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13 Ways Non-Monogamy Has Made Me a Better Partner (and Person)

By Maya M

nonmonogamy

In our culture and many others, the typical relationship narrative goes like this: You date around a little, eventually finding one true soulmate—the one person you’ll grow old with, raise children with, and the one and only person you’ll have sex with.

But there are a lot of people who don’t subscribe to this narrative, myself included. The problem with the concept of “the one” is that it undermines each and every human’s capacity to love many different people in many different ways.

After I decided to try out non-monogamy with a former girlfriend, I realized how the standard concept of monogamy erases the complexities of sexuality, passion, and romance. Though I still loved her as deeply as ever after opening up the relationship, I also learned to love another person on a completely different level. With my girlfriend, the love was deep, full of history, and adventurous; with my second partner, the love was fiery and playful.

Non-monogamy gave me the opportunity to intimately learn about another person’s body and mind without restriction or fear, and ever since that relationship, I’ve practiced non-monogamy with all my partners. While it can look different for different people, in my case, I prefer having a primary partner—someone I can call my girlfriend, make a home with, and introduce to my friends and family. I’m also comfortable with us having other partners, whether they are sexual, romantic, or a combination, as long as there is open communication about all relationships. We make sure we’re on the same page about what is and isn’t OK.

What I’ve been most grateful for is how non-monogamy has made me a much better partner and person. Here’s what I mean.

1. I’m not as jealous.

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When someone hits on my girlfriend or when I see her express interest in someone else, I actually get excited for all the potential thrill and adventure that relationship could bring. This decrease in jealousy helps me fully enjoy my time with my partner and not question her use of time when we’re not together.

And when I do feel jealous, I handle it better than I used to. No relationship, whether monogamous, polyamorous, or non-monogamous, is totally exempt from jealousy. If you’re someone trying out an open or non-monogamous relationship for the first time, know that it’s totally normal and OK to get a little envious.

I like to sit down with my partner the moment I start feeling this way and ask some questions: Where is this coming from? Is it a little irrational? How can we work together to fix the problem now and avoid it in the future? By tackling these questions head-on, we avoid the nasty things that sometimes happen when people let jealousy fester.

2. I see partners as humans—not people I can control.

People in monogamous relationships often say things like “that’s my girl” or “you can’t talk to my man.” This reduces your partner to property, and though many people don’t mind this kind of language, I prefer to see, treat, and speak about my partner as her own person. When my partner is on a date with someone else, I am reminded that, though I love her, she’s not only mine to love.

3. I’ve completely stopped slut-shaming.

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As I’ve come to understand that my partner’s body does not belong to me, I’ve become opposed to policing others’ bodies. To me, bodies are about safety, health, and pleasure, and while I may feel bodily pleasure through exercise, sex, and deep-tissue massages, other people may feel that pleasure through different sensations and actions. Before I started practicing non-monogamy, I gave my friends who abstained from sex a hard time about their choices. But opening up that aspect of my romantic life has taught me all the nuanced ways people use (and don’t use!) their bodies, and I’m a better person for it.

4. I find joy in others’ happiness.

Compersion is a term used in non-monogamous and polyamorous communities to describe the romantic or sexual pleasure that comes with seeing your partner loved or aroused by someone else. The first time I experienced compersion was during a threesome with one of my former girlfriends. I enjoyed watching the third person kiss her because I knew she enjoyed the kiss.

Compersion can cause an immediate surge of endorphins and arousal in sexual situations, but I’ve learned to translate the feeling into non-romantic and non-sexual situations as well. By embracing other people’s joy, I’m able to feel genuine excitement for their accomplishments (instead of jealousy) and happiness for their successes (instead of bitterness).

5. My sex life is way richer because I’m more open-minded.

Many people think non-monogamous people only open up their relationships for sex. While this isn’t always true, the improvement in my sex life has been undeniable. I’ve learned so much more about different ways human bodies feel pleasure, and I’m generally willing to act on fresh ideas in bed.

