There are many ways to perceive and experience sexuality within and outside of the concept of gender. Being aware of multiple perceptions and experiences can be especially important when someone in the experience is trans.
To be clear, I am a bisexual cisgender woman (although in early puberty, I didn’t think cis was the case.) I’m not trans and, for the most part, present like the gender I was assigned at birth. But I’ve been in a unique position of dating trans individuals from a young age – sometimes before either of us knew what their true gender was!
Being trans or loving a transgender person in some places across the world and even in this country – like my hometown – can be incredibly dangerous. Trans people have always existed and have faced various levels of vitriol and acceptance in different places across human history. That LGBTQ+ adjacent hatred-based danger experienced by so many becomes especially nuanced when the letter is that T, even in America. But strides are made frequently to make this less of a fact of life, and some people are left wondering how to even ask questions about their partner’s sexuality and preference when the partner is trans!
Many trans people have severe gender dysphoria. There are trans women – lesbians in particular -who will make a pillow-princess of you, though it’s not for lack of sexual desire or not wanting to be able to engage.
Not every transgender individual has, or will, get surgery. While this triggers dysphoria in many, it doesn’t in all, so it’s important to know your partner specifically when it relates to dysphoria. Some women have penises and are alarmed by the idea of using it during a sexual encounter, regardless of the gender of their cis partner. Some are perfectly able to embrace the often-rude-and-crude term “Lady dick” and don’t feel the need to acquire a vagina through surgery or even toys. Of course, many trans people incorporate trans-specific toys even if they’ve had a variety of surgeries, and just like the rest of us, incorporate toys in general.
Any advice or action should be within the context of the individual!
One person I’ve spoken to, an awesome trans man I’ll call Adam, offered insight into how sexuality is for him at this point in his life. Very eloquently he stated:
“I have had to become comfortable with my own body sexually before engaging in sexual relationships. My body parts don’t make me any less of a man. I’m comfortable in my own skin as far as sex goes but that doesn’t make it any easier. I still get worried that my body isn’t “male enough” for whoever decides to date me.“
Adam isn’t alone in feeling both more comfortable in his skin knowing who he is while simultaneously being quite worried about what’s “enough.” Trans women often fret over fractions of centimeters of bone structure in their faces because they fear they aren’t feminine “enough.” Trans men sometimes wear binders on binders (and before they were more available, damaging ace bandages) because they feel their soft body isn’t masculine “enough.”
"The style of your sensitivity, again, must be in the context of the individual. If you’ve met one trans person, you’ve met one trans person."
If you’re cis, think of one of the flaws you get anxious about a partner seeing and amplify it. We can’t fully understand, but we can try to empathize more through what we do experience.
Of course, lots of trans people are very confident in their sexuality, are very open, and there are many trans camgirls and camguys! We do need to be sensitive to situations where a partner’s sexuality and dysphoria collide and cause distress for them, but we also need to be aware of the trans people who’ve embraced every insult or potential insult they’ve had hurled at them and then own it.
If your partner is trans and has come very far in the way of confidence and sexuality, or if they’ve made it clear they’re extremely comfortable with themselves, there are still many ways you can remain sensitive to what’s going on. Sometimes that sensitivity is to not be very sensitive; I’ve known a few transgender individuals who felt infantilized by their extremely compassionate yet eggshell-walking cis partners. They understand why we can fall into that behavior when we’ve dated other trans people, so they sometimes view it through a jaded yet humored lens, but it’s painful to be infantilized about something you’re completely fine with and have worked hard to accept and own.
I’m not trans, so I don’t and won’t ever fully “get it.” But again, I try to apply some life experiences of my own to understand what I can. And having someone treat you like a delicate flower once they find out something is different about your brain or body is extremely dehumanizing.
The style of your sensitivity, again, must be in the context of the individual. If you’ve met one trans person, you’ve met one trans person.
