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Can I Be a Lesbian and Date a Transman?

I’m a sex therapist in private practice. I’m asked all sorts of interesting questions on a regular basis. The following touched on sensitive and important issues deserving of being shared with others. Here’s the question. Do you agree with my answer?

Question:

I’m a politically active high femme lesbian. About ten years ago, I met an attractive Butch when we shared both political and social interests. We became friendly, and even sparked, but didn’t act on it.

Fast forward to the present. After years of living in different cities, we met again at a dance. Surprise! She’s transitioned to male. The chemistry is still there, and we’re both available, but now it all seems confusing. He’s asked me out, and his intentions are clear: to act on our long-standing mutual attraction.

I’m torn. I glory in being visible on the arm of a Butch woman…otherwise society reads me as straight. And my work is LGBT sensitive (as is his). My identity as a lesbian is clear.

Still, I know and like this person. We have good history, shared values, similar interests. This could be a wonderful opportunity.

Can I be seen as a lesbian and date this man? How do I maintain my identity when together we read as a straight couple?

Answer:

Can you be seen as a lesbian? Nothing will change except when you are with your new lover. As a couple, you will probably be read by strangers as straight, just as you are now when alone. Outsiders will not recognize you.

You both work in queer-related jobs, and likely both have diverse circles of friends. Stay connected with your (now expanded) social network. You’ll find support there from those who matter.

You may encounter resistance even within your tribe, as identities and loyalties are sensitive to change. Some will resist the intersectionality of gender and sexual expression. However, you will come to understand difference and acceptance on a whole new level. When you analyze it, can you think of anything more transgressive than dating this man? It’s coming out multiplied!

And, don’t forget, you’ll now get to discover this person with whom you’ve shared a long term attraction, and to learn him as his authentic self!

Granted, you will be doing a lot of explaining. Even well-intentioned people will ask completely personal and inappropriate questions. You will need to be visible and vocal in entirely new ways. Dating a transman will stretch you, challenge you to examine how you feel about the rainbow of diversity that encompasses being different sexually and socially.

As your sense of sexandgender adjusts, you may need to adapt your language. “Queer” may fit better now than “lesbian.” There’s not one right answer, nor hurry to choose personally-appropriate labels. You can get yourself tee shirts that proudly proclaim you “Lesbian with an asterisk,” “Passing for straight,” or “Queer Femme,” and wear them while on your new man’s arm as well as when you are solo. Watch the world react, and monitor your own responses. A little discomfort is the price for challenging conven““`tion.

Make no mistake: you will be changed forever. Your sexuality will be recognized and responded to differently. Though your suitor is no more straight than you are, you’ll both be granted heterosexual privilege, even when you don’t want it. You will be in daring new territory and, as you develop your expanded identity, you’ll become more comfortable with your own way.

If you choose to date this old friend and comrade, do so because he is a transman, not despite it. He has lived within your camp, is fluent in your language, and appreciates feminism (and feminine!) in a truly unique way. And, wow!, does he get the Butch/femme dance!

Aim to match his bravery and authenticity with your own. The results may be spectacular! After all, the only time you run out of chances is when you quit taking them.

MentalPress 41

It is never to late to go to therapy

We define the goals and objectives of the counselling sessions in a very transparent manner to help patients overcome their problems quickly and effectively, and get the new lease of life they came looking for. We work with the patient as per their schedule, to fix an appointment that is mutually agreeable. We help you embrace life, the way it is meant to be.

Read more

MentalPress 49

How to get a good nights sleep?

In today’s competitive world, sleep is more of a luxury than a necessity. Sleep is important for the well being, both emotionally and physically for an individual. Insufficient sleep or no sleep has long lasting health and psychological disorders. If you have been experiencing insomnia, it may be due to a number of factors, including stress, anxiety or depression. In order to address your sleep problem, it is best to consult an experienced psychologist who can help you change your behaviour, manage feelings and emotions that may interfere with your sleep.