6. I can connect with diverse groups of people.

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As a queer, non-monogamous woman of color, it’s sometimes hard to stumble upon communities who share all my identities and can intimately relate to my trials and triumphs. But when I do, the feeling is magical. Though I love my straight, white, monogamous friends, meeting a non-monogamous brown or queer girl like myself helps me expand my perspective on my own identities as well as empathize with (and learn from!) the perspectives of someone else in a position similar to mine.

7. I don’t take my relationship for granted.

In a monogamous relationship, when an S.O. is expected to spend all their romantic and sexual energy on you, things can sometimes get a little stale and monotonous. When I opened up my relationship, I treated all the time we spent together like a gift and not necessarily an expectation. Despite what people may think, we didn’t spend significantly less time together. But on the nights she would be on a date with another person, I would have time to reflect on how much I loved her (and missed her!), so I was better able to cherish the time we spent together.

8. I’m a lot better at talking about my relationship.

From improvement strategies to big next steps (like moving in together or adopting a puppy) to simple check-ins, non-monogamy has made me a better communicator in general. I’m able to apply the same open communication principles to serious relationship talks, positive or negative.

9. I’m not quick to judge others.

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It’s no secret that non-monogamy is unconventional and often frowned upon. As someone who takes pleasure in something society deems “unnatural” or “irregular,” I understand how important it is to approach any other lifestyles with an open and accepting mind (as long as those lifestyles don’t bring harm upon others).

10. I understand my own sexuality (and others’) better.

When I was 17, I came out as a lesbian and understood my sexuality to be strictly one that aggressively favored women. But as I opened up my relationships and started sleeping with men, I found that though I still prefered women over men in every way, there was definitely room for men (both cis and gender non-conforming) and people who don’t identify within the binary. I started identifying as queer and learned that my own sexuality can be very fluid. Understanding my own sexuality helps me talk to my partners about theirs and ultimately helps me create safe spaces for friends and family to discuss the issue with me as well.

11. I take better care of my physical and reproductive health.

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Having a variety of different partners means taking responsibility to ensure pleasant and safe experiences for everyone. I get tested for STIs more often and also make sure to tackle infections more quickly now that a variety of people may be exposed to them. Taking better care of my reproductive health contributes to better communication, since sharing sexual history with partners can be crucial in many non-monogamous relationships.

12. Saying “no”—without hurting someone’s feelings—has become much easier.

Since I go on a lot more dates, I’ve become much better at sensing when I’m not compatible with someone. Because of this, it’s easier for me to tell people that things won’t work out, which spares a lot of hurt feelings.

13. I’ve become more loving and open-minded overall.

As a final thought for anyone confused about non-monogamy or considering exploring it with a partner, I want to emphasize it is not just fueled by a desire to have sex with other people; in fact, people who are non-monogamous often seek to better their relationships with their primary partner and lead more understanding, open lives.

Complete Article HERE!

How To Have The ‘Sex Talk’ with Your Kids

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Mother with daughter (8-9) talking on bed

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Let’s talk about “the talk.” Yep! The birds and the bees.

At some point, every parent needs to give their kids a heads up on what’s going on with their bodies and their sexuality, right? In a perfect world, that would be true, but even well-meaning parents may not know how to approach the topic. In my family, for example, I never even heard my mother or father say the word “s-e-x” until I was in my 30s!

I want to equip ESSENCE moms with a cheat sheet on how to give your kids “the talk.” After all, sexuality is a natural part of life, and loving your sexual self is important to having high self-esteem overall. Since I’m not yet a mom, I called on a friend who is also a parenting specialist to weigh in on the topic.

Parenting expert Erickka Sy Savané was once an international model and host of her own video countdown show on MTV Europe. These days, the woman who has also written for almost every major publication can be seen as the host of a new digital series called POP MOM. She says that the show and accompanying blog is a way to get African American mothers to share and discuss hot topics. Erickka lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters, ages 6 and 4.

Sex ed is such an important topic. Consequences of poor sexual education at home may include unintentional pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, body hatred and low self-esteem. My parents told me absolutely nothing about love, sex, dating and relationships. Were your parents open about sex and sexuality?

