Month: July 2015

How To Make Love With A Trans Person

Em Travis, after Gabe Moses

content note in the linked piece for v explicit sex, violent body imagery, surgery and needles and scars, mentions of illnesses, car-crash analogy mention, non-binary erasure, romonormativity and descriptions of hypothetical transphobia

content note in this poem for sex, violent body imagery, scars, imprisonment imagery to imply systemic cissexism/transphobia

As a trans person who has sex with trans people, I read this poem and loved a lot of what I read. The concept of challenging preconceptions about body parts and about what kinds of sex trans people will want to engage in, and the reassurance that it’s okay to fumble through and experience a shared discovery of new positive kinds of sex with your partner, is something I know resonates very deeply with many trans people.

I was compelled to write a response poem, to add to and reply to the original, because I felt there was more to say. I wanted to emphasise most strongly that trans people are not a monolith. Some of us have gone through aspects of physical transition; some have not yet; some are unable to; some have no wish to, and never will. Some of us experience constant physical dysphoria relating to our bodies or to parts of our bodies, and some of us never or rarely experience it at all. I wanted to elaborate with more representation of experiences outside of a binary trans narrative, using pronouns other than just he/him and she/her, including neopronouns that some people may not be very familiar with (disclaimer: no pronoun is inherently binary or non-binary).

My response is written with for a more explicitly cis readership than the original, which was very deliberate – firstly, because I wanted to underline the necessity for cis people who have sex with trans people to communicate with them individually about what they want and don’t want, rather than assuming that all trans people have sex in any kind of similar way; and secondly, because one thing that made me uncomfortable about the first piece was the focus on cis people “being okay” with trans people’s bodies, and helping their trans partners “be okay” with their own bodies, without recognising that, as members of an oppressive system, they must also hold some level of accountability for a certain amount of the impetus behind trans people feeling uncomfortable with our bodies in the first place.

(Also: this poem is written in a trans-specific context, but its message is by no means trans-specific. Detailed communication about sex, and explicit consent for specific things within sex, is always important, whether a partner is cis or trans or neither.)



The first thing you must learn is to listen.
You will hear the world through new mouths,
words used in fresh ways, sentences that make
no sense to you. Listen until you understand.
This is how you learn who we are, and this
is how we know that when our words are
whispered breathless through trembling lips,
you will still be listening.

The second thing you must learn is to ask.
Do this always, from the moment you meet us,
because words can pile up like weights on our heads
and we are weary of not being given a choice.
Ask how you should form the words to tell faer
how the shape of faer lips and the steel in faer eyes
stop you from sleeping soundly some nights.
Let fae teach you the language of faer limbs.
Ask how ze wants you to say that ze is a land
that you ache to get lost in, hir hands hurricanes
you wish you could be devastated by.
Watch as ze shows you how to navigate hir body
and maps out the boundaries you may not cross.
Above all else, ask before you touch xem.
Ask before you taste xyr skin. Offer xem your hands,
and ask where xe wants them to find their home.
Xe may say everywhere. Xe may say nowhere.
Sometimes, xyr answer will change. That’s okay.
Both answers are the right one.

The third thing you must learn is to remember.
We may be fragile. We may shatter.
Remember not to treat us as though we are
bulletproof. Remember the scars we may bear –
those in plain sight, and those that are invisible.
The puckered lines carved out across eir chest,
and the tangle of swallowed thorns inside it.
Remember not to assume that the most painful
of war wounds are those that reshape skin.
When ey tells you that it was never just eir body
that imprisoned em, remember that you are lucky.
You were taught to be eir jailer. Some days,
ey may still hear the keys to eir cell jangle
in your pocket. Do not betray eir trust. Remember
how lucky you are to be trusted in the first place.

The fourth thing you must learn is to forget.
Forget what you were told your body was made for.
Unlearn everything you have ever been taught
and relearn it in shuddered gasps from vir lips –
not just once over, but again, again, again,
because it is not enough to adjust, not enough
to retune your tongue to a body that you see as
something other than the norm. Forget the word
normal. Forget that you ever thought you knew
how skin and muscle and nerves and chemicals
should bind two hundred bones together, and how
you expected virs to fit with your own.

The last thing you must learn is that we are different –
not just from you, but from each other. Ask. Listen.
Every answer will be different. Do not presume
to understand a body you do not inhabit,
an identity that has never been anything but
misunderstood. She may tell you she was born
in the wrong body, to treat her planes like curves
and her valleys like mountains. They may tell you
they were born in the wrong world, that their body
is boxed by language you must learn to translate.
He may say you are free to worship each part of him
with whatever name you choose to give to it.
Ne may say that you must never touch nir at all.
The last thing you must learn
is that you will never stop learning.



TW: holocaust mention, homophobia, transphobia, q slur, swearing

Jennifer Green


[controversial? nah.]


Will Popplewell puts forward the argument in his article inspired by my status (see above) that we shouldn’t “alienate people… declaring rainbow profile pictures as something belonging to LGBT people” as this sets up an unnecessary division.

I necessarily disagree.

Rainbows and other LGBT symbols have represented gay people for years because of a division in society set up by straight people! I agree that it’s unnecessary. However, we have had to create our own underground culture, our own identifiers, our own secret societies because of discrimination. And it is not fair for the dictating class – straight people in this case – to decide they’ve DEIGNED to give us our rights (because rights are things we vote on and decide whether or not you can have, right?) so now they’re going to go around wearing rainbows. It’s appropriating a symbol that represents a struggle that you HAVE SIMPLY NOT BEEN THROUGH. You have NO NEED for this symbol. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.


