He/She/They — things you should know before you go out with a transgender person
Inga Green, family and couple’s therapist, member of WPATH (World Association of Trans Health Professionals) is giving us simple and ethical rules you need to take into consideration and a guide to understanding gender identity and pronouns when you’re getting to know a transgender person — on Pure or elsewhere.
So, you matched with someone who is transgender or non-binary. If this is your first experience, surely you might have questions: what transgender means, what pronouns to use, what is appropriate to ask, what would be allowed and what is off-limits. We’re giving you a few ideas to help everyone involved feel more comfortable and at ease. After reading these, you might ask yourself "Hold up, but this is applicable to pretty much anyone, not just trans people! What’s new here?" Well, nothing, because transgender people are the same as everyone else. So, what would you do if you met a transgender person?
Ad: read it carefully
First of all, let them know that you’ve read their ad. Often people disclose their trans status right in their profile, and it’s great if you tell them you’ve seen it. This way, they won’t have to wonder whether you’ve seen it or not, and won’t have to come out to you.
Provide the transperson with all the necessary safety guarantees — make them feel comfortable.
For example, the exact location and address where you’re planning to meet, your phone number, and other information if required. A big public space is the best option for your first date. You have to remember that trans people are still very much a potential target for violence, so things that are usually seen as casual and simple for cisgender people might make them feel unsafe, especially when it comes to transfeminine and gender nonconforming people. This is a very important factor to consider when you’re planning your first meetup.
Name and pronouns: what is the difference?
When communicating with the transperson, use the name and pronouns that they provided you with, or the ones stated on their profile. If a non-binary person prefers the pronoun they/them, it may sound a little unusual at first, so a little repetition and some time to get used to it are needed.
The use of names and pronouns suitable for a person, in fact, is a usual, everyday practice. If you’re cisgender and go by certain pronouns and the name as stated in your documents, then that is how people refer to you. You wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone addressing you by the wrong pronouns or name, would you?
In case there is confusion or lack of information, you could always ask: Hey, I was just wondering — what pronouns do you go by?
What if you accidentally used the wrong pronoun? An apology is all it takes — correct yourself and calmly continue communication, and try not to do it again.
What you absolutely cannot and shouldn’t do: attempt to find out (or ask) their pre-transition name or gender marker in the documents. And please don’t ask “What transgender surgery is?“
It's disrespectful and may hurt the transperson. By doing this, you’re questioning their identity and sense of self, and potentially bringing up old trauma.
Attention to language: dos and don’ts
When communicating with a transgender, gender nonconforming, or non-binary person, be attentive with your speech and try not to genderize sexual practices or body parts. If you think about it, there are no universal female and male ways of intimacy, nor are there female and male behaviors, voices, or body types. There are simply different people, different bodies, different voices, and ways to behave.
What to avoid: if you think that certain body parts, clothes, or appearance of the person you’re talking to give you grounds to assume his/her/their gender, it’s always better to clarify first.
Sexual practices: what define a transperson?
The presence of female reproductive organs doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to have penetrating intercourse, just as the presence of a male reproductive organ does not oblige you to desire penetration. For cisgender people, these ideas are gradually becoming a topic of discussion, and for non-binary, gender nonconforming, and transgender people, flexibility in choosing sexual practices is often a necessity. On the one hand, certain practices trigger gender dysphoria for some, so they should be avoided. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that at the end of the day, to each their own — and things that exacerbate gender dysphoria for some might be desirable for others.
So, it’s always better to discuss everything beforehand and set clear boundaries before you proceed to intimacy.
Body features: what does estrogen do?
When someone is on hormone replacement therapy, it can change the shape and sensitivity of their genitals, and the level of body sensitivity in general. Masculinizing hormone therapy (testosterone therapy) usually leads to enlargement of the clitoris, but the mucous membrane and labia minora become thinner and more vulnerable to damage. In the first six months of masculinizing hormone therapy, libido can get extremely high — many transmasculine people describe this period as "second puberty".
Feminizing hormone therapy (estrogen therapy) can affect the possibility of an erection and somewhat reduce libido (though this is very individual and not entirely accurate).
Why do we need to know this? So we can ask the transperson before engaging in intimacy with them.
Even if you’re familiar with the anatomy, the sensitivity and other factors may still be different from what you’re used to.
Contraception: absolutely imperative
Transgender, gender nonconforming and non-binary people can be fertile. There’s a possibility of pregnancy or conception. Hormone replacement therapy doesn’t equal or ensure protection and certainly does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Use barrier contraception methods against STDs.
Sexual orientation: fixed or flexible?
Transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary people can be of any sexual orientation.That is because gender identity and sexual orientation are not directly related to each other.
Just like the sexual practices you prefer, your gender and orientation are unrelated. And this means that by having an encounter or entering into a relationship with a transgender person, your sexuality hasn’t “changed”. You’re still dating within your own sexual preferences. That is, of course, unless you want to change or expand those yourself.
Kink: everything is possible
Gender identity is not related to kink preferences either. For example, a particular transmasculine person may prefer a feminizing kink and feel great at the same time. And a transfeminine person can love CBT practices without experiencing dysphoria. Play practices and specific kinks do not reflect or correlate with the gender of those participating — it's all just an opportunity to expand your experience and explore something new.
If you are planning to try out new kinks with a transgender person, make sure you discuss all restrictions and taboos beforehand carefully, mindfully, and in detail.