I’ve recently started seeing someone new and she’s been sending me mixed messages. When I asked her about it, she explained that it was confusing to date a girl for the first time and she wasn’t quite sure how to behave. “When I date men, I am mean to them, and they love it. If I’m mean to you, you cry, and I don’t want you to cry.” It made me think about the ways we have been socialised by not just our communities and our friendships but also by our romantic relationships. We’ve learnt different ways of flirting, facilitating intimacy and working through conflict that have stood us both in good stead with our previous partners (mine being lesbians and trans masc people, hers being straight men) but don’t work so well with each other. We’re both unable to predict how the other will react based on people we’ve dated before; I’ve had to let go of my emotional confessionals and long-winded conversations as they don’t generate closeness, and to try to learn new modes of relating to a romantic partner.
Our worlds are similar in some ways: they are both populated by gay men, trans women and sex workers. Through that we have a shared sense of humour, flippancy towards sex, attitude to partying and understanding of cultural tropes. I am used to spending time with lesbians and trans men, though, and she is familiar with straight men in a way I have never been—she knows first-hand how playing power games with them often works in her favour. A trans man friend of mine says that straight people sometimes use bickering as a form of foreplay or as the last refuge of affection in their relationships; what the girl I’m dating said has made me contemplate that anew. Straight relationships are mostly opaque, uninteresting and repetitive to me, but now that I am dating someone who has engaged with them almost exclusively in the past, I find myself interrogating the dynamics of heterosexuality more.
We are taking a crash course in advanced queer education
I also have a newfound solidarity with straight women, as for the first time in my life I am dating someone with a penis. When we began having unprotected sex I sought advice from the sexual health clinic I go to (“I’m dating a trans girl, she sleeps with men too but she uses condoms and is on PREP and is a top and we have vaginal sex and she hasn’t been on hormones for six years”). The doctor told me “your risk for HIV is low, but you do have to think about pregnancy,” which threw me—I had to think about what? Suddenly pregnancy changed from dirty talk and the ultimate fantasy—something I had yearned for, as you do with the unachievable, dreaming of castles in the sky—to something I had to worry about and protect against. It made our relationship feel higher stakes too, in a way I never anticipated. I risk not just STIs with every encounter—a reality I have grown accustomed to with sex work—but a whole baby! Something I desperately want but am not certain in what circumstances or at which time. (Pussy and pregnancy are completely new to her too; when I first told her not to cum in me she said, without irony, “why?”.)
A gay friend of mine joked that we are taking a crash course in advanced queer education with each other right now, as we are adapting to new relationship structures in our thirties. It’s true that we are learning with each other, and I find it both challenging and fascinating. However, if you subscribe to the theory of queer temporality—the idea that life for queer people progresses at a different pace than for straight people, with different cultural markers and passages—maybe it’s appropriate that we “sound like two teenagers”, as a straight girl friend says to me. I certainly feel as if I’m back with my high-school girlfriend, in that I can sense that we are feeling things out with each other. It’s a bit of trial and error and a lot of fun.