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Dear How to Do It,
I (non-binary) would really love a boyfriend, but unfortunately, my fear is holding me back.
I’m scared of men in general. I dream of finding someone to date, but I also only have nightmares about being raped and killed by men. Thankfully, they’re not persistent, and I only have them when I’m super stressed. I was adopted from an orphanage at nine months, and my psychiatrist and therapist agree that maybe as a baby, I was so scared by a man that I subconsciously fear them now, either from direct interaction or witnessing some action. I’ve never been assaulted or abused. The problem is that I’m really horny and would love to get have sex with a man, but how the hell do I fight my subconscious? I watch a lot of porn, masturbate often, and read copious smut, but I really crave physical and emotional intimacy with a flesh and blood man.
The problem is that I can’t get near a real-life guy without getting freaked. The problem, too, is that I’m really attracted to big, beefy guys, which are, of course, coincidentally the ones that scare me the most because they have so much potential hurting ability. I thought of maybe starting with a trans guy, since they’re not scary to me, which I think is because they were presumably socialized similarly to me. So I subconsciously see them as non-predatory enough. However, if I was a trans guy and my partner said, “Oh, I wanted to date you because you’re less inherently masculine than cis guys,” I would be really hurt and feel emasculated, which is something that I really don’t want to do. Maybe I should just throw in the towel and date women, but I really love dicks and would love to experience one without fearing the person it’s attached to. Please help, or if it’s impossible, please tell me so I can finally give up on finding a boyfriend.
Stoya: I feel like this was a cross between Penthouse Letters and a game of stump How to Do It.
Stoya: They’re either young and very overly sure of themselves, or this was all fiction. I don’t care really—there is still much to dive into here.
Rich: Exactly. It’s something to discuss. That’s always the guiding philosophy for this stuff, whether it’s fake or not. There are real questions posed in every letter.
Stoya: So how do you think a girlfriend would feel if their partner said, “I wanted to date you
because you’re not scary like men are, so I threw in the towel”?
Rich: Right. And telling a trans guy, “I’m dating you because you’re inherently less masculine,” even if you believe that to be true and has factored into the calculus that led you to this point, doesn’t need to be said. You don’t need to say, “I’m picking you because of this, this, and this.” Everything is a confluence of factors and circumstances—no one thing can actually be pointed to as the reason you’re with someone.
I just think in general, this writer is showing repeated signs of removal between the humanity of the people that they would potentially be dating and what these people represent to them. At the moment, those factors seem to be at odds. When you get to know someone, though, those things don’t have to be odds. You can be hot and have a dick that I love, and I can also care about you as a person because you are a real person to me. Maybe part of the problem is that, as of now, these partners are just hypothetical.
Stoya: Absolutely. So let me quickly debunk this idea that trans men and women do not have potential hurting ability. One time I was at a bar, and someone I knew came in with what looked like that person’s girlfriend. Turns out, a different woman looked exactly like this guy’s girlfriend if you’ve had three whiskeys and are in a smokey nightclub while the lights are flashing. Same haircut, same hair color, same makeup, same kind of clothing. It was a mistake.
Next thing I knew, my feet were dangling in the air because I was being held with both hands up against a wall while this person ate my pussy. Now, if I had been paying attention, I would’ve noticed long before we got to that point, but no, I was not paying attention. So I didn’t notice until I was looking down, going, “Wow, my feet are actually… Oh my God. Look at that tramp stamp. You’re not the person. Oh, you’re the last person whose face I want buried in my pussy.” Then when I was saying, “Put me down. Put me down,” she did not put me down. Someone else had to come and make her put me down.
So all of that to say, not only can women hurt, some of them can physically pick you up and hold you against the wall with your feet dangling in the air in a way that is vaguely non-consensual because you consented to a different person than they actually are.
Stoya: Also, on the flip side, my boyfriend is big, strong, thick, and muscular, also has an educational and professional background that meant if he wanted to mess with my head, he could do a very good job of it. One night I was attempting to articulate this, and I said, “You know how Widget, [my cat] he’s just a little fluff pillow until you try to put him in the cat carrier, and then you really see that he’s a dangerous animal?” It’s like that. Every once in a while, I would see him in a moment where his teeth had to show, and it’s like, “Oh, right. Much like Widget, you could rip my face off, except metaphorically.”
So I hope those two anecdotes can interrupt this “women are safe, men are scary” idea because I empathize with this frankly disordered, black-and-white thinking that I’m seeing. The way out of it for me was data points that interrupt that. Things that provide evidence that these rigid beliefs are not accurate—maybe broadly true—but are not hard, certain facts. It can be really hard to say, “Oh, no, men are safe,” right? That’s not true.
Rich: Right. There’s no guarantee that we could advise, “Oh, just hook up with guys. There’s plenty of good ones out there,” because I’ve learned the lesson of giving men the benefit of the doubt. But everybody has the potential for danger, to your point, and I relate. I never have had this kind of life-interrupting fear of men, but certainly, I did not have a lot of relationships with men at an early age and was afraid of them because of my perceived gayness and how they would judge me.
I think that affected a lot of my relationships. In middle and high school, I refrained from making friends with guys, just because I thought that they would beat me up. It was pure exposure therapy that changed that. I became comfortable around men because I found myself around men and talked to men and understood more about them. Now many of my best friends are men, and I hang out with men a lot, etc. So I think that letter writer says that they can’t be around a man without getting freaked out—okay, but you are going about the world, right? So you have to be able to function somehow.
