Talking Sex with Trans Partners
Transgender people face transphobia in many forms, both from strangers on the street and among friends and colleagues. Unfortunately this also includes intimate partners. The strange mix of microaggressions and microaffirmations that a trans person can experience, especially in relationships with cisgender people, can make sex a bit of a minefield, whether on a first date or with a long-term partner.
However, a study about the experiences of transgender couples navigating a partner's transition that was published in December by The International Association of Marriage and Family Counsellors showed how transitioning while in a relationship can present many benefits including greater intimacy and better sex through improved communication and authenticity.
Most cisgender people don’t really have a thorough understanding of gender euphoria, the opposite of gender dysphoria, which is the feeling of comfort or joy someone experiences while thinking about or feeling one’s true gender. To support euphoria and minimize dysphoria, some care is needed from cisgender partners to show that they're, at the very least, willing to learn about trans issues and trans bodies, and how to use clear, consent-based communication.
“We aren’t fragile, but be patient with us,” said Lore, a nonbinary person who has lived in a closed polyamorous triad for two years. Transgender and nonbinary people often operate with a broader understanding of how sex and gender intersect, and know better how to spot signs of dysphoria. “Pay close attention to body language,” Lore said. If something gets uncomfortable or difficult, try not to center yourself. Focus on your partner’s experience. “Sometimes dysphoria happens during sex," Lore said. "It's not always your fault, but it's not about you.”
Need to know
Before you engage in sex with a trans partner, learn to let go of stereotypes. "Trans doesn’t mean kinky and femme doesn’t mean submissive," explained Maia Corbin, a trans-femme whose partner is a bisexual cisgender man. Among what little transgender representation exists in media, transfeminine people are hypervisible as both Hollywood and pornography perpetuate the stereotype of the kinky submissive trans woman. Don’t make presumptions about what anyone is into based on these tropes. Trans people are individuals, as are their tastes.
Next, inform yourself about the very basics of sex, gender and their connection to sexuality with trans 101 education resources like this piece by Sam Dylan Finch on Everyday Feminism. From there, you might move to more specific and detailed guides to trans bodies and language. The zine Fucking Trans Women by Mira Bellwether offers educational insight and instructional guides to different sexual experiences and creative writing about the sex lives of trans women.
Online guides can help you familiarize yourself with the specific language you may need to know, to understand different topics you might want to start conversations about and to help you broaden your perspective on what sex is and what it can be.
Remember that a guide is just the start. The words your partner uses for their body or for specific sex acts, for example, may seem incongruous with your understanding of those words. “Don't assume that everything has a univocal cis-centric meaning,” said Ray, a polyamorous nonbinary person who describes their sexual interests as primarily oriented toward trans people.
Words like “dick” and “clit” are open to interpretation, Ray said. “If you're super rigid about imposing your perspective, it can be alienating and also deathly dull,” they added. “Be curious about how your partner sees their body, and be open to co-creating something with them.”
For you to find out
Co-creating a satisfying sexual experience with a partner requires excellent communication. Ask your partner about everything and anything. What feels good, and what doesn’t? What words do they want used for themselves during sex, what about for specific body parts? What sexual positions are affirming for them, and what sexual acts? How do they envision a great sexual experience? What things are likely to set off dysphoria that you can try to avoid?
You want to avoid waiting until you’re in the middle of intense sex to have these difficult discussions. This will hopefully leave you open when things do start to get hot and heavy to ask about other important details like, “Is this good? What about this?” Keep asking. Consenting once isn’t consent forever.
“We may only be comfy using our bodies in certain ways,” said Zeke Goff, a nonbinary person undergoing physical transition. “Don't take it personally if on bad dysphoria days we just can't or don't want to participate, if we [use a safe word] or if we are not up for certain... activities.”
You can, in fact, both have safewords. If you aren’t great at talking during sex, there are still ways to communicate. “If a person tends to have difficulty speaking up when they're uncomfy about something, having a safe word or gesture even during non-kink activities can be helpful,” Zeke said. A hand signal, a ball that bounces when dropped or a bell or other noise-maker can act as a signal to stop or take a break during any kind of sex or intimacy.
For those used to taking charge during sex, try relaxing control and letting your partner demonstrate what they want. “Follow their lead,” said Leo, a single nonbinary person. “Let them show or tell you what makes them feel good. Don't make assumptions based on past experiences or things your trans friends have shared with you.”
Finally, try framing a gender question in a positive way, said Brent Stanfield, a single nonbinary trans-femme. Brent’s dating life centers around the gay hookup scene and they only come out to potential partners when they feel it is safe to do so. Brent desires affirming questions from a partner: “What words and actions would foster your gender euphoria?”