“Surely if we’re asking for equality, that’s [setting up a division] a pretty counterproductive move.. We can’t say that ‘gay marriage’ is just ‘marriage’ but still retain whatever arbitrary symbols we think are cool.”

– Will Popplewell on the rainbow flag.


Woah. Woah. Woah. The rainbow flag is not an arbitrary symbol and its use is not simply because we think it’s cool. Woah. The pink and black triangles are not worn because it’s hip.

Throughout history symbols become representative of a movement, of a belief system and of a culture. They become steeped in history, in tradition. There’s a reason that it’s illegal in many countries to wear or display a swastika.  It’s because symbols have power. They aren’t arbitrary. They mean something.

And before I’m shouted down using Godwin’s Law – this is relevant. Popplewell jokes about gays being hunted down and locked up. The rainbow flag is a direct descendant of the pink and black triangles, the symbols gay men and women were forced to wear as they prepared to be slaughtered during the Holocaust.

They say a picture paints a thousand words – a symbol? How many?

Popplewell argues that straight allies rainbowing up is ‘a symbol of inclusion, not appropriation’ – but no. Straight allies aren’t magically included in LGBT just by wearing rainbow colours. That’s literally what appropriation means.


Appropriation (verb): The action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission


And this really gets to the crux of the matter. Saying that straight allies are appropriating this symbol doesn’t necessarily mean saying “Hey you, you can’t ever wear a rainbow!” It’s calling a spade a spade. Wearing a rainbow in this instance is something you are doing FOR YOURSELF. A straight person changing their profile picture has been touted as an act of support. I disagree. I see it as an act of self congratulation, self-promotion – an ad campaign for the self. The rainbow pictures alone don’t benefit gay people, – if anything I found them confusing and alienating. Just after Pride, I saw my News Feed bursting with rainbows, a symbol of my comrades, my fellow queers fighting to show their identities in a world that so often forces us to hide them. I was ecstatic. “‘Wow, I had no idea that *name* was queer!’ ‘Wow, and *name*?! I’m so happy for them!’ ‘Wait – I know *name* isn’t queer… In fact, they’re often downright homophobic. What? What is going on?!’”


Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 18.18.45

[yes this actually happened]


My status was not only an expression of frustration and possessiveness of a queer symbol, but an expression of the expectation that this ‘support’ from many straight people is only going to be temporary and in the specific, useless format that these people chose to adopt to engage with the LGBT movement. Many of the people changing their pictures are simply following a trend, and do not do enough in their own lives to warrant claiming allyship.

There will be a time, not too far from now, when the rainbow profile pictures will cease, when straight people will go back to their straight lives and as long as queer people ‘stay normal – as long as they get married and have a picket fence like us and aren’t DIFFERENT’, we will once again be allowed to exist. Tolerated. Heaven forbid we be trans, non-binary, polyamorous, black, bisexual, disabled, childless, women, fat, kinky, angry, butch, femme or unmarried.

Picture 6

[they’re not scary – they’re just like us]


We didn’t get our rights from ‘being ourselves’ or showing people we were “normal humans” or would “care for […] children”. Stonewall. The Compton’s Cafeteria. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The struggle is real and the struggle is ongoing. It took people, fighting tooth and nail – people who wore these symbols, our symbols with both power and Pride.

This symbol has power, yes. It’s a power that us queers have used for decades, and this new movement weakens and destablises it. Closeted queers with homophobic families and friends, watching helplessly as their straight counterparts flaunt their profile pictures in a way they can only ever dream of. Baby gays, terrified to have a tiny rainbow pin, a tiny symbol that They Might Not Be Straight – I’ve still not been brave enough to attend a Pride parade, 6 years after coming out to myself, and 5 months after coming out publicly – it gets lost, drowned out by this screaming, caterwauling of the straight ally happily covered head to toe in colours they have fought no battle to be wearing.



[wow they ar the best]


To be territorial means something. The OED defines it as ‘defending an area against intruders esp. of the same species’. It means standing up for something that belongs to you. The gay struggle belongs to gay people. Gay identity belongs to gay people. GAY ISSUES belong to GAY PEOPLE. I have no idea why Popplewell felt the need to put ‘gay issues’ in quote marks, like they don’t really belong to us any more. This is exactly what makes me so furious about this situation. Because it’s almost like they don’t.

Straight allies never had that personal struggle for recognition that we have – just because they were straight. The white cis ones always had their rights to marriage, no vote required. They got their relationships recognised in law and socially – they had examples of the kind of relationships they wanted to grow up and have shown and taught to them from birth. They have the world designed for their relationships. There are not countries they can’t live in or travel to for fear of getting imprisoned or killed for who they are and who they love. They get all this, and I’m happy for them.

But goddamnit, we get the rainbows.



[before it was cool]


Further reading: – NB. This article explains cultural appropriation with regards to race; while many of the points raised about appropriation are relevant and comparable to the gay struggle and queer appropriation, others are unique to the experiences and struggles of BME people.–and-which-is-the-most-deadly-country-to-be-gay-10355338.html – How to be an ally – PFLAG resource


Jennifer Green is a queer, Jewish, disabled, neurodivergent, white, British, English-speaking, working/lower middle class activist living in Cambridge with their partner. They are both graciously permitted to share a living space with the Cat, Dexter. 

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