As anyone who’s ever dabbled in sex knows, it can be as stressful as it can be incredible. It only takes a quick search to find the proof: From the ongoing orgasm gap to the rise of sex therapy, it’s clear that school-based sex-ed — an awkward combo of bananas, condoms and gruesome STI photos — leaves a lot to be desired.
There’s even less advice out there if you’re queer, which means that most of us are left to figure it out on our own. When I came out as gay more than a decade ago, I threw myself into a string of hookups and jacked off like crazy to figure out what I was into. Like a horny warrior, I battled through the minefield of dick pics and faceless profiles on hookup apps, only to be met with the same question: Top or bottom?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to letting an anonymous daddy into my hole occasionally, but where was the imagination? Why did everything have to be so binary?
Now I know this frustration was tied into my own gender identity: Like millions of people worldwide (we don’t really know how many right now because data sucks at including us), I’m nonbinary. It wasn’t a lightbulb moment, but this understanding helped me figure out new ways to see myself, and to see other people, too. As the years went by, it changed the way I felt, dated and fucked — sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
The internet is still full of introductory articles about what it means to be nonbinary, but for the uninitated, it’s an umbrella term for anyone whose gender doesn’t fit into the boxes “man” or “woman.” Some of us prefer terms like “gender-fluid,” some — but not all of us — use they/them pronouns and some of us are also trans. Media representation is improving thanks to high-profile stars speaking openly about their nonbinary identities (e.g., Indya Moore and Nico Tortorella), but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The average person barely knows how to refer to us, never mind how to date, love and screw us.
It’s a mammoth task to start filling these representational gaps, but this roundtable discussion aims to at least offer some insight into living, dating and fucking as a nonbinary person in 2020. I spoke to four people in total:
- Ramzy, 32, a New York-based artist, pronouns they/he/she
- Dorian Electra, a musical powerhouse whose new project My Agenda is coming out October 15th, pronouns they/them
- Devin Mar, 28, a U.S.-based queer, polyamorous person, pronouns they/them
- The aforementioned Juno Roche, 56, author of Trans Power, Queer Sex and Gender Explorers, pronouns they/them
Each of them opened up about sex, love, dating, porn, hookups and so much more, sharing their own experiences in the name of transparency and visibility.
This is a roundtable discussion about nonbinary sexuality — generally speaking, what have your experiences been like?
Juno: It’s really tough, because I probably came to viewing myself in a non-gendered way quite late. We’re still at a point in time where we’re having to name things, so I feel like this nuanced world that needs to exist for intimacy to really occur isn’t there yet. There’s still this idea of, “This is how I feel about myself, but will the person I’m attracted to just think about things in a really binary way? What’s the deal there?”
Ramzy: It’s a journey, and still something I’m figuring out. Growing up, I didn’t have the language to describe myself: You were gay, straight or trans, that was it. My friend knew someone who was nonbinary, and I was like — that’s it, that’s what I am! I never wanted to transition; I feel comfortable in my body, but it doesn’t match the person I am inside and that complicates sex, because ideally it should stem from feeling sexy and comfortable in your body. In the past, I dealt with it by not having very much sex. I felt more comfortable once I found ways to unpack and express my gender identity, but it still changes my relationship with sex.
Devin: I came out as nonbinary back in 2014 — my Tumblr days! I grew up in the Bible Belt and went to a public school, where there was a strong lack of sex education. They preach abstinence and heterosexuality, that’s it! I learned about my sexuality a lot later in life, through the internet.
Dorian: I was an early bloomer in some ways and really late in others. I loved Austin Powers and Saturday Night Live as a kid, so I had this vague but warped awareness of what sex was. Later, I felt alienated by this idea of sex as heterosexual intercourse: It hurts to stick a tampon up there, so how would sticking something else up there feel good? If you look at mainstream media, there’s this idea that people have incredible orgasms just through penetration — and some people absolutely do — but I was like, is there something wrong with my body because it doesn’t work that way?
I was really satisfied by other things, even like doing stuff through clothes. I’ve since been able to reclaim some of those ideas of masculine and feminine sexuality that used to make me feel so alienated, and that came through things like getting more involved with the drag scene, and becoming comfortable with my own gender identity.
