Unlike my usual posts, this post is written for cisgender embodiment facilitators.
Content Warning: lots of explicit language for genitals.
You are a cisgender erotic embodiment teacher with the desire to be inclusive to trans folks in both the language you use and the events you offer. I have some perspective to gift you regarding this. This post is from my perspective as a student, a teacher, and a trans man. When I discuss trans folks in this post I’m referring to people who identify mostly, or entirely, with a binary gender. The experience of non-binary, agender, genderqueer, and other gender-expansive people is perhaps somewhat different.
Recently, I read a Facebook post which used the phrase: “not all folks with vulvas are women.” Yes, totally true. And not as inclusive as you want it to be.
Trans people have a wide variety of ways they talk about their genitals. Some trans men who have not had bottom surgery (non-op) are happy and/or willing to use the traditionally female-associated words (clitoris, vulva, yoni, vagina, pussy, etc.) to describe their genitals. But most are not. Many use cock, dick, penis, and “front hole” or “bonus hole”. Further, many non-op trans women use terms like clitoris and vulva to describe their anatomy. Some trans folks have other names for their genitals, or don’t name them at all.
When teachers talk about “people with a vulva/pussy” or “vulva owners” there is often the assumption of interior anatomical genitalia, which excludes both non-op trans men who use different terminology and non-op trans women with exterior genitals. Similarly problematic is “penis owners” – non-op trans women may not call their anatomy that, and non-op trans men might.
Further, trans folks who are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) have different experiences of sexuality than their non-op anatomy might suggest. Trans men on testosterone have experiences of sexuality that are more in line with those of cis men. And vice-versa: trans women on HRT have experiences with sexuality that are more in line with cis women. So to use language that seems to be inclusive of trans folks, but falls back on more traditionally gendered sexual experience based on anatomy is not inclusive.
Workshops & Classes
So, you want to offer workshops, retreats, and classes that are inclusive of trans people? Many teachers and organizations are now expanding their offerings to “all genders”. In general, “all gender” offerings can be attractive to trans and gender-expansive folks, especially if you use language in your offering specifically mentioning us and have co-teachers, facilitators, and/or assistants who are trans or gender-expansive. However, if you have an offering for “all genders” but all your teachers are cisgender, it won’t feel inclusive or safe, and trans folks may steer clear of it, no matter what language you use.
Many trans men and trans women want to be able to take advantage of offerings dedicated to just men or just women. With a few notable exceptions, offerings in these realms have not been inclusive. When teachers use explicit gendered language for anatomy, or include anatomy some of us don’t have, it is not inclusive. For example, I saw a description for a workshop on anal pleasure for self-identified men (inclusive language), that talked about prostate glands, which isn’t inclusive of trans men. Workshops described as being for “self-identified” women, but using traditional female-oriented language for anatomy, and taught by cisgender women won’t necessarily feel inclusive or safe to trans women.
Overall, three important things:
1) Be really clear about who/what you really want to work with. For example, if you want to work with people who have interior vulvas then be really clear about that with the knowledge that you will be excluding most trans folks. If you want to work with cis people, state that without apology.
2) Make sure you are prepared to work with your population of choice. If you want to expand to be really inclusive of trans folks, find co-teachers, co-facilitators, and/or assistants who are trans. They can help you craft your language and offerings, and create safer spaces for trans folks.
3) Understand that many trans people have trauma and dysphoria around their gender, sexuality, and genitals. Trans bodies have been targets of violence, trauma, abuse, and degradation. We live in a world that doesn’t want us to exist and many of us have an ongoing experience of gender dysphoria. It’s really hard for most trans folks to enter erotic embodiment spaces with cisgender people. At a minimum, you’ll have to thoughtfully and consciously create a container to provide some degree of safety for trans folks to be there. Set the tone early on, be clear that all bodies, no matter what the anatomy, are welcome in your space, and have zero tolerance for transphobia.
I welcome comments and critiques of this advice especially from other trans folks, and expansions from non-binary, genderqueer, and gender-expansive folks. I also welcome comments and questions from cisgender teachers.