By the time most people hit their twenties, their bedroom personality is pretty well formed. They have practised and polished the mating dance, understanding a number of patterns — dating, quickies, whatever. They know who is in their league and who is out of it, know who is appropriate for them to desire and who is not.
For transpeople, though, who usually both go through a second adolescence as they come of age in the gender of their heart rather than the gender assigned, and who have trans bodies, not simply one or the other, getting good at courting is a much rougher challenge indeed.
We are not surrounded by peers who are as awkward, gawky and ragged as we are, rather we are in a world of people with expectations. This is one reason that transpeople often end up dating other transpeople; we know the territory, even if we have similar flaws that limit the learning.
For people just adding spice to a relationship, opening to queer can be a moving, touching and intimate shared bonding experience, as this lovely tale illuminates.
Gender shift, though, becomes more complicated. If you are staying with a partner who you met before shift, boundaries are challenged. As much as some transmen who have partnered with femmes often like to imagine themselves in a straight relationship, queer femmes usually resist having their identity erased.
Max Anderson used to tell the story of being with a woman, two lesbians, and then coming out as FTM, which made them into a straight couple. That was great for Max until his partner also came out as FTM, apparently turning them into a gay couple. Max was taken aback when his partner transitioned, wondering what he had done wrong and feeling a bit betrayed, at least until he remembered that what is fair for the goose is fair for the gander, or for the goose, or whatever.
If affairs of the heart roil the soul even when everybody fits into convention, adding the fear, policing and challenge dealing with transphobia heightens the odds immeasurably.
When we flirt, what are other people responding to? Is it our sexual confidence and availability? Is it our externalized bisexuality, the fact we carry male & female within us always? Is it our lack of skill and grace at the mating dance? Is it our need for something that most people our age left behind in their teens?
Desire, as anyone will tell you, is mysterious. Why do we spark with some people and fizzle with others? How much is shared interest and how much is trying to fill an imagined perfect image in our mind? People can rarely tell you just why they were attracted to someone, beyond general platitudes about them being pretty or kind or nice or energetic, etc.
Add the layers of transgender to that mix and the ground gets really rough.
Humans often want to protect themselves, not opening to others until they open to us, staying closed so that we are not the ones who are going to get hurt by wanting someone more than they want us. Ambivalence swamps us, pulling us in all directions at once while getting us nowhere at all.
What we want, reclaiming of our innocence and cuteness, is never really accessible to us, except as a kind of party game. Unless we find a space where we can be the babe, we have to face a different kind of exploration.
It is impossible to learn how to be in sexual relationships by yourself, as generations of self-educated aesthetes have so well proven. Your hand is no substitute for a fully-formed human partner with their own needs, desires and surprises. Making a new choice all alone is always a no-lose proposition, for there is very little to lose, but making a new choice with a partner always involves risk.
Like any dance, it is the choices that we make which shape our relationships, and when those choices are tenuous, divided and ambivalent, well, our dancing is rough, ungraceful and uninviting.
For transpeople, the road from rough sex to polished relationships often seems impossible. We end up clinging to old desires rather than maturing and getting smoother, end up finding reasons to blame the world for our own lack of grace.
It is, of course, our responsibility to perfect ourselves, not something we can blame the world for. Still, being denied the opportunity to hone our own identity when others were developing their own, having to negotiate the challenges of their fears and expectations, makes maturing later a very difficult challenge indeed.
How do we get beyond our own fears and missed spaces to claim a mature, cooperative and nurturing sexuality? How do we smooth out the rough draft of who we are into a polished version of ourselves, even in the bedroom?
It’s a challenge, but one with great rewards.