Joe Wong, 31, is a transgender man originally from Singapore and now living in Bangkok, Thailand, while he works as the Program Manager of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network (APTN).
I recently talked with Joe about the difficulties that exist for transgender people to openly talk about sexual pleasure: “As a transgender man, I can say it is not easy to talk with other trans people about sexual experiences. The reason is that not all are comfortable talking about how they use their genitalia. Talking about sexual pleasure is a give away to what you have or have not done to your body, specifically to your genitalia. Sexual experiences also reveal details about your sexual orientation, and Asia is kind of conservative in that regard”.
One of the biggest concerns for transgender people is talking with their sexual partners about the erotic expectations they both have. If they are uncomfortable with their own body, this puts them in a vulnerable position to negotiate: “It is hard to negotiate. If they are not getting sexual pleasure because they are not comfortable with their body, this creates a lot of anxiety.”
Transgender people have to explore a lot before knowing what is the most pleasurable for them, and to establish their sexual boundaries: “When a transgender person has sex with a cisgender person, it is hard for them to have an idea of what roles they’d like to assume. If I’m a trans woman and I’m taking a more dominant role, will the guy see me as a guy with long hair or will he see me as a woman who is taking a more dominant role? Usually, cisgender heterosexuals automatically know what they want and are expected to do in bed. For a trans person it is harder to navigate through sexual experiences”.
Some transgender men ask if they should feel guilty about being penetrated, while some trans women ask if it is right to be masturbating with their male genitalia. Before transitioning, some transgender men who like women engage in sexual experiences labeled as lesbian, and they might have penetration with their fingers or a sex toy. Once they have transitioned and express a masculine identity, Joe told me that some ask if it is “okay” to be penetrated by a woman, because they are afraid this would erase their masculinity.
An important problem is that there are practically no resources for transgender people across Asia to learn about sexual pleasure: “Within the trans community, most of the advice comes from conversations with friends. Sexual pleasure is not a topic that many transgender people would feel comfortable talking about in larger groups, but rather with small groups, social media or on one-to-one conversations if the person feels safe”.
A good way to provide positive sex education to the transgender community would be through specific educational materials: “A lot of young trans people are in the stage when they are experimenting, exploring, finding their sexual orientation. With such materials, you can start talking about the topic: Has anyone done it? How would that work? Would this keep us safe? It is also important to explain that there is no need to feel guilty if you feel pleasure with the genitalia you were born with”.
When it comes to having discussions about sexual pleasure, Joe identifies one difference between older and younger transgender women: “Some older transgender women try to overcompensate in regard to their femininity; they dress more provocatively or they speak more openly about sex. The younger the transgender woman is, there is less overcompensation and some behave like a woman who dresses more conservatively or who doesn’t talk about sex”.
On the other side, trans men who are attracted to women talk more openly about pleasure and sex: “They tend to talk as a cisgender heterosexual man would talk. When you transition, it is also expected for you to feel attracted to the opposite sex”. Thus, hetero-normativity also acts within the transgender community and prevents some gay trans men to talk openly about pleasure. Finally, Joe also highlighted that another taboo are the relationships that occur between trans women and trans men.