Stoya: They might not be functioning.
Rich: Okay. Do you think they’re just doomed to never make those connections?
Stoya: For years, I was going about the world only breathing with my chest, having a constant panic attack every time I was in public. The difficult part is a lot of the things that I had an unhealthy fear and anxiety about were real. They were valid. So doing exposure therapy on those things was really, really hard, because it would be like, it’s safe to leave the apartment. And I’m like, “Is it?” The therapist is like, “Go do it,” and I would. Then there would be a guy in my face with a cell phone, not acknowledging me as a person, but taking a picture of me, or there would be a guy grabbing my wrist, etc.
Frankly, I had to move to Serbia and not get harassed on the street for a year. Now, I was walking into where I live today, and a guy walked up real fast behind my right shoulder. I felt him and turned. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” but the word startled has a particular significance for me. It means hypervigilance. I was not startled in this case. But I don’t think I would be at this point in my life. I was simply aware and turned to look in case it was a problem, but I don’t think I would be at the point I am at without that year off from being harassed.
Rich: Right. But even in that climate, you were interacting with men. You were able to form bonds with men. Not these guys on the street, obviously, but you had guys you were hanging out with and dating.
Stoya: Yes, yes, very much so, and that comes from being able to deal with men with complexity, which it doesn’t seem like this person is able to do right now. I think the bridge to that is those complicating data points, right? So one of the things that I would do is remind myself of was, “Okay, but here’s my best friend, who I’m perfectly safe with, and his group of wrestling friends, who are, yes, entirely dudes. Sometimes we go to wrestling things together, and what am I? Safe in a circle of dudes in a room full of almost entirely dudes.”
So if they have any man in their life that they feel safe around or even simply not scared by, that might be something to hold onto. You want to be careful that you don’t basically make someone Jesus, right? “You’re my one emblem of the decency of men.” That can be a lot to put on someone. But perhaps they can use one man they feel safe with to remind themselves men can be safe enough to make another couple of friends who are male.
But having literally had a panic attack on someone’s penis once, I would say be very, very wary of pushing themselves to hop on a dick. I get the impression that they’ve actually never had a dick inside of them. I know for me, it’s a really personal experience, even if it’s no strings attached.
Rich: I wonder if this person could try a pan-queer space that would have men in it. It would have cis men, theoretically. Perhaps a place that’s very upfront, posts on the wall, in a flyer, or in their Instagram account about consent and writes out “This is what we won’t tolerate,” including not allowing anyone to touch others without permission. Maybe the LW can find a place that really has those rules in place and a party by people who care about these things, that will police that and are looking out for that behavior. So there are eyes on the street, as it were, in a kind of arena like that. There are queer spaces, at least in New York City, that are like this.
Stoya: I think what you’re suggesting is a good idea, and I want to put a warning label on that. Sometimes people do break rules even in these spaces.
Stoya: Given the entire letter, if there’s a risk of freezing instead of stating a boundary, that can be a really dangerous position to be in. So if that’s a risk, perhaps bringing a friend who can read their body language and step in if they see that this person has frozen is a good idea. Because in those situations—a sex-positive space—everyone knows opt-in consent is the rule, it’s been clearly stated. But if a person freezes and someone doesn’t know what freeze looks like, then, man, everybody just feels bad. So it’s partially to protect them and partially out of politeness for other people that they may be interacting with.
Rich: Yes, I agree, and I would say if you could, bring a group of people. Surround yourself. Give yourself a buffer.
Stoya: Like me at the wrestling show.
Rich: Exactly. Dipping your toe in. I also think it’s worth pointing out that I don’t know that being attracted to the men that scare you most is a coincidence. I think, in fact, maybe, like the way that many humans are completely captivated by great white sharks, the scariness is part of the appeal, right? That’s what’s fascinating about it. I think it would be very advanced to say, “Lean into that. Just abandon everything.” But maybe part of the eroticism comes from that fact, right?
Stoya: I know for me, it absolutely does. The fact that I’m looking at my boyfriend, going, “You could literally and metaphorically just devastate me,” and that you don’t, that you have the power to do so and the integrity to refrain and the intelligence to know that one must—all of that is very attractive. To underscore your point, I am able to date that guy after a ton of therapy; a lot of work; and, again, a year of not being harassed on the street at all, right? It’s probably very advanced to lean into, but you can get there, right?
Rich: You can get there, and I just think that if this is all about our writer understanding themselves, then that’s a part of the equation that maybe they should understand. Start looking at that as maybe not a coincidence. Interrogate that. Probe that.
Stoya: Yeah, and now that I’ve possibly terrified them with my story about the woman at the bar, if you’re able to look at women as individuals instead of less scary than the alternative, women can have dicks. Women can wear dicks, right? You don’t want to just run around, asking trans women, “Hey, can I ride your dick?” That’s a really bad move. You can definitely upset someone or trigger them or even traumatize them that way. But there are all sorts of options, biological and store-bought, for being dicked by someone who is a woman. Or non-binary.
Rich: So just to thread the needles, it’s about not seeing everything as what they represent and what you can get from them and what you can’t get for them, for whatever reason. You start fundamentally on the ground, and you build relationships with people as people. And then it’s quite possible that a lot of this will fall into place. It’s always scary when you’re looking over the edge, but then when you jump, sometimes you’re exhilarated, and you think, “What was the big deal, anyway?”
Rich: Hopefully you’re wearing a parachute.
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