Agony Aunt, 'Is It Prejudiced of Me to Not Want to Sleep with a Trans Person?'
An advice column, for men.
Photo: F-Stop boy / Alamy Stock Photo
We are in the midst of a cultural shift. Men are confused. "How are we supposed to know what’s OK if you don’t tell us?" they wail, tearing their shirts and bellowing at the moon. Here’s a solution: just ask! Send me your questions about romance, relationships and sex. I’m a woman, ask me anything.
What’s the problem?
A question sent to me on Curious Cat: "Is it prejudiced of me to not want to sleep with a trans person? Even if I fancy them before I find out they're trans?"
What am I not getting?
First things first: My position is that you never, ever have to have any kind of sex with any kind of person you don't want to, OBVIOUSLY.
I want to highlight this because so much of popular discourse around dating and sleeping with trans people often comes down to someone yelling, "So, what, you're saying I HAVE to have sex with someone I’m not attracted to?" There’s a disturbing and dangerous trope which posits that trans women force lesbians to have sex with them by calling them bigots if they don’t. Of course, the much more likely everyday reality for trans women is that they are at enormous risk of violence when disclosing their status to a potential sexual partner. To give just one example, last year Dwayne Hickerson was sentenced to 40 years in prison after murdering trans woman Dee Whigham when she told him she was trans during a sexual encounter.
So: if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Frankly, if you don’t want to, it’s better for everyone involved if you don’t. Trans people aren’t objects of pity for you to work out your political anxiety with, or experiments for you to test yourself with. The majority of good, moral people – trans or otherwise – would prefer not to sleep with someone who is privately gritting their teeth instead of wanting it to happen.
But let’s explore your question a little. Saying you shouldn’t feel obliged to have sex with anyone doesn't mean you shouldn’t think about it any further, that there isn’t something unpleasant and worth interrogating here. If you told me you didn’t want to sleep with, say, non-white people or disabled people I wouldn’t be ordering you to sleep with them anyway, but I would be asking you to try really hard to break down why you’ve arrived at this internal status quo you’re reluctant to disrupt.
Assuming you would not like having sex with a trans person who you initially found attractive is, I think, based largely in fear. It assumes that you know what they want to do in bed, what their body is like, how you would feel being with that body. It also assumes you have nothing new to learn about sex, that you have already experienced all the types of intimacy you may enjoy. The dominance of PIV (penis in vagina penetrative sex) as the default sexual mode is partly responsible for not allowing most people to imagine the countless other ways there are to be intimate and hot with another person.
When I first had sex with a trans non-binary person, I didn’t go into it knowing already how they felt about their genitals or breasts. I had no idea if it was OK to touch them in those areas, or what to expect if I did. I didn't act great at first – I was too shy and awkward to explicitly ask, which led to some fumbling and gentle rebuffing, and eventually, thankfully, a conversation, during which it became clear that a conversation was all that was needed in the first place.
It comes down to what I think about a lot of sex whether that’s hetero PIV or any number of other ways of doing it: just ask. Ask what they like, what they’re comfortable with, what feels good, what they don’t want. This doesn’t involve setting out a contract in advance of getting into bed, but being open to and initiating a gentle exchange of desires and inclinations which would benefit any sexual experience.
Is it prejudiced of you to not want to sleep with trans people who you find otherwise attractive? Yes, I think it is, but I don’t say so to denounce you. Prejudice of varying sorts informs who we like to sleep with. I'll never sleep with a posh, tall, muscle-bound Irish man, for instance, because so many of them annoyed and intimidated me during my formative sexual years. It’s totally normal to have prejudices built into your sexuality, and I'm not suggesting you beat yourself up about it. The point is, in sex and in life outside of it, to notice your prejudices as diligently as you can, and question them. You’ve already done that here, which is more than many people ever will.
I hope that you continue to pick this apart, and try to see people as the attractive and immense individuals they are, instead of just through the prism of their genitalia. I hope this for your own sake rather than for the trans people you meet, who deserve to have sex with someone who fancies them rotten, no holds barred, whether that ends up being you or not.
What do I really need to know?
You don’t have to have sex with anyone you don’t want to have sex with, but it would benefit you to spend time considering the limits of your sexual desires and why they exist.