When I met Rueben+, I realized why it felt so good to hide my hair and put eyeshadow in the wrong places. Rueben and I met online, where they had disclosed to me that they were trans. When I got to their place, we started talking and immediately hit it off. Since my first relationship with Nate+, Rueben was the only masculine person I had found myself attracted to. As they talked about how they felt growing up, body dysphoria, and why they wanted to pursue transition, it was like a light switch had suddenly been flicked on. When Rueben talked about their relationship with their body and the discomfort that dominated all of their intimate relationships, I knew.
Before I went to see them again, I told them that I thought I might be trans. They told me to come over in whatever clothing I felt comfortable in. That Friday night, I drove into the predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in the city, wearing slim fitting jeans, sneakers, and a baseball t-shirt. As soon as I stepped out of the car, they ran over to me and offered me a yamaka. “It’s Shabbos. You’ll need this.” Looking back, I remember that this moment marked the first time someone had not only been accepting of my unapparent transness but had validated my experience in a very intentional way.
Someone had finally seen me.
This is when I began relearning sexy. In my personal experience, being sexy as a woman was very different than being sexy as a man. Before, I unashamedly used my body to get things I needed. I knew how to make my partners’ eyes grow as wide as dinner plates, simply with a look. When I began presenting masculinely (and by presenting masculinely, I mean looking like a distraught 12 year-old boy), I found that people didn’t look at me the same way. My partners’ eyes didn’t grow wide as easily as they once did. Learning masculine sensuality was (and is) incredibly difficult. This journey of navigating an identity I knew to be true in the form of a body that lacked the same certainty really began when I began dating Dylan+.
My relationship with Dylan was complex. Dylan had never dated a man before, nevertheless a trans man. Even when we did start dating, Dylan grappled with his sexuality. At the same time, I was grappling with mine. I constantly questioned whether Dylan saw me as the man I knew I was. I never felt sure, even when he said he did. I remember feeling more exposed than usual when we were intimate. Not only was I battling being a teenager, still new to navigating sex. I was also dealing with the constant fear that my partner was perceiving my body as female. Nothing kills your sex drive like constant body dysphoria.
After a long relationship, Dylan and I broke up for reasons unrelated to intimacy. When I threw myself back into the single world, a world I had left three years earlier, I was terrified. This would be the first time I was dating as an openly trans man. In the first few weeks after the breakup, I had casual flings with people I knew, people who affirmed me. At the end of the day, I felt more and more comfortable expressing my sexuality as a man even in intimate situations that would have terrified me before.
Dating, romance, being intimate with someone? These experiences are still intimidating beyond belief. These are still my Everest’s to climb. The fear that no one will love me for who I am or will see my body as desirable still plague my mind. Internalized transphobia is a bitter pill to swallow and incredibly difficult to unlearn. I still spend some days looking in the mirror, finding the imperfections. The width of my hips. The patchy 5 o’clock shadow. Any number of flaws that I see. There are other days where I feel incredibly sexy. Where my body’s “imperfections” aren’t imperfect at all because I would never be me without them.
Author Laila Gifty Akita said, “Life is a continuous learning process. Each day presents an opportunity for learning.”
With each morning, I greet the day. I’m living.
And I’m certainly still learning.
+ Name has been changed.
The final post on desexy discusses how to create space to talk about our intimate experiences.