Oli* and Laura* have been dating for two and a half years. They’re getting married next summer. The only difference between theirs and other 20 something relationships? Oli’s trans.
We know what it’s been like for Caitlyn Jenner’s transition from male to female, and what it’s like for her living as a transgender woman in 2015. Laverne Cox of Orange Is The New Black fame has brought light to some of the issues transgender people face too. But we still have many unanswered questions… What’s it like to date someone transgender and what’s it like to have sex with someone transgender?
When Laura* first met her boyfriend Oli* she had no idea the well-dressed guy she’d been eyeing up from across their seminar room was trans.
‘I actually assumed Oli was a gay, cis [non-trans] man, so I was delighted [when I found out] he was straight!’ she says. ‘I added him on Facebook that evening, and realised he was trans; I’d had no idea. But once I got my head round the idea I wasn’t fazed at all.’
Now 22 and 24, Laura and Oli have been together for two and a half years and are getting married next summer after the final stage of Oli’s genital reassignment surgery. Like all couples, they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs, but being in a trans relationship brings its own unique complications.
‘When it came to us actually getting together, she had no idea what to expect in terms of my body,’ Oli says. ‘She knew I was on testosterone, but I avoided going into detail by never wearing less than a T-shirt and boxers around her, and just focusing on her sexually.’
For Laura, sex with Oli was a revelation. ‘It was completely different to any other relationship I’d been in before – but not for the reasons you might expect. He was the first partner I ever had who really put my enjoyment first.’
She adds: ‘I literally had never even had a boyfriend who went down on me, and I was shocked to learn that I could actually orgasm with a partner too!’
When Oli eventually felt comfortable revealing all, they were both pretty anxious. ‘I kept thinking “she won’t see me as a man anymore and she’ll leave me”,’ Oli says, while Laura was just terrified she wouldn’t know what to do. She needn’t have been.
‘Without being too explicit about Oli’s junk,’ she giggles, ‘let’s just say that hormones change things a lot down there, and I had no problem transferring my previously acquired skills!’
Testosterone treatment, Oli explains, causes what used to be the clitoris to grow into a small penis – and he remembers feeling relieved when Laura’s reaction was “oh, it’s just a tiny dick! I know what to do with this.” ‘It’s not usually what a guy wants to hear from his girlfriend,’ he laughs, ‘but in my case it was a huge relief.’
After the initial awkwardness, their sex life went into overdrive – possibly helped by the early stages of Oli’s testosterone treatment giving him the sex drive of ‘a typical teenage boy’.
Two and a half years on though, they say sex is now far less regular: ‘My discomfort and distress at having the wrong genitals [known as gender dysphoria] has become worse and worse,’ Oli explains.
‘I’m having my first stage of lower [genital] surgery next month, and the closer it gets, the worse I feel about what I currently have. Thanks to testosterone and chest surgery, the rest of my body is now so ‘male’ – I have a flat chest, I’m really hairy, I have facial hair, more muscle mass, and then there’s this one vital area that hasn’t caught up yet.’
He adds: ‘I know Laura thinks I’m desirable as I am, but it’s very difficult to want and enjoy sex when you have the wrong genitalia.’
For Laura, Oli turning down sex was initially really difficult. ‘He can be relatively closed about his dysphoria, so my self-esteem took a bit of a blow. We did get better at communicating about it eventually, after a couple of sob-fests from me,’ she says.
‘As a partner, it’s very hard to know what to do when your other half has to interrupt sex because they feel so distressed and alienated by their own body,’ she adds.
‘It’s really difficult to comfort them about something that’s so impossible to get away from, and that you’ll never fully understand or experience. When it’s really bad, he can’t talk, move or be touched, and I just have to put some pants on and give him the space and support he needs.’
But sex isn’t the most difficult part of being with a trans guy; for Laura, it’s been other people’s reactions. Early on in the relationship, she faced ignorant and intrusive questions from friends, relatives, and even acquaintances, wanting to know ‘so are you a lesbian now?’ and ‘what does he have down there?’
‘Our relationship is constantly under scrutiny,’ she says. ‘Friends and family do perhaps take us more seriously as a straight couple since Oli had surgery, but it’s unfortunate that trans people are held to such high standards of presenting as their true gender.’
Despite the ongoing wait for lower surgery, Oli’s chest surgery last year was a major bonding period for them as a couple. ‘I’m a lot more cuddly with Laura now I don’t have this ‘danger zone’ on my torso. It’s absolutely wonderful to have her fall asleep on my chest,’ he says.
Laura agrees: ‘He seems more himself, and our physical intimacy has definitely improved. I do quietly hope that once Oli’s had lower surgery our sex life will have a bit of a revival, but I definitely feel more secure and comfortable in our relationship now than ever,’ she says. ‘Plus we’re probably more productive now we can keep our hands off each other for longer than ten minutes!’