| JOHN HENRY, JR
AS A SOCIETY we, for the most part, tend to avoid conversations about sex. The very topic makes us uncomfortable and self-conscious, even when talking to people with whom we are having sexual relations. This reality has resulted in many negative outcomes, including wide-spread misinformation on sexual health and public safety. I encourage people every day to talk about sex and to learn all that there is to know about their bodies and how they work. We too often forget that sex is a unique experience for each individual body. For trans* people, this information and these conversations can be even more difficult to navigate.
The trans* community has long struggled with acceptance and understanding of their identity from gay and straight cisgender people, or individuals who do not feel a conflict between the sex they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity. Never is this struggle more apparent than when we talk about sex and anatomy as it relates to trans* people.
How do we come to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of our trans* community members without being offensive and objectifying trans* individuals? I do not have, nor do I claim to have, all of the answers. I, like most, strive to understand how to navigate these complex issues in a way that does not reduce a person to what body parts they do or do not have and what they do with them.
Let me be clear that it is absolutely unacceptable to ask questions about anyone’s anatomy or sexual practices in most social situations. However, as we muddle through the seemingly endless preferred terms and acceptable pronouns of trans* individuals, what is most important to remember is that trans* people, like all people, are individuals, with individual needs, preferences and health concerns. Reducing anyone to an anatomic difference or sexual variant is no less harmful than judging someone based on the color of their skin. Trans* identities can remind all of us that our sexual practices are always unique and that it is inour best interests not to assume things about our partners’ bodies, regardless of how they identify. Communicating about our needs while protecting ourselves and our partners is, as always, key to maintaining sexual health.
Many of us are moving toward an understanding that trans* individuals are as unique a population as any. There is not one singular trans* identity, just as there is no singular gay identity, lesbian identity or bisexual identity. We are all the architects of our own identities. We have individual interests and abilities far beyond our gender and sexual identity. We all must work to better understand and value the full range of identity possibilities and respect people for what they are: human beings who can love, think and strive to create a better world for everyone.