This letter is addressed to people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and who don’t identify with the binary gender of man nor woman.
I will be using the term ‘non-binary’ in this letter with the acknowledgement that it is a great umbrella term for many different gender identities and expressions but isn’t a catch-all, either, for all gender identities outside of the binary.
- In the words of Emily Nagoski, we are all made up of the same parts, but they’re just organised differently. All of our genitals look the same as foetuses until the 6th week. At this point, the development of the genitals is all based on whether a particular gene (the SRY) pops up. This gene is the one responsible for beginning to rearrange the genitals into what would be called testes and a penis. The genitals maintain the same parts but just happen to grow differently. The head of the penis, for example, is a differently organised head of the clitoris!
- You can use any word you want to describe your genitals. It doesn’t matter if you are medically transitioning or getting gender affirmation surgery or not. Words are just words. Terms like ‘vulva’ and ‘penis’ carry gendered connotations, but it doesn’t mean you have to use them for yourself. If you have a ‘penis’ and are transfemme, for instance, you can also just call it your clit. You can also use gender neutral terms too, like ‘glans’, ‘hole/entrance’ and ‘genitals’. And rather than using the words ‘erect’ or ‘wet’, you could say that you’re getting turned on or engorged.
- Your body may not communicate how you identify. Because of this, it might get touched, by lovers, in ways that don’t connect to you. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you want your body to be treated – whether that is for them to avoid your chest or to pay more attention to your neck or certain parts of your genitals. You might think that talking about sex before or whilst having it makes it ‘unsexy’, but what it really does is give you both an opportunity to know the parameters and/or boundaries which will then let you actually enjoy the sex rather than feel tension or anxiety about it.
- Each and every one of us, whatever our gender, has been given some sort of sexual script. Unless you went to a really liberal and progressive school and had that at home too, your sexual script will tell you that sex should look a particular way. Take time to think about whether this script is serving you and feel empowered to rip it up and write your own.
- Sex doesn’t have to involve penetration. It doesn’t even have to involve genital touch! The whole body is a sexual organ, with the brain being the biggest of them all (Big Brain Energy!). Restricting erotic touch to just the genitals is taking away opportunities from the rest of your body. You don’t only have clusters of nerve endings in your genitals and nipples. You also have them in your fingers, your toes and your mouth for instance. Explore your body on your own or with lovers to find out what else feels good, and maybe include different ways of touching, like stroking, scratching, pinching, licking, biting and slapping.
- You might dissociate from the sex that you have. This is called ‘spectatoring’, or being in ‘observer position’, which means that you are floating above the sex or judging it. If you do this, and would like to do less of it, start by noticing when it happens. If you find yourself detached, just name it. When you start noticing it more often, practice playing with ‘first position’, which is to be in your own body. Maybe spend 5 seconds in first position. Think ‘TPT’ – temperature, pressure and texture – notice the temperature of your lover’s touch, the pressure of it and how their skin feels. Then increase it to 10 seconds and keep building that up until you feel more present.
- All non-binary bodies and identities are valid and deserve pleasure. The representation of people we see still tends to fit in with beauty standards. If you’re on Instagram, take time to curate a feed which has non-binary bodies that are more similar to yours, or at least less like the slim, white, able bodied images. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference this can make to your sense of wellbeing.
- Sexual arousal can trigger dysphoria. I know it’s easier said that done, but there is power to be found in seeing that arousal as ‘just’ and indicator that you are turned on, and that this is your pleasure, nobody else’s. Messages from the common sexual script about ‘male arousal’ and ‘female arousal’ can really mess with your head and make your own arousal feel ‘wrong’, but work on ignoring that and create your own meaning for your arousal.
- If you’re finding it difficult to know how to trust potential lovers with your body, it could be helpful for you to use the 6 Principles for Sexual Health to create a framework for feeling safe with somebody:
2. Non exploitation
3. Protection from STI’s and unwanted pregnancy
5. Shared values
6. Mutual pleasure
- There is space for you in sex therapy. Sex therapy is more than working on sexual problems. It is also a space for you to think about and make sense of your sexual identity and sexual relationship/s. Sex Therapy Herts will have a therapist for you, based on your needs. You can also explore the Pink Therapy Directory for non-binary or affirming therapists. When looking for sex therapists, make sure they have made the effort to say that they support trans and non-binary clients.