Giving Poppers to Cis Women

Welcome to Butt Week, friends! An entire week dedicated to butts and butt-adjacent stuff: how-tos, thoughtful essays, original art, pop culture critiques, music and more! You are absolutely not ready for this and yet it is happening to you, right now. Today Drew weaves her story of sharing drugs onto your brain loom, and you’re all the better for it. We’re all all the better for it.

From elementary school through college my backpack was always filled with extra pens. I never knew when someone might ask for one. “Oh I have a pen,” I could say, real cool and casual. It felt so good to be helpful. It felt like maybe somebody liked me. If it was a cute girl I’d dive for my backpack even quicker. Here is something useful. I am being useful. Please notice me. Please like me. Please accept me.

I’m thinking about this while drunk at a gay dance party with my crotch pressed against an Emmy winning actress. I’m thinking about this because I’m offering poppers to her and all her friends and I’m feeling cool and useful and like it’s possible I might belong. Twenty minutes earlier I was making out with my crush of eight months who two days later will be the first and only lesbian I have sex with — she won’t consider it sex because she’s cis. While I dance with the Emmy winner, my crush starts making out with my other friend — her ex, also a lesbian, also cis. I try to focus on the Emmy winner and her friends as I give them more poppers, but I feel sad about my crush. I feel stupid for feeling so sad.

At some point my crush and my friends leave and it’s just me and the Emmy winner and her friends. Then they start to leave too. The Emmy winner tells me she’ll be right back and to stay where I am. The thing is I really have to pee so I run to the men’s room — yes, gay bars in LA have gendered bathrooms — where I find a line of cis-appearing women waiting for the one stall. I do something I haven’t done in a public bathroom for years — I use the urinal. I’m fucking wasted and feeling irreverent and I say something about “trans privilege” before explaining who I was just dancing with and why I’m in a rush to get back. When I return to the dance floor the Emmy winner is gone and I dance with someone else for a bit and then go home.

That weekend there will be a lot of discussion about how this Emmy winner pulled me out of our friend circle to dance with me specifically. I will bask in these discussions not because I’m particularly attracted to this famous cis woman — there are no trans Emmy winning actresses, of course — but because it makes me feel cool and I want to seem cool in front of my crush and in front of all these other cis women who wish the Emmy winner would’ve danced with them. There will be a lot of drama and a lot of emotions and a lot of poppers and a little sex and then we will all watch the premiere of The L Word: Generation Q, a show with a lot of drama and a lot of emotions and no poppers and a lot of sex and no trans women and no trans women and no trans women.

I started giving poppers to cis women earlier that year. It wasn’t meant to be a thing — I just like poppers. I would explain this little bottle of mystery liquid with a matter-of-fact enthusiasm. Poppers are the chemical alkyl nitrate. They’re legal — sold as leather polish or room deodorizers — but they’re meant to be used illegally. Their intense high lasts about 45 seconds and it makes everything in the world feel good. Because it relaxes certain muscles, poppers are most commonly associated with anal sex, but they make all sex better. They make everything better. Inhale while on the dance floor and everything will be amazing for a brief moment in time.

I’m not a heavy drug user. I desperately want to shut off the anxious OCD voice in my head, but I also like to feel in control. This is why I love poppers; they take me outside my thought patterns so I can live in the moment without the commitment of a night on molly or acid. I can shake myself out of my own head, appreciate the specificity of the music or the colors or the people around me, actually find pleasure in sex, and then I’m brought back. I’m aware and present and can take control — if I want to. Often when mixed with alcohol or weed I can ride that poppers high through a few more songs or into a second orgasm.

Torrey Peters’ novella Glamour Boutique starts with the sentence: The poppers hit. Trans woman Amy has her mouth around trans woman Reese’s soft dick when the poppers kick in and suddenly Amy is sobbing. We learn that Amy has spent her life disassociating during her sexual experiences with cis women. Even with Reese their sex has been distant and boring and described as “camming, only in person.” Filled with dysphoria and years of supposed coping mechanisms, Amy doesn’t know how to let go. “The problem with the poppers is that it made her too dumb to keep all the cognitive machinery going,” Peters writes. “It all ground to a halt, and instead of the new lies, she fell into direct contact with a raw fact: she was a girl in love with a girl. It was overwhelming. It was all she had ever hoped for.”