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Low Self Confidence? Here’s Help

Do you suspect that if only you had more self-confidence, you’d be able to make your life work better? Chances are you’re right! The primary tools for effecting change are believing in 1) our ability to make it happen and 2) our right to happiness. Power and entitlement. Those are the ingredients of self-confidence. Self-confidence fluctuates with our circumstances. When we’re happy, we feel strong and effective. Blue? Not so much. Do not, however, think that it just happens tous. We have control over how we respond to the world, and the stronger our self-confidence, the better we fare, regardless the situation. How do we build self-confidence? There are five components of self-confidence, all of which interlace and build upon one another. They form a sort of circle, or perhaps an ever-ascending spiral. If we were to draw it, it might look like this: Self Confidence Cycle Graphic   The great thing about this tool is that you can get on anywhere. You only need to start somewhere and the process of improving your self-confidence has begun. Let’s say you begin with Acceptance of Personal Rights. Think about what that means, do an internet search, seek out books relating to that topic (librarians are great help here). Whatever you do, you’ll find that as you accept and internalize your own personal rights, you’ll find yourself… Behaving more assertively. And now you’ve quite smoothly moved on to the next phase of becoming self-confident. As you act assertively out there in your world, you ‘naturally’ begin to take better care of yourself, and so on, and so on… Remember, though, that you must commit to the momentum of the process to keep it going. As with any other change, our old behaviours resist and our new ways of being need reinforcement to feel natural. Also, this simple graphic lacks the robust explanations it deserves. Each step benefits from suggestions, recommendations, exercises and discussion. All that is available through brief therapy, which can focus on building self-confidence, tailored to your specific situation. Whatever methods you choose, do work on building your self-confidence. It’s that unmistakeable inner glow that looks so darned good on all of us!

Disappointing Sex. What happened?

 

Dear Dr Ren and Bloom,

As a woman of a certain age, I learned to follow the rules. That included marrying a man I liked immensely, and burying my sexual attraction to women. My husband died three years ago, after which I decided it was time to act on this attraction.

Recently, I told one of my girlfriends my “secret,” and she shared that she’d had some girl on girl action in college. A bottle of wine later, I got to act on my desires for the first time.

Sadly, this is not a letter of rejoicing. I was ready for anything, but the experience was a complete letdown. I didn’t even have an orgasm.

I’m so depressed. I always thought sex with my husband was dull because I wasn’t really into his body. Now I finally have sex with my body of choice, and the sex is still boring! Is there something wrong with me?

I am so…

Disappointed

Dear Disappointed,

Sex, romance, desire, compatibility—all such complex experiences. We so want them to be straightforward and understandable. Media representations of ‘falling in love’ look so easy. Real life, however, requires some basic skills.

Not only do we need to know what it is that we like personally, we need to know how to communicate those wishes and how to hear the longings of our partners at times when blood is literally and figuratively rushing in our ears…and other bits.

First time sex is a cache of material for comics. We can all recount stories of sex gone wrong on first encounters. Add that bottle of wine, so useful to drown inhibitions but also so conducive to sloppiness, and you have the makings of a regretful evening. Please don’t use your one, sodden lesbian tryst as a yardstick for what your future sex life may be! I’ll bet if you recall your initial heterosexual encounter, you’ll nod with humorous recognition as well!

Another factor at play here is that, to date, you have been sexual with two friends. I suspect that if you play with someone to whom you are erotically attracted—I mean really sexually besotted—you’ll feel the earth move. Desire and arousal fuel one another.

So far you’ve been a good girl. You’ve followed the rules, played it safe, coloured inside the lines.  You have, quite correctly, identified this period in your life as time for you to meet your own needs. Your task now is to identify what those needs are.

In order to find lovers in synch with you, you’ll need to learn your own body’s appetites, so long buried. Become your own best lover so you can teach others what your body likes.

