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Author Topic: Sex when trans*
oneboikyle
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Hi, I'm getting myself into a little bit of a worry about university, and specifically freshers week, and could really use a bit of help, if anyone can.

So basically, I'm going to uni in just over a week, and I'll be quite frank, I was looking forward to having safe, casual sex during freshers week; apparently, it's fairly common, and as long as the girls I meet are okay with doing stuff, I don't care what other people say about me. A few of my very close friends were talking about buying me my own penis before I go (I know most people refer to them as strap-ons, but I prefer calling it my own penis, because hey it will be) and it was all sort of falling into place. At the same time, I 100% do not want to disclose to hundreds of people within the first week of uni.

The problem I've come across, though, is where I stand legally with this. I did a quick check online about what the law in the UK is, regarding having sex while trans, and I came across the case of McNally, who was charged with assault because they had sex presenting as male without telling their partner they were assigned female , even though they only had oral and manual sex(I use they, because I'm not sure from the reports how the defendant identified themselves). I understand that the two people involved were in a reasonably long term relationship, so it's not the same as my situation, but still. And I think something similar happened in Scotland too.

My problem is I really don't know what to do. Of course, getting consent is the most important thing to me, and if not disclosing invalidates consent, I will either disclose or abstain and that's fine by me. The thing is, I don't understand how it invalidates consent, in not telling them I'm trans, especially if I don't use my new penis to penetrate them. I mean, is using something like that fundamentally different to using a flesh penis, because if so I know that is out of the question? And how is my giving them oral sex any different than if I was a cis guy - they've still decided to have casual sex with a guy they (presumably) find attractive, so if they're not being used, why do my genitals matter? I'd love to give my new dick a "test run" but I'm okay with making it about them feeling good, and leaving that out of it, if it's morally shaky ground.

Personally, if I get involved with someone on a level that is more than casual, I will 100% tell them my history, once I know for sure they won't tell other people and make me into "the transgender student" caricature. But for casual sex, I really, really don't want to disclose, if I can help it. I really don't know what to do. Help/opinions, please?

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Heather
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Hey there, kyle. I'm sorry this is something you even have to worry about!

I'm not familiar with that case, nor the current legal precedents in the UK around this. Do you mind if I take a day or so to take a look, get caught up and get back to you?

I'm with you, mind: our gender is what our gender is, and you're not being untruthful or deceptive by not telling someone what someone else decided, arbitrarily, for you about it once upon a time, and instead, telling them how you identify. I'd also assume you're unlikely to pick anyone as a lover who's transphobic, as obviously, that isn't likely to be someone with whom you are going to feel comfortable.

Mind, I'm not someone to whom genitals DO matter, so I also often find I struggle to understand people for whom they do in this regard.

My personal thought would be this isn't something you'll need to concern yourself with, but like I said, I'm not familiar with that case or any others like it: I'll make time to get up to speed today, though.

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oneboikyle
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Thanks, Heather! Yeah, it was a weird case, but I've got a few links if that'll help you with coming up to speed?
http://rachbowyer.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/the-justine-mcnally-case-a-miscarriage-of-justice/
http://www.lexplain.org.uk/criminal-law/334/
http://www.complicity.co.uk/blog/2013/06/court-of-appeal-confirms-stealth-trans-people-having-sex-are-criminals/

The biggest worry I have is ending up having sex with someone who is not overtly transphobic, but may not respect my wish to keep it quiet if I disclose, or who may guess/find out some other way when there's nobody around but me, panic about being "turned lesbian" and that could be dangerous.

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Heather
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Thanks for those, I'll take a look at them. I'm guessing I should probably procure a pillow to scream into first, eh?

Given your concerns, perhaps the most helpful thing we can do is brainstorm ways you can get a good feel for where someone stands in regard to this before getting sexual with them?

[ 09-02-2013, 12:20 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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oneboikyle
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That would probably be pretty useful, thanks! I mean, when I was discussing it with a couple of friends, they suggested everything from LGBTQ bars, to fetishist clubs, none of which appealed to me; I'm not usually interested in men, gay or otherwise, I'm not secure enough within my identity to be okay with sleeping with someone who is primarily into women (although I'd be okay with someone who was bi/pan/would definitely relate to me as a guy), and I don't really want someone to see me as a means to satisfying a fetish. I don't know whether I'm being fussy there, but it's how I feel. And aside from that, my friends seem to think "typical" straight clubs would just be minefields of danger.