It’s worth noting that this moment does not happen while Reese’s cock is up her ass or even hard down her throat. It’s worth noting that what I’m talking about here isn’t fucking my prostate — but having one. I’ve used poppers while fucking myself, but that’s rare for me. I’ve used them far more while dancing. I’ve used them far more with a vibrator on the head of my penis like the clit it will someday become — God/finances willing. The only time I’ve ever used poppers during sex with another person was when I was with another trans woman and it didn’t involve penetration. The possibilities of poppers go far beyond anal, the possibilities of poppers go far beyond cis gay men. Poppers can be a tool, a relief, a point of connection.

It’s the summer of 2019 and I miss poppers. I’ve been in LA for a few months and I’ve been single and navigating cis lesbian spaces, all poppers-free. I’m with a cis woman friend of mine in West Hollywood and we’re planning to go out ostensibly as research. She’s a director and she wants to make a show that takes place in West Hollywood and I’ve started writing a pilot based on my new experiences as a trans woman in LA. I’m telling her stories that might possibly go into this fictional world and she says, “It’s wild because I’ve never seen anything like that on TV before. But for you, it’s just, like, your everyday life!”

I laugh because this feels like a very cis woman thing for her to say. It’s funny and it’s true and it’s othering and I laugh. I’m ready to go out. And if we’re going to be going out in West Hollywood I want to finally stop by a sex shop and buy poppers. My friend has never tried them and I tell her I’ll share if she wants. I’ve done a lot of research and supposedly they’re safe and also they’re low commitment so if she doesn’t like it, oh well.

We end up at The Abbey, because it’s a weeknight and we lack imagination and also we’re very drunk and just want to dance. I inhale, she inhales, and I’m delighted to watch her delight. Her initial fear subsides and suddenly she’s giddy in the way I’m giddy and we’re hot and we’re dancing and it’s fun.

I’ve spent months feeling like an outsider, desperately trying to pretend I’m not young and not newly out and not newly single and not new to lesbian spaces and not trans and not different. But with the poppers I’m the expert. I’m the one offering a new experience. It feels good to feel useful. It feels good to know what I’m doing. It feels good to let go of my anxieties. It feels good to keep dancing.

I started carrying poppers with me wherever I went. If I was going out dancing my pants would contain my house key, my cell phone with my cards tucked into the case, and the little bottle of poppers I always worried people would confuse for a bulge. I started using them more and I started offering them freely. I hoped to recreate the feeling I’d had with my friend and it worked almost every time.

I wasn’t the only trans woman in these spaces, nor was I the only one with poppers, but I did seem to be one of the only trans women committed to being out in the kind of lesbian-adjacent space where AFAB people had never even considered using the faggotty anal drug. It quickly became a bit and I loved it. My difference as an AMAB person in these spaces always felt like an inconvenience or something to hide or something to be fetishized. But now I was useful. A cultural exchange from a person with a prostate to those without.

One night I’m in a convertible with my roommates and my roommates’ hot friend and I’m in the backseat with the friend and Tove Lo’s “Disco Tits” is blasting. The friend is queer but not super experienced and I take out my poppers and the wind is fucking our faces and we’re leaning on each other during this 45 seconds of ecstatic sound and sensation. When we get to the bar she says to me, “You know the effect you have on people, right? You walk into a room and everybody looks at you.”

Suddenly, I felt like this cool, experienced queer who writes for a lesbian website and introduces people to new drugs. I liked thinking of myself that way. I liked to imagine that I wasn’t trying to fit within the confines of an existing queer community — I was adapting that community to me. On the good days that’s how it felt to give cis women poppers. On the bad days it felt like I was still merely tolerated because Twitter says trans women are women — the poppers were just my way of winning them over. Even if you don’t actually believe I’m a woman I’ll at least prove myself useful. I can be so useful.