I grew up with a single mom talked to me about my period after it happened, and I vaguely remember her telling me something about sex when I was in high school. She might have mentioned getting on birth control pills if I felt like I was going to have sex. But it wasn’t a talk that started when I was young, like I’m starting to do with my daughter who is 6 years old. For instance, my daughter asked me about my current POP MOM episode that talks about ‘the sex talk and dads,’ so I had a conversation with her.

I want to be honest and I want sexuality to be something that is viewed as normal, while also letting her know that it is something for when she is much older. I wish my mom would have talked to me about sex as I was growing up so by the time I was in high school it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. I think it’s important to take the taboo out of it because as humans we are here to reproduce.

When parents ask me about how to talk to their kids about their bodies and sex, I generally advise them to begin early with age appropriate topics, as you’re doing with your daughter. How young is too young to have these conversations?

I say, if they’re asking give them answers that they can handle, while maintaining certain levels of truth. I had to start the sex talk with my daughter when she was in kindergarten because she had a classmate and best friend that started telling her all these inappropriate stories that she was observing either in her home or on TV. I didn’t want my daughter learning about sex through a 5-year-old. Psychologist Dr. Kristin Carothers says that appropriate sex conversation should begin as early as 8 or 9 years old.

Whenever we have thought about sex ed at home previously, as a culture, it has been mom talking to girls and dad talking to boys. I am so grateful for you approaching the topic of daddies talking to daughters as our relationships with our fathers define, to some extent, our de facto relationships with men.

I decided to address the sex talk from a dad’s perspective when I realized that, “Oh! I have a husband.” Unlike my mom, who was a single parent and had to do it alone, I was able to see that I can share this experience with him so it made me ask my own husband about his plans with our two daughters, and from there I wanted to hear from other dads. I was able to see that dads do have plans, even if they don’t verbalize them. I was also able to see that just by posing the question to dads, they were able to more clearly define their plans. It’s a conversation that moms and dads should be having, and having with their girls together because dads do have a different perspective that girls need to hear. It’s real value.

Growing up, my mom gave me a stack of pamphlets and books to answer my questions. How does a parent who is nervous and uncomfortable about the topic themselves bring up the issue?

Good question. Books and youtube videos give good advice. Also, a parent doesn’t have to go all-in, from the first conversation. They can start by talking about related topics like dating boys and what that means to them and their friends. Start slow and build up.

What do you advise moms say to their sons?

I think they should be honest about how babies are born. Like the technical and emotional aspects of it. I think moms should talk about respecting a woman’s body, the consequences of sex (pregnancy and disease), and I think women and men should be big on discussing consent. I read that Nate Parker [who was accused of rape] had no talks about consent beyond if a woman says yes or no. How about if a woman is drunk, unconscious? It’s still a no. I think that needs to be addressed with boys for sure. Women can do it.

Great conversation, Erickka. I am thankful for your work. Why do you feel that this topic so important?

It’s important because we were put on this planet to reproduce; so sex is a natural part of our lives like eating and sleeping. If we normalize it from a young age by talking about it, with all it’s grey areas, kids will have a better time. I find myself having identity, gay and transgender talks with my daughters because there’s no way around it

Complete Article HERE!

American Men Are Pretty Happy With Their Penises

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penis-satisfaction

For understandable reasons, society’s conversation about body satisfaction tends to focus on women. Women, it can safely be argued, face a lot more social pressure to look good all the time, to feel ashamed of their bodies, and to harp on minor imperfections.

Men aren’t immune from all that, though. And one particularly painful area where it manifests, according to sexual health researchers, is in insecurity about their penises. This can lead to some bad outcomes. As a team led by Thomas Gaither, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, point out in a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, “Case reports have shown men undergo risky procedures, such as silicon injections, to lengthen their penis and increase penile girth.” In addition, “Genital piercings, silicone injection, and subcutaneous implant are increasingly common and are associated with numerous complications.

