So a little while ago I did a workshop about HIV in the trans* community. While I was researching, something I came across over and over was that trans* people lacked education about safe sex, because no one targeted them specifically, or if they did, lacked useful knowledge (and I suspect unwittingly insulted them with ignorance of trans* issues and terminology). A lot of this comes from the fact that doctors spend minimal time getting trained about sex and gender (let’s just say that in all the years of med school, the hours spent on those topics are not in the double-digits), and also that LGBT activists tend to be all about the LGB and not so much about the T (a rant for another day). In any case, I am going to try to make a little comprehensive guide to fill that void.
I suppose we should start with the basics–what is it that you are protecting, when, and what from?
Trans* people have all sorts of genitals (just like cis people, really). They may have been assigned female at birth, if they have external genitals that look like this:
This is what the external genitals look like of someone who a doctor would assign female, meaning that this person internally has a uterus and ovaries, two X chromosomes, and when they reach puberty, estrogen will define their secondary sex characteristics. Intersex people may also be trans*, and this could very well be the external genitalia of someone with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or other intersex variation. It also could be the external genitalia of a trans man, who identifies as male and may or may not take testosterone. It might also belong to a trans woman who has gotten genital surgery. Basically, these genitals could belong to most anyone, of any kind of sex or gender. Same holds true about this:
Again, people might or might not have any of these internal systems. This system could belong to a trans woman. The person who owns these bits may call what is labeled “penis” on this chart their clit. They might call the “rectum” their vagina. Anyway, I don’t want to get off-track, but the point is that it’s uncool to assume things about what people have going on under their clothes, inside their bodies, and what words they want to use to talk about it. For more about intersex genitals, check out this incredible article, that says and shows it all way better than I ever could.
Here are some illustrations from that article. Basically, it’s gonna expand your world.
To sum up: trans* people may have what is traditionally thought of as “male” genitalia, “female” genitalia, intersex genitals, and surgically constructed genitals. All of these kinds of genitalia are vulnerable to STDs, some of them can get pregnant, and some can get someone else pregnant.
If the words I am using are confusing you, check out the glossary.
Any questions so far? Tomorrow I’ll be back with part II, when we get into what safe trans* sexytimes are all about.
UPDATE: I have received criticism that this post conflates trans* and intersex people. I was pretty disappointed with myself, because that is exactly what I was trying NOT to do. I have edited it, but I also want to make sure that this is clear: Trans* and intersex people are not the same. Trans* people do not identify with their birth-assigned sex and the gender they were raised with. This may or may not be true for intersex people. However, some trans* people identify as coercively assigned at birth, which means for some people that they are intersex, but were coercively, through surgical intervention or otherwise, assigned “male” or “female.” And since many intersex people, coercively or not, are assigned one of the two binary genders to be raised with, they can sometimes be trans* as well as intersex.
I included this in my post because I really want to represent the biggest swath of the trans* population. I am torn because I do not want to misrepresent, but I also don’t want to exclude. Going forth, I hope I can make this much clearer.