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Hayfaa Chalabi

Against the binary: How sex can make me feel seen as a trans person

Casual hookups can be hit or miss, but when they go right, it’s a gender euphoric experience.

07 Sep

Welcome back to gal-dem’s monthly gender column ‘Against the binary’, bringing you Yas Necati’s latest reflections on finding gentleness, home and joy as a trans person.

If my online dating profile was honest, it would read: “24-year-old queer and newly poly, soppy and confused non-binary, seeking a hook up with someone who’ll call me handsome while I top them. Seeking someone who will celebrate that on different days I feel like I have different genitals. Seeking someone who will understand my gender in a night. No TERFs, no SWERFs and unfortunately no one who is allergic to cats.” 

But given that I don’t even understand my gender, this is quite a lot to expect from Tinder. So up until I finally deleted the app a week ago, all that it said was (and I’m curling my toes right now at how cringeworthy it is): “Looking for fun.” I posted a bunch of thirst traps alongside this very descriptive bio, and left the rest up to fate. 

Fate served me a series of mostly chill and mediocre dates that led to chill and mediocre one-night stands. People can interpret “fun” very creatively – one person I was with wanted us to wrestle and another wanted to try out boxing in the local park. One date, really excited by my skateboard, asked if we could skate together in central London. I told her many times that I’m terrible, but she convinced herself I was being modest, and was very disappointed when I was, in fact, a terrible skateboarder. All of this was indeed fun, but I still had to inquire about people’s sexual preferences and the seriousness of their cat allergies before heading back to mine. 

“Some of the most validating moments I’ve ever experienced as a trans person have been during sex”

The fun I was looking for was also in the sex, but at times, it never came. There was nothing particularly different or remarkable about one encounter in particular that made me realise this. I showed up at Mars’* home in Autumn 2018, and when they answered the doorbell, I was just relieved they weren’t a catfish. In their room, I turned to shut the door, and when I came back around, they were completely naked. No foreplay, no dirty talk, no introductions, no anything. The sex wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly good either – we were just going through repetitive motions. Afterwards, as we cuddled in their bed, I reflected on how basically all of my one night stands recently had felt like this. 

I never felt comfortable enough to give the other person my fuller bio, the one describing what I actually want. I said I wanted ‘fun’, and in a way, I wasn’t lying – I was, and still am, looking for sexual tension that is sweet and joyful. But now, I realise I also want more than that – I want someone tender, someone who will check in with how my dysphoria is and what the triggers are, someone to see my gender as they undress me. These random hook ups were dry and strange and hey, we all deserve better sex. 

“When it goes wrong, you are naked in your dysphoria”

It wasn’t until almost a year later that I finally had the sex that changed everything. Tinder played Cupid again, and in classic ‘queers moving too fast’ fashion, we began meeting a few times a week and writing each other haikus in between. Our sex was magical and different. I had never been with another transmasc person before, and as both of us felt the push and pull of our own gender confusion and celebration, we held room for each other to explore and elaborate. I asked him to try things that I’d struggled to ask of cis partners or strangers (regardless of gender). He asked the same of me. He saw my body as just as legitimate as a cis person’s and I vowed to always have sexual partners like that.

Some of the most validating moments I’ve ever experienced as a trans person have been during sex. When I go out day to day, I use binders, packers, make up and clothes to express my gender. But when all the clothes come off, and someone sees me naked in what society would code as a “female body”, and still calls me by the correct pronouns, that is one of the most powerful acts of validation I ever feel. 

However there can be a danger in this – when it goes right, that validation feels tender and soft and powerful in a way only deep intimacy can conceive. But when it goes wrong, you are naked in your dysphoria. You feel the perceived undesirability of being trans so much deeper. You get scared to let another person see you naked again. I’ve been in that stuckness before, it’s taken finding intimacy with myself to get out of it. 

Without any media or preconceptions about what our sex should look like, we’ve been both rough and adoring, both tender and playful”

When I got together with  my partner Jess recently, I realised that the continuous swiping like a robot had made me numb to my deeper desires. I experienced a gentless when they first approached me from behind as I washed dishes, turned my head gently and kissed my lips. The joy I’d been searching for passed between us. I’ve come to realise that no one can understand my gender, not even me, but Jess has always tried to know my identity and its fluctuations as intimately as possible. 

As we’ve gotten to know each other’s bodies as two genderqueer people, our sex has felt queer and free of binaries too. Without any media or preconceptions about what our sex should look like, we’ve been both rough and adoring, both tender and playful. As I’ve fallen deeper for them, I’ve also fallen deeper for myself, and for their love for themselves. I love how naked we can be with each other. And despite a brief scare that they might be, thankfully, they are not allergic to my cats.

As we navigate the start of a poly relationship, I’m going to make sure that I can give anyone new I meet the correct bio. I might be off all dating apps right now to try and only meet people IRL, but I have more confidence than ever in telling people exactly who I am and what I want. And I’m going to cherish the intimacy that holds space for unknowing, gentleness, and possibility.

*Some names have been changed