Gaither and his colleagues wanted to better understand how men view their penises, so they conducted what they say is the first nationally representative survey using a newly developed scale called the Index of Male Genital Image, or IMGI. It consists of 14 statements ranked on a score of 1–7 involving penis length, girth, and so on — a score of 1–3 is coded as “dissatisfied,” while 4–7 is coded as satisfied. They got results from 3,996 men, the sample drawn from 18-to-65-year-olds who weren’t institutionalized.

Comparing those who landed in the “satisfied” (greater than 4.0) versus “unsatisfied” (4.0 or lower) buckets when the scores were averaged, the researchers didn’t find any statistically significant differences in penile satisfaction when it came to age, “race, marital status, education, location, income, or sexual partners.” Penile (dis)satisfaction appears to be pretty much constant across these categories.

Overall:

A total of 3433 (85.9%) reported an average greater than 4 per item on the IMGI and thus were classified as satisfied. Men reported highest satisfaction with the shape of their glans (64%), followed by circumcision status (62%), girth of erect penis (61%), texture of skin (60%), and size of testicles (59%). Men reported dissatisfaction with the size of their flaccid penis (27 %), length of erect penis (19%), girth of erect penis (15%), amount of pubic hair (14%), and amount of semen (12%). Men reported neutrality with the scent of their genitals (44%), genital veins (43%), location of urethra (42%), color of genitals (40%), and amount of pubic hair (36%). Of note, those who were extremely dissatisfied (score of 1 or 2) reported dissatisfaction with their flaccid penis (10.0%), length of erect penis (5.7 %), and girth of erect penis (4.5%).

There were some decent-size differences in terms of the sexual experiences of men who were satisfied versus dissatisfied with their penises. Those who were satisfied were less likely to be sexually active (73.5 percent versus 86.3 percent), and engaged in less daily and weekly sexual activity. There were also slight but statistically significant differences in the percentage of dissatisfied versus satisfied men who reported having had vaginal or receptive oral sex (85.2 percent versus 89.5 percent, and 61 percent versus 66.2 percent). The obvious question here is what’s causing what: To what extent are men who are dissatisfied with their penises less likely to seek out sex as a result of their insecurity? A correlational self-report study can’t answer that, nor can it answer whether these mens’ likes and dislikes were shared by their sexual partners.

It’s interesting that a sizable minority of men reported dissatisfaction with their testicle size or glans shape. On the one hand, in a survey like this you are explicitly asking about certain features, so these responses don’t mean that they are wandering around obsessing over this stuff. (It would be another thing entirely if you asked men to generate an open-ended list of body features they didn’t like and these kept popping up.) But on the other: It’s an interesting comparison to what women go through, because it highlights the fact that at least some of the things both men and women worry about probably aren’t, in fact, of much import to anyone else. If you’re a guy, the odds that a partner is going to care that much about the size of your testicles or the “shape of your glans” — that’s something I can honestly say I had never even thought about before reading this article, and which the researchers note “has little anatomic variability” — are probably pretty low.

More broadly, the main takeaway, as a first-pass attempt at understanding this stuff, is that men mostly feel pretty happy with their penises. Which can maybe explain the epidemic of unsolicited photos.

Complete Article HERE!

This Long-Lost Study On Victorian Sex Teaches A Very Modern Lesson

By Sara Coughlin

female-sexuality

What comes to mind when you picture Victorian-era sex? Corsets? Marriages of convenience and social bartering? Repression? Maybe, like, a lot of repression?

Turns out, how we view that time in sexual history might be more than a little warped. We can start to get a better idea of what women of the time really thought about sex by looking at the work of Clelia Duel Mosher, MD. Years before Alfred Kinsey was even born, Dr. Mosher was already researching and discussing the sexual tendencies of Victorian-era women. (This, it should be noted, is in addition to her research that proved women breathe from the diaphragm, just like men, and that it was the corset and a lack of exercise that was to blame for many women’s health issues.)

