Written by Zack Gallo.
In the younger and formative days of my transition, I believed I would never be worthy of love. Or rather, the same kind of love cis people are entitled to. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Navigating sex and romance as a trans person can feel overwhelming. On top of the universal challenges of intimacy (body image, performance anxiety, etc.), trans people face transphobia in the dating pool, and the complexities of gender dysphoria in the bedroom.
Trans people aren’t given a guide on how to cope with these issues. There is very little representation of healthy trans relationships in the media. When you never see somebody like you being loved, it is easy for young trans people to believe that being loved isn’t possible for them. As a teenager, I figured I would be loved in spite of my transness, not loved alongside my transness. I started to compromise who I was because I didn’t feel worthy to be loved on my own terms.
Being misgendered can be a reminder that people do not see you as you truly are (regardless of their intention). When a cis partner would misgender me, I’d tolerate it, as a consequence of being trans. As I grew up, I realised how backward my thinking was. I would meet plenty of cis people who’d respect my pronouns and who I am unquestionably – even cis people I was romantically involved with. I recognised that it was a fault of my partner for misgendering me, not a fault of me being trans. Even though he was cis, I didn’t owe him anything – especially not my own self-worth!
Exploring romance was stressful enough – the very idea of sex evoked only mortification and confusion within me. Information on sex as a trans person isn’t easily accessible. This leads trans people and their partners to learn from pornography rather than educational resources focused on consent and respect. All the degrading language and fetishist angles used in trans pornography doesn’t inspire hope for equal, satisfying sex. I did not have the representation to feel desirable, or to know I could affirm my needs in the bedroom regarding being trans. This lack of adequate queer sex education left me vulnerable and disempowered in my first few sexual experiences with cis people. I felt I had to be grateful for any sexual experiences I would get.
I was intimidated by cis queer men who I wouldn’t be ‘man enough’ for and felt unworthy of cis women who I didn’t have ‘the right parts’ for. Trying to fit myself into a traditional concept of sex and gender was painful and dysphoric. Through sex with other trans people, I started to disassemble the limitations of sexual intimacy that cis-heteronormativity imposed on me. With my trans partners, there was a mutual respect for each other’s genders, gender expression and bodies. This respect created a safety to understand sex as I wanted it, and in a way that didn’t make me feel dysphoric. Though I was more self-assured, I still worried about what cis people would make of me and my body.
Years of experiencing transphobia had created a barrier in my mind between where I am safe and a man (with trans people) and where I am unsafe and “pretending” to be a man (with cis people). With my trans partners, I could ask them to refer to certain parts of my body with terms that would make me feel euphoric, without feeling I was being “too transgender.” I wasn’t sure how that conversation would go with a cis person. Imagine my surprise when a cis partner asked me first if I had any preferred terms!
I mostly date within the queer community. I don’t know why I was so shocked to discover I was not the first trans person a lot of my cis partners had ever hooked up with. Even when I was the first, they’d be eager to learn about my transition and how it affected pleasure, rather than belittle or ignore my transness like I expected. Some of my partners expressed fear they would accidentally offend me by asking an inappropriate question. There was a respect for my transness in these encounters, because I had ensured that respect was there.
I’ve learned from my past that my transness is non-negotiable. There was no joy in trading parts of myself away for other people’s affection. Recognising and defending my worth, personally and within my transness, opened me up to the respectful love I’d always wanted. Though the journey felt perilous, every experience shaped a future where I was dignified, happy and confident within my body and my relationships. I always saw that strength and joy in other trans people, and I loved them dearly for it. It was a relief to finally see the strength and joy in me too.