Transgender sexuality and that awkwardly asked question
“So, if you want to be a girl, why do you want to be with a girl?” That refrain hung about me during my initial transition, a veritable albatross that took years to fly its undead carcass back to whence it came. Not that I was shy in setting the record straight, but it when you’re 18 and trying to get your own head around gender and sexuality it was hard trying to come up with a reasoned answer. Now, the obvious answer is “none of your business”, but that just begets pestering and more questions. The more nuanced answer is that sexuality and gender are two completely separate things. Namely, the gender you present and identify as has no bearing on who you find attractive and sleep with.
That answer should be the long and short of it, but within the media it gets twisted into all shades of if buts and maybes, usually focused on prospective partners. Men in particular get singled out, either for dating trans women or for standing by their partners during the transition. Women, possibly due to bi-erasure or bi-curiosity, are treated as more accepting and understanding, their sexualities almost expected to be a fluid as their partner’s gender. Obviously every person’s sexuality is unique to themselves, and these assumptions and societal perspectives do partners no favours as it reduces personal complexity to trite by-lines.
For trans folk it becomes a whole lot more complicated, as transition brings into stark clarity not just our gender identities, but also our self sexual identities. We often start with a clear idea of our attractions, a fixed point on the compass that acts as a guiding star, but this can drift as hormones and the removal of pressure to act a certain way take effect. It is easy to say yes, this is the body/gender/person I find attractive, but over the course of transition this can shift to new horizons. For me, I have always been attracted to women; as my transition and social circle expanded, I found myself accepting and understanding that men and non-binary folk were attractive as well. There was no light bulb moment, rather a sorting through sexual labels from straight to lesbian to bi to pan to queer that just worked for me. It is a life long process, and one that most people go on as they get older.
For most trans folk sexuality is at the heart of a lot of anxiety and self-questioning. We have to face up to not just the fact that our gender identities are different from that which was assigned at birth, but also to the fact that our attractions are being redefined. Personally I just went with the flow because I have not external pressure to conform to an expectations, though due to my former Christian faith I had to square a theological circle that never really happened until I became an atheist. Sexuality is complicated when trans folk have partners or external factors that can constrict their sexual identities, hence the anxiety and self-questioning. This is compounded when trying to balance out personal sexual exploration with commitments and obligations to those around you.
There is no perfect answer, no distinct definition as to what sexuality should be. The easiest, and for me the simplest, is to allow everyone to express their sexuality as they see fit as long as it is consensual and above the age of consent. The bound boxes that often force people to confirm to a certain sexual ideal, often through sex education, hetero-normative media, porn, and religion, cause much angst because no two people express their sexuality in the same way. Trans folk have to find new ways of expressing theirs, especially if they progress down a medical transition. There is very little mainstream trans sex education, which means that the trans community has had to produce resources for itself, and these often fly under the radar for trans folk whose egg just cracked.
This lack of education impacts anyone sexually engaging with trans folk, be it the trans person themselves or their lovers. Sexuality is as much a voyage of exploration as it is about carnal acts, and while it would be easy to transpose sex education from cis bodies to trans bodies, this simply is not the case. Our sex language, the beats we run to, the way our bodies simply work shift from one binary and possibly never end up fully on the other side. This means that there is a whole new language to be found in the wide open plains between the binary poles, explorations waiting to happen and extraordinary tales to tell. As with cis folk, some trans folk may be asexual or aromantic, their identities forged in a different frame of reference to others, and their journeys are equally as valid. It is all a great trek that goes very much under the radar of the wider cis society.
When society asks us why we transition if we find people of a certain gender attractive they miss the point. They miss out on the face that there is vast open terrain between straight and gay, they miss out on the fact that gender and sexuality as separate plains of existence, only intersecting within our own identities and not on some mythical gender/sexuality spectrum. They miss out on the complexities of trans identities that can be as simple as having a sexuality exclusively for one person or as broad as accepting a queer sexuality that takes in all the things, or maybe we simply are asexual with no desire to have sex at all. Naïve questions drill down into something richer and deeper, and while they are definitely none of your business, it uncovers a vast vocabulary that is only now being explored in its fullness.
Who we fuck, love, cherish, and adore is no one’s business but our own. With time and the space to develop and intuitive understanding of ourselves we can begin to articulate that in its fullness. Some of us may want to share and explore that identity with you, others may simply want to be left in peace and never utter a word on the subject. So, for the record, why did I transition from male to female if I still fancied women? Politely, its none of your damn business.