Question: Gendering

Nix asks…

I’m generally good about thinking of people as their actual gender rather than their assigned one, up until the point that we start having sex. As soon as I’m interacting with a transperson’s genitalia, I start subconsciously gendering them as their assigned sex, and then get really frustrated with myself for doing so. I just feel guilty about it. Any advice on dealing with this?

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Posted by on July 2nd, 2011 at 04:00 pm

Category: questions 8 comments »

8 Responses to “Question: Gendering”

  1. Adair

    I don’t know; I have the same problem sometimes. Currently I just accept that my perceptions of other people’s gender can be more fluid than their, err, actual gender, and I gently correct myself when I’m wrong. (I actually do this to cispeople sometimes, too). I don’t think it’s something that matters too much as long as it doesn’t show up in your *behavior*–you can’t be morally required to do something that’s impossible for you. By all means try your best, but excess guilt won’t help you. One thing that *might* help is sheer practice–maybe imagine other people/characters are trans. You might get to the point where you can flip the gender switch on anyone of any genitals at will.

    On the other hand, if it seriously & permanently damages your ability to relate to people as their correct gender, you might want to consider or talk to them about it before deciding whether or not to have sex. It might not be worth it.

    And congratulations for how accurately you gender people most of the time! I manage to misgender my own fictional trans characters who I’m *writing* about sometimes.


  2. Samson

    This happened to me the first time I had sex with another trans* person. It bothered me a lot too, obviously, but it kind of made sense why it was happening, when I thought about it: I interact with clothed trans* people a lot more than I do with naked ones, and I’d spent a lot of quality time breaking out of my sex/gender binary socialization with said clothed people… but as soon as the clothes came off I realized it was going to take my brain a little getting used to.

    It did eventually “wear off,” and that was a big step forward for me in accepting my own body as well.


    Adair replied:

    Last night I realized, to my amusement, that I have the same lack-of-experience-with-THIS-view-of-a-person with my own body, seen from behind. I’m used to looking in the mirror or down at my front or seeing pictures taken from the front, and I usually just look androgynous to myself, but recently I’ve seen a few views from behind, naked and clothed, and they bothered me. It’s nice to know that these effects are likely to wear off with exposure.


  3. Anonymous

    This is something I’ve thought about before. I’ve imagined having sex with a trans guy I know that “passes” pretty well, but as far as I know, still retains the genitals he was born with. Even imagining it is kind of weird. I’m not sure how it would affect how I see him (in theory, since I doubt we would ever actually have sex). I’m scared that this misgendering, at least in my head, would be the result after having sex with any trans* person in general (which I haven’t done yet). But I can definitely see it being more of an initial problem that goes away eventually, especially if you have a long-term partner who is trans*. And being a genderqueer myself helps, even though I still haven’t completely gotten past my binary conditioning, and I’m not sure it’s possible to. All we can do is try our best to see others for who they are. Sometimes it’s easy and obvious to see, but sometimes it’s not.


  4. Anonymous

    I used to have this problem with my partner but it completely went away after a few months (we have been together for about 2 years now). Used to feel really bad about it but fortunately I was only using wrong pronouns in my head, not to them.


  5. Alex

    I’m a transman and this is one of the key reasons I won’t show any genitalia when having sex (the other being crippling dysphoria about it). I’m a gay and bottom so it’s pretty easy to avoid ever being naked or having to show anything. If people really think like this there is no way I’d ever change that either. The awkwardness just isn’t worth it.


  6. Adam

    I think, for me, I don’t have a problem with it because I don’t think of it as “actual gender” and “assigned gender.” I think of it just as gender and body. During sex, it’s “This is an incredible man I’m having sex with, and this is the amazing bodily vessel he has available to express something” — which is true, even when the genitals are covered. There’s nothing inherently gendered about genitalia, even though we are in a society where we are trained to think so.


  7. Morgan

    A lot of people have trouble gendering trans/genderqueer people correctly when they first get to know them, and get better about it as they get used to them. If you only have trouble with it with naked people/sexual situations, you’re already a jump ahead of a large section of the population, and I think the same applies in sexual situations as does for a lot of people in social ones – you should be able to get into the habit of gendering someone right after you’ve been having sex with them for a while.

    The first time you see, say, a trans woman’s penis, it’s not surprising if your brain jumps immediately to ‘man’, even if you’re used to discounting other ‘male’ cues that are visible when she’s fully clothed – stubble, for instance. Once you’ve had sex with her several times and got used to her body, it should become easier to see her penis as a part of the person who you already understand as a woman, rather than as ‘male genitalia’.

    It is frustrating, and it does make you feel guilty, but if you keep it in your head and make a conscious effort to gender your partner correctly out loud, and remind yourself firmly in your head what their correct gender is, then if you give it some time, it should solve itself eventually.

    Also, as far as you can, try and relax and enjoy having sex with the person, without thinking too hard about it. Again, if you can enjoy having sex with the person, and think about them as a person rather than about their genitals, it’ll be easier to remember the gender you know they have as a person.


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