Illustration by Allegra

Last month Arabelle sent us this pitch: “I’ve been thinking about queer sex a lot, and I kind of want to talk about ‘gay sex myths’ and debunk them or have a convo with a couple of the queer Rookie staffers about heteronormativity and queer sex and some of the stuff we deal with. I think it’d be a helpful post.” We agreed, and Arabelle and Tyler and Krista proceeded to have the following conversation over email. If you have any myths to add, please do so in the comments. Also: the comments section on this post is probably one of very few places in the world where it’s appropriate to ask REAL nosy questions, so go ahead and do that too!

ARABELLE: Hi, friends! I want to talk about myths about queer sex lives, and the lack of education in general when it comes to sex for queer and trans* people. To begin, a big vague question for both of you: what are some ridiculous assumptions you’ve been confronted with about non-hetero sex?

TYLER: There are so many! People have made me feel like I had to choose between transitioning and having a sex life, because clearly no one would want to have sex with a trans* person. I know that isn’t true, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a few seconds of “Who’s going to love me?” self-pity every now and then. People assume that trans* bodies are inherently weird and strange—but they’re really just bodies. I personally love mine and wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if I had the option to start my life all over again as a cisgender person.

KRISTA: One that I hear a lot: Sex for lesbians means oral sex, and that’s all they like. Where did this myth come from? Who started it? I can only think it must have been invented by people who had never seen nor heard about actual lesbian sex, and they just couldn’t get their minds around what we must do in bed.

ARABELLE: I think for a lot of people, once you stray from that idea of penis into vagina, male + female bodies, it gets complicated.

KRISTA: Yeah, it’s like, whoa, there’s no dick—what do we do for sex?! Ohhhh, we must go down on each other. That must be what lesbians call “sex.” Hahaha isn’t that cute, the lesbians think they’re having sex. That’s bullshit, of course—lesbians have sex in lots of different ways. We use our fingers and mouths and bodies and sometimes toys, but we are definitely having sex during all of it. I promise. I think oral sex is super intimate—I would NEVER do it with a girl I’d just met, but I sometimes have sex with girls I’ve just met. But if we didn’t have oral sex, the Official Sex of Lesbians (and the only lesbian sex visible in 99.9% of pornography), did we actually have sex?

TYLER: The definition of what “counts” and doesn’t count as sex in the queer world is super blurry, and that makes the meaning of virginity ambiguous, too. I didn’t have a sex life before transitioning, because my gender issues led to intimacy issues. As I transitioned, I realized that “virginity” didn’t mean anything to me anymore—it just felt like a very heteronormative concept. I got into my first romantic relationship very early on in my transition, and I realized that having sex with my girlfriend for the first time wasn’t going to be about “losing” or “giving up” any part of myself, as I’d been taught my whole life, but about connecting with her on a different level and having fun. I also didn’t know what was even supposed to count as “losing my virginity” in a realm that did not include a straight cis male and a straight cis female. What’s the final straw that differentiates hooking up from having sex? What’s “third base” on a field in which a “home run” is different for everyone? I finally just threw out the entire concept of virginity and stopped trying to label my sex life.

KRISTA: Another question I get is “Which one of you is the GUY?” People (usually straight people my own age) ask me this all the time. Then they meet my girlfriend, CJ—she’s skinny and has a buzzed head and wears boy’s clothes—and they smirk, because DUH, obviously CJ is the guy in our relationship.

…Except she’s not. There is no guy. That’s the point. This is two women in a relationship; there are no dudes here. I know they’re not being that literal, and that what they’re really asking is “Which one of you takes on more of a masculine role in your relationship?” But that’s the thing about queer relationships—you’ve already left the world of traditional gender roles, so you can kind of do whatever you want. You don’t have to try to re-create a heteronormative dynamic (this is actually true of all relationships, including straight ones).

And anyway, what does “masculine role” mean? What is “masculine behavior”? Are you asking me, like, “Who mows the lawn and kills the spiders, and who cooks and cleans?” Or are you asking me a personal question about my sex life, like “Who’s in charge in bed?” Because either way, WTF. Why does anyone need to know ANY of that? Would you ask a straight couple any of those questions? And once it’s decided who is “the guy” in the relationship, does that make that person more valuable? More in charge? Or what?

