As a queer trans man, internalized homophobia intersects with my trans status in complex and painful ways. Being trans put me on the defensive, all the indignities like lighter fluid on the fire of insecure manhood. It’s only now, years past transition, that I feel safe and strong enough to let go.
Accepting that I am bi/queer in terms of orientation has changed my life. I have stopped trying to seem straight–something I had no idea I’d been doing, but which nonetheless severely limited me. Suddenly people are reading me as queer again and it feels really good. I no longer police my body language or my vocal mannerisms. How heavy was the weight of the fear of seeming gay!
[Side note–I am still using the word bi but I’m identifying more and more with just queer. I am realizing that attraction to masculine genderqueer people is a major region of my sexual landscape, which makes “bi” just seem a bit off. While my attraction to men is still feeling kind of vague and confusing, my attraction to genderqueer people feels more fully formed. But I’m cool with either term.]
Wow do I have a lot of internalized homophobia going on. I’m shocked at how deep and how toxic it is. I guess I thought, having gone through so many queer identities, I’d be somehow immune–but of course not. I am now unpacking the special flavor of shame reserved for queer men in our society.
It is such a relief to embrace myself more fully, to be okay with my queer masculinity. I notice people reading me as gay, and people with big question marks over their heads as they try to figure out what letter of the alphabet soup to pin on me. I notice the way I talk differently with different people. I can be a gay boy with a bit of flare or a reliable straight bro–whatever. They’re both me, and neither is. I’m enjoying it.
A key piece of this for me is getting more and more comfortable with my trans body. I’ve recently been exploring sexual pleasure using my front hole. I admit to being a little freaked out just typing that–I have so much shame about that part of my body. Thanks a lot, cissexist, misogynist society.
When I first started exploring my masculinity, I went hardcore stone in the sense of not being touched. This allowed me to engage sexually, which was awesome. As I transitioned and my body changed, I got rid of my dildo and started using my attached dick. But I never started using my front hole, not even by myself, until like two days ago. That part of my body was off limits for about seven years. Seven years is a pretty long time.
Alma and I were talking about my fear and shame around enjoying that part of myself. She encouraged me to put the fear into the format, “I don’t want to _______, because if ________, then ________.” This is an exercise we learned for dealing with jealousy and insecurity around nonmonogamy. (Did I mentioned we’re poly now? We’re poly now. It’s been a fun and eventful summer, haha.) I took a deep breath, quieted my mind, and allowed an answer to unfold. My mind replied,
I don’t want to have sex using my front hole, because if we do that, and I like it, then I will be a faggot.
This thought shocked the hell out of me. Wow, ouch, how horrible. I didn’t even know that idea was in there.
In exposing these contortions to the light, I release them. I get freer and freer. There is no end to freedom.
Queer people seem to be laboring under less sexual shame than cis, straight people. Don’t get me wrong–I know plenty of very cool, sexually liberated cis, straight folks, and some queer people who are completely shut down around sexuality. But in my observation, the trend is stark and striking. The queer people I know just seem more relaxed, uninhibited, embodied, and joyful when it comes to sex and gender. Anyone who’s ever been to a Pride parade probably has some sense of what I mean.
Alma and I have recently been discussing this as a fascinating paradox of our cissexist, heterosexist culture. You’d think it would be the reverse: that since cis, straight people are constantly told their sexuality and gender are legitimate and good, they would be confident and happy and free. And at the same time, since queer people are constantly shamed and berated, especially as we’re growing up, you’d think we would be limping along, loathing ourselves, barely functional.
Yet almost the reverse seems to be true. So many cis, straight men and women are suffocating under extremely narrow ideas of what it means to be a man or woman, what it means to be a lover. So many people feel that if you need or want to discuss your sexual desires with a partner, you have already failed, for you should be able to read minds. So many people feel their bodies are broken and horrible because they don’t fit some absurd standard.
Meanwhile, queer folks, having already broken the mold, seem much more willing and able to figure out what works for us and ask for it. There is far less of a taboo within queer subcultures on stuff like using sex toys, doing kinky stuff, etc. I’m also thinking of trends like gay and lesbian couples having more equitable divisions of housework.
