So someone on reddit asked about what sex is like for trans women, for the sake of writing a comic. The question was respectful enough, unlike the exploitative shit such questions usually entail. But as is usually the case when cisgender people ask us about our lives, I get the feeling that the very phrasing of the question misses the point. Trans people are people too. I wrote a rather long series of replies trying to unpack why I felt the question missed its target, and I thought it'd be worth repeating here.

[0] Hey. I'm writing a comic. There is a trans woman in it. She dates and has sex with a cisgendered woman.

I'm not going to get super explicit in the comic, but I don't want the scenes with them to seem disingenuous, so if I may ask some practical questions…

Transwomen who are attracted to women, what do you do exactly? Do you like to have penetrative vaginal sex with them? Do you like to receive oral? Do you prefer that your penis not be verbally acknowledged? Most importantly for my purposes, what kind of language do you like your partner to use when referring to you and your body?

I've known and spoken to trans* people a lot and talked with them about their lives and emotions and all but I would feel kind of weird asking them "So hey, how do you like to fuck? I'm only asking because I want to plagiarize your words and profit off of them financially". It's pretty easy to find writing and essays online by trans* people about what their childhoods where like and how it feels to be them but less in the way of nuts and bolts descriptions of sex. I realize the answers to these questions are likely not the same for everyone, but any perspective you could give me on this would be helpful.

[1] Well, trans folks are raised in the same prudish culture as cis folks are, so it's no wonder we tend not to talk about sex ;)

Actually, sex is even more complicated for us —as a group, not necessarily as individuals— because of how many trans people (particularly trans women of color) are involved in sex work as a result of the systemic injustice we face. Working in the sex trade, especially when forced to do so to survive, is going to have profound ramifications on how one responds to sex. Most of us here and elsewhere online are middle-class, and therefore cannot speak directly to all the issues this entails.

Transgender people also have to deal with sexual abuse and domestic violence, same as cisgender folks. It's tempting to say we're worse off here than the cisgender population, but it's hard to back that up due to the usual problems of underreporting as well as the interaction with transphobic violence— which often comes as the result of sexual encounters or has a component of sexualized violence incorporated into the hate crime itself.

In general, I'd say that sex is for us much like it is for everyone else. And that includes sex workers, sexual abuse survivors, domestic violence victims, etc, etc. So without knowing more about your character, it's difficult to see what sort of answers you're looking for. The only trans-specific sexual questions I can think of are mechanical details (which are irrelevant if you're not being explicit), choice of terminology (which is personal/individual/unique), or if she's still dealing with extreme issues of dysphoria (in which case I think you want to know more about dysphoria than about sex per se).

[2] Another thing to bear in mind is that how sex goes is going to have a lot to do with the cis woman too!

Were the two of them together pre-transition? If so, how does she feel about that? How has she dealt with the change in viewing her partner, from seeing her as a man to seeing her as a woman? If the trans woman hasn't had SRS, does the cis woman have hangups about what she's "supposed" to do with "boy parts"? If she's lesbian, she may have issues with identity, past abuse, being actively turned off, etc. If she's bi, she may have issues keeping her interest in men, and what she likes to do with them, segregated from her interest in women and what to do with them. If they were together pre-transition, maybe she's straight but still in love with partner despite that; maybe her straight identity is in crisis, or maybe she's fine with the incongruity.

Remember, it takes two to tango.

[3] P.S., I hope I don't come off as being too critical. There's just a lot of stuff to unpack here. As a writer, I think the proper way to look at things is that transgenderism is just another character trait— like age, ethnicity, class, or being a veteran, addict, immigrant, etc. Transgenderism isn't something the character does, what she does is work, go to school, fight crime, raise kids, whatever. However, because she is trans, the world is going to look at her and respond to her differently; it's going to throw different obstacles in her way, things that cisgender people don't have to deal with or would react to differently. And all of this applies to sex just as much as to the rest of life.

[4] Just to throw some personal data in here:

Trigger Warning: childhood sexual abuse )

Considering that, in the US, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse, and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are victims of rape, there's a very good chance that one or both of your characters would have similar issues around sex. It may not be something you want to explore in the comic, but it's definitely something to bear in mind.


