What You Need To Know About Gender Play In The Bedroom

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
I recently received the following anonymous question, and thought it was definitely one worth answering on a topic that bears discussion.

Hello, I am a cisgender male who has always had fantasies about being a woman. Nothing strikes my fancy quite like imagining myself in lacy lingerie with large breasts, a vagina, and general feminine features. I am pansexual and have no problem being open with my interest in persons across the gender spectrum. But I've never been able to admit to a partner my interest in gender play. Do you have any advice about how I can open up to partners without being mistaken for trans?

There’s a whole lot of stigma in our society surrounding anything perceived as gender nonconformity, and gender play is definitely one of those things that most people can’t or don’t want to wrap their minds around. We have all been taught since we were children that there is a certain set of expectations for babies born with penis-like genitals and an entirely different set of expectations for babies with vulva-like genitals. During undergrad, I read what seemed like endless observational research studies that discussed how infants were treated dramatically differently based on their gender before they had even uttered a single word or taken a first step.

Many resources discuss this issue from a social theory standpoint, and I do want to acknowledge that; I am going to talk about this from a direct and personal point of view. 

Here’s one more thing I want to address before I continue: The derogatory slang term “tranny” is often used to refer to people who engage in gender play (as an abbreviation of “transvestite”), and is also used to refer to transgender folks. This word is considered offensive regardless of what you’re intending to say, and it is also offensive to use “transvestite” and “transexual” interchangeably. Gender-playing and identifying as transgender are not mutually exclusive, but it is wrong to assume they are the same thing. 

I usually see the word “tranny” thrown around whenever someone is referring to a person they think isn’t conforming to their assigned gender, but it is dismissive of that person’s identity and implies disgust and superiority over them as an “other” in our society. Again, I don’t want to make this piece solely about defining terms, and encourage you to do that for yourself, but this definitely needs to be made clear. “Cross-dresser” is also considered offensive to some people, but some people may embrace that term. When appropriate, the best thing is to do is ask a person what they identify as and not make any assumptions whatsoever.

I have had partners with penises who have enjoyed anything from just wearing a pair of panties in the bedroom to wearing a dress and makeup and going out in public with me as a “girl.” For some of them, it has been a sexual experience, and for some of them, it has been less sexual and more of an affirmation.

I realize that I am more comfortable and engaging than the average person (I write this blog, after all), but there was a time when my reaction might not have been so chill. In the past, if I've been scared or closed-minded about an element of sexuality, it was because I had absolutely no knowledge or familiarity with it.

That goes for most things in life; people fear the unknown and people fear novel concepts. 

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Based on how you worded your question, you sound confident and comfortable with yourself, and it’s really key that you convey that to your partner as well. Keep in mind that your partner might be equally enthusiastic, but they also may react in a negative way, and it’s up to you to determine how to proceed if they aren’t enthusiastic. 

You may want to tell them a little bit about what it means to you and why you like it, or even teach them a little bit about gender play. But you may also realize that an adverse reaction is a total deal breaker. There are also plenty of ways to find a partner who specifically loves what you love — FetLife has been a fantastic resource for many people I know, but it also may not be a route you feel like taking.

Related: How To Get Involved In Sex Parties

I think you may be surprised by how many people will be open to the idea if you put yourself out there. It’s pretty difficult to find a partner who is totally into everything you’re into, regardless of what your desires are, so don’t be discouraged if things don’t go as ideally as you imagined right off the bat. Regardless of what happens, this is a really fantastic learning opportunity for both you and your partner. Simply taking the initiative to communicate is a big deal.

You said that you want to open up to them without having them think you are “trans.” I don’t know if you were saying that in reference to identifying as transexual, but please also realize that if you put down transexual identities in describing gender play to your partner, that’s not going to help and that stigma you express will reflect negatively on you. It’s not constructive to slander other identities while trying to describe your own. However, if I misinterpreted your intentions in the wording of that, my apologies.

I’d like to add that people who identify as women engage in gender play as well — in case that wasn’t obvious. In fact, I just did a Google image search on the terms “cross dressing” and found that the entire first page was “men” dressed as “women,” yet when I searched “gender play,” it was primarily “women” dressed as “men.” I’m not entirely sure what that means per se, but found it quite interesting, since both terms are gender neutral. When I first started working at a sex-toy store and was being trained on how to sell the harnesses and dildos, I tried them on for my very first time right there in the store over my clothes to see what the actual fits of all the harnesses were like. And almost out of nowhere, I had this realization of how cool it was to actually feel like I had a phallus attached to my body, and my mind was blown.

I’m not going to go into detail about my own sexual experiences in that department, but look, I get it. As a straight cis woman, I think the idea of having “male” genitals is totally cool and hot, so I’m right there with you. 

Thank you for the fantastic question! I hope this sparks some thought and discussion.

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