And so, ironically, being shamed and rejected actually offers a special path to freedom. We can never fit the boxes, so oftentimes, we simply quit trying. Gender roles can’t accommodate us, so we figure out what works in each relationship. The heteronormative script can never work for us, so we write our own.
We initially challenge the system as an act of pure survival. But pull one thread and the whole damn tapestry falls apart. Pretty soon we’re challenging the system just for fun.
I enjoyed this recent article on Outward about celibate LGBT Christians. What is the place of celibate people in the LGBT community? And what is the relationship among religion, the choice to partner or be celibate, and LGBT lives?
Although author Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart throws around “LGBT” and “LGBTQ” like free condoms at a Pride parade, the piece is really about celibate gay and lesbian Christians, as far as I can tell. These are not ex-gay culture warriors, but people who accept and openly share their gay/lesbian orientations, who choose a life of celibacy in accordance with their religious convictions. Unfortunately, celibate gay/lesbian Christians face ignorance and hostility both in their conservative Christian communities and in the mainstream LGBT community. This question is a bit different for trans people, as sex and marriage aren’t the be-all, end-all of acceptance issues for us. However, I think there are also some transgender people who embrace their gender identities and choose celibacy based on the teachings of their traditions.
First, I’d like to say I have total respect for all LGBT people who are making meaningful lives that work for them. We’re not all the same, and we don’t have to be. We can respect each other and work together, and live very different lives–indeed, we already do.
One complaint with the article: Vitiello Urquhart sets up a dichotomy between religious, celibate, LGBT Christians on the one hand, and the mainstream, secular LGBT community on the other. These two groups both exist, but they are far from the whole story.
This convenience obscures several important axes of diversity among LGBT people. First, of course, Christianity is not the only religion with LGBT followers. There are many LGBT people within Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American religions, etc. Within these religions are many communities, with different views on LGBT issues. And there are also many Christian communities that support sex and marriage for LGBT people.
I imagine this issue in terms of 4 possible perspectives:
Sex & marriage permitted
Sex & marriage permitted
To be complete, the conversation must span the full range of viewpoints in our community. That means including religions beyond Christianity, and viewpoints beyond just 1 and 4. Viewpoint 3 is held by pretty much no one and not all that relevant, so count that out.
But what about viewpoint 2–religious people who support sex and marriage for LGBT people? We make up sizeable contingents of both LGBT people and religious people. What those holding views 1 and 4 may not understand is that we support full inclusion for LGBT people directly because of our religious beliefs.
My own views on LGBT acceptance are grounded in my faith and the teachings of my tradition. This runs so deep, I’m not even sure how to capture it. I can cite verses and traditions that support my views, but really, this isn’t about one teaching–this about the basic orientation of Judaism to human life. Consider this story.
A man wanted to convert to Judaism, on one peculiar condition: that a rabbi could teach him the whole of the Torah while he stood on one foot (i.e., very quickly). Continue reading
Masturbation has always been among my favorite pastimes. As a teenager, however, my sexual fantasies posed a strange problem: I wasn’t in them.
I’d always imagine an anonymous man and woman together. If I’m a lesbian, I wondered anxiously, why do I always think about straight sex? Though I can be aroused by ideas and images of lesbian sex, straight sex has always been what really does it for me. I found this rather disturbing. Was my mind just that colonized? Was there something wrong with me? Most importantly, who did I want to be in this interaction?
My transgender self was literally unthinkable. I could become aroused only by removing myself from the scenario altogether. Fantasizing about myself in a sexual encounter was impossible–I suppose because my self was a lie.
It all fell into place when I realized I’m a guy. There is nothing wrong with me, and I know who I want to be, who I am, during sex.
But I notice that I still edit myself out of my sexual fantasies. Even when replaying a real experience, I imagine it from the outside, like a movie. This is a real mental contortion, but it feels like nothing at all, the habit is so ingrained.
