Having been an evangelical in my teen years really made my sex life as an adult crummy. To be honest, it was not until I was in my 40’s that I learned what healthy and good sex really is. This is a generational disservice that parents pass down from generation to generation just because it is an awkward topic. Dating is pretty awkward as well. Here’s the thing about sex and dating. I want my child to have a great and fulfilling life. That should also include his dating and sex life. Being a transgender teen offers some unique challenges to that. We need to be there for them.
The topic of sex for my child first entered my radar during a round table conversation I was having with other parents of trans teens. The topic of top and bottom surgeries came up. There was a mother with a trans daughter who was talking about a disagreement with her daughter about surgeon choices. Her daughter wanted a plastic surgeon that had a reputaiton for creating a clitorous that could deliver very real and very good orgasms. The mother, on the other hand, preferred a surgeon that cost less. The difference was significant. About $4,000 not including travel. She thought the idea preposterous. Then I blurted something out.
“Have you ever had an orgasm?” I asked.
The mom looked at me for a second. I think she was gauging the sincerity in my question. “Yes. Yes I have. Not until my 30’s, but yes.”
“So you spent your twenties and part of your thirties having unsatisfying sex?” I asked.
Her answer was heartfelt. “Yeah. And I know where you are going with this. You’re right.”
Another parent in the room asked us to explain because he was lost. The mom answered. “I’m putting a price tag on my daughter’s sex life. I’m telling her I don’t care if she has a satisfying sex life. That’s what my mom taught me. Screw that! I can’t do that to her. I won’t do that to her.”
I realized, at this point, I had no idea what quality sex could be for my son but I wanted him to have it.
One day my son and I were driving in the car. He asks me a question seemingly out of the blue. “Dad, would you ever date someone who’s trans?”
As soon as he asked the question, I knew what was underneath the question. Would you date someone like me? Is there hope for someone like me to be in a relationship? To be datable. I also knew the honest answer that was in me was not the one he needed to hear, but it was the truth. With some amount of shame I answered his question.
“No. No I would not date a transgender woman. And that is my smallness and I need to take a look at that and work past that. I’m sorry.”
He asked why I was sorry and I told him that if I say that trans men are men and trans women are women, then I need to enlarge that definition to include my romantic inclinations.
I realized at this point, I had no idea what quality dating could be for my son, but I wanted him to have it.
The Quest for Answers
The quest to learn about the dating experiences of young trans people came to me without effort. At a parent’s group I attend, they had a panel of young adults who were trans. During q&a not many of the parents asked questions beyond medication, college enrollment, surgery and insurance. So I went in for the kill. “Tell me about dating. What do you have to think about when dating that a cis person doesn’t have to think about?” All of the young adults spoke up and gave very candid answers.
We ran out of time. I approached the young adults and asked them if we could exchange contact information and continue the conversations. I also asked if I could delve a little deeper and aske very candid questions about sex. There were assurances I had to give them that this is not about fetishes, but I genuinely want my kid to have a good sex life. Two of the young adults agreed. In time, they would introduce me to other people in the trans community who gave me even more information.
What’s Different About Dating?
- Safety is almost always a concern. The panel of young adults who were both trans men and women had one thing universally in common. They had all been victims of physical or sexual assault. Every single one. Until they get to know someone better, the dates almost always happen in group settings, at the very least they happen in separate vehicles and in public places. Trust has to be built and they need more time to feel safe.
- Being incognito or public about being transgender to a perspective dating partner is completely up to them. They are under no moral obligation to come out at a specific time. So as a parent, tell them disclosure of who they are is in their power and not up to the cis world to decide.
- Being someone’s bucket list hurts. Some people have a fetish or have a list of adventures they want to have. Being with a trans person is sometimes one of those. They do not disclose that often. Once they get what they want, they drop the transgender person like a rock and move on. They feel like they were never seen as a person, but an object for someone’s personal issues. This happened to every single one of the young adults I spoke with.
- The dating pool of people willing to date you is slim. When you remove the fetish chasers and the abusers, there are very few cisgender people who are willing to even consider dating a transgender person.
These are the major takeaways I got from the trans adult community about dating. After that, the relationship and dating experiences are just like the rest of us. The same hurts, insecurities, problems and resolutions apply.
What’s Different About Sex?
In dating, we already covered the fetish people and those who would sexually assault someone just for being transgender. Both of these hurt severely and can sometimes have deadly consequences.
This is a much more complicated conversation. Every trans person is different. There are so many varieties of bodies, surgical options, presentations, orientations, levels of dysphoria triggers and other factors that make this a difficult topic to have universal truths about. In thinking about the conversations I have had with trans and fluid friends, here are the most universal things I can offer.
- Communication with partners is critical, especially before the sexual encounter. There needs to be an open conversation about triggers, pleasures, wishes, desires, do’s and don’ts. Since virtually every trans person’s sexual encounters are going to be different, they need to speak to their individual desires, needs, and avoidances.
- Conversations like this need to be focused on pleasure as opposed to biological parts. A focus on pleasure over parts gets to the heart of the matter of good sex. Are there fantasies or fetishes? Are there preferred positions? Roleplay? BDSM? What often happens in these conversations is that a cis person will make it a focus on genitals. While some of the pragmatic details may need to be spoken about (e.g. is anal the great equalizer or off limits?) this should not be the focus of the conversation. The focus of the conversation needs to be about consent, off limits, desired, and mutual interests in the bedroom.
- Keep the conversation body positive!
- After these very important considerations, many of the conversations will need an awareness of sexual health, use of toys, lubricants, and other practical matters that all of us should be having conversations about.
Initially, this conversation was awkward for both father and son. To be honest, it took a few tries for us to work past the discomfort. We got there and I am so grateful we did. Not only was I a participant in being a guiding voice to him about quality dating and sex, but I became a trusted entity.
He will tell me his feelings about a romantic prospect. He will share not only the good, but the horrific. I have not only heard some of the violations of feelings and fetishizations that make him uncomfortable, but I have seen some of the exchanges. He trusts me enough to show me and tell me what is going on this very important part of his life. We have a channel of communication open where we can not only talk about boundaries and horror stories, but also celebrate the wonders of love and lust.
Again. Talking to your kid about foreplay, lubricants, toys, consent, boundaries, heartbreak and other matters is not easy, but it’s important.
Obviously, there are some matters that are off limits. As a parent, I have to respect his privacy. Frankly, there are some details I do not want to know and some things that a parents are not and should not be privy to.
On a selfish level, this lesson enriched my life. I learned a lot more about sex, sexuality, gender, anal sex, orgasms, boundaries, communication and many other things. With the deconstruction of the unhealthy narratives I had about sex and dating instilled in me by the church this was helpful in building new narratives. These new narratives included an unexpected result.
If my son were to ask me that question again. Would I, a cisgender straight man, consider dating a transgender woman? The answer is yes. There was a flirtation with a trans woman who works in law I have had. I am currently in a relationship with someone who is gender fluid. We’ve had extremely healthy conversations about expectations, consent, boundaries and pleasures. I can honestly say that I am having the best sex I have ever had in the healthiest relationship I have ever been in.
Being a parent made me a better me and enriched my life.
If you are a parent of a transgender child, this is a very important lesson.
Link and Book and Video Resources
Video: “The New girl: Young and Transgender. Dating as a trans woman.”
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