This book that is simultaneously poignant, thought-provoking, ground-breaking and refreshingly honest.
Subtitled as ‘A Trans and Non-Binary Guide to Intimacy, Pleasure and Relationships,’ Queer Sex is really a first foray into the possibilities of trans sexuality, intimacy and desire. This foray dovetails with Roche’s own experiences as a trans woman seeking intimacy and fulfilling sexual relationships.
As Roche illustrates very clearly, for some trans people, the genitals and sexual organs they were born with may be seen by themselves or by society as a “problem” to be mitigated with hormone therapy and/or surgery.
They may have fantasised about having a different set or genitals or sexual organs, along with a different body or gender presentation generally.
Once these things have been changed, some people may have assumed that their sexuality and their intimate relationships would change. But, as Roche finds, it can be a lot more complex, challenging and exciting.
Roche starts the book by contemplating her relationship with her vagina. It’s bold and audacious writing that enabled me to gain a real sense of her feelings over time. I empathised with her frustration and sadness but also with her curiosity and hopefulness.
I’m a cisgender lesbian, but like most other human adults, I too have sometimes felt inadequate or unfulfilled in the bedroom or in relationships, and so rather than pathologising trans people I was able to strongly relate.
Most of the book is made up of framed interviews where Roche is the interviewer. Roche introduces us to the subjects and reflects upon the conversations afterwards.
As a high-profile, respected trans activist, Roche provides the reader with a sympathetic and warm insight into the intimate lives of the interviewees.
She talks to non-binary people with various trans experiences as well as binary trans people who are pre-transition, mid-transition, post-transition or who have chosen certain aspects of transition but not others.
The only unifying feature in these interviews was their immense diversity.
Some people were comfortable with all aspects of sexuality and their being trans had a limited or non-existent effect on their capacity to be sexually or romantically intimate.
Others’ sexual experiences had been massively shaped by being trans.
For many of the interviewees, transition had had unexpected effects on them and was far from plain sailing.
There was diversity even sometimes within one account. Human sexuality is a complex thing and all our experiences as well as our genetics and our physical bodies and minds can affect it.
Two interviews have stuck with me and I have found myself mulling on them as I commute to work.
The first regarded a common experience for trans women who have had surgery to create a vagina. In order to prevent their vaginas from closing up, they are instructed to use a dilator to stretch the muscles.
This is a very boring, medicalised and potentially painful scenario for a lot of trans women. But, one of the interviewees asked Roche, why not use a vibrator or dildo instead? They’re softer, made from materials that are more comfortable on one’s genitals, and provide pleasure as well as relaxing the vaginal walls.
This very simple solution is eye-opening. Should being penetrated be the goal — can’t some trans women enjoy sex without it? (Of course they can.) And why hadn’t anyone mentioned this solution to Juno before? Trans people are no different from cis people in enjoying sex toys.
The other account that stuck with me was an interview with some people who are in a non-binary self-pleasure group. They meet up with a few others, relax together, eat together, and once they are comfortable people masturbate or otherwise pleasure themselves in the same room.
Apparently similar arrangements had come about during the AIDS crisis to prevent the transmission of HIV.
It makes absolute sense as masturbation is the safest kind of sex, physically and emotionally. It can improve someone’s wellbeing and help people to enjoy their bodies.
I started wondering if we shouldn’t have a public health campaign promoting masturbation!
Queer Sex is a fabulous — but still realistic — celebration of trans and non-binary people, their bodies and their sexuality. Thanks to Roche’s clever writing and insider perspective, it isn’t in the least exploitative, dehumanising or voyeuristic.
I hope it leads to many conversations between activists, politicians and health professionals. Pretty much anyone would benefit from reading it.