Her sexual survey work started in the 1890s and spanned 20 years, during which time she talked to 45 women at length about their sexual habits and preferences, from how often they had an orgasm to whether they experienced lust independent of their male partners (Spoiler alert: They totally did).

Unfortunately, the report was never published in Dr. Mosher’s lifetime. It’s only thanks to Carl Degler, an author, professor, and historian, that we know of it at all. He stumbled upon Dr. Mosher’s papers in Stanford University’s archives in 1973 and published an analysis of her findings the following year.

As others have noted, Dr. Mosher’s research has played a major role in changing how historians think of Victorian attitudes around sex. Then, like today, a variety of perspectives on the subject existed. While this one report doesn’t sum up everything there is to know about how people had sex at this time, it certainly deepens our understanding of Victorian women, who are all too often painted in broad strokes at best.

Below, we’ve listed some of the most interesting findings from Dr. Mosher’s groundbreaking survey.

Not having an orgasm sucked back then, too.
One of the survey’s respondents said, “when no orgasm, [she] took days to recover.” In what might be an early description of blue balls for the vagina, another woman described a lack of climax as feeling “bad, even disastrous,” and added that she underwent “nerve-wracking-unbalancing if such conditions continue for any length of time.”

Yet another woman had something to say about the 19th-century orgasm gap, claiming that “men have not been properly trained” in this area. It seems that women have been taking their own sexual pleasure seriously for hundreds of years — even if the culture at large hasn’t.

Sex wasn’t just for procreation.
In keeping with Victorian stereotypes, one woman said “I cannot recognize as true marriage that relation unaccompanied by a strong desire for children,” and compared a marriage where the couple only has sex for pleasure to “legalized prostitution.” But several others disagreed completely.

One woman said that “pleasure is sufficient warrant” for sex, while another added that babies had nothing to do with it: “Even a slight risk of pregnancy, and then we deny ourselves the intercourse, feeling all the time that we are losing that which keeps us closest to each other.”

One woman even explained that sex helped keep her marriage strong: “In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy, and perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting ‘marriage’ after the passion of love has passed away with years.”

Period sex was pretty cool.
Over a century before we threw around the term “bloodhound” like it was nothing, at least one trailblazing woman believed that sex was always on the table — whether or not it was your Time of the Month. She added that she was fine with getting down at all hours, too: “during the menstrual period…and in the daylight.” If anyone reading this just happens to be this woman’s lucky descendent, we’d like to send her a posthumous high-five through you.

Why This Is More Than A History Lesson
In his analysis, Degler writes that of course “there was an effort to deny women’s sexual feelings and to deny them legitimate expression” back then, but the women who participated in the survey “were, as a group, neither sexless nor hostile to sexual feelings.” They didn’t let any societal expectations or restraints stop them from having those feelings — and acting on them.

Though we may not live with the same barriers (or dress code) that women did back then, it’s reassuring to know that these women defied their time’s moral code to speak frankly about their sexuality. As frustrating as it is, women still deal with stigmas surrounding sex today, whether they’re at risk of being called prudes or sluts, or being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This is what we’ll remember most about Dr. Mosher’s work — that, in the face of whatever shame you may be harboring about your own sexuality, or whatever pressures you may be feeling, you are most likely totally normal and definitely not alone. So why hide it? After all, you never know whom you might end up proving wrong a couple hundred years down the line.

The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we’re learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we’re helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it’s done to how to make sure it’s consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once.

Complete Article HERE!

What Does Transgender Mean? Your Guide to Understanding Trans Terminology.

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what-does-transgender-mean-your-guide-to-understanding-trans-terminology

For this edition of Elle Oh Elle, I’ve enlisted the voice of Monika MHz, a Portland DJ and columnist. Monika is a trans woman, and she’s here to explain how you can make the world a better place by removing transphobia from your life.

Although ultimately impossible to measure precisely, a new study suggests that about 1.6 million Americans are transgender. Too often in the LGBT discussion, we focus on the LGB, and forget about the T.