I discovered poppers thanks to my first out queer friends in New York. Three cis lesbians — Kelly, Caroline, and Laura — and one cis gay man — Daniel. Daniel had given Kelly poppers and now Kelly was giving them out like a missionary. When Kelly offered them to me, I was a baby queer and lifelong goody-two-shoes who had never done a drug except weed. But she said they were safe and Daniel said they were safe and I was ready to jump into my second adolescence so I said yes. It was amazing.

When I look at pictures from these months I’m shocked by what I look like. I bristle when cis people call trans people brave but goddamn I was brave to go out in the world looking that ugly. This isn’t about femininity or passability or gender conformity — this is about puberty. I was new and I didn’t know how to dress myself or how to wear makeup and I was just going through a totally normal awkward stage. Yet here I was out in the world meeting lesbians and saying I was also a lesbian and asking to be referred to as such. And these lesbians just got it. They saw me and gendered me and then gave me a bunch of drugs.

This was not my experience when I first moved to LA. I didn’t even look awkward anymore and yet I suddenly felt so out of place. I met groups of queer cis women and AFAB nonbinary people who all looked the same. These groups welcomed me with their platitudes and invitations while rejecting me with their looks and body language and the little things they’d say. I experienced the sort of community that so many trans women fear. They weren’t TERFs, but you don’t have to be a TERF or overtly transmisogynistic to make it clear trans women don’t belong.

The months passed and I found new pockets within our community. I found people like my friends back in New York — queers who formed community based on an expansive notion of queerness, rather than a unity of identity. It’s why I bristle at the romanticization of t4t despite how much I cherish my friendships and sexual experiences with other trans people. The trans/cis binary is just another binary. I don’t think that limitation of thought actually accomplishes what we think it’s accomplishing.

The last two years I’ve been in a group chat with Laura and Daniel and it’s one of the spaces where I feel safest in my transness. More and more I’m finding, cis or trans, the people I’m closest with are those who have really thought about gender. More and more I’m finding, cis or trans, the people I’m closest with are other queers without boundaries who don’t cloister themselves in a single identity. It’s these things, not the specific label “trans,” that I’ve found matters. I feel more accepted in my group chat with a cis man and a cis woman who have very different relationships to gender and bodies and queerness than I have in rooms exclusively for trans women.

I love being a lesbian. I love lesbian spaces. Queer women and AFAB nonbinary people are who I spent my life looking up to and wanting to be. I love being a dyke and identifying with dyke culture. I don’t want to abandon those spaces by picking another of my insufficient labels to hide within. Instead I want all of our spaces to widen. I want all of our spaces to interact. I want more people to be together and more people to feel included. I want a big queer party with plenty of poppers to go around.

It’s January and I have no idea in two months I’ll be in quarantine. I’m with four friends I met in lesbian community, none of whom are lesbians. Three of them are faggoty AFAB nonbinary people and we’re at Flaming Saddles in West Hollywood, a country western themed bar with pole dancers that has since shut down. We’re already drunk from dinner and we’re getting drunker. An old cis queen hits on me and I’m friendly until he leaves. A beautiful cis woman tells me she can’t stop staring at me and gives me her number. Then she tells me she’s straight. I laugh and say, sure you are. And then we all get drunker.

We end up at The Abbey and I give poppers to my friends. It’s not the first time I’ve given poppers to nonbinary people but it’s the first time I’ve given poppers to nonbinary people that faggoty and their joy far surpasses any of my cis woman disciples. Drunk and high and in my own poppers daze, I’m struck with a simple thought that feels like the most important revelation of my life. “Dykes and faggots are the same!” I shout. I start running around The Abbey shouting, “Dykes and faggots are the same!” I tweet it. I run outside, still buzzing, and I hit my head on a tree.

Back at my friend’s apartment, I’m sitting on the floor in the midst of the third blackout of my life and my friends who are dating are making sure that I’m okay. I am. I feel great. My one friend is still talking about the poppers and I tell them next they need to use them during sex. I take the poppers out of my pocket and set them on the table. “Here,” I say. “Fuck on these.” And they do.

