Transgender

Transgender Sexuality Is Less Complicated Than You Think

It is important to be transgender informed, not just transgender friendly.

Posted Jan 22, 2020

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Recently, I had an opportunity to talk on my podcast with Jacob Rostovsky, who identifies as a trans male, a transgender activist, mental health clinician, and marriage and family therapist living and practicing in West Hollywood, California.

At age 14, Jacob came out as trans and has been fighting for transgender rights, acceptance, and access to affirmative care ever since. He says, "When you're born in the wrong gender, your gender changes, not necessarily your sexuality." 

Jacob believes there is no one way to be trans, especially when it comes to exploring someone’s transgender and sexual identity. As Amy Ellis Nutt, author of Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, states, “Sexual identity is who you go to bed with, gender identity is who you go to bed as."

Jacob and I talked about trans-affirmative mental health care, how affirmative differs from informative, accepting intersecting identities, and how being transgender intersects with all different identities.

Here is an excerpt from the podcast:

Joe Kort (JK): Will you talk about the difference between being a trans-affirmative mental health provider and someone who's just informative and accepting? 

Jacob Rostovsky (JR): So, say a therapist is working with a client with trans issues and the session turns into education, or the therapist doesn't really understand what the client's talking about, or the client spends most of the time having to explain things. With someone who's affirmative, the client walks in and it's a really great safe, warm, welcoming space. The client spends the time processing things. They could be coming in for something that has nothing to do with being trans. The client is comfortable opening up and not having to stop and explain and educate. It's creating an even playing ground. . . . For some reason, the trans issue just really stumped people.

JK: What therapists say is they really want to do no harm. And they're worried about that. So then they stumble. They aren't trained, they haven't taken any classes, they mean well, but they're not informed. Is that what you mean?

JR: Yes. I know so many amazing cisgender therapists who work with the trans community. And they do such great work. They go to workshops, they go to trainings. They go above and beyond. It's very complicated, yet not so complicated to be affirmative.

JK: Will you talk about intersectional identities?

JR: The easiest way to think about it is no matter who you are, you don't just belong to one community. If you look at the basic heterosexual, white, cisgender male, he belongs to the Caucasian, cisgender male community, So those are already two identities. Now, look at the trans community. Already, as a trans individual, they sort of statistically are on the lower accepted, lower socioeconomic scale. You have to look at what other communities they belong to. For me, for example, I am gay male-identified. So while I'm trans, I'm also gay. And when I navigate my life, it sometimes can be complicated because as I move in and out of my own communities, my identity shifts and sometimes you lose track of who you are, or you sometimes don't belong to any of the intersections at all. . . .

You have to consider every part of your identity when it comes to processing and working with the difficulties that attribute your life. Intersecting identities can present a lot of problems. 

JK: What gets me to understand intersectionality the most is this that the high rate of murders is of trans women of color in this country.

JR: I was at a talk and a trans male talked about how he went from being the most ignored demographic in the world to a more visible one. And I thought that was a beautifully poetic way to talk about intersecting identities.

There are so many layers of every person to unpack. Unfortunately, for some people, their layers are more visible than others and usually when they're more visible, it means more targeting and more negative statistics. 

JK: Why is it that some people like Chaz Bono transitioned and now he identifies as a heterosexual male? People get confused. If you're transitioning, why aren't you transitioning to the opposite sex?

JR: Sex and gender are not the same thing. The way I think about it is that when you're born in the wrong gender, you have to correct your gender. So your sexuality never actually changes. What changes is your outside. So for Chaz, he always dated women. As a female, he was a lesbian, but when he transitioned, he transitioned to male culturally, now identified as a heterosexual. So his sexuality never changed, but his gender did.

For me, I loved boys. I had to go through a lot of questioning and navigation and when I realized I was trans, I knew I wanted to be a boy. My sexuality shifted as my gender identity shifted. But who I was attracted to always stayed the same.

JK: In my practice at The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health, one of my therapists noted that I should warn some of my clients that when they start hormone therapy that they may discover a change in their sexual attraction and sexual orientation. Have you heard that?

JR: That's the big myth. I think what happens is once you start becoming comfortable in your body, your gender, your sexual orientation starts to become settled as well. Now, I don't want to sound binary, either: There are people in this world who change and shift and explore. Usually, when you're coming to terms with your gender identity, that takes front stage: You're settled, then you explore other aspects of your identity as well. It's a very confusing concept.

JK: Now, let's talk about sex. I really want to make sure people understand not to exploit it at all, but to understand it. As a therapist, I may say to a client, "How do you use your body for sex?" How do you talk about that with a trans person? 

JR: Instead of saying, 'What's going on down there?" you always can say, "What's going on up there? What are you thinking about? What is the issue? What makes you scared? How are you thinking about using your body? What do you want?"

If my clients aren't comfortable discussing this with me, then they shouldn't be doing it, because that's just going to cause a lot of pain, a lot of fear, and it might ruin the experience.

JK: How should they be talking about it?

JR: It might sound silly, but sometimes I will have clients write on a piece of paper what is on limits and what is off limits. Keep it in your pocket so you can take it out and share it with your partner. What is the worst that is going to happen? They're going to respect you and probably will have a great time. Or they'll say no and not have a good time. It is getting your client comfortable with talking about his or her body.

To connect with Jacob Rostovsky, visit his website: QueerWorks.org