Trans 101 for Wobblies, part 5: FAQs

Another part the ongoing series by Boston IWW member Fey on Trans issues. Originally appeared here.

Another weekend, another post. (For the rest of the Trans 101 for Wobblies series, go here, here, here, and here.) After running through some of the information that you may not have realized you needed to know about trans people, we can get to some of the information that you might have wanted to know all along. Please note this post has some relatively frank discussion of sex.

Part 5: FAQs

1. Trans sex lives & relationships

This depends on lots of things. Surgical status, sexual history, a preference for penetrating or being penetrated, and sexual orientation can all make a difference in who trans people have sex with and how they do so. Everyone is different, and it is very, very important to understand that because trans women are not gay men and trans men are not gay women, and because people of non-binary identities have a wide array of sexual preferences, the same array of orientations is available to trans people as to cis people. Even a trans woman who’s “post-op” and now has a surgically constructed vagina may still use a strap-on to have sex with her partner, who might be any gender or sex. I myself am in a monogamous marriage with another guy and I still prefer being the penetrated partner, just only anally or orally.

Legally speaking, nothing is illegal about relationships with trans people or between them, but trans people may or may not be able to legally marry their partner, depending on the state/country and the legal gender of the parties involved. One horrifying example is the UK, where for example a trans woman married to a cis woman would have to divorce her wife to complete gender transition and then get the inferior civil union instead. Yes, this is legally required— and a sick joke.

2. How trans people are gendered on paper

It varies by where you are and what documents you’re looking at. Birth certificates in different places are typically very hard to change, but this doesn’t rule out lots of difficulties and red tape for other documents. US federal law now says you can change the gender marker on your passport with a specific type of doctor’s note; everything else is a roll of the dice. Right now, my driver’s license and passport say I’m male and use my correct name, whereas my Social Security and insurance do use the right name but say I’m female, and meanwhile my birth certificate still has all the old information because my state of birth is notoriously difficult about this issue. I could potentially get my gender marker switched with my insurance, but I choose not to; if I’m listed as male then they might choose not to cover my eventual hysterectomy, even if it were to become an emergency, because a man “can’t possibly” have a uterus. The sacrifice I make for this is that they now don’t cover my hormone treatments because no “female” could need testosterone shots. More on that below!

3. The transitional process

If someone decides they would like to change their body, there are several general ways to do so. You can change enough to “pass” as cis with the public, or you can change more intimate body parts.

A common starting point for many people is hormone replacement therapy. Different hormones are taken according to what you want to change about your body, e.g. grow breasts, redistribute body fat, increase body hair, change bone mass, lower voice. Effects are different for everyone and not all changes are reversible, plus what some trans men can change by hormones is not something that can be changed by trans women, and vice versa. Hormones for trans men will lower their voices, but hormones for trans women won’t raise theirs, for example. Also, some of these same people, or different people, will have cosmetic surgery performed; trans women may get breast implants or adjustments to their faces to have finer features, while trans men may get double mastectomies and chest reconstruction. Trans women sometimes get laser hair removal.

Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is often what people generally think of as “a sex change,” but many people who transition from living as their assigned gender to their real gender never alter their sex. However, among those who do, for trans women and similar people this process usually involves having the penis and testicles removed surgically and the tissue of the penis used to create a vagina; for trans men and similar people this process can involve having the testosterone-enlarged clitoris freed from surrounding tissue to hang more freely from the body and optionally redirect the urethra through it, or alternately using a skin graft to lengthen the clitoris much more significantly than hormones will do.

All of the transitional activities described are complicated and expensive, so some people choose not to do it for financial reasons. Others simply don’t find it relevant. Some of these practices are also available to— or forced upon— intersex people, who may or may not consider themselves trans. I personally am on hormones as mentioned, and I plan to get a hysterectomy, but I don’t plan on getting a mastectomy or any form of SRS. The hormones themselves address most of the problems I have with my own body.