Let’s broaden our discussion, to include all of our sex-positive brothers and sisters. It is perfectly OK to not yet be familiar with these terms — but as you seek to better understand the trans community, it helps to start by understanding some of the language. Here’s your starter guide.<

Transgender

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe a person who does not identify specifically with their assigned gender from birth. There’s a big spectrum on this — not everyone falls into an entirely male or female category — meaning the term includes a lot of gray area.

Some people use the term “transgender” to include drag queens and all gender nonconforming folks; others don’t. Some trans folks hate the term; others don’t. “Trans” bridges some of that gap. “When in doubt,” Monika says, “just say ‘trans.’ It’s a baggage-free abbreviation, umbrella, and identity for a large percentage of the community — and won’t be read as offensive or rude. No one is gonna start a hashtag because you called me trans.”

Cisgender

Here’s a simple way to understand what it means to be cisgender:

ELLE: I’m a cisgender female; meaning I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth. I was raised as a female, and I identify as such.

MONIKA: I’m a trans woman. I was assigned male at birth, and I’m a woman. I’m also a DJ and a writer. I’m wicked hot — and you, dear reader, should treat me like people.

FTM, MTF

FTM is an acronym for “female-to-male” that refers to trans men who were assigned female at birth. Conversely, MTF is “male-to-female” and refers to trans women assigned male at birth. Some people find the term uncomfortable and don’t like to use it; others prefer it. You should always ask before these acronyms to describe an individual.

But how do you ask someone a question like this?

“It’s like asking any other personal question,” Monika says. “Don’t drop the bomb in the middle of discussing Stranger Things on Netflix. But if the topic comes up and you are struggling to find the right wording in your head, it’s OK to just ask: ‘I’m sorry, this might be wrong, but do you prefer FTM or is there a better term?’ Just use good judgment, be polite, and you’ll be fine. Always better to ask!”

LGBT, LGBQ, LGBTQA, TBLG

The above acronyms are used in reference to L) lesbian, G) gay, B) bisexual, T) transgender, Q) queer, and A) asexual or ally. But while we lump all these groups together into a single acronym (i.e., “the LGBT community”), it’s important to remember that each part of these acronyms represents a specific identity. Trans is overlooked too often, even as strides are made among the gay, bisexual, and lesbian communities. But some of that is (finally!) starting to shift, ever so slowly.

“Trans folks have been at the front of the LGBTQ equality movement from the start,” Monika says. “Trans women fought on the front lines of Stonewall and the Compton Cafeteria riots. As things got better for LGBQ folks, the T just seemed louder by comparison. Our stories, eventually, cut through the noise and it leads us to where we are now.

“An ‘ally’ is what you call yourself when you use the right pronoun for your trans friend, or when you retweet Laverne Cox. However, being an ally is more than just a few actions. Even if you don’t know a trans person, you can ally.” Write an email to your state and national government officials in support of employment protections for trans folks, or talk to your family about the humanity of trans folks. You can ally all over your family.

Pronouns

Pronouns are the parts of speech we use to describe the gender of people, pets, and sometimes boats and cars (if you’re into that sort of thing). She, he, and — if you’re non-binary, or genderqueer — they. If you don’t know someone’s gender, it’s really easy to just use “their/they.” Try it! People do it with babies all the time.

“Your cat is licking their paws.”

“That person with long hair is waiting for their cab.”

“People do it all the time in general,” Monika says. “Chicago style manual, Washington Post, and many other style guides recognize it as just plain useful. I have a friend who doesn’t like it for formal writing, but they’re wrong. See what I did there?”

Transition

It’s sort of just like it sounds. It’s usually referring to the medical and/or social puberty experienced by trans folks. It’s just like a young cis (non-trans) boy “transitions” from boyhood to manhood during puberty. You might hear someone tell you that they transitioned when they were 16, for example. That would give you some idea of their life experience.

Transphobia

“People often read this as ‘fear of trans people’ and sorta rightly so, given its etymological roots,” Monika says. “However, the way it’s used is more than just the fear or hate of trans people. It’s about the systemic and socially mediated ways in which society mistreats an entire class of people and how that impacts the way trans folks, and trans women in particular, are treated.”

