Access to sexual healthcare as a trans/queer male
Jamie Hale is a UK based poet, artist, writer, and activist. They were one of the awardees of the London Writers’ Awards for Poetry 2018, and have performed their work at venues including the Tate Modern and the Barbican Centre. They are currently studying for a Master’s at UCL, and share their experiences on their blog.
The class they now call “sex and relationships education” isn’t just ‘the mechanics of sex’ – it’s about learning how to create and maintain healthy adult relationships. It’s how to use ‘protection’ and why that matters. It’s making sure everyone understands about the menstrual cycle, but also that they understand about consent.
I spent a considerable portion of my teenage years in hospital, and missed out on this entirely. Even in mainstream schools there’s not likely to be much on “how to use a condom when you can’t open the packet” or “how to ask your PAs to help you have an intimate relationship”. There’s very unlikely to be material on consent for people whose intimate partner is also their essential carer, or for people with language and communication difficulties – but this is crucial.
As I came out, I found the gay scene a lot less friendly than I’d have hoped. I was rarely able to enter venues, and when I could I was ignored or tokenized. There was no way for me to communicate that I was there for the same things as everyone else – to go dancing, have a couple of drinks, and maybe do some flirting.
There was a lot of material on “getting tested”, but I still couldn’t find a single sexual health clinic with the hoist I need in order to receive certain swab tests. This was less of a problem than it seemed – because a lot of people were put off by the wheelchair anyway (hint: it doesn’t get into bed with us).
I had had very little education on how to communicate what I wanted and needed in my daily life, and none on expressing that in bed. Communication is key in healthy relationships, but I barely had language to describe my body, let alone my desires. When I couldn’t explain these things to myself, how was I going to explain them to others?
I learned a lot from other ‘queer crips’, other people who had navigated the same tensions of learning the right ways to ask for help, and the right ways to be an adult who desired other adults, and had worked these things out more than I had. I also learned a lot from partners who helped me navigate these things – who were willing to take the time to understand how my body moved and worked, and support me with that.
People who haven’t been taught these things are ripe to be hurt – and also ripe to hurt others. I did things I now regret – mostly skipping over getting STI testing – and while I never had an infection, I easily could have. I had a lot of very uncomfortable or mildly unpleasant sex, because I had no idea how to communicate with my partners – and I’m sure many of them could say the same about sex with me.
I had, and still have, a lot of shame about how my body works in bed. I’m very self-conscious about my catheter, about spasms and spasticity, about increasing arm weakness. I’m someone who, in their daily life, struggles to relax and enjoy themselves. I get very uptight and anxious.
However, I’m beginning to understand myself and my body – and my responsibilities. I know the importance of checking in with myself and any partners repeatedly to see if we’re all still happy with what we’re doing. I know the importance of regular STI testing, and have found that the postal swab services work really well for me. I’m getting to know what I want, and what I don’t want, both in bed and in the rest of my life.
Can you relate to Jamie’s experiences? Share your thoughts in the comments below!