If you are interested in someone who is trans romantically or sexually, it’s important to know where that person is in relation to their gender identity and how it relates to sexuality. You may be used to beginning a relationship with sex almost immediately or even before you make it “official,” if you ever do, but if your partner deals with insecurities related to their gender or presentation, patience and understanding are absolutely necessary. It’s much more difficult to cope with gender dysphoria interrupting your relationships than to learn sensitivity and listening.
My first experience dating a trans guy was back in high school, – I’ll call him Caleb – still presented as very feminine in appearance until our relationship began when we went on a shopping spree and he got some clothes he was comfortable with and then asked me to chop his hair off. I chopped mine off in solidarity – and in impulsivity. The haircut looked much better on him.
But I wasn’t entirely sensitive or privy to what was going on. Caleb was someone I had known my entire life and I wasn’t surprised at all to learn he was, in fact, a he, even if he was still going by the deadname when we began dating.
Like many women and girls, I was conditioned to view sexual rejection in any way as extremely personal and a probable sign that I was ugly. Of course, that’s outlandishly simplistic, but not when you’re an insecure high schooler.
Caleb kept a chest binder on at all times and didn’t want any sexual activity to be reciprocated at the time. I asked over and over what I was doing wrong and why I wasn’t “trustworthy enough,” and it was ludicrous. Caleb didn’t use the word “dysphoria” regularly although we both knew what it was, and I didn’t understand that the least compassionate thing I’d actually done in regard to Caleb was to make his sexual hesitancy about me.
It had nothing to do with me. Or with my appearance.
There’s no reason for adults to be making the same mistakes a teenager did in 2008 when we have the knowledge and resources we do today.
There are many things on the market to make trans people’s lives better and if your partner is trans, you should check them out as well. Of course, there are things like chest binders and things to put in your boxers which are more aesthetic, but there are toys and methods as well. Cis folk knowing about these things is crucial if you’re going to be with a trans person, or even if you’d like to be a proper ally.
Some people who have bad dysphoria related to their genitals engage in anal play. Anal play is very non-gendered, socially and sensory wise. Gender-neutral vibrators which often are placed where the “taint” is (that area between the front and the back “down there”) are perfect for trans and non-binary people. Many of these toys also stimulate the prostate if you’ve got one.
O-rings are sometimes used by trans men to help maintain erections, and of course, suggesting toys to a trans partner needs to be done genuinely, compassionately and without implying they “need” these things. Never coerce a person, regardless of their gender. One can suggest that these toys might be fun, but show a level of sensitivity with these suggestions unless your partner is actively asking you to help them find new fun toys or toys for specific situations.
"Speak to trans people and listen, ask questions sensitively, and treat them as the gender they have embraced - who they truly are."
I would be cautious telling a man who isn’t trans to use a ring to maintain an erection, and it’s the same for a trans man. Men do have sensitivities and insecurities about erections and some don’t, and trans men are men.
Trans men sometimes use harnesses to use their preferred dildo with a partner, just like many women use strap-ons with each other and with men, except for the trans man it can be more than just fun, but relieving and empowering.
Silicone dilators, while not a “toy,” are a favorite for trans women and non-binary people who’ve gotten vaginoplasty. There are curved ones that are often used after the dilators the doctors send you home with as a supplement of sorts. Lube, while a must-have in any place where sex occurs, is especially important for trans women or nonbinary people who’ve had vaginoplasty.
There’s no way to include every possible option for sensitivity, compassion, and sexy-time in one blog, not only because I’m not trans, but because there are so many ways to go about things, and every couple is different. Speak to trans people and listen, ask questions sensitively, and treat them as the gender they have embraced – who they truly are. The bravery of a person to come out as LGBTQ+ is immense, and transgender people deserve the same rights, love, and right to love that everyone does. With a little heart and mind, research and listening, cis peers, we can help them as they make their lives lovelier, safer, and rewarding in romance, sex, and beyond.