Intersex

“This has nothing to do with being trans,” Monika says. “It’s a generalizing medical term to describe folks born with genetic, reproductive, and sexual anatomy differences that don’t fit the usual definitions of male and female. Some intersex people are trans, and others aren’t, but they are separate things.”

Genderqueer

Genderqueer is a sort of catchall umbrella term often used to describe gender non-conforming and trans folks who don’t feel like they fit into the male or female identity. Not everyone uses it, and some people identify as genderqueer and a woman or a man. It’s a messy world, and language is often inadequate to describe how folks feel.

In one stand-up routine, comedian Whitney Streed sums their experience as such: “I cut my hair [short], I dress and move about the earth in this particular fashion, because I need my gender to be baffling. Like I need it not to scan. I’ve thought about it, and I want all of my catcalls to end in question marks, that’s what I’m going for. I want my gender to be something like a crossword puzzle. Because you are gonna work on this the entire bus ride to work. Just taking in all the clues, thinking about it. You get there, you think to yourself, ‘Did I get all of that right?’ –That’s me! I am the New York Times Sunday crossword of gender.”

Queer

In the same way some sex-positive people like myself refer to themselves as a slut, most younger LGBTQ people are happy to call themselves “queer” in an effort to reclaim the connotations of the word.

“It’s a term some LGBT folks forged out of an anti-gay slur,” Monika says. “Usually only referring to sexuality, I like to use it to describe my sexuality and not my gender. Some people, though, identify as queer rather than trans. [But] it can be very offensive to some people, especially gay men of older generations.”

Cross-dresser

Everyone is a cross dresser and everyone isn’t. Basically it’s all about social context. Women wear suits all the time now, but at a different time we might have called that cross-dressing.

Nowadays, people seem to use it to exclusively refer to men who wear clothing and makeup deemed too feminine for a man. It’s a ridiculous term past its prime.<

Gender identity

Gender identity is defined as the personal experience of one’s own gender. Which seems vague, but that’s fine.

“Sometimes it [gender identity] can feel less solid,” Monika says. “I don’t just identify as Latina, I am Latina. I am a woman.”

To cut through the confusion, just go with the gender an individual identifies as. A person with a vagina who identifies as a man, is a man. A person with a penis identifying as a woman, is a woman.

Trans man

This is a catchall usually used for trans people assigned female at birth who are men. Sometimes they have gone through — or are planning to go through — some medical interventions to enhance their comfort with their bodies.

Sometimes, people use the term to refer to people who don’t identify with manhood. These are individual cases.

Trans woman

See above. This usually refers to people assigned male at birth who are women. “Trans women” is also sometimes used as a term for all trans people who were assigned male at birth.

Tranny

For both uses of trans, is it OK to use the term “tranny”?< "You’re allowed to say any word, sure," Monika says. "But it’s probably ill-advised to skip down the street dropping the 'T' all day. Not only are you likely to ruin someone’s day, but you’ll likely sound like a clueless relic. So, unless you want to be a wanker, hold off on the 'T-word'... unless you’re a trans woman. It’s sort of 'our word.'” Same goes for “transvestite.” It’s archaic, and should be left to the script of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Back in the ’90s,” Monika says, “there were these insufferably fine distinctions drawn between different types of transgender and gender-nonconforming folks. ‘Transvestite’ was a diagnosis from the DSM IV codes for mental illness — that has since been removed — used to describe folks who fetishized cross-dressing. If you identify as a man, and wearing lingerie while jerking off sounds like an ideal Sunday activity, then at that time you would have been considered a transvestite. These distinctions have largely fallen out of use, or fashion, or whatever. No one is really using this term anymore.”

Sex, sexuality, and gender are a larger ingredient to the recipe of a society. And human rights are an integral part of an ethical nation — but it all starts with our ability to communicate with each other. Asking questions, showing compassion, and seeking understanding: this is how we elevate our culture to a better place.

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