Trigger Warning: This article contains triggering content of sexual harassment, queer- and transphobia and sexual violence. If you struggle with these topics on a personal level, please contact a specialist through www.ggdghor.nl, www.rutgers.nl, or your loved ones (if you are able to). You are only a burden to yourself if you keep everything in.
It is currently May 17th as I write this article. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. A day that raises awareness discrimination against members of the queer community and of LGBT+ rights, which are, unfortunately, not a given. It should make me, as a queer, trans, non-binary person, feel seen. However, this day does not make me feel seen at all. It is another day for companies and Instagram-users to share another post in their story to stage a performance on how progressive they are. Do they really have eyes for the issues that queer and trans* people face in everyday life?
In this article, I do not want to scientifically discuss the performance of progressiveness of social media. Rather, I would like to discuss the sexual hurdles that queer and trans* people face, for instance through the performance of sex. This does, however, not mean that this article is only relevant to queer and trans* people. I argue that straight and or cisgender people can surely learn from this text, even though some experiences are not shared. They may still recognize instances of consent. Moreover, this text is mostly about raising awareness and recognizing that queer and trans* people do not live the same reality as straight and cisgender people.
Where are we situated?
A healthy relationship with sex is oftentimes overlooked. When it comes to sex, people remember that one time their parents explained what it is through a metaphor of the birds and the bees. Many a time, this is the only sexual education that they received from their parents. “Well, there was this week in biology class where we learned about the human reproductive system. We now know the anatomy of a penis, that we do not want STD’s and how to prevent pregnancy.” What is forgotten here? Well a number of things.
Not only is the theory focused on straight people, but also on the purely reproductive matter of sex. Where is the fun at? Moreover, why should we not know a single thing about the vulva? I mean, this is really the origin of jokes about men who cannot find the clitoris. Another problem is that the focus is on conventional forms of genitalia. I am by no means a biologist, so I do not have the agency to teach anyone about the workings of the body, but think about intersex people. These are people born with genitalia that are neither ascribed as male nor female. When are we acknowledging the existence of these people?
Hesitation is not a yes
Erasure is thus a significant issue of sex education. Another issue is the lack of focus on consent. Sex is supposed to be fun, but it should also not only be focused on pleasure. You have sex with a person, who has their own boundaries that you should be aware of. It is of great importance to ask whether someone is comfortable with doing something. Just remember that anyone should be able to stop at any time.
This sounds easy, but is hard in practice. You may think that you are a burden if you want to stop, because you do not want to take up too much space. You may think that the other person(s) will hate you if you say stop. You may think that you are a hypocrite, because you were invited to their house and decided yourself that you wanted to come. Let me be very clear, honey: You are never a burden for taking up space that you definitely should take up, they will not hate you, and you are not a hypocrite. I do not know how I should make it more clear through a text. You are not the problem if you are true to your feelings.
Then there is the instance of the other(s) asking you whether you are okay to continue and you hesitate. Yet again, let me be clear: Yes is only a yes when someone does say yes. Things that are not a yes:
- I am not sure
- I do not want this
- Do not touch me
- This is my boundary
- I am not ready
… and many other comments.
Things that are a yes:
“You will be my wifey”
Sex comes in many shapes, not to say sizes. Sex is not phallocentric, or at least it should not be. I have to admit that I am still trying to debunk this idea that is programmed into my brain myself. I am learning how sex is more about intimacy and being in contact with your body and what it likes. It does not even have to involve more people than just me or genitalia at all. That is just great, but when it does involve both these parameters, there is a particular issue that is faced by queer and trans* people, namely fetishizing. In addressing this instance, I will only be speaking from own experiences, in order to acknowledge that I am not able to speak for a universal experience of queer and trans* people.
I was assigned male at birth, though I identify as non-binary. To me, being non-binary means to acknowledge that I am a human person that is neither male nor female and expresses however the hell they want. That sometimes means wearing a dress, especially on a beautiful summer day. I have over the past years discovered that walking by yourself in a dress somehow makes people think that they are invited to say things like “Looking hot, chickie,” “Suck me, queen” and “Faggot in a dress.” I cannot explain my feelings in these particular instances, although it is interesting to analyze these through the lens of fetishizing. There is apparently something attractive and threatening about someone expressing themselves regardless of the gendered vessels that they were born in. It does not seem like there is a reaction in between.
Fetishizing is also an act that is performed by people that you know. I once found myself having sex with a cisgender male. I had met him some weeks before and he came over. There was not really a conversation about consent, but I told him in the meantime what I was comfortable with. In the aftermath he told me that he had a good time, mainly because he wanted to be “the man” and he wanted me to be “his wifey.” Ouch. Non-binary people are by definition neither male nor female. And you cannot reduce them to their physique.
Safe to say, I have never spoken to this man ever since. Although this experience has a bitter aftertaste, I did not feel like someone went over my boundaries. I did feel used for someone else’s pleasure.
Lost with a map in hand
What if he had ignored my boundaries? Unfortunately, that is an experience I have also had. I will not get into details of the act itself. I want to focus on the process of healing.
I remember vividly how I felt afterwards. Disconnected with my body, with the world around me. I felt locked in this cage that someone else had locked. I noticed that I started being scared of touch, to the point that when I went to the hairdresser I startled every time he touched my head. I remember that I did not want to talk about it with anyone. I felt like I was the one that did something wrong. I felt lost.
It was not until I had a conversation about consensual sex with my gender therapist that I realized that I was never wrong. I hesitated when I was asked for consent. I told him beforehand what I was comfortable with. Still, he ignored my boundaries. I was never the problem. My body already knew this, because of the fear of touch. I had only misinterpreted the signs. I thought that I was not worthy of touch, but I was hurt. My body told me.
I think I will always be recovering from this experience. There is no way to do so, other than talk about it. I did find a way to diminish the pain I felt. I started writing a letter to the person that wronged me. It was eight pages long. It had many small weak points, due to the tears I shed while writing it. I felt frustrated. It took me two weeks to finish the letter.
I did not give him the letter. I knew that would not give me closure, for the reason that I was scared that he would come after me. Instead, I decided to go to the rooftop terrace of my building and burn the letter in an old pan (and yes, I kept a safe distance and I was close to a fire extinguisher). It was one of the most therapeutic moments I have ever experienced. I was doing it alone while the sun started to go down. It took me about half an hour to fully burn the letter to ashes. This was a symbolic moment for me that closed a wound. I feel like my sexual past has been closed.
Queer and trans* people experience different kinds of discrimination. Examples are erasure from collective memory through homonormativity, catcalling and fetishizing. Some of these cases are, however, not exclusive to queer and trans* people. On the contrary, the main point is that we, humans, need to open our eyes to the experiences of people that are not necessarily in the same demographic. The International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia has the ability to assist in this instance. It is, nevertheless, crucial to think about this when you share a pridepost in your Instagram-story.