Being bisexual and dating a trans person

A while ago, I was on a panel attempting to answer questions from cis people about trans issues. As the partner of a trans activist, and someone who runs a community group for allies, I was trying to be the voice of someone who will never know how it feels to be trans, but has spent a lot of time thinking about trans issues.

One of the questions was about whether it undermines a trans man’s identity for a woman to say “I am into butch women and trans men”. I didn’t comment on the panel as that is not the situation I am in, although I couldn’t resist popping into the comments as the discussion was varied and interesting. But what I’ve been thinking about since then is possibly more controversial:

I am bisexual[1], and I think that has made it easier for me to date a trans person.

I fully expect that there will be many trans people who find that statement offensive, and as undermining their gender, but I honestly don’t believe that it does. Allow me to explain.

As someone who identifies as bisexual, I have, when considering sexual and romantic relationships, actively thought about different genders. Before I was aware of the gender binary (and thus people who identify outside of it) I considered relationships with men and women. Through this, I avoided fixating on specific roles, or body parts, or sex acts, which I am certain that my monosexual friends have been attached to. Yes, I fantasised about strong arms wrapped around me, but I also fantasised about my strong arms wrapped around another person. I imagined different bodies and varied sex acts that those bodies would engage in (gawd, I hope my mother isn’t reading this).

Until recent years, when I became more informed about the variety of sex that is available to us, especially to people who are outside of the hetero-cis-sexual mainstream, I used to have a weird dissonance with how I defined sex. With the weight of our cultural fixation on the importance of virginity as the act of a penis penetrating a vagina, I took that – as most of society still does – to be THE sex act of any importance. But as I was also interested in women, without examining this assumption, I instead simply had a different definition of sex depending on whether I was talking about being with a woman or a man. What I considered to be sex with a woman was simply classified as foreplay with a man. This seems absurd to me now, but I had no framework or vocabulary to describe my experience as a bisexual person[2], and so I defaulted to what popular culture told me, which was that PIV[3] sex counts, and nothing else is really worth noting[4].

But despite my inability to describe my experiences and what I imagined, these issues highlight that I was at least thinking and trying to talk about different sex acts and different bodies. As it turned out, the major relationships in my life until my current one – and thus the vast majority of my sexual experience – have been with cis men. When I met my current partner I had never been intimate with a trans person, and I had never discussed sex with anyone who could speak to the experience.

I was nervous the first time I saw my partner naked (as was he!). Twenty seven years of being told there are only two basic ways for bodies to be weighed heavily and I was genuinely worried about what my internal response would be to seeing a body which I knew was going to be unlike any I’d ever seen before. A few years later, having immersed myself in trans and queer culture and writing, I am far less hung up on such trivial things as what configuration of genitals someone has. But at that time, it was a monumental moment for us both. And I genuinely think that it was easier for me (and thus, us as a couple), because I was already familiar with different bodies.

I think the very fact of being attracted to more than one gender makes it easier to be open to the possibility of being attracted to someone who has a differently configured body than the mainstream would tell us is available. That is not to say that monosexual (gay/straight) people don’t have relationships with trans people, who may have had varying amounts of medical intervention (or none). But I can’t help thinking that it must be more difficult to do that if you have spent your entire life being conditioned to wanting someone who is either big, strong, hairy, masculine, and has a penis, or small, dainty, gentle, feminine and has a vulva. However much we may personally reject gender stereotypes, they are everywhere we look, and virtually impossible to escape. The stereotypes of how our bodies should be are so fundamental and insidious as to be invisible unless you have reason to look.

But then, even the staunchest monosexual person (a Kinsey 1 or 7), must have some gender markers that they don’t care about in a partner? You might be attracted to men/masculine people but not care about hairiness, or tallness, or a deep voice. But there’s a line somewhere. At what point does someone’s gender stop falling within the boundaries of what you find attractive? I’d love to have some answers to this because as someone who isn’t monosexual, I can’t really imagine what it must be like to be utterly tied to my partner having a certain look, smell or arrangement of genitalia.

I’d like to end by adding that this is resolutely NOT the same as certain small, vocal groups of people who seek to create new categories for trans people in order to exclude them from their sexuality (e.g. ‘lesbian’ and ‘trans-lesbian’). While I recognise that my life history probably makes it easier for me to adapt to different body types than people who have never considered dating someone who isn’t cis, I do not believe that it is ever acceptable to police somebody’s genitalia and body on the basis of whether they fit into a certain, socially-acceptable mould (which applies to sex with everyone really, not just trans people!)

And finally, I found this poem when I first started dating my partner, and it articulated things which I couldn’t have: How to make love to a trans person

[1]Which I define as: I am attracted to people with the same gender as me, and different gender to me. No binary implied.
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[2] At the same time, I had so internalised the biphobia around me, that I absolutely refused to wear “bisexual” as a label. I would literally identify as straight one week, and gay the next. So thanks, culture, for that. (Hence being so bloody vocal about it now, too!)
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[3] Penis-in-vagina. Does what it says on the tin.
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[4] Indeed, there was no age of consent for same-sex sexual acts between women until 2001 in the UK, by which time I was 17.
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