In this week’s podcast we answer the following question:
I’m an older queer guy who’s just started dating a really lovely trans man. Apart from talking to him, which we are doing, where can I get helpful advice and insight into my own “stuff”? I came out late in life – and I am not really used to a lot of the gay scene – which is probably an advantage! Any advice or comments gratefully received 🙂
Here’s a quick summary of some of the ideas we discuss.
Everyone is different
One key idea we talk about here is that often the best advice about how to date, have sex with, or otherwise relate to a trans person (or any other person with specific experiences) is actually what’s best for everyone. For example, it’s always best to assume that the person you’re dating will have a different body to anyone you’ve been with before, which will work in different ways, and that they’ll likely have different sexual desires – if any, and a different relationship to gender. Making those assumptions about anybody is a good starting position. That’s why we don’t give specific advice about trans people, disabled folk, people of certain sexualities, etc. in our book Enjoy Sex.
Transphobic, cisnormative culture
That said, we do live in a wider culture which assumes that certain identities, bodies, experiences, desires, etc. are ‘normal’ and which marginalises, objectifies, and or stigmatises others. That has an impact on everyone. In the case of trans, it’s generally assumed that people will remain in the gender they were assigned at birth (i.e. be cisgender), and trans genders are often seen as somehow debateable in a way that cis genders aren’t. Sadly the rates of hate crimes against trans people, and relatedly mental health problems among trans people remain alarmingly high. For example Stonewall recently found that eight out of ten young trans people had been bullied, one in ten had received death threats and – unsurprisingly given that – almost half had attempted suicide at some point.
That is going to have an impact on people in relationships. It can mean that trans people are particularly likely to have gone through tough stuff in their lives, and all the implications of that. It can mean that cis people have internalised some of the sensationalist and negative messages about trans people. For example it’s worth checking in with yourself about whether you have any assumptions about a trans partner, or whether you’re objectifying them or seeing them mostly through the lens of their transness, rather than as a full human being.
There are power imbalances in pretty much all relationships which can make it easier or harder for each person to consent to things (e.g. where they want to go on a date, if they want to have sex, etc.) So in a relationship where one person is trans it’s worth having conversations about the potential impact of such dynamics, and how a cisgender partner can make it as easy as possible for them to be open about where they’re at. Of course there will be many other intersections in play in any relationship which are also worth discussing in this way, e.g. differences in age, class background, first language, etc.
Networks and communities
Different groups, networks, and communities will be more or less clued up about gender. If your own family and/or friendship group isn’t very aware it’s worth thinking about how best to navigate that if you’re going to be introducing a trans partner to them. They shouldn’t have to be doing the emotional labour of dealing with transphobic comments, or educating people. Not all trans people are open about being trans – some see it very much as something in their past, for example. So never tell anybody someone’s trans status without being absolutely sure that’s okay with them. If they are open, then it’s worth doing some checking out with any individuals or groups you’re hoping to introduce them to. If those people aren’t safe-enough then they don’t have to meet. If they do want to meet, perhaps they can do a bit of 101 education before they do so. There’s some great introductory stuff online on places like Gendered Intelligence, Everyday Feminism, and Julia Serano’s website.
If you want to engage with queer, gay, or LGBTQIA+ communities, spaces or events then again it’s worth checking out which are fully trans aware and inclusive. Sadly not all are yet. It’s often better to be reassured in advance than going along to something where a performer makes transphobic comments, or another attendee asks inappropriate questions.
Find out more
The book that Meg-John wrote with Alex Iantaffi is a great starting point for thinking about your own gender, and how you relate to other people’s genders. You can find details – and our podcast about it – here.
There’s also some great trans-affirmative therapists on pinktherapy.com if you ever want to explore your stuff around these topics in greater depth.