Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Welcome to the second installment of the K.I.N.K. (Knowing Intimacy, New Kinds?) column! Last week, we mentioned that we would be discussing how to navigate trans and cis relationships. Although this doesn’t relate to kink, it’s an interesting topic and something that we think is worth talking about. Honestly, it’s pretty intuitive because when interacting with trans folk, or anybody at all to be honest, the basic golden rule is: listen to your partner, and be respectful.
Ok, but now you’re asking yourself, “But how do I put that idea into practice? How do I know what is respectful, and what isn’t?” Navigating this space may be slightly different depending on who you are, but the following is a basic set of guidelines for hooking up with and dating trans people that we’ve created based on our own experience.
Keep in mind that we’re speaking from our own perspective, and we aren’t necessarily authorities on the subject. We aren’t trying to speak for all transpeople, and if anything here is inappropriate, please let us know! Shoot either alee4 or enguyen1 if you have any problems or questions. Also keep in mind that if you are hooking up with someone who says something in discordance with our guide, let them be the best judge of what they are comfortable with!
Since Elliott is a transguy, we are writing this guide from a transmasculine perspective, but we are trying to provide information that may be helpful to other transfolk as well. It’s also worth noting that this guide is intended to be a starting place to introduce primarily cis people to these topics.
For the purpose of this article (and for your own future reference), here are some basic terms to help aid our discussion.
- transgender/genderqueer: anyone who identifies with a gender outside of their assigned sex; this includes anyone who does not label themselves within the gender binary. A trans person may or may not have undergone any sort of medical intervention (surgery, hormones, etc…).
- cisgender: the opposite of transgender. A cisgender person is someone who feels (at least mostly) comfortable in the gender that they were assigned at birth.
- body parts: we’ll use recognizable names for body parts, like penis, scrotum, vagina, etc., but we’ll also mention a few different terms that some transfolk prefer for their own body parts.
A good place to start involves language and labels. I guess it goes without stating but I guess we can state it anyway: cut out slurs and other trans-oppressive language. This includes specific terms, some of which are enumerated at the bottom of this article.
The big issues that surround the sexuality of transgender people are fetishizing, objectifying, and otherwise disrespecting them and their bodies. These abstract ideas can manifest themselves in the bedroom with assumptions made about trans bodies and genitals.
Two easy rules to follow are:
- Don’t assume things about the genitals of your trans partner. Not all trans women have penises, and not all trans men have vaginas.
- Remember that no general means exist to distinguish transgender people from cisgender people.
When people disregard these rules, it can lead to overarching statements like “I am attracted to gay men and trans women” or “I am only attracted to cisgender men, not transgender men.”
We got these rules from this article about having sex with trans women and adapted them to be more general.
Also, don’t make assumptions about the type of sexual acts and terminology your partner might be into! Some transmen may be into getting fucked one day, and not another. They might also prefer terms like “cock,” “dick,” “click,” “front hole,” and this can also change day to day, or act to act. Some transwomen might like to fuck you, maybe with a strap-on, maybe without. And some might prefer the terms “clit,” “lady/bio-cock,” or something else completely. Let your partner know that you care about respecting them, and always make your best effort to use their preferred terms.
Some starter questions that you might ask your partner are:
- I use the words _____ for my genitals. What words do you prefer?
- Where feels good for you to be touched, and where shouldn’t I touch you?
Medical intervention is not something that you need to ask your partner about. You really don’t need to know your partner’s hormone levels or anything like that, but it’s important to have some basic information about hormone replacement therapy and how it relates to sex.
Everyone has a mix of two primary sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen. Transmen on hormone replacement therapy usually get testosterone, and transwomen often get some combination of estrogen and testosterone blockers. These all have varying effects on the body, but pertinent effects might be:
- Estrogen: breast growth, fat distribution, reduction in sperm production, possible reduction in libido, possible reduction in ability to maintain an erection, softening of skin, increased sensitivity
- Testosterone: muscle growth, possible increase in sex drive, enlargement of the clitoris, increased sensitivity, change in skin texture, fat distribution
Again, regardless of whether or not your partner is on hormones or has had surgery, the best way to know how they are feeling and what they like is to ask them!
While it’s important to avoid making general claims and probing your partner, open lines of communication, including comfort in asking questions, can be invaluable. Always practice active, enthusiastic consent! Sex is exploratory, and starting off having sex with a new partner is usually accompanied by some sort of uncertainty. Some people, trans and cis alike, may have varying comfort levels or areas where they do not like to be touched. Having a respectful space for communication is supportive to all parties when forming a consensual romantic or sexual relationship.
[slurs: tranny, transvestite, she-male, he-she, instances of repeated and unthoughtful misgendering]
Featured image courtesy of http://4.bp.blogspot.com/