Speed dating doesn't usually appeal to me. But when I saw a speed-dating event specifically for queer and trans people, I couldn't resist. I was traveling, and my expectations weren't very high, but there was one person I hit it off with. She was hanging out with trans friends, and all signs said she was perfectly safe. Still, I must admit, there was a tinge of hesitation on my part. You'd be surprised how many people are fine with having trans friends but freak out at the prospect of a trans lover. After the event ended, I worked up the courage to make a move. Before I knew it, we were making out in a hotel room.
For trans people, sex can be an anxiety-laden issue. Sexuality has been used as the basis for a lot of discrimination against trans people, who are treated as sexual objects, and the medical system has a long history of putting trans people through twisted expectations around sexuality.
For example, the first time I went to a therapist, out of the blue he asked me if I ever masturbated while wearing my mother's clothing. I was taken aback by his incestuous suggestion and only later realized it was apparently a diagnostic test. (Supposedly, if you crossdress without masturbating, you're a true transsexual, but if you masturbate, too, then it's just a sexual fetish.)
Liking sex too much, in the wrong way, or with the wrong people can mean you don't get access to hormones. After decades of this system, trans people learned and taught each other how to jump through all the right hoops. For some, it's just about preparing younger trans people to deal with the doctors. Many of these outdated notions have been removed since the turn of the century; however, large portions of the trans community continue to enforce them anyway.
When I was first transitioning, an older trans woman explained one benefit of testosterone blockers: They kill your sex drive. She said fetishists can't stand it, so only the true women remain. My jaw dropped at the implication that real women don't have sex drives, but I remembered her lesson—pretend not to want sex or people will judge you.
When I hook up with someone, the ghosts of those conversations are often in my head. Others invest so much attention in how trans people use our genitals. Are they expecting me to penetrate them? Will they be disappointed if I don't want to? Will they be disgusted if I do? With so many other people's desires for my body, it can be hard to know my own desires. At some points, I can't tell if I'm actually averse to certain kinds of touching or sex, or if I just think that I should be. Either way, the result is the same: anxiety if we try it.
Sex should be humanizing. It should be about what you want to do, not what you think others want you to do. That's actually a big part of why I got into making porn and erotic documentaries. I wanted a space where other trans people and I could take center stage and represent ourselves in our own vision.
I love moments in which being trans just doesn't matter. It can happen in porn, with a familiar partner, or just with someone who I know is a good ally. I don't have to stop to say, "Wait, there's something about me you should know," as tension rises for a dramatic reveal. I don't feel like there's some toxic cloud hanging over me that requires us to sit down and have a serious conversation. I can feel like any other person. In the throes of passion, I don't want to have to ask a potentially mood-killing question like "Are you afraid of seeing me completely naked?"
As it turned out, that night after speed dating, we kept our underwear on the entire time. I don't know if that's something she wanted or something she thought I wanted. With a Hitachi Magic Wand pressed between us, I stopped imagining everything that could go wrong and just focused on all the ways we could make it go right. Honestly, we probably could have benefited from some more communication. But, for once, I was grateful not to need it.
So how do you make sex great when you or your partner is trans? Do you talk it all through or do you pretend it doesn't matter? Do you plan out each move or be spontaneous? It depends on circumstance. The best advice I can give is that while sex when you're trans can be really complicated, you don't have to make it complicated.
Communication can be powerful, just don't make it be about being trans. Discuss with all your partners what words turn them off and what words make them hot. Ask someone you're with what sort of sex they want to have, what sort of touch is good, and if there are any spots or activities to avoid. Know what you might expect but don't make assumptions. Take stock of your anxieties and ask for whatever reassurances you need to feel safe. Above all, remember sex is supposed to be about fulfilling the desires of the people in the room, and you should ignore the messages from others who might judge.
Tobi Hill-Meyer is a multiracial trans woman activist, writer, and filmmaker. She runs the feminist porn site DoingItOnline.com, and her work can be found in Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community and at HandbasketProductions.com.