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.