If you had a partner when you started identifying as nonbinary, how did they react?
Devin: We had been dating for maybe two years when I told them. They weren’t against it, but I don’t feel like they were with it, either — they were from the same area as me, so it’s how we were raised. I was disappointed, but it was all still very new for me, too. I had decided to enforce Devin as my name by that point, but I was lenient about that because I was afraid and nervous. Later, I was engaged to a cis-het man who tried to convince me that my name was my given name, and that I was a woman. That’s one of the reasons we’re no longer engaged!
Ramzy: Initially it was this head-spin moment. I’m still in the relationship and my partner is supportive and comfortable with it now, but it was definitely a different lens through which to see my personality. I think he understood intuitively beforehand, but if you’re a cis-presenting person who is nonbinary, I think it’s confusing to people. I’m also polyamorous — we’re open and we play a lot together, but also individually. With other partners, I feel like there’s this inherent misogyny in LGBT+ culture that leads to this devaluation of a person if they express any femininity, especially with gender identity. I’ve definitely noticed that I’ve had less sexual interest and sexual experience since coming out as nonbinary.
What have your experiences been like on dating apps?
Juno: Crap! People take one look at me and think I’m a middle-aged, blonde woman who wants to be fucked. They’ll instantly ask, “Have you had surgery?” I say to them, “I’ve got an up-cycled cock and balls that really looks like a vagina,” and that throws them! This is the space I’m occupying, but I understand what you want me to occupy: Because I’ve got a trans body, you want me to declare myself in a binary camp. When I say I’m a complex up-cycling of flesh which was once deemed male and is now deemed female, that’s then a journey they’re going to come on with me. I like sex — even in my mid-50s I won’t pretend that I don’t — but I describe myself with my truth, not to please other people.
Devin: I use Tinder and HER, but I haven’t used them in almost a year. At the beginning, a lot of people weren’t reading my profile — they would message based on pictures, so I had a lot of people addressing me as a woman, which was difficult. I was adamant about disclosing that I’m nonbinary, because if I’m going to have a partner, I want them to respect my truth. It was especially difficult with cis-het men, though. Toxic masculinity is real! I got Grindr too, but deleted it within five minutes. The interaction was a mixture of dick pics and faceless profiles saying what they want to do to me. I’m really sexual, but it was overwhelming and uncomfortable — there was no regard for my feelings or autonomy, nothing. I don’t understand why people are on this app willingly. You can’t just show me your dick out of nowhere — what do I respond to that?
Ramzy: I don’t use apps, but I have friends that use Grindr. For most people on there, it’s such an immediate thing — hole pic, you hosting and that’s it. For people on that spectrum of in-between gender identities, it’s this exhausting process of describing yourself and then experiencing rejection. A lot of nonbinary friends reveal that part of themselves, and then it’s a no-go. It’s like, “Ugh, fuck!” It makes you feel like, if I weren’t this thing, it would make my life easier, right?
How has your experience of pleasure changed since understanding yourself as nonbinary?
Dorian: Weirdly, I’ve become more comfortable with taking on these extreme, hyper-feminine norms. At first, I hated stereotypical “feminine” sexual norms, but now I can take them, master them and make them my own, almost as a way to fuck with myself. Now I’m more comfortable with my gender identity, I feel like I can try it on for fun, almost like drag. I present more masculine with my art, but that’s why I liked doing [new single] “Gentleman / M’Lady” — I wanted to explore the extremes of both and create this hyper-feminine archetype filtered through cartoon porn. I’m attracted to hyper-feminine things, so the idea that I can be that for myself is really awesome. It’s hard to get out of my head during sex sometimes, though. I like to find mental, psychological kinks; I talk a lot and I like role-play — not just putting on a costume, but building these bizarre worlds together.
Devin: I started testosterone on June 5th, and oh my goodness! I see why people call it a second puberty! Your body is changing — good, welcome changes — so you rethink the way you do things. Like masturbation; I would crave penetration, but within five seconds of penetrating myself I was like, “Nope, this isn’t it!” I ended up talking to other people on testosterone, and they explained that the muscle is tightening, getting stronger, so I have to retrain my body to receive penetration. I’ve only been physical with one person since then, but it was magical: They said all the right things and touched me in all the right ways. The sex was good, but the experience of having my nonbinary, trans body respected? That was mind-blowing!
