The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: H is for “how do you have sex?”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

H is for “how do you have sex?”

This question? It’s not even just relevant to trans people – it’s a common question  directed at LGBQ+ folks as well. The clearest answer in most cases (unless you’re planning on having sex with the person asking it, I guess?) is ‘um, none of your darn business.’ It is kind of amazing how simply being trans can open a person up to the kinds of invasive questions that they would never dream of asking in any other context. Suddenly we’re not people; we’re research subjects, or more often merely objects of fleeting curiosity.

But, even setting that aside, this question? It just depresses me, on so many levels. I do want to acknowledge upfront that for some trans people (as for some cis people) the answer is always simply going to be “I don’t have sex.” Because not everyone wants to , and not everyone has sex even if they do want to. But again, even setting that aside, I don’t understand how this is even confusing to people.

Because you know how I have sex with other people? [This is not going not be explicit, it’s ok!]

Me and the people I have sex with, we touch each other in whatever ways feel good to us. Or we try to, though it doesn’t always work out that way, I guess. But really, that’s it. And I really hope that’s how most people do it.

Just, like, if you seriously can’t think of ways that people with, I guess, different genital combinations than the ones you’re used to in your own sex life might be able to touch each pleasurably? You are seriously lacking in imagination, at best.

Because the thing is, genitals are somewhat important to sex, for most people, of course. But, so are so many other body parts that people possess regardless of gender or sexual orientation or whether they are trans. Most of us have hands, with fingers on them, or other appendages that can probably be used to do things.

Like, seriously? You can’t think of *any* sex acts you might participate in that the trans person in front of you is also capable of? Really?

Or are you just actually hoping for the dirty details, because you’re just that much of a creep? Which is it?


Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

11 comments

  1. This whole insitutionalized notion that “sex = PIV” — absolutely nothing more and nothing less — is beyond eff’ed up. It invisibilizes (as you point out) the sexuality of trans people but also LBGQ+ folx — AND ALSO that of a majority of straight het people. Cuz DUH. It creates the space in which young people pressure themselves and others to do things they do not feel ready for and may not enjoy, either because the acts in question are considered not “S.E.X” or because they are. It hopelessly muddles the line between sex and rape, and is critical to the maintenance and perpetuation of rape culture.

    I will [TRY VERY HARD TO] not go on and on about the widespread grotesqueness this question taps into; I know I am preaching to the choir here, if ever anything is; and limit myself to one final, heartfelt groan of annoyance…

      1. Well, if’n your plans ever bring your south of the border and nearabouts Philadelphia, you and me should most def hang out and get our rants on!

        [Word of caution: or you might just wanna put those plans on hold. Dunno if you heard, but we’re suffering from a slight outbreak of fascism and kleptocracy, just at the moment. Still waiting to see if it’s gonna flare up into a full-blown case of nuclear annihilation…]

  2. What a good answer.

    “Me and the people I have sex with, we touch each other in whatever ways feel good to us. Or we try to, though it doesn’t always work out that way, I guess. But really, that’s it. And I really hope that’s how most people do it.”

    I’ve never seen it laid out quite so simply like that before. Thank you. ;)

    I was honestly pretty darn confused about how cis heterosexual people have sex until I was already in my twenties, so sometimes I don’t blame people for their ignorance as much as others do lol… but yeah what Alice just said is so true and so important.

    Honestly though I think this is a combination of a few parts of curiosity:

    What counts as losing your virginity, or “officially consummating each new romantic relationship” with sex matters to too many folks, and so when faced with people for whom they don’t have that potential PIV combination of genitals, people have to face that their notions of what counts as sex/virginity/whether or not people can count themselves as sexually active are also kind of (read: extremely) FLAWED…

    And then there’s also like, the dysphoria trans people can feel about their genitals and how maybe, I’m guessing? Being sex-averse with no-arousablity myself I have no idea but PERHAPS many cis people who aren’t sex-averse have the opposite feelings toward their own genitals when it comes to sex, basically euphoria or extreme positive feelings about having sex with those particular body parts, and they’re trying to wrap their heads around how trans people can enjoy sex if their enjoyment is NOT fundamentally tied to being grateful to have these particular body parts to fuel the sexual pleasure, since it’s so different than how they experience sex? Maybe??

    Just wondering if maybe that’s part of this awful type of question. Your point about “It is kind of amazing how simply being trans can open a person up to the kinds of invasive questions that they would never dream of asking in any other context. Suddenly we’re not people; we’re research subjects, or more often merely objects of fleeting curiosity.” is duly noted of course.

    1. Thanks! :)
      Funny enough I was actually already thinking about writing something to add to this, that yeah, sometimes when folks ask this question they actually mean something more caring, like wondering about a trans perspn’s relationship to their body, and are actually wanting to understand the experience from the inside. Like sometimes they mean “but wait, I assume that means you have dysphoria, and does that make sex complicated, because that sounds not fun and I’m sorry if you’re dealing with that”, but really just starting that convo in a strange place!

  3. So I have no idea how to organize these thoughts into a cohesive argument, but I want to express them anyway.

    First: “and not everyone has sex even if they do want to” I found this line surprisingly validating for some reason I can’t explain, so thanks for that.

    Second: I have one tiny issue with this post at the concept level: I once asked this question, though with “you” replaced with “lesbians”, of my older sister, but I was ~5-7 yo at the time. (I cannot explain why I didn’t also ask about gay men, but I guess I was able to extrapolate the answer I got about lesbians (which I don’t personally recall now, but my sister in retelling the story said it was something to the effect of “oral sex”.) to them.)

    I don’t think that that curiosity or ignorance reflects badly on me, though it does reflect upon the heteronormative way that adults (even progressive ones like those in my family, who had already by this time explained to me what oral sex was) talk to children about sex.

    This is obviously a very different context to asking a random queer acquaintance a highly-invasive question, but I can’t entirely find within your argument any way to clearly separate those two examples.

    1. I think probably the important distinction runs along the lines of, you and your sister probably had a reasonably close relationship and a bank of trust that allowed your question to be understood in its intent of actual curiosity, rather than the strange prurience and freak-show attitude of random strangers?

    2. Also, wow yeah, good point on bringing up the heteronormative way sex is often ‘taught’ to kids. That is actually super important contex to remember; I actually got a surprisingly progressive parental sex talk by many standards tbh and I sometimes forget that it’s common for the literal only official information for people to get is “p goes in v and that’s what sex is”

      1. I was 13 at the end of 7th grade and had already had 2 sex-ed classes in school when I was sitting with my 11 year old brother watching a rerun of Friends that referenced sex without showing anything other than disappearing into a bedroom, as sitcoms like that from that era usally did, and I asked my brother about heterosexual sex – if he knew how sex worked at all – because I was still lost at that point lol.

        (This was also like 1 year before I discovered the internet for context, so… LOL. I literally didn’t use the internet at all yet.)

        So yeah sex wasn’t taught to me at all in abstinence+ sex ed, I just knew I should WAIT to have it, not what it was. :P But my sex-ed classes were very heteronormative too and implied all sex can lead to pregnancy, which is a very narrow view of what sex is. (And my parents just trusted sex-ed to cover everything or just weren’t concerned because I wasn’t dating anyone and they knew that.)

        I’m impressed that someone would know to wonder how lesbians have sex as young as between 5 and 7, because I don’t think I’d even heard the word sex uttered until I was 8 or so in my relatively sheltered upbringing, despite going to public school every day and all that jazz… XD My awareness that lesbians existed was probably not there until I was… well… watching Friends reruns more regularly, to be honest. :P So closer to age 13 than 7.

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