The other night I attended a lecture by Arlene Istar Lev, author of Transgender Emergence and a respected therapist who aside from being an out lesbian herself, has worked with trans people for a long time. Likewise, she had originally worked in couples/family counseling, and as a result has worked with a lot of trans-couples (couples who, because one or more people in the relationship are trans, have to deal with gender in such – necessary ways).
Her lecture was on TransSEXuality, as the poster put it: not about transsexualism, but about the sexuality of trans people. She’s writing an upcoming paper, and this talk was delivered to a small research group that gathers once a month to talk about trans stuff. Some of the participants were trans, others of the larger GLBT, and were therapists, and academics, and scholars of various sorts. (I felt severely unlettered with a Masters in Lit., but I’ll get back to that in a minute.)
Unfortunately for all of us, the presentation was Lev’s attempt to circumscribe what we don’t know about trans sexuality: there is no research, there are no numbers. There are therapists with long backgrounds. There’s porn, and HIV rates. But mostly, we know almost nothing. We don’t really know how trans people’s sexualities develop, or really what they do, and to whom, and how they feel about it. We have stories, we have testimony, and we have guesswork. We have some literature about gay and lesbian sexualities that are only really useful if the trans person is gay or lesbian after transition, and sometimes not even then.
I was kind of struck by the fact that I felt like I knew more than most of the people in the room just by virtue of the fact that 1) I have sex with Betty, and 2) I have leant an ear to an unknown number of trans-partners, and 3) I’m not scared of seeking out porn and erotica geared to trans people or featuring them, and finally 4) because I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very honest, upfront trans folk who like to talk about sex (and who understand that I am one of them, in the odd way that I am.)
What I ended up with was this sense – as an unlettered writer who is sans ‘official’ psyche/sociology/social work background – that basically what we’re going on right now is 1) guesswork, and 2) qualitative research.
Which is pretty much what I do. So aside from the questions/frustrations that popped into my head about who I am and why I do this and legitimacy and authorship and credentials, I also realized that this is one of the reasons that narratives are so important right now. And I don’t mean narratives in the sense of “This is what I need to tell a shrink to get my letters” but rather in the sense of trans people and people who love trans people stepping up and saying “This is what we do” and “this is what works for us” and “this is how I’ve always seen myself.”
In fact, I’d say it’s vital that trans people (and those who love them) really start talking about what we DO with and to each other in the bedroom. How we identify, how we think about our (gendered or not) sexual roles, our development as sexual beings, our relationships with our bodies.
Because it strikes me that trans sexuality is about at the same place women’s sexuality was at in the 60s or so, when groups of women in CR groups were sitting on top of mirrors to look at their own vulvas for the first time.
But here’s the caveat, for me: I had this really weird feeling afterwards. I felt – exposed. And maybe a little judged. And kind of poked. What popped into my head was that Twilight Zone episode called People are Alike All Over, when a few humans are being kept at an alien zoo, and the sign on their cage says “Humans in their natural habitat.” I didn’t like the feeling, even if I understood where it came from, and why. Social workers and psychologists and therapists want to understand; one professor asked if we could develop “models” of trans sexuality – you know, to figure out their etiologies.
There was one point where I mentioned how, as a partner, I’ve stopped caring what people think I am – ie, lesbian, het, queer, bi, etc. And someone said that was a ‘sophisticated’ response, and then changed that to ‘mature.’ And I said, “No, just tired,” which it is these days, in a kind of think what you will but I’m gonna go home now and love my alien kind of way.
Ironically, it made me somewhat optimistic: at least we have the list of questions.