Ramzy: I definitely feel more present in my body. I’ve hooked up with people who eroticize my gender identity, which is interesting. The things I used to feel insecure about are the things they find sexy about me. In one case, I was dressed very femme but still had a moustache. I think that made him instantly understand my gender identity, and he was clearly into that complexity. It’s difficult; being nonbinary is very visible to us, but it’s invisible to other people unless you express it outwardly, visually. The fact that he could see that part of me and was into it felt sexy and kinky.
Before I was nonbinary, there was so much pressure to perform masculinity — I was so concerned with occupying that role that it took me out enjoying it. I was constantly wondering if this movement, sound or behavior was what my partner expected of me, or what they wanted and desired. It did me a disservice, because I wasn’t enjoying it — and that’s the whole point of sex!
Juno: Until I had surgery, I was the most binary thinker — I had this notion that I would open my legs and be made “proper” by a man climbing on top and screwing me! I assumed that I would buy a big dildo, lube up and bang away, but it didn’t work; I didn’t want to be penetrated. I wanted to explore my body differently, and now I notice that when my body feels pressure to “perform,” it responds in a negative way. Whenever I’m just allowing my body to go to a place that feels erotic, it’s so much better. I’ve worked really hard to get to this place of comfort, so I won’t give that up for a quick fuck.
Would you say it’s easier or more comfortable for you to date other nonbinary people?
Dorian: I don’t think the label is important, as long as the person is open with communication. I’ve had amazing experiences with super cis, straight guys who were sensitive to how I wanted to be thought of in that moment, and careful with the language they used about my body. It’s been cool to explore sexuality with people who haven’t been with a gender-fluid partner before, too: I feel like people can be so much happier when they’re not repressing themselves, or that ambiguity. There is shame, too, though — this anxiety that I’m not enough of a woman, that I’ll never be able to replace a cis man. But sexuality can be such a healing, holistic part of connecting to your mind, your body and to others. It can be really beautiful.
Juno: I find it attractive when someone’s gender doesn’t seem fixed, but often I’ve been drawn to those people and then they’re looking for a really binary partner. That has felt really weird. I’m deeply attracted to trans masculinity, but a lot of the people I find attractive are looking for binary gay relationships. There’s not enough of us yet, I don’t think — when I wrote Queer Sex, it felt like trans people had only just really started to sleep with other trans people.
Devin: I’ve never slept with another nonbinary person, but I would like to. I personally believe it would be better, that they would understand me more. I have noticed that the trans people I’ve hooked up with are understanding, respectful and inclusive. Well, to be fair, some weren’t — I soon weeded them out though!
Finally, what do you want people to understand about sex as a nonbinary person?
Devin: “nonbinary” means different things to all of us, so in-depth conversation is important: How does someone want to be addressed, and what are their limits with intimacy? Some people don’t want to be called “handsome” or “pretty,” some use different words for their genitalia and some might not want you to touch their butt or their chest. It depends on the person, so it’s important to have that conversation.
Dorian: I like to think of “nonbinary” not as another rigid identity, but as a way of questioning and thinking about the world that anyone can take on. Anyone can be enriched by challenging their notions of gender and sexuality: Even people in straight, cis relationships could think about sexuality in a more nonbinary way. Exploring my sexuality was awkward at first, but now I don’t go into sexual experiences with preconceived notions of what a person wants or likes, and that frank communication definitely helps. That goes for other things like consent, too — it’s an approach that can eliminate some of those problematic grey areas.
Ramzy: As hard as it sounds, I want people to divorce the idea of sex from genitalia and stop thinking through that lens. It’s a big part of sex, but I don’t think about my genitalia at all during sex. I’m not saying size queens or people that love vaginas are bad, but it’s about holding space for people who have different ways of thinking, and about thinking of your partner as more than their penis and vagina. In a perfect world, we could just think about sex as a way of pleasuring a person regardless of their anatomy — that makes it easier to be in touch with what turns us on, and makes us feel sexy.