Picture looking across a crowded room and seeing the sexiest person you ever did see. Your interest is peeked and your mind wonders. You are turned on. Plenty of us have experienced this. Our attraction for someone sparks images in our minds—the possibilities. Our fantastical perceptions of this hopeful interaction are just that, our perceptions. We make assumptions of who’s on top, who takes what, your compatibility and oh how good it could feel. No harm done, right? It’s all in our fantasies. A little secret we can smile about, but what if those harmless fantasies are the catalyst to how you approach this person. What if it colors how we try to negotiate and how that person engages with you?
I’ve had many conversations with many different people, who’ve discussed frustration about how people have sexually perceived them and how that perception leads to pigeon-holding them into a “sexual identity.” Sometimes our fantasies/impressions fit the person but what about those times that it doesn’t?—Queer femmes only seen/accepted as bottoms, masculine folks desired as tops and expressed disgust if they show any switchery or bottom desires. Femme’s having to prove that they are worthy, strong enough or able to top. When we’re attracted to someone, our first impressions, fantasies and societal influence all conflate to have a huge impact on how we sexually perceive that person. How does that in turn alter who is attracted to you, what kind of relationships you have, how you fuck and love when most people are set in a one-dimensional way of viewing you?
This perception of course affects everyone regardless of gender identity or sex, AND there is a unique experience for gender non-conforming, gender queer or gender fluid, non-binary (GNC/GQ/GF/NB) folks. How do GNC/GQ/GF/NB folks navigate sex, love and relationships in a society that positions our sexual behavior/desire within a binary context? What if, you’re a person who shifts your gender from day to day? What if you live as one gender for weeks/months/years and then shift to another gender and then again? What if you mix it all up, all of the time? How do you negotiate your, for lack of a better term, sexual positioning with potential lovers/fuck-buddies? How do you de-construct the binary desire for GNC/GQ/GF/NB folks?
I met a queer identified bisexual cis man at an event many years ago. I was instantly attracted to him and I’m assuming, he to me. We exchanged numbers, flirted, made our attraction known, and discussed my gender in detail. This was before testosterone and top surgery (no-op/no-ho), so I wanted to make sure he understood that. He said he did. We continued to flirt and set plans for a sexual encounter. The aftermath of our hotel encounter was one that is etched in my mind. It set the tone for many internal dialogues about how I should share my body with cis men—especially while I was no-op/no-ho. We made out, his clothes slowly came off. He commented on my strong arms. We rolled around, kissed some more. My clothing came off. His hands/fingers digitally stimulated and I saw it. His face shifted. His mood altered. Seeing me in all my nakedness did not allow him to see me for who I was. I became a woman to him. His dick softened and I was mortified. I grabbed my clothes. Quickly put on my jeans, t-shirt, Tims’, and baseball cap. In the midst of getting dressed to exit for a much needed cigarette, he said, “Right there! There’s my man.” He could only see what he perceived me to be. I presented manly in that moment, breast bounded and fully dressed. His original fantasy of what I could be sexually returned to him as I stood before him, my naked vulnerability
Another time, at a club, I was embodying masculinity. A queer femme identified woman approached me. We talked. Eye contact was intense. Energy sparked. Our bodies found themselves closer and closer to one another. Sexual whispers between drinks and in the midst of the chattering crowd. We both revealed desires for a one-night-stand. We went back to my place, and entangled ourselves in an amazing night of pulsating heat. Afterwards, we were both clear, that that had to happen again. We exchanged numbers, had a few chats and decided to meet up again. This time, my energy propelled me to embody femme. As soon as she saw me, it was like the proverbial scratch of the record. She literally yelled out “NO!” and proceeded to let me have it. Exclaiming that, this is not what she signed up for. And that was that.
These binary, and often stagnant ideas, do not allow one to shift from that initial desire or fantasy. It is rooted in patriarchy and heteronormativity. It creates gossip on social media about “two fingers.” It slut shames and it confines us in very big ways. This binary view or (perceived) identity, at times, puts GNC/GQ/GF/NB folks at the mercy of who is attracted to us. We sometimes fit into that role because we want to be desired/have sex/be loved. As a polyamorous person, at times, I’ve allowed for the one-dimensional view. I do so knowing that I am able to receive alternate or more beautifully complex views from others whom I’m sexual/intimate with. Although, this does not mitigate my desire to show all of me, all of the time.
I sometimes stress about those first impressions. When I’m at a conference and meet new people, what do I want them to see first—My femme expressions, my masculine expressions, androgyny? Can I even control what comes out of me? It’s all fluid. I actually have no idea how people see me half the time.
This is where negotiation is helpful for me. Just as I ask everyone, regardless of my assumptions, what pronoun they use, I ask potential lovers/fuck buddies how they sexually identify or how they are feeling in that moment. As I’ve negotiated through flirting, in the moment, over text, via email or a face-to-face conversation, I’ve learned that there is always more to a person— and I like that.
Ignacio Rivera M.A., is a queer, Trans, Two-Spirit, Black, Boricua, Taíno who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” Ignacio is an activist, writer, educator, filmmaker, performance artist and mother.