My friend will tell you that poppers have completely changed their relationship to sex and their body and dysphoria. They now own several bottles far more artisanal than my own. They’re worried they might use them a bit too much, but God it’s hard being trans so whatever works, you know?

The story is supposed to go: I’m a trans woman, I started using poppers, now I love getting fucked in the only hole God gave me. The story instead has gone: I’m a trans woman, I started using poppers, they help me have fun when I feel like an outsider, they make my orgasms better, my friend now loves getting fucked in their hole I wish I had. We’re all just trying to figure ourselves out and what a joy to be in queer community combining our cultures and tools and bodies and desires.

I want to live in a world where I’m not the only trans woman in dykey spaces or the only dyke in faggoty spaces. I want to live in a world where the terms AFAB and AMAB are obsolete. I want to live in a world that feels as queer as I do. I want to live in a world without dysphoria. I want to live in that moment I inhale chemicals out of a bottle. I want to live in those 45 seconds when it all feels possible.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.


  1. Wow! You left me speechless once again.
    The way you described the intersections of lesbianism, transness, queerness in general and also the intersections that should be there but aren’t blew my mind and gave me a lot to consider about how I think about my own transness and my fears of coming out to to more people/ the world at large.

  2. I love your writing. This piece transported me back to when we could dance in bars and drink with friends and for a moment I got to sit in that joy and everything else fell away. Thank you for that.

  3. Terrific essay! It has such a dreamy like quality to it, like you’ve given us a bottle of poppers to inhale while reading. I’ve always been curious to try them, but have never sought them out. Perhaps because of their connection to the gay scene and people with prostates, so it never occurred to me that they’re for everyone. Even more keen to try them after reading this.

  4. Damn now you are making me think I should have tried some poppers when that bear offered it to me in the bathroom line of the Abbey a few years back.

    Related note Mickey’s is an trash place that threw me out for using the bathroom while trans(had my AS they/them pin on). I will tell anyone & everyone that place sucks.

  5. I haven’t been on Autostraddle in a while and haven’t commented in even longer. Took me a while to figure out my login, but I just really felt compelled to comment on this. It’s a truly beautiful piece, but this is the part that really spoke to me “ Instead I want all of our spaces to widen. I want all of our spaces to interact. I want more people to be together and more people to feel included. I want a big queer party with plenty of poppers to go around.”

    I had an experience years ago where I was entering a new queer activist space, one of the few in my southern city. And I became instantly disillusioned when I discovered that they had excluded precisely the kind of person the space was ostensibly for. If this person wasn’t welcome then what the fuck even was the point? I struggle to really feel like I fit in anywhere, and I wish more places felt like they fit more people, cause then maybe they would fit me ya know? Like, I can make myself fit just about any space cause of my personality but I know that’s a privilege and we shouldn’t have to work that hard. It’s not that late but I am that tired and I’m not sure I’m making much sense but thank you for writing this.

  6. Drew, I love everything you write, but I love this especially.

    As a faggoty AFAB… something, I feel *seen*.

    Also I’ve been on the fence about poppers for years now because I’m a bit wary of inhalants, but you’ve sold me!

    Thanks for everything, is what I’m trying to say <3

  7. I want to cross-stitch this:

    “I love being a dyke and identifying with dyke culture. I don’t want to abandon those spaces by picking another of my insufficient labels to hide within. Instead I want all of our spaces to widen. I want all of our spaces to interact. I want more people to be together and more people to feel included. I want a big queer party with plenty of poppers to go around.”

  8. My sole encounter with poppers was at an event, back in 2008 I think, when some stranger shoved a tiny bottle up in my face. I recoiled in disgust at the smell of something similar to industrial cleaners and cried out “hey, don’t!”. At that time, I had never heard of poppers and had no idea what happened, thinking it some sort of malicious prank. I learned a little about them later that year, as well as confirmation that there’s usually a few people using them at that particular event. But I considered that to be a dubious thing to try, akin to something like paint or gasoline huffing. And from the sounds of this article, even if it’s safe, it’s not something I’d particularly need anyway; I can already shift to altered states where I’m more calm or more able do enjoy certain types of physical activities without any kind of chemical assistance. If anything, I have the opposite problem; ecstatic overload isn’t really a good thing.