Experiment with masturbation toys. Learn whether you respond to penetration by using dildos and smooth, insertable vibrators. Think you are a clitoral gal? Your choices are many and varied. Do your swelling labia beg for attention? Or perhaps you respond wildly to anal or nipple stimulation. You don’t have to choose just one. Each of us expresses a unique symphony of preferences.

The point is there is no right—or wrong—answer to the ways arousal works for you, and Bloom is here to respond to the full range of women’s sexuality. There are toys for every woman’s choices.

Do not be discouraged. You are new to a grand journey of discovery. Give yourself permission to explore your possibilities. You’ll then be ready to share your knowledge with partners who can appreciate and augment your power and joy.

First Time Lesbian Sex

Dear Dr Ren and Bloom,

I’ve always dated men, and happily so. I like sex with men. But recently I watched some lesbian porn that really turned me on. I would like to find out what sex with another woman would be like, but I’m not interested in adopting a lesbian lifestyle.

Curious

restful bedroomDear Curious,

You are what we describe as “bi-curious.” Though you are not actually questioning your heterosexual orientation, you would like to experiment with what sex with a woman feels like. This is common, especially as our culture is becoming more tolerant of sexual experimentation. Recent research, notably by Meston and Diamond, validates the fluidity of women’s erotic arousal targets throughout their lifespans.

With access to internet dating, realizing our fantasies can be a reality fairly easily. Remember that the majority of lesbian porn is still made by men, for men. The sex you are likely watching would not approximate your real life experience. To see how lesbian sex is in real life, seek out erotica made by and for lesbians.

How will sex with another woman be different?

First of all, there will be a lot more talking, and sex will take hours. Women tend to put emphasis on different aspects of sex. You will likely discover a more languid pace. Penetration is not a given. Dominant and submissive roles are not based on sex-role stereotyping, so initiation and flirtation must be shared or at least negotiated on some level.

Your emotions, too, will need to be managed. Sex with someone new is captivating, and the cascade of endorphins you’ll enjoy will feel a whole lot like falling in love. To avoid appropriately hurt feelings, you’ll need to stay aware.

Choose your partners carefully. Be clear with your intentions. Nobody wants to be a science experiment.

Once you’ve contemplated these factors and are ready to try dating, consider seeking bi-sexual women rather than those who identify as lesbian. The advantages are:

  • Bisexual women will better understand your primary identification as a straight woman. Many of them will share your diversity of attraction.
  • Bisexual women have a comfort with the bodies of both men and women, and what sex with same and divergent sex parts is like.
  • Identify yourself clearly as bisexual seeking an experience. This alerts lesbian women looking for another woman who DOES live the lifestyle.

If you want to proceed to finding a suitable date for this new adventure, see  http://www.smartsextalk.com/im-bi-curious/.

Does this make you a lesbian?

You tell me you are curious about sex with a woman, but don’t want to adopt a lesbian lifestyle. There’s not one model, you know.

In other words, be willing to change your plans. Sex is mightily powerful, and so is friendship, and sex between women involves both. If you find yourself happy and content with a woman you intended to be solely an experiment, be prepared to change course. It is always your choice.

Don’t let these considerations to deter you from indulging your curiosity. Indeed, it is repressing our eroticisms that torments us and our lovers far more greatly than those we realize. Still, these are not mathematical equations you are trying to solve. Expecting this to go smoothly is unrealistic.

Be brave, be adventuresome, and be prepared. Immerse yourself in the heady intoxication of discovering something about yourself that you didn’t know beforehand. It will leave you smiling.

 

Sex Changes with Aging

Dear Dr Ren/Bloom,

I’ve been married over three decadues, and over those years my husband and I have developed a fulfilling sexual relationship. Ironically, now that we’ve gotten really good at this, age is throwing us some curves. My husband now has some trouble maintaining his erections, and my vagina becomes easily irritated during intercourse.

What can we do to help overcome these obstacles to great sex?

Older but Determined

Dear Older but Determined,

It’s true that getting older gives with one hand and takes with the other. While we enjoy the benefits of learned intimacy and performance skills, our bodies fall prey to decline. You are wise to be seeking remedies, as there are many.

