Contracting a sexually transmitted infection is not only taxing on your body, but your mental and social health.
Over the summer I was exposed to my first STI, HSV-1, without my knowledge. My partner was a cis-female friend, and our encounter included a lot of mutual mouth and genital contact. When having sex with another person who has a vagina, barriers are difficult, if not awkward to use. I proceed with these kinds of sexual encounters under the assumption that we are safe if we disclose our sexual health status. It wasn’t until I was laying in the emergency room under a paper gown, having my genitals coldly examined by a trans-incompetent doctor, that she finally admitted to me she had the virus.
With over 3 million cases a year in the United States alone, herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. The virus is categorized into HSV-1, which is herpes of the mouth, and HSV-2, which is genital herpes. Although genital herpes was previously caused primarily by HSV-2, genital HSV-1 infections are increasing and now cause up to 80% of infections. The scariest part of the virus is that even with no symptoms, it can still be transmitted, and many people who have HSV-2 don’t even know because they haven’t had an outbreak. Once a person becomes infected with the herpes virus, antiviral medications can be taken regularly to suppress it, but it never leaves. It lies dormant in the nerve cells forever, until trauma on the body reactivates it.
Having been sexually active for over 10 years, and even more so since transitioning, I knew it was only a matter of time before I came into contact with an STI myself. I have always been upfront with my partners and had regular testing done, especially if I have been in a higher risk situation.
When reading sexual health materials, they always involve cis bodies, though. It’s very triggering to have to approach my sexual health from a woman’s bodily perspective. I am not a cis woman or man, and these materials only reflect such.
Almost all safe sex discussions revolve around using condoms. They’re the most readily available form of protection. But what if you are a person who can’t use them because your genitalia isn’t able to use to this kind of contraceptive?
Having proper sexual health resources geared towards transgender people is extremely important. We are people with genitalia that might make us uncomfortable to disclose or have examined, that doesn’t always match the way we are presenting ourselves. Just because I have a vagina doesn’t mean I want to be treated or medically examined like a woman. Unfortunately, the medical profession is at the very back of the trans movement when it needs to be leading the way.
We need to be talking more about how transgender people are having sex and practicing safe sex behaviors. We need to be included in medical studies regarding HIV and other STIs. As individuals, we need to stop being so scared of discussing these things with each other. A little disclosure in my case would have gone a long way.
Months later, I am still dealing with the remnants of the situation, and it is still very difficult for me to talk about. I haven’t been sexually active with another person since that encounter. I’ve talked about it with a few close friends, mostly in whispers and feeling somewhat shameful.
I am doing my best to get over the stigma of having to make this disclosure, on top of having to talk about being transgender. Any discussion of genitals always makes me anxious. I want to be able to fully enjoy sex again and this experience has left me feeling traumatized and extremely vulnerable.
By coming out and publicly sharing my experience with a sexually transmitted infection, I hope to encourage more talk in making sure we are meeting the needs of our community, trans and cis alike, and that we are being as up front with one another as possible.
Editor’s note: There currently is no comprehensive list of trans competent medical providers in Seattle/King County. The Queer Health Accountability Coalition, a project of Gay City, is currently in the process of developing a guide that will include one.
In 2014, the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in partnership with a variety of county agencies and community-based organizations, published the King County Trans* Resource & Referral Guide, which includes information on where you can get a referral to a trans competent medical provider. This guide can be viewed, downloaded, or printed here.
In addition, Gay City offers referrals to some trans specific resources, including medical providers, here.