I guess, if I knew how to avoid people who wouldn't respect my trans status (should they find out) it would be a bit of a redundant question, whether I should disclose or not - if it was relevant to what we were doing, I could tell them, and if not, then they probably would understand my not telling them. In theory.

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Molias
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Hi Kyle,

I just recently heard about the McNally case from a trans friend of mine from the UK who moved to my town; he and I were talking about this case and I'm surprised my head didn't explode. It's really terrible.

Ultimately, it seems like there is a legal precedent for someone to claim that consensual-at-the-time sex with a trans partner who didn't disclose their trans status was, in retrospect, non-consensual. I think the fact that the relationship started when both people were under the age of consent may be part of the issue here; it seems like the "victim's" parents were pretty involved in bringing charges against McNally.

Now, I think that the ruling is 100% ridiculous and offensive, but as I don't have the power to overturn rulings I think it may make sense to be cautious. If the burden of proof of disclosure is on the person being accused of deception, there's not much you can really do other than ask potential sexual partners to sign a statement or something like that!

Having said that, though, most people don't want to bring their sex lives into court. Some people can be pretty horrible to trans folks after disclosure happens, sure. But I think that in most cases even people who are disrespectful aren't going to want to take legal action against a former partner.

One thought I have is that even if you're primarily interested in casual sex, going to specific bars or clubs with the intent of picking up partners might not be the easiest way for you to find partners you feel safe with (and I'm with you on not wanting to be with a partner who sees me as a fetish object). Certainly I think it can be good to feel some level of trust and connection with someone you're only wanting a casual relationship or one-time hookup with, and that can be hard to establish in a loud bar or club. I don't know that there's an easy way to know how people you'd meet in a "straight" club vs. a queer one would handle disclosure, or how they'd feel about trans folks in general; I know plenty of really accepting straight folks and some very transphobic queer ones. Knowing whether someone is safe to disclose to is really tricky; often the only way to know is to do it, and that's not particularly helpful. =/

It could be that while you're figuring out exactly how you feel about disclosure that it might be best not to focus on casual sex at the moment, or maybe not think of it as something you want to only do during freshers week - if you're thinking "ok, I have one week to find awesome ladies who want to have sex with me!!!" then it might create a sense of pressure or hurry that will make it harder to find the situations and people that are best-suited to you right now. Maybe it might be helpful just to focus on being social and making personal connections during that week, not necessarily with the goal of sex but being open to that if it happens?

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Heather
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Kyle: I did look at those links, and...just UGH.

I hate that "really a woman" phrase and framework, that alone always makes me bristle so much. I also agree with the first writer: I'm confused about why Justine pleaded guilty, and why, as pleas usually are, it was likely her lawyer who advised she do so. I do think it's important to recognize that probably -- maybe this is my hope for humanity talking, but still -- had she not, she would not have been found guilty of assault.

And of course, even calling this assault strikes me as not only inhumane and ignorant, but as a real affront to victims of what assault earnestly is. [Frown]

Oh, there's just so much, I don't even know where to get started. How awful.

I do agree with Molias, on a more practical, and less depressing note: I'm wondering if now is the right timing for you, given how you're feeling and where you're at, to even be entering into more casual contexts for sex. If nothing else, I can't imagine it's something you'd be doing without a good deal of worry and anxiety, which all by itself, seems like it'd probably not be very positive for you. The way I figure, when you are NOT so worried about this, and when disclosing -- however much I think many of us would agree that really shouldn't be necessary -- or having others know isn't something that feels like it'd be a superbig deal would be a much better time for this.

Same goes, probably, for not being in a brand new environment where you already have a lot on your plate, where everything is so new, etc.

If it helps, in the capacity of my job, my impression has been that for a lot of people who are just starting college, many of them have never had any kind of real freedom before, and tend to not be so great at figuring out their own boundaries, like with sex or alcohol. I'd say we can safely figure that at least half of the people, especially young women, hooking up in that first week really aren't having the most awesome experiences, and it really isn't all that safe for them, even with safe partners, if you know what I mean.

With that combined in there, it just seems to me like that first week, particularly, may be one where people feeling lousy the next day about choices made the night before is probably more likely than not, and that obviously could be a particularly unsafe situation for *you* in this regard if you basically kind of lose the draw and wind up having been sexual with someone who is transphobic, or may not be, but is just freaking out about it, for whatever reason, you know?

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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oneboikyle
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Thanks a lot for such fast replies, guys!

You've both mentioned the possibility of not focusing so much on sex whilst I'm a) getting my head round how to handle disclosure, and b) settling into the whole uni lifestyle. I do 100% see the validity of that, but there is a bit of me that really doesn't want to recognise it as a viable course of action; why, I'm not entirely sure, but it's making me kinda sad. I guess partly it's because I have quite a high sex drive, and this is the first time I'm going to be around people who don't see me, at best, as the girl-who-is-now-a-boy, so it's the first time I actually have the chance for people to relate to me, sexually, how I want them to. And plus, if I'm being completely honest with myself, I guess I'd see it almost as validation that I am a "real man" (not because "real" men have to have sex, but because most straight women would only have sex with men) and that is incredibly appealing to me.

Heather, your point about the fact that most people in freshers week would probably regret it anyways does help a little bit, because I hadn't really thought about it that way. Sexual encounters I had before I came out as trans, even if alcohol was a factor and I probably wouldn't have acted the same sober, I never really regretted what I did, the most I regretted was teasing from friends. I guess I assumed most people had the same kinda views as me, but that was kinda irrational in hindsight. I definitely wouldn't want to make someone sad or uncomfortable the next day, so I can see the benefit of leaving it a bit, from that perspective.

If I were to wait until after I'd settled in properly to have sex with anyone, there's still a couple of questions I have, if that's okay. I'm kinda getting the impression it's probably safer to hedge my bets and disclose, which is not ideal but whatever, so are there any ways at all of gauging how someone might react? Molias, I know you said often the only way to know for sure is to get it over with, but are there any ways of getting a feel before that, if I had a couple of proper conversations with them first? I know in the past, when I've met friends of friends, someone said "that's so gay" and I pulled them up on it, and apologised to the unknown person for always being in advocate mode, and they volunteered the information that they try to make an effort for gay people and people who "switch genders", so that was useful, but I think they already knew about me anyway. Are there subtle ways of engineering that kind of situation, to get some sort of gauge?

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Molias
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One thing I've learned is that someone being really accepting of gay/bi/queer folks doesn't automatically mean they have any understanding of and respect for trans people. Of course it's not always the case, but I have had times when people who are either queer themselves or understanding about those issues have said some really terrible things about trans folks. How people talk about gender or gender expectations can give me some helpful hints; are folks making really sweeping gender statements about "all men" or "all women" being a certain way? Criticizing other people for their non-gender-conforming dress or mannerisms? I feel like those sorts of things are a clear sign that I won't feel very comfortable around them. Certainly if there are things happening in your general vicinity that you could bring up go for it, but I haven't ever found something that applies for all situations without sounding really stilted.

This particular week seems like it might be a time when things are hectic enough that it could be hard for you to get a good read on someone. And I do think that any time alcohol's involved it's a great idea not to be sexual with someone you don't know well and haven't been with before (even if no one's significantly impaired). You might find that you make a great connection with someone and it happens! But I think if you're still figuring out how to navigate disclosure (either choosing to do it or deciding not to), it could be tricky or overwhelming. So, maybe it's a good idea to just ponder this stuff for a while before it happens. =)

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Heather
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I'm just passing through on my way to bed, but I wanted to add something while it struck me.

When I read you talking about how you were so excited about starting uni in part because you get this fresh start where you get to walk into a new environment being right who you want to be from the start, without having been known as someone else, and seemed to say without sex that first week, you didn't get that?

I thought, "Nonononno! Oneboikyle still gets to have his fresh start!"

And seriously, you do. I get why you're feeling this way, I do, and as a sex educator and a person with a very varied life in this department, I also get that sex is something that has the potential to be liberating in that way, to celebrate that with. I so do.

But it isn't the ONLY way, and sometimes also isn't the best way. So, I mostly wanted to make sure you knew that, and if you'd forgotten or gotten kind of caught up in the script, as it were, you;d written for how this went, then felt dashed it might not go that way, to remind you it is SO not the only way. [Smile]

It also isn't the only way to validate gender, and in that department, I think it might actually often be one of the worst ways, especially if and when everyone engaging in sex together isn't into, feeling or wanting very specific gender roles, as plenty of people don't, won't, or won't throughout, you know? And especially with more casual sexual scenarios where people aren't at all, or very well, known to you? That actually strikes me as one of the bigger wildcards when it comes to what you really can't predict with an I-just-met-you partner.

No matter what, though, I'm in full support of you getting the fresh start you want here, so I hope as well all keep talking here, you can figure no matter WHAT, you get to have that, okay? It's a big deal. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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oneboikyle
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Sorry, I had a couple days with internet being very, very dodgy...

Molias, thanks for the tips on spotting "safe" people from people who might not be as accepting - there were a couple of obvious things that hadn't even occurred to me. You're right, of course; fresher's week is apparently usually more of a case of rushing around meeting billions of people, rather than getting to know a handful properly. I won't pretend that it's not a bit disappointing, but I can see the validity in waiting, for sure.

I guess I might've got a bit carried away with what I wanted to happen in the first week, and stopped entertaining other ideas. I just, I dunno. I guess I'm a bit worried that nobody would want to sleep with me once they got to know me properly, and found out about my being trans. I'm not (at the moment) ever intending on having bottom surgery. I'm just worrying about it all, I guess :/

I know it's not the only way to validate my gender and stuff, and get a fresh start, but it feels like the only surefire way to know that someone will accept me as a guy. I mean, I've had friends that have said outright "oh yeah, we know you're a guy and we accept you as that completely, of course we do" and then turned round, a few weeks later when I fancied a girl we both knew and said "yeah but she's straight", and things like when we go out and there's been me, him and one other guy, and when he found out the other guy was going, said it would be nice to have some male company.

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Heather
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This is anecdotal, but the vast majority of my friends who are trans have not had -- and probably won't have, given their age and their financial situations -- bottom surgeries. And the vast majority of my trans friends also have and have had sexual and romantic partners who accept them for who they are, both per their gender and per their body parts.

I get that it's scary with this, and I certainly understand the fears you're having: they're not unfounded. But in my experience, in the reality of people's lives, it's also not what usually comes to pass.

I don't think someone having a one night stand with you means someone accepts you as a guy, nor that, by any stretch, it's the only way. Like I said before, I actually think in a lot of ways sex, especially more casual sex, can be one of the worst ways to validate gender, especially since we don't know the person well enough to know what they are thinking or feeling or assuming about our gender, and gender is also one of those things that can tend to get really blurry during sex.

Maybe we can talk about other ways for you that feel just as surefire, or close, to know someone accepts you as a guy?

(This isn't me saying you don't get to, or shouldn't, engage in casual sex if that's something you or another person want, btw. Hopefully obviously, if that is something that comes up as an opportunity for you you and another person want to pursue, it's not something I think is a bad thing, it's just that in this context, I'm not sure your ideas about it and what it can offer will be likely to square with realities.)

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Molias
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You know, I've had friends who've done the sort of two-faced, "I say I accept your identity and then make weird statements that show I'm not actually on board" thing you're describing. The folks who continued to do that past my first year or so after coming out are people I slowly cut down on contact with, and they're generally not in my life any more. The rest of them I know get it, because they show their understanding and acceptance not just of me but of trans and gender-variant folks in general. I kind of wish I'd had the self-confidence to be more forceful with those friends who weren't really making an effort, or were making the sort of casually undermining comments you describe; it really ate away at me for a long time to hear them say that sort of thing. But I honestly think that even though some of those people had been really close friends, that I just couldn't continue to be as close with them when they clearly weren't being respectful or understanding AND weren't making an effort to change, as some people did.

A few of those awesome and understanding friends are people I've had sex with! But I don't feel like being sexual with them was what made me understand that they really understood and accepted my gender (in fact, one of them later turned out to not really get it at all at the time we had sex, although she did eventually).
And the one relationship I got into where I was SO excited about being validated as a guy - with someone who was VERY clear that he was interested in me and that he only dated guys - was one of the most miserable relationships I've ever been in. The validation of my gender turned out not to mean much when stacked up next to a lot of sexual coercion and disrespect for my boundaries.

I get that really strong draw of "they're only interested in men, so if they want me then they MUST be seeing me properly!" but it hasn't played out that way for me, sadly. =( Also it does sometimes happen that people *specifically* seek out sex with trans guys with the thought that they aren't "real" men and are some sort of interesting woman or a way to experiment without "really" dating either a man or woman (I've heard it going both ways). If you aren't disclosing to partners, this may not be an issue for you, though.

This got a little personal, and I don't want you to think I'm piling on here on this validation thing. But it's something I've had to think about a lot in terms of how I deal with other people in my life, and I figured it might be helpful to share my experience. =)

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