Regarding your husband’s less reliable erections, reassure him that this change does not indicate his failure to be a good lover. Explore the delights of sensual touch and reconsider the requirement of intercourse in defining what good sex means to you both. Intercourse and orgasm may no longer be so tightly linked, though both can continue to be enjoyable.

Long term happy couples who report ever-deepening sexual connection tell us that they attribute this success to two primary elements, keeping sex a priority and laughter. Yes, laughter! They celebrate every opportunity to have fun together sexually and otherwise. And they make sure the pressures of daily life don’t interfere with their private time together. It proves to be a winning combination.

With all this going for you, don’t let the changes of age dampen your spirits or your enjoyment. Your husband can find help for his flagging erections by using a cock ring which traps blood in the penis. Add to the fun by choosing one that adds vibrations. It will boost pleasure and performance in an unobtrusive, fun way, and you’ll both benefit.

Your growing vaginal discomfort is likely caused by the thinning tissues and decreasing lubrication brought about by menopause and declining hormone levels. Keep lubricant handy and use it liberally.

Those delicate tissues require ongoing ‘exercise’ to stay healthy. If you appreciate more penetration than you may now receive from intercourse alone, treat yourself to a dildo designed for older women, one that is firm yet pliable, and smooth in texture. You can use this for solo sex, or your husband can use it with you when his erections flag at inopportune moments. This will keep your genital tissues active and healthy and relieve any pressure your partner may feel regarding his erections.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that changes to your bodies will continue. We need to develop and maintain a certain sense of humour and philosophical attitude about the loss of our robust youth. However, you have already discovered the compensation of vulnerability, intimacy and trust in your decades-long sexual relationship. That openness and experimental attitude will do you well as you learn to accommodate the obstacles that aging bodies can set before us.

Don’t let embarrassment silence you. Keep talking openly with your partner about how sex works—and doesn’t. Solve the issues as they arise, together. With good communication, an experimental attitude, and sex toys designed for your particular needs, there’s no reason you two can’t continue to enjoy great sex for the rest of your lives!

 

 

Consequences of Sensual Expression

Dear Dr Ren,

When I relocated from a city to the town where my sister lives, she gave me a gift certificate for a massage with Kelly, her regular RMT. Following that session, I mentioned intending to rebook another appointment. My sister said she’d give me another recommendation, but Kelly wouldn’t see me again. I had to pry to get the reason.

It seems I moaned during my massage and that offended Kelly. Apparently I sounded “sexual.” It wasn’t sexual…I was just responding to my pleasure! I was shocked and angry at first, but those emotions gave way to a deep internal shame. I had embarrassed my dear sister, and potentially damaged my reputation.

I wondered who else judged me for what I considered simple expressions of pleasure.

Now I find myself hyper aware of how I express my response to any kind of pleasure, lest I’ll be judged. I’m less quick to hug, or even touch someone casually. How can I know what’s acceptable?

Have I missed an etiquette lesson?

Moana

Dear Moana,

This incident has clearly had a profound effect on you. Kelly’s response to your coos of pleasure during your massage is an example of what we call sex panic or pleasure phobia.

As a culture, we are confused and conflicted about sex, touch and pleasure, and how we combine and differentiate them. Sex’s power sometimes frightens us. That can stop us from fully expressing ourselves so that we don’t risk appearing sexually motivated even when we’re not.

All touch becomes suspect when we’re nervous about sexuality. Because sex and touch are so intertwined in our society, it can be difficult to disentangle them in every context without additional cues to how to interpret the touch correctly. Kelly’s discomfort with sensual sound resulted from her misinterpretation of your sounds as sexual, and that frightened her.

We go so far with this fear that a parochial school recently imposed a No Touch rule for its students. That’s right: elementary school kids will be punished if they are ‘caught’ touching! Teachers, sadly, have long been advised about the ‘inappropriateness’ of touching their students, even when they need comforting.