I see this as one more effect of growing up trans. There’s this persistent sense of unreality around my body, around me. I guess it’s just the years of denial. It doesn’t help that there are vanishingly few images of people like me–having sex, eating lunch, or doing anything else.
I don’t want to indulge meaningless conjunctions of other, anonymous, idealized, cissexual bodies. Whether alone or with my partner, I want to be aroused by actual sex–personal, specific, meaningful, imperfect.
Image: Caroline’s Cakes
I have great sex.
Sex can be fraught with negative emotions for many trans* people–and for many cis people, for that matter. It is difficult to find a person you really click with, and to create a space where both people can feel comfortable, be vulnerable, and enjoy themselves.
I struggled with this for many years. Pre-transition, I was never 100% comfortable and 100% naked at the same time. Sex often triggered dysphoria, anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. For the first few years I was sexually active, I never had sex sober.
Moving forward on my gender journey, sexuality has been an important area for healing. I am now able to enjoy sex in a close, happy relationship with my fiancee.
As a result of being trans and going through all those painful experiences, I learned to communicate directly about what feels good and what doesn’t. I learned to focus just on connecting with my partner, in one moment. Being trans forced me to become nonjudgmental about the human body, to directly state my preferences, and to ask my partner’s preferences, with little preconceived idea of how things will go. Turns out these things laid the foundation for a great sex life.
What are some good things about being trans*? Send your answers to email@example.com or submit anonymously.
In this series, I highlight individuals’ positive experiences. You probably won’t relate to every entry, but maybe some will resonate with you.
This post includes frank discussion of sexuality and my body.
It recently occurred to me that, although I have not had genital surgery, in a lot of ways, I no longer feel like someone who has not had genital surgery. I have had surgery once as part of my transition (chest reconstruction) and plan to have surgery once more (hysterectomy, at my doctor’s recommendation). If you had asked me early in my transition, I would have said I wanted to have bottom surgery (probably metoidioplasty) as soon as possible.
What’s changed? Going into this journey, I underestimated two things: how much other transition steps would affect my relationship with my whole body, and how much surgery sucks.
Let’s take the unpleasantness of surgery first. Chest surgery was a great experience–if I had to, I would make that decision again in a heartbeat. It was also a reality check. Pain, recovery time, needing help while healing, taking medications, going under anesthesia, numbness and scarring–all these things real to me now. I have also felt the impact of the financial costs. If genital surgery procedures were comparable to chest surgery in terms of risks and costs–including healing time, dangers of any surgery, possible loss of sensation, dollar cost, etc.–I might consider it. But that’s not the case. Bottom surgery is more dangerous and much more expensive, healing times are much longer, and I would likely need multiple procedures. Considering the price-tag, healing time, and other risks of bottom surgery, it’s just not worth it to me.
It probably would be worth it to me, though, if I still experienced acute dysphoria. That brings me to the other thing I underestimated–how big a difference all the other aspects of my transition have made.
I am now able to move through the world as a man with ease. I am able to feel comfortable during sex. I still have some dysphoria, and it’s not pleasant, but I think it’s now within the range of ordinary body image insecurity that many people experience. I’d say I’ve gone from a 10 to a 2 on a 10-point gender dysphoria scale.
I also underestimated, quite literally, the changes testosterone would cause when it comes to my dick. I had extreme dysphoria around my genitals pre-T. I considered myself stone and always used a strap-on during sex. This has totally reversed–today, using any kind of prosthesis would induce dysphoria, not alleviate it. Though my genital configuration is definitely not average, I am able recognize what I have as male. I have a dick, plain and simple. I still experience dysphoria around that part of my body, but it is manageable.
I also have a partner who perceives my body as male, and I am able to engage sexually in a way that feels right to me–to have intercourse and do all the other fun stuff straight dudes tend to do. I did not know that would happen, and I did not know how much it would mean to me.
Pretty much the only thing I can’t do is pee standing up in a convenient, splash-free fashion. From my observations in public restrooms, it appears that a large proportion of men have this problem.