ARABELLE: I was literally justtttt in the shower complaining to myself about the idea of “who’s the dude” in sex…what does that mean? I mean, you can be super femme out of bed, but in bed it could be totally different…

KRISTA: Also, hi, it’s 2013, not 1951. Everyone on this planet can play more than one “traditional gender role.” Or none at all. In my relationship, I am a helluva lot bossier than CJ, but I do all the cleaning and I wear dresses. She does all the cooking (like I literally do not have to cook, ever) but she wears boy’s clothes. WHO’S THE GUY OMG I CAN’T TELL. And what will we do if we do not know who’s the most valuable person in this relationship??

Now, when a well-meaning new straight friend asks me this question, I smile sweetly and say, “Who’s the guy in your relationship?” (P.S. Men do not like it when I do this.) But the truth is that you can never tell who plays what roles in any relationship, nor should it really matter to anyone who’s not involved in that particular relationship.

TYLER: Friends, acquaintances, strangers—they all ask extremely invasive questions, like “How do you have sex?” and “Are you considered a lesbian, since you like women?” In response to the first question I usually just deadpan, “Get creative.” With the second one, I just sort of stand there and stare into their soul until they feel how uncomfortable their question is. Now, if I’m having a conversation with someone who is actually interested and curious for the sake of broadening their knowledge of trans* people and sexuality (or just general human nature), I’m happy to explain many things to them. But most people who ask these kinds of questions don’t seem to want real information; they just want to pry into my life for personal amusement or gossip.

ARABELLE: It’s like, people have this weird need to be able to label and categorize you, to remove any mystery. It can make them ask questions that they don’t even realize are rude. My lesbian friends sometimes ask me what “kind of people” I’m into, since I am not only into strictly cis female lesbian bodies. I find that kind of ridiculous.

TYLER: I wish people were more open to/accepting of the “I’m interested in people” response. If people want to use labels, that’s fine, but if you’re like me—I’m interested in anyone so long as we have a connection and I’m attracted to them—you probably don’t want to be like “Well, I’m interested in dudes and girls and neither and both and trans* people and genderqueer people and people who identify as x and y and lesbians and gay men and pan people and bi people and queer people,” because the list is just endless. It’s so much easier to say “I like people and I don’t care about labels and genitals as much as I care about hearts and brains.” If people ask me what kind of people I’m interested in, I tend to list traits (passionate, interested, intelligent, curious, etc.) as opposed to genders and sexualities. People usually respond to that well—they do the Hmm, that’s interesting nod and then move on to another subject. I think because I’m trans, people find that response easier to take from me than from my cis friends. Maybe they don’t want to ask too many questions, maybe they don’t really want to know the details because it weirds them out, or maybe they are just so out of their realm of understanding already that they give up.

ARABELLE: I think people view things from their own experiences, and they tend to project those experiences onto others. I mean, I do it too—we all have “types” of people we are into, personality-wise or otherwise, and it’s so obvious to us how hot these people are, and when other people don’t agree it’s sometimes weird to me, and I don’t understand it! But I give our generation a lot of credit for being much more accepting than past generations when it comes to sexuality and gender identity.

Another thing that I wondered about is, do people ever talk about your queerness being “a phase,” or assume they can “talk you out of” your orientation? I feel like there’s a myth that you can “convince” or “sway” someone out of their sexuality, which is insulting, because it assumes that sexuality isn’t fluid anyway, and it takes away your agency—like it wasn’t my choice to do something with someone; they got me to do it.

TYLER: You know what, no one ever tries to convince me or sway me in any aspect of my sexuality, and I think it’s because I’m a dude. When I first came out as a lesbian at 17, a fair amount of guys (friends, acquaintances, and people I didn’t know) tried to persuade me to hook up with them. When I was 19, a guy I’d never met before tried to get me to go out with him by making comments all night, saying, “Damn, if you weren’t a lesbian, I’d [insert sexual comment here].” I felt extremely pressured and uncomfortable, and then even guilty for not giving him a shot! It was messed up. After I transitioned, I stopped attracting a lot of male attention, so I typically don’t find people who try to “sway” me. Plus, I’m open to being with anyone now, as long as there’s a connection, so there’s no “swaying” necessary. And the people who “disagreed” with my transition, who told me I was going to hell for my queerness, etc., are now out of my life—so I don’t have anyone around me who tries to convince me that my existence is “wrong.”

I think people need to be more educated on the lives of queer people in general. I’d have been much less confused and isolated as a teenager if I knew any queer or trans* people—even if I only knew them via the internet. ♦