The concept of ‘pleasure’ gets even more confusing. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole the source of pleasure, as it lives in a multitude of settings, situations and contexts.  If Kelly’s frame of reference regarding pleasure is limited, she’ll lack an appreciation for context. Hence, she interpreted your appreciative moans as your aching muscles eased as love calls.

So yes, Moana, I do think it’s easy to offend the skittish. Those who are uncomfortable with sex will likely be judgmental about expressions of pleasure as well. You experienced deep shame as a result of her judgment.

Perhaps your new town is less enlightened than your old one. You may have to reign in your exuberance to fit in. That’s the sad but realistic news.

The good news is that, once behind the walls of your own home, you can set the rules. Enjoy hugging family and friends. Set an ethic of abundant physical interaction within your inner circle.

And inside your bedroom, you can express yourself with abandon, free from judgment. No need to hold back here. Here you can be as expressive as you want to be. Create an environment in which pleasure and erotic heat can flourish. Design your own personal oasis where unfettered emotion and expression always welcome you!

You’ll encounter lots of Kellys. Though you may resent having to trim your expressive sails to avoid the shame they would have you wear, you can balance the injustice by building a judgment free, touch positive zone within your own home.

 

 

 

The Invisibility of Aging

AGE, SEX AND CULTURE:
A CASE STUDY

When I asked my new client what had prompted our visit, she responded simply, “I’m distressed.”

“About something in particular?” I queried.

“No, that’s part of the problem,” she lamented. And then she told me her story.

“The other day I was introduced to a man about my same age. When I commented on his striking grey hair, he responded, with what I’m sure he thought was a compliment, that he supposed I “probably used to be a ‘real looker’.” Used to be? That remark unleashed a torrent of thoughts that have boiled into a sort of impotent frustration.

I’m in my sixties. I’m still the same woman I was when I could command notice, but now people look at me as simply old, if they look at me at all. Somehow I became invisible, and the more I think about that, the angrier become.”

I validated her experience, adding that many women first note these societal attitudes when we are called ‘ma’am’ or offered a seat on a bus. We perceive different treatment in restaurants and stores. We see other women our age in the media only if they’re selling skin cream or step-in tubs, symbols of withering and helplessness.

Then we looked in the mirror. The woman looking back at us has indeed faded. Skin grows loose, hair pale, and body soft.

“And I’m seen as sexless,” she complained.

“The older I’ve gotten, the better I am at sex. Sure, I sometimes need to apply extra cream or lube before any sex that involves penetration, but I’ve learned how to show up for sex. I know what I like and how to ask for it and my partner responds languidly and perceptively. It wasn’t like that in the beginning— our sexual confidence and power were earned! Neither of us had the information we needed early on. It was only with time and practice that we knew each other well enough to become really great lovers, to learn how to be truly intimate”.

“You’re so right,” I agreed. “It’s difficult enough for women to resist society’s disapproval of our sexuality, called slut shaming. We’re supposed to be sexy, but not sexual. When we layer on the attitude that we’re not sexually interesting–or interested–because we’re older, it makes maintaining our sexual identity that much harder. And when you’re actually feeling smokin’ hot, it’s frustrating and maddening.”

My client is not alone in her lament. Older couples enjoy their sexual proficiency, and research (Kleinplatz) proves this is so. Long term loving couples report that sex just keeps getting better and better.

Still, the loss of public recognition of us as sexually potent women robs of us of an important part of our identity, our self esteem. Our grief about this loss is denied publicly. If we complain about losing the elasticity in our skin, or those intractable five kilos added with menopause, we’ll be told we look just fine “for our age.” Does no one understand our sorrow?

It is difficult to change, to age, to watch one’s vitality ebb. We need confirmation of this transition, acknowledgement of our grief at losing what was and accepting what is now.