Nov. 15th, 2013 01:09 am

In talking about trans* stuff recently, I've been throwing around the fact that it was about 15 years ago I first sought to transition. But last night I did the math, and realized that means I was 17. Seventeen! and already I had been dealing with dysphoria long enough to recognize it for what it was. Still a minor, still not allowed to make my own decisions. And even still, I would've gone sooner if I could have; I was only out of the clutches of my abusive family for a week or two when I did go.

Lest you get the wrong impression, that was far more than half a lifetime ago. I was "born" in the summer of 1994. Oh sure, the date on my birth certificate is much earlier. But that summer is the beginning of the continued consciousness I've borne ever since. Before then, there are no memories. No, that's a lie. There are a few. A few scraps floating in the aether, untethered from any sense of time, devoid of any connection to one another. More like recollections of a previous life. Dangerous shards best left untouched. As far as any sense of self and consciousness goes: I was born in '94 on the steps of the ATS, standing next to a couple boys from my hall and another boy I had the deepest crush on, the four of us staring at a map trying to figure out where the ATS was. Four years later and I'd be walking into the health center at my uni, asking how to transition.

So when I say it was 15 years ago, that's three quarters of my life ago. I've known it was a long time, but I never really sat down to do the math until last night. I'm bad with time. Maybe it's because of those missing 13 years, but I've never been able to get a handle on the concept of age. When others say they did such-and-so when they were X years old, I never know how to map that back onto my lived experience. Because if X is less than 13, there isn't any lived experience to map onto.

Having decided to transition now, I only wish I could've started sooner. The longer your body is ravaged by T, the harder it is to undo the damage. Of course, those fifteen years ago I never could've succeeded. At 17 there's no way I could have afforded the transition, even if my parents wouldn't have disowned me two years later like they did. I was terrified of the idea of starting and then getting stuck in between, unable to finish, unable to adopt a natural life as a woman. The world was a different place then from how it is now. When wrestling with the decision, the biggest thing tipping the scales was my fear of transmisogyny. The fear of getting caught in between, the fear of losing financial solvency, the fear of never finding someone to love me, all of these were but symptoms of the true fear: the fear of being unable to endure the misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia I saw all around me. I saw how women were treated. I saw how queers were treated. There's no way I could have survived it then, and I knew it. The world is far kinder to us now than it was then.

The therapist I got when I first sought transition was another reason for my decision. I had been in therapy for some years already, and both of my previous therapists were excellent. I was in a far healthier state of mind entering undergrad than I had ever been in before. On top of that, moving three thousand miles away from my family did wonders for my mental health. All the same, I was still dealing with the vestiges of all that abuse, and needed someone willing to help with that. But no, the person I got wanted only to talk about the trans* issues, ignoring everything else I was dealing with. After the second visit, I just never went back. A couple months later I attempted suicide. Wasn't the first time. (It was, however, the last time.)

It's only been since starting to transition that I've drawn the connection between my depression and being transgender. So I never would have drawn a connection before between the failure of my therapist and the suicide attempt; but looking back now, it's a bit too conspicuous. A couple years later I entered therapy again, briefly, in the latter half of my time as an undergrad. I liked her. But, burned by my previous experience, I made sure to never bring up the trans* thing. Though even if I had, I couldn't really transition then either. My parents had disowned me halfway through undergrad, and so I'd been paying my own way for two years and was already in major debt. And this would be around the time Bush utterly destroyed the economy. Even as it was, I spent the next couple years doing my best to avoid becoming homeless.

Psychically exhausted and lacking a support net of any kind, there's no way I could have transitioned 15 years ago. Destitute and in debt, there's no way I could have transitioned 10 years ago. At best, maybe I could have started 5 years ago. But then maybe my wife wouldn't have been as ready and able to handle it then. When we got together, I made sure to bring the trans thing up— as I always do with my partners. So she knew, she's always known. And yet, like me in my early 20s, she secretly hoped it would go away in time. But like every other trans person's story I've heard, the dysphoria never does go away, it only gets worse in time.



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