  9. Oof. I used to sell amyl, along with nitrous, at a sex shop in Detroit. I hated opening the case they were in because the fumes gave me an instant headache, and not a bit of a buzz. Our most popular brand back then was “head cleaner” – as in video tape head cleaner, ha. That was a long long time ago. Please remember this shit is seriously flammable, and one slip while lighting up around it would be bad.

    But damn Drew, this was a good essay about something I didn’t like! I relate to being the weird transwoman at parties trying to be useful – except I would hand out lube packets and gave all my friends vibrators. I still enjoy doing that, although I’m not quite as desperate for approval as I used to be.

    Your wish for a queerer world is yes all day. Up through last year I went to private men’s kink parties to sell gear, and when this one trans dude showed up to cube the queer space, nothing felt normative and I didn’t mind that everything smelled like poppers and buttsex so much.

  10. Ahh this essay made me want to (consensually) hug you, Drew! As much as I approve of cultural interchange, I wish you didn’t need to feel useful in order to feel like you belong in dyke spaces. You’re wonderful just as you are, poppers or no.

  11. oh my gosh, thank you so much for sharing this, Drew! here’s to more big ACTUALLY chill and inclusive queer communities.

  12. Holy shit Drew, this was incredible. So evocative, so thoughtful, and such fascinating and well-said insights (as always). I know it’s already been quoted back but man this really sums it up gorgeously: “I don’t want to abandon those spaces by picking another of my insufficient labels to hide within. Instead I want all of our spaces to widen. I want all of our spaces to interact. I want more people to be together and more people to feel included. I want a big queer party with plenty of poppers to go around.”

    (also I’m not sure why, but for some reason “It’s January and I have no idea in two months I’ll be in quarantine” hit me harder with the nostalgia/hindsight/weirdly backward-facing dread that comes with thinking about Before than almost anything else has in months)

  13. drew!
    i don’t know you & i don’t think i’ve ever left a comment even tho i write for this site lol but

    you said so many things i’ve been thinking for so long- about how so many of my greatest teachers have been faggots, about how faggottry has taught me how to be a femme & queer & human, about these divides between and within queer culture based on gender and orientation often leave me feeling so empty, about how queer spaces that center cis women and even AFAB nonbinary people – which are often, but not always, synonymous with white queer spaces – just don’t want me there (despite my being an AFAB nb person myself)

    about shaping the world around you to fit you instead of shaping yourself to fit the world

    AND poppers! i’ve wanted to do poppers as soon as i learned of them, but still haven’t?? so this is extra special motivation!


  14. Wow thanks so much for sharing this. I never knew a whole lot about poppers so this was educational. But sharing from the perspective of your journey was also informative and important. Makes me think about what it means to be inclusive to everyone in the queer community.

  15. Perhaps it just comes back to respecting people we don’t want to have sex with. I certainly don’t expect every cis lesbian to want to sleep with me, for reasons pertaining to my lady noodle or not. I’ve seen arguments that not wanting to sleep with a transwoman is transphobia, but maybe that’s counterproductive because we’re continuing to conflate sexual desire with value as a woman.

  16. I want to run outside and shout this entire story the same way you ran around shouting “Dykes and faggots are the same!” and I don’t even care if I hit a head on a tree while I do it. Thank you for writing this.

  17. Wow, just wow. I am laugh-sobbing as I read “Dykes and faggots are the same!” As a faggoty dyke, I deeply identify with the limitlessness you bring to this essay. Thank you!

  18. I love this very deeply. As someone who has literally never heard of poppers but spends A LOT of time thinking about the expansiveness of queerness (and how that is/isn’t reflected in many communities/scenes that are supposed to value it…) this resonated on so many levels.

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