“Yes,” she nodded. “Like everyone else, I grieve the loss of my youth.  And I suppose my frustration at being seeing differently won’t change cultural norms. I’m glad to know the belief that sex evaporates when wrinkles arrive is false. I want great sex till I die. I suppose I should start seeing every new wrinkle as an indicator of all the great sex I’m having!”

The session ended with a recap: although society doesn’t acknowledge that, with age, sex grows ripe and full, this lack of recognition is surely outweighed by sexual satisfaction grown only with time and practice. In all, it’s not such a bad trade.

 

 

Post-Menopausal Hibernation

WHERE HAS MY LIBIDO GONE?

Dear Dr Ren,

After making it through the hot flashes and mood swings of menopause a couple of years ago, I started to feel like my (old) self again. Sex actually improved and I felt more alive than I had in years.

Then about six months ago, my libido vanished. And not just the desire part, but the physical sensations in my body flattened, too. Even when I talk myself into masturbating, nothing happens. I can’t even unearth any hot images, never a problem in the past.

Needless to say, this has been perplexing for me and frustrating for my partner.

Is this normal? Will my libido ever come back?  What can I do?

Sexually Dead

Dear Sexually Dead,

First of all, you’re not dead; you’re just hibernating.

Yes, it’s normal in some women, though rarely discussed. Your libido will likely return. This is a naturally-occurring and benign phase in our sexual development.

The fact that you are about six months into this period, and perplexed, is a sign that you are already reawakening sexually. I suspect you’d not have penned this letter a few months ago when you were feeling even more deeply “dead” because you would have been comfortable in your sexless cocoon then.

In other words, your depressed sexuality may resolve itself. Some research (Weinstock) suggests that “between one-half and three quarters of women age 45 to 58 report a significant drop in sex drive.”  So you are in good company.

There is considerable anecdotal information that many women experience this slump about two to five years after the start of menopause (when you have your last menstrual period). Further, these women report that it quite often passes in less than a year.

Most research concentrates on hormone “deficiency.” Loss of estrogen may play a part in your sexual suppression, as may a deficiency in testosterone, though this latter is rare. Low estrogen levels can cause your vaginal tissues to become thin and dry, which necessitates adaptations for penetrative sex. You would be wise to check with your doctor, though a hormone deficiency would likely result in low libido from the very beginning of menopause, not several years later.

The emotional changes that often accompany menopause, including anxiety and depression, can also add to your loss of interest in sex or your inability to appreciate arousal. Monitor your psychological health as you move through this stage.

You are now playing with a different body, and the old game plans may no longer work for you. Try masturbating in different ways, and expand your partner repertoire as well, including ongoing communication. Encourage your girlfriend to stay sexy herself and resist becoming complacent.

You see, to some extent, your libido depends upon your personal expectation of what it should be. Many of us don’t really understand our own bodies and how they work sexually. If you relied on clitoral orgasms in the past, deeper cervical stimulation may be what you need now—or vice versa.

Be patient if it takes longer to get in the mood, and to be open to new means of eroticism like vibrators or dildos, the visual stimulation of porn, or trying new positions or techniques in the bedroom. And always use a lubricant for those drier, estrogen-depleted bits!

Our erogenous zones are limited only by our imagination and exploration. Experiment till you find what works now. Remember though, you don’t need to rush this process. Pace yourself and listen to your body’s cues.

Once you have eliminated any physiological or psychological causes for your decreased libido, relax. Give yourself time to leave this transitional stage behind and move into the confident, unhurried joy that generally accompanies our older sexual years.

***

Originally published in Xtra newspaper, October 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I Be a Lesbian and Date a Transman?

I’m a sex therapist in private practice. I’m asked all sorts of interesting questions on a regular basis. The following …

MentalPress 41

It is never to late to go to therapy

We define the goals and objectives of the counselling sessions in a very transparent manner to help patients overcome their …

MentalPress 49

How to get a good nights sleep?

In today’s competitive world, sleep is more of a luxury than a necessity. Sleep is important for the well being, both emotionally …