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Monthly Archives: April 2016

How do trans people… y’know?

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Without portraying myself as too much of a pervert, I am utterly fixated on the sex lives of others. I have an almost inexhaustible curiosity for what, exactly they do when nobody is around.

By the same token, I don’t have any interest in pornography. I see zero titillation ensuing from watching two complete strangers frick-frack in whatever delightful way takes their fancy. Because I’m nothing more than coldly, unsexually curious about other people’s sex lives.

So, I 100% understand that cis people’s apparent obsession with trans bodies and trans sex isn’t entirely perverse. A decent chunk of you are just curious as to what goes down when the lights are out.

Me too. See, I’ve been having sex as trans for nearly eight years now. I’d hate to think I was doing it wrong. And it was partly to this end that I attended a safe sex workshop for trans men.

Previously when I’d seen “trans safe sex” workshops advertised, they were all geared towards trans men who have sex with women, with a little bit tagged on the end about making sure to get regular smear tests.

However, this one was great fun- we opened up by trying to get a condom on a dildo we couldn’t see in the quickest time. It took me the longest- which, as two of the attendees had never put a condom on anything before, was particularly shameful. After that, we got to discussing our hopes and fears about sex.

Now, I’m not going to breach confidentiality by discussing anything that was said, but during the discussion a few things became obvious.

Firstly, that talking about sex is important and that those of us who want to have it should feel able to talk about it.

Secondly, nobody but you knows what strap-on you want.

Finally, that there is no one way for trans people to have sex, in the same way that there is no one way for anybody to have sex.

In September of last year I visited the sadly now-closed Institute of Sexology, which was an exhibition that combined history and art to provoke thought on the nature of sex. Particularly moving, I found, was a piece by Neil Bartlett called Would You Mind? This sought to anonymously ask people of all ages and genders about their sex lives, and also ask them what they wanted to know about the sex lives of others.

Nearly 20,000 people completed questionnaires which now comprise part of a collection in the Wellcome Library. I was one of the last, meaning the questionnaire I filled out was entirely comprised of questions submitted by the general public rather than Bartlett.

The snippets I read were amazing. And I couldn’t help but think, on the last day of the exhibition, that it was a shame to see it all go. Because cis or trans, there’s no right way to have sex, and I think we forget that sometimes.

Asking trans people about sex shouldn’t be an interrogation, it should be a discussion, and only if all parties want to talk about. So, the next time someone asks me how I have sex, my response is going to be, “how do you?”

Love and Demons

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On Paths

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Sometimes, walking across the countryside, people don’t stick to the paths. Instead, they forge their own route, and over time, as more and more people tread the same path, it gets worn down. It starts to become a path in its own right.

That’s how I feel about gender.

I live in the UK, which like most Western societies, has these two paths, male and female. And anyone who doesn’t feel like those paths are right for them has to stomp down brambles and stinging nettles to get where they need to go.

I am nonbinary. I don’t feel female or male. “Male” might be a better fit- but it’s still not right.

But I’m too tired to have to be surmounting obstacles all the time. I have a temporary job in a crap economy and while I would love to fuck the system and dance to my own tune, I have rent to pay. I don’t have the spoons or the financial fallback to be a full-time gender outlaw.

I really want to make a video. But I’m afraid of success. I’m afraid of the video circulating, my employer finding out and then terminating me.

Because that’s legal. In the UK. In 2016.

While binary trans people have protection from all types of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, the law explicitly states that nonbinary people receive no such protection.

That makes me very afraid, and rightly so.

So, forgive people if they don’t “look” nonbinary. We’re just tired of scraping ourselves on thorns and we’ve decided to walk on a path for a little bit. It’s incredibly stressful to find your identity invalidated at every turn, and then to have the added indignity of being entirely vulnerable to the cruel whims of others.

But bit by bit, enough of us are going to walk that path for long enough that we clear the way. We will stamp down the obstacles one by one. And in our near future, someone will walk down that path, never once realising that there was a time when it wasn’t there at all.

The Long Littleness of Life

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Today, one of the year 7s at the school I work at asked me if I would rather be a gay man or a lesbian. Which, faced with having to explain my decision to a group of earnest eleven-year-olds, is a pretty hefty question.

See, having walked the twin lines of genderfluidity and bisexuality for a number of years, I am in a perfect position to answer. However, I found myself caught a little unawares.

These children are, of course, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”. How the hell do I explain the hideous Venn diagram of homophobia and misogyny faced by both groups?

In the end, after a moment’s consideration, I said I’d rather be a gay man. Which is true.

Neither is a walk in the park. Neither is a choice many would make willingly. But, having seen both sides of the coin, I know what I’d pick.

I’ve been harassed in the street for being in a gay male couple and for being in a gay female couple. I know what made me feel more intimidated.

The year 7 in question kind of hit the nail on the head when he asked, “but how do lesbians even have sex?”

I replied, “I think there’s something you all need to know. I know we teach you about sex in school, so you think it’s the most important thing, but it’s not. There’s so much more to meeting a person, falling in love with them and enjoying your time with them.”

“But none of us would be here without sex!”

True, small child, true. But if the continuation of the species is the meaning of life, then all of human endeavour is ultimately pointless and we may as well build a rocket that will fire us all into the sun to save global warming the bother of killing us all off.

That’s why I felt frightened being perceived as a lesbian. Because queer people don’t love, they fuck. Type “lesbian” into a search engine, and the chances are you’ll be offered “porn” as your next word. Doubly true for the word “bisexual”.

If perceived as a lesbian, you’re inherently a sex object, there for the male gaze. It’s frightening.

When harassed as part of a gay male couple, the story is a little different.

The lone hetero Neanderthal male spots you. He frowns. He approaches your friend: are those two gay? Your friend replies in the affirmative. The Neanderthal frowns again before retreating.

It’s less darkly confrontational, less exposing. That’s not to say that horrors don’t befall gay male couples, because they do. Just- less often.

Again, you’re treated as a sexual being. But because the Neanderthal male sees himself as the object of your desires (the arrogant fuck), he’s actually afraid of you.

Not to mention the fact that he definitely couldn’t take both of you in a fight.

I couldn’t explain all of this to the kids. I explained that gay women, or women perceived as queer, are more likely to be denied jobs.

This definitely surprised them, and I wonder if any of them will think on it a little longer- why is it exactly that women get less than men when in an apparently similar position?

This is why I love working with children. They’re exposed to so much about the world, and just don’t have the experience to comprehend it. Consequently, they’re full of questions.

Questions like, “How do lesbians have sex?” are tricky, because there’s absolutely no way I’m explaining the clitoris to an eleven-year-old. I think it’s important to consider instead why these questions arise- overwhelmingly, I feel it is because relationship education in schools starts at sex and works backwards.

I know why. Because sex is easy, and love is complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

I am frightened for every single child that walks through our education system, and that’s why I work in it.

Learning to love following emotional abuse

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Today, my boyfriend said the words I, love and you, in that order, without any words in between. Specifically, he said, “that’s why I love you.”

And that’s a big deal.

But the fact is, I have certain scars, and I’m not ready to say I love him just yet.

My dad used to use the words “I love you” to get away with hurting me, or to manipulate me into doing what he wanted. He kept a mistress for five years, something that made my mother cry nearly every night.

I could hear her through the walls.

She would keep it together until I went to bed, but it’s exhausting to pretend to be happy.

She nearly left him, one happy day. I forced myself to cry because I thought it was the proper response. All I really felt was relief.

That day, both my brother and I ended up in hospital- I with a sprained shoulder, he with a dislocated thumb. So it never came to pass.

And so the crying continued.

I was sixteen and full of rage, and didn’t know why she stayed. I thought she was weak. I had just realised I was trans. I really really needed a mum. Instead I had a woman who berated me for using men’s shower gel, took away my deodorant, bought me pink things… it was like she set out to spite me.

So we argued.

And my dad, gentle giant that he was, would come in speaking softly.

“You know that mum isn’t very happy with me right now. And I’m doing my best to make it up to her. When you upset her, it makes things worse for me too. I need you to try with mum, do you understand. I love you both.”

What he did was not my fault. I was sixteen, facing the prospect of two years at an all-girls boarding college. I didn’t want to go, but they were both shouting at me, both saying it was what I wanted, telling me they would let me go to my first choice of college over their dead bodies. I knew I wasn’t a girl.

But he kept using those words. I love you.

And when I said I was unhappy, when I told him that I never wanted to go, he said that he did it because he wanted the best for me, and did I realise how much it had cost? That it wasn’t about the money for them, but that they just wanted me to have a better chance?

And when I didn’t want to schmooze and lie and pretend to “make connections” at my leaving ball, I was “causing a scene” and “embarrassing him”.

And when he quit his well-paid job and bought a franchise in an industry that he knew nothing about, he needed me to sign my name as an executive of the business. Because it was for me. He had done it for me. Because he loved me.

My dad was a habitual liar, and that was the cruellest lie of all.

If my dad had loved my mum, he wouldn’t have spent five years sneaking off to Austria to fuck a married woman. If he had loved me, he wouldn’t have manipulated me to do as he pleased. He wouldn’t still be refusing to apologise for everything he’s done.

I hate him for what he’s done. All of it. And if I ever tried to bring it up, he treated me like the petulant child I haven’t been for nearly eight years- since he forced me to move away, and never came to visit me if he could help it.

That’s what “love” looked like.

The first time Sun* told me he loved me, he traced it on my thigh- “I ❤ U”. He must have thought I didn’t notice because he did it again on my belly the next day.

But I did notice. And so I explained to him about my dad, and how I can’t even tell my mum I love her. Sometimes I say it immediately after hanging up the phone, but I never say it to her. I don’t want to hurt her.

“Love”, as a word, has been weaponised. And there is nobody on this earth I hate enough to say I love them.

As for what love means- how am I supposed to know? I romanticise it as much as the next fool, singing Nat King Cole as I trip up the steps to the tram stop, switching to Madness once I get off the tram and make the short walk to Sun’s house.

But by the time he opens the door, I always stop singing.

The truth is, I’m not ready to use that word. It turns me upside-down when he uses it- what does he even mean? But I think I’ll get there. One day.

*Name has been replaced with what I think he is most like- he brings me warmth and energy every day.

Bad Blood

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I am proud to be a blood donor. Every three months, I walk to my local donation session and pump out a bag of the red stuff as quickly as I can. No, seriously. I try and beat my best time.

The NHS relies on 6000 blood transfusions a day to help treat cancer and sickle-cell, during surgery and after childbirth. So, I’m really proud to be a part of it. I’m on team A negative, who when I last checked had the highest blood stocks (because we’re awesome). That means my blood can be used to treat people with A positive, A negative, AB positive and AB negative typing.

In fact, I would urge you, if you can, to give blood. The NHSBTS hands out all sorts of freebies for giving blood, and you get video-game-style achievements for hitting certain targets. That’s a reward system I can get behind.

However, as of late I’ve been trying to change my details from female to male. Which puts me in a rather difficult situation.

Men who have had oral or anal sex with men in the last 12 months, with or without protection, are banned from giving blood.

I am in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man. We use condoms, gloves, and dams. My last HIV test was less than a month ago. In short, we practice some of the safest sex you’ll see outside convents.

Meanwhile, I had a friend who went three sexual partners without getting any kind of STD check, and had unprotected oral sex with at least two of them.

Her blood is fine and dandy. Mine is a biohazard.

I understand the theory. Statistically speaking, men who have sex with men are at higher risk of blood-borne STDs, and sometimes these can take a while to become detectable. However, in 2013 in the UK, less than 50% of new HIV infections in the UK were due to men having sex with other men.

The majority of those other cases? 36% were heterosexuals who contracted HIV from having sex with other heterosexuals.

In fact, I’m going to break down the numbers.

Year MSM Straights Drug users Mother-to-infant Other
2013 2947 (49.1%) 2135 (35.6%) 112 (1.9%) 83 (1.4%) 16 (0.3%)
2012 3037 (48.6%) 2569 (44.1%) 113 (1.8%) 77 (1.2%) 18 (0.3%)
2011 2839 (46.0%) 2815 (45.6%) 131 (2.1%) 105 (1.7%) 11 (0.2%)

You can prove anything you like with statistics. In fact, I chose these three years without looking at the data because I didn’t want to skew it. However, if intravenous drug users, who make up around about 2% of new HIV cases, are banned from giving blood for life, why on earth are straight people who have sex allowed?

I’m not arguing about IV drug users though. I’m arguing about responsible men who just happen to have sex with other men. My point is that although people pretend the blood ban is all about statistics, it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at them.

In fact, oral sex (which I am not allowed to give blood after having) has a lower rate of transmitting HIV and Hep B than penis-in-vagina sex (which I can do with a different person every night unprotected and still be good to go).

Men who have sex with men do have disproportionately high rates of blood-borne STDs, it’s true. But you know what would help with that? Regular screening and interaction with healthcare services. Two things you get by becoming a blood donor.

Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, has proposed the Blood Donor (Equality) Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. However, until it does, I, and thousands of others, have been put in a difficult position: stop giving blood, or give up the good stuff.