable to being victims of abusive relationships, we can be led to believe that no one else is ever going to love us. Sexual violence against trans people is rarely talked about despite over a fifth of trans and intersex people reporting experiences of sexual attacks (LGBTIreland Report, 2016).
Sex lives not up for debate
Our romantic and sexual lives are often ignored in favour of debates over bathrooms. Rarely do we see a trans person being open about their relationships in a non-stigmatising way. But we are not someone’s fetish, sex isn’t something that happens to us but rather a mutual thing between us and our partner/partners. We can get enjoyment out of sex, and so can those we have sex with. Our sexual partners aren’t heroes for having sex with us, we are just as desirable as cisgender people. Our partners are not repulsed, nor are they only attracted to us because of our transness.
Multiple things can mean having sex as a trans person is more complicated. Two big things for me are being a victim of sexual assault and having gender dysphoria. Now not all trans people have dysphoria, but many do. Dysphoria around my body and my gender can sometimes make sex an awkward topic to explore. Some activities may increase dysphoria for you or your partners. I find that having open and honest conversations with my sexual partners helps to navigate and build trust in my relationship towards sex.
Sex is about pleasure, and feeling like an active participant is important to me. Consent is key, you don’t have to do things that make you uncomfortable. This was an important thing for me to learn. When you’ve had your boundaries crossed, it can be hard to articulate yourself in bed out of fear. But you can rebuild yourself, you’re not your trauma, and it wasn’t your fault. How I helped myself heal was by giving myself sexual pleasure on my own terms.
Sexual pleasure can come from having sex with people, but it can also come from ourselves. We’re taught from a young age that masturbation is dirty and shameful, but I used it as a way to discover what I like sexually. It helped me reconnect to my body as both a survivor of sexual assault and a non-binary person. There’s nothing dirty about getting to know your body and exploring different ways you like to be touched. I was able to recognise my body as non-binary which in turn has made sex less dysphoric.
Shame around sex is something that can affect us all, stemming from the idea that sex is only for reproductive reasons. This leads to thinking penetrative sex is the only way to have sex, but this isn’t true. Allow yourself to be creative. Communication around sex is essential for you and your partner(s) pleasure. Being open about what you like can give your partner(s) an idea of how to pleasure you. We need to take the shame away from sex and realise that not all sex has to look the same. If penetrative sex or other sexual activities aren’t for you, that’s okay, and nothing to be ashamed of. Once you take penetrative sex out of the equitation, you’ll realise there’s plenty of other ways to give and receive pleasure.
For trans people by trans people
You have agency over your own body, and knowledge is power. Schools refuse to teach us about our bodies and about consent, so we must find out this information for ourselves. Information is important to destigmatise sex and help us understand the many ways we can enjoy it. This also includes knowing about STIs, conception, abortion, etc. It means knowing where you can get tested for STIs and what birth control options are out there. I have found reading sex education resources made for trans people, by trans people, is empowering because I know I’m not the only one who goes looking for this information. It’s your body, your gender and no one can take that away from you.
Having sex as a trans and/or non-binary person can be daunting, but remember you are your gender, regardless of whether or not you’ve transitioned socially, medically, and/or legally. You deserve respect, not fetishisation. Your body isn’t odd or weird. How you have sex isn’t strange. You deserve to have your needs listened to and have your gender affirmed. You should be celebrated for who you are, not what others want you to be. Having sex can be clumsy, awkward and intimidating at first, but it is never, ever shameful.
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