I’ve had a lot of difficulty telling partners that I’m genderqueer and that I use they/them pronouns. It definitely comes into play as soon as sex gets involved. Maybe part of what I’m asking is how can I and my partners break traditional gender norms in the bedroom? But I also want to know how I can discuss gender with partners who might be new to the concept that gender is a spectrum not a binary?
— GQ Cutie
Dear GQ Cutie,
As genderqueer identities and the singular, gender-neutral pronoun “they” become more commonplace (this year the singular “they” was named 2015’s Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society), this conversation will crop up in more people’s sexual and romantic lives.
Sam Dylan Finch wrote an article for EverydayFeminism.com called “8 Tips for Coming Out as Non-Binary,” which includes a helpful four-sentence formula Finch says will help. 1.) State what you are not. 2.) Say what word(s) you use to describe what you are. 3.) Clarify what the word means to you. 4.) Tell your partner why this is important.
In my genderqueer coming out, I explained it like this: 1.) Even though you may see me as a woman, on the inside, I’m not a woman and I’m not a man. 2.) I’ve been using the word “genderqueer” to describe my gender, 3.) which means that I don’t identify with either. 4.) Identifying as genderqueer has made me feel so much better because being seen as a woman made me feel so distressed and unhappy.”
Of course, gender identity is much more complex than four steps, but Finch urges that the initial goal isn’t to flawlessly educate your partners, but rather to invite them into a conversation.
Cool, so we have a gender. And then we have these bodies. Bodies that come heavily into play when it comes to sex — in both pleasurable and complicated ways. What to do?
By design, binaries only give us two restrictive options. They assign us roles to play in sex; stereotypically feminine roles are indirect and submissive while masculine roles are directive and wordlessly all-knowing.
So, practice active consent. Both parties should speak up about their enthusiastic Yes’es and hard-line Nos. Masculine folks might practice stepping back in this process so that feminine folks have more space to speak up.
Also: disrupt the “sex cycle.” Kissing-foreplay-penetration-penile ejaculation is a traditional sexual route that prioritizes penile orgasm and expects vaginal orgasm to catch up. Reprioritize pleasure that isn’t orgasm-focused. Take the scenic route. Ejaculation doesn’t need to have the last sticky word.
Try playing with power. Gender roles in sex have a lot to do with the exchange of power during sex; So bust it up! What makes you feel sexually powerful? Role playing? Lingerie? A certain sex toy? Talk about different ways to play with power with your partner and then consensually try it out.
Finally, talk about sex often and openly. Reducing assumptions about sex and gender means increasing communication about these things. Talk about sex over dinner, over text, when floating on a raft in the middle of Puffers Pond. Ask your partner how they want you to refer to and touch their body parts — especially the naughty ones — and inquire about which sex acts make them feel the most empowered in their gender identity.
And in all of this, don’t forget to hold space for fluidity and change — that’s what the spectrum is all about.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex writer and educator living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with sex advice, resources, and workshops at yanatallonhicks.com.