I was 11 years old when I learned about sex.
I’d been aware of the concept. My parents never lied about the stork and my sister rushed home from 5th grade sex ed to tell me every detail she learned. And, of course, I watched a lot of movies.
But I didn’t learn about sex until the year after my own sex ed class. By that I mean I didn’t encounter sex as more than an idea until I was in 6th grade, and, more importantly, my sister was in 10th.
I’d be up late, burning my way through the Criterion Collection, and my dad would sleepily approach my open door.
A noise outside woke him up. I’d lie and blame it on our neighbors and then he’d walk back to bed.
“You really need to be quieter,” I’d tell my sister the next day. “You’re going to get caught.”
My sister wasn’t having sex, but she was fumbling her way through first make outs with an older boy. He incited so much enthusiasm that she’d exclaim as she ran out of our house to greet his pick-up truck post-midnight.
And I’d cover for her. And then one time she came home crying.
The thing about boys is they’re horny and aggressive and if they can convince a girl to let them do things to her then they’re going to.
The thing about boys is they don’t understand the word no and they certainly don’t understand that sometimes the word yes really means the word no.
The thing about boys is that sex is for them and the thing about girls is sex isn’t for them and the thing about love is that sometimes you do things you don’t want to do. And sometimes you don’t even know you don’t want to do them until you’ve done them. And then you cry to your brother who is really your sister and tell her details she doesn’t need to hear about things she didn’t know existed. And then you sneak out again the next night filled with genuine enthusiasm to see the boy you love and your sister is left wondering what kind of boy she herself might someday become.
Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perrotta’s new HBO series based on his book of the same name – is the only show on TV as horny as I am.
Kathryn Hahn plays Eve Fletcher, a divorced mother of one whose son, Brendan (Jackson White), is heading off to college. It’s been two years since Eve last had sex and Brendan’s departure leads to a pair of new developments: she enrolls in a personal essay course and she begins wanting to have sex with every single person she encounters.
But life isn’t quite like the porn she so greedily watches. Fantasies about supermarket sample girls don’t fulfill themselves. You can’t simply kiss your coworkers. You shouldn’t simply kiss the 19-year-old in your writing class who mere weeks ago was bullied by your son.
While Eve is attempting to open up her sexuality back home, Brendan is trying to control his own at college. The entitled jock energy isn’t working for him like it did in high school. The culture is moving on and it’s cooler to be sweet and gay than a hetero dickhead with daddy issues.
And then there is Margo (the always incredible Jen Richards) – Eve’s writing professor, a trans woman with her own class crush on the appropriately aged Curtis (Ifádansi Rashad).
Mrs. Fletcher is entirely directed by women and it’s all about sex. More specifically it’s about who’s historically been entitled to sex, how it feels to historically be denied sexual expression, and the difficulties of navigating sexual discovery. Especially if you’re as horny as every single character on this show.
I’ve always been horny. And I hated myself for it.
When I finally started going through puberty – about two years after everyone else – I was overwhelmed with shame. It felt like my body would betray me at any minute. I realize now my fear of turning into a man was a natural part of my transness. But at the time I just connected it to immorality. Mental flashes of bending over a math class crush and fucking her until I lost my concealed erection were proof that I was just like every other man. It was just a matter of time until I lost control and hurt someone.
I didn’t understand that assault is not a natural condition of malehood. I didn’t understand that women want sex too. The morality of it was simple to me. Outside of a monogamous relationship built on trust and conversation, sex was bad.
I refused to participate in games of spin the bottle and when given the opportunity I passed on casual hook ups. Instead I focused on long term crushes and I only let myself have feelings for one person at a time. I fulfilled the teen girl cliché of doodling their name in my notebooks and I told myself that because I had all-consuming feelings if we were to kiss it would be romantic, not wrong.
But just because I told myself I only had feelings for one person didn’t mean it was true. I was a teenager. And I was me as a teenager. I spent a large amount of mental space silencing fantasies about everyone I wanted to have sex with and a lot of energy trying to stick to my rules that I could only masturbate once a day and never two days in a row.
By the summer before my senior year I had only made out with one person – the most consuming of my crushes. Two years of longing culminated in two makeouts, my hands hovering in the air because I was worried I’d accidentally touch their boobs without permission. And that had happened over a year earlier.
I had a crush on my friend but she wasn’t the crush I was admitting to in the moment. She’d previously dated two of my friends and talked a lot about feeling like guys only wanted her for sex. Even though we spent every day together – and flirted a lot – I told myself it would be wrong to even have feelings.
One night, sitting on my couch, she locked her eyes with mine and told me that we would’ve made a really good couple. I didn’t kiss her. And then I drove her home. And again I didn’t kiss her. When I got back to my house I was horny and frustrated with myself for always seeming to do the right thing. For once in my life I wanted to do the wrong thing.
I’d never been drunk before and I decided that was the rule I’d break instead. I opened a bottle of my parents’ wine and took a sip. I didn’t feel anything so I took a gulp. And then another. And then another. I didn’t know that alcohol needed a chance to settle. Eventually, I was wasted.
I went into the bathