Your trans siblings need you to understand what being trans is so you understand how to make space for us and our stories under the big gay umbrella.
By BJ Kaspar
There’s no doubt that there’s been a growing public presence of the “T” part of the LGBTQ community over the last two years. TV, movies, social media, politics– sometimes it certainly seems like transgender stories are finally getting their fair share of the spotlight.
But, ask a trans person whether they feel like most people understand the basics of what it means to be trans, and you’ll likely hear a different story. Even more unfortunate is how much of that ignorance emanates from within the LGBQ part of the community.
Your trans siblings need you to understand what being trans is, so you understand how to make space for us and our stories under the big gay umbrella. We need you to understand some basic things about our identities, so you’re better able to help support us, rather than oppress us. And we need you to know it well enough to help educate other people, too– there aren’t enough of us to do all the work.
Particularly at a time when our President is waging a culture war against transgender Americans, it’s imperative that the community arm itself with knowledge and understanding. Call it a “Trans 101,” of sorts. Class is in session.
1. Know the Difference Between Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
This may sound like an easy one, but you would be surprised how often a cisgender gay man that I meet on a dating site asks me “But wait, if you’re a trans man, aren’t you supposed to be interested in women?”
Repeat after me: gender identity and sexual orientation are NOT related. Let’s unpack this: If I tell you that Person A is very attracted to Person B, can you tell me whether Person A is straight or gay? No, of course not.
Unless you know the gender identity of Person A and Person B, you can’t give their sexual orientation a label. The first step to determining orientation is to determine gender, whatever that gender may be. There is no link between your gender identity and your orientation– gender identity is who you go to be as orientation is who you go to bed as. Just like cisgender people, trans people come in all different sexual orientations.
There are gay, straight, queer, asexual, bisexual, pansexual, and every other kind of orientation that exists in cisgender people in the trans community, too. TL/DR: Don’t make any assumptions about trans folks and their sexual orientation. We are as diverse as cisgender people.
2. Don’t Assume You Can Tell if Someone is Trans
One of the most amusing (but also often the most shocking) things about being a “passing” trans person (i.e. a trans person who has the privilege of accessing the care and tools necessary to successfully “pass” as their true gender) is hearing the stuff people say around you when they don’t know you’re trans.
At least once a week a cisgender person tells me “I’ve never met a trans person before…” That you know of. And then there’s always those lovely comments like “You’re trans?! But you look so manly….” as if the person commenting expects that they should always be able to clock someone who is on the trans spectrum.
Just like cisgender people, trans people are all different shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities, and ages. But more importantly, every person’s transition is different— some of us are genetically gifted with a body that is more aligned with our gender than others.
Some of us choose not to “pass.” Some of us want to pass but simply can’t access what we need to. Gender identity exists in your brain, and because of this, you can’t assume you know someone’s gender identity just by looking at their body.
TL:DR: there is no “standard” way for a trans person to look, and how we externalize our gender varies wildly from person to person. So no, you can’t tell who is trans and who isn’t just by looking at them. No, you shouldn’t ask someone if they are trans– if they want you to know, they’ll tell you. Period.
3. Every Trans Person Has a Different Relationship to Their Body
There are a lot of queer transgender men and women out there. You may meet one of us and want to approach the idea of physical intimacy, like sex. Awesome! Trans partners have lots to offer, just like anyone else. BUT– here’s the thing. Because each of us is different in our transness, we also all have different relationships with our bodies.
For example, many trans men do not have dysphoria with their reproductive organs or genitals. Notice that I didn’t use gendered terms to refer to those body parts? Words like “pussy,” “clit,” “vagina,” “breast,” etc. can have very negative associations for many trans people, while others have no issue with them.
It’s part of the awesomeness that comes with being trans, is that we all arrive at our transness carrying all the other baggage that any of the rest of us also carries, including sexual assault/trauma, family violence, and the list goes on.
For trans people of color and those who are socioeconomically vulnerable, this is statistically even more likely. So, instead of naming our parts for us, ask us what we call our sexy bits. Not a bad habit to use with other cisgender partners too–communication is sexy!
A spin-off to the point above is that just like all trans people are unique in how we perceive and relate to our bodies, we are also unique in our sexual tastes. We are tops, bottoms, switches, doms, subs, masc, femme, power, tender, and everything in between.
Be open to the fact that your trans partner might use toys or prosthetics to satisfy their needs, or that they may want to leave on binders, shirts, etc. during sex in order to feel comfortable. Communicate with them, and everything will be fine. Plus, the sex is usually better when you’re well-prepared!
Check out BJ Kaspar’s Wellfellows interview here.