Shaken Up

Friday, January 01, 2010

Question

I am a progressive, African-American, Christian minister who recently went to a conference for LGBT people of faith and their allies. At that conference, I attended a workshop on the spiritual issues of transgendered people and met a charming young man who is a female-to-male transsexual. I took him out to lunch and was so impressed with his intelligence and his commitment to his own calling to become ordained.But that night I couldn't stop thinking about him. For the rest of the conference, I felt I was almost turning to a stalker. I kept looking for opportunities to talk to him again. I went to workshops I thought might appeal to him. Finally I had to admit that I was having sexual thoughts about him.

Despite the fact that I am married, I have often been curious about what it would be like to have physical feelings for another man. It has taken many years and a lot of soul-searching for me to overcome my childhood training that gay sex was "nasty" and condemned by God. I still don't think I could ever do such a thing. Because of my visibility as an ally of gay Christians, I have occasionally been approached by gay men who found me attractive. Rather than share my physical reluctance, I've simply said I am a married man and could not violate those vows.

Now I find that I am fantasizing about the young man I met and wondering if perhaps, with him, I could find a combination of male and female qualities that would allow a sexual connection.

I never had the courage to express any of this to him. But I still have his e-mail address. How do I broach this topic with him?

Answer

Unless you have permission from your wife to explore sex outside the marriage, you should not reveal your sexual attraction to this young man or try to seduce him. If you are having problems in your marriage or questions about your own identity that are putting a strain on it, I think you need to deal with those before you start fooling around on the side.

I am giving you this advice because (first of all), I think people should keep their vows to one another. But (second of all), exploring an attraction to another man can be stressful. If that other man is transsexual, the situation is even more complicated. I am also thinking of him, and the potential that this has to hurt him deeply. The last thing he needs is an affair with a married man who thinks he is heterosexual. Knowing that a straight man is attracted to you doesn't exactly validate your identity as a gay man.

There are important reasons why you allowed this attraction to take root and continued to nurture it. Many people think they are being kind or liberal when they approach a transsexual expecting him or her to be "the best of both worlds." But many if not most transsexuals will be offended by such a statement. Just think about it from their point of view. In order to move from female to male, your friend has experienced years in therapy, visited doctors, gone through the hassle of getting all the paperwork in order so he can take hormones, gone through all of the side effects of taking them, endured the months or years of being treated badly because he has not fully transitioned, found money for a surgeon, gone under the knife and recovered from all of that pain, come out to family and friends or left them behind, suffered discrimination and possibly violence as well, and searched his soul about whether this was the right thing to do. Imagine how depressed and upset he would be to hear that you still view him as enough of a woman to be "the best of both worlds." Unless he identifies as gender queer or has otherwise made it clear he doesn't care about being seen as a man exclusively, this term borders on insulting.

It sounds like it's the idea of physical contact with another man's penis that makes you reluctant to engage in gay sex. But do you really know what your FTM friend's genitals look like? He may have had bottom surgery. Even if he hasn't, he probably sees himself as having a cock. It may not be as big as the typical genetic man's penis, but size does not control identity. If he still has a vagina, he may not be comfortable with you noticing it, much less touching or penetrating it. If anal sex is repugnant to you, what will you do if your FTM crush prefers that activity?

Being with this guy will be like being with another guy because that's what he is. If you were ever to go on a date with him, other people would perceive you as a gay couple. He's going to perform socially in a masculine role. The deference and flattery that women show you will not be there. It may be a bit of a shock to your system.

You probably feel like I am scolding you, and if so, I apologize. It is really difficult for non-trans people to empathize with or understand all the subtleties of trans culture. If I have spoken in detail about things you already understand, please forgive me; it's not my intention to be condescending. Do a lot more reading and try to meet more trans people. I appreciate your willingness to learn and become an ally. I just hope I can save both of you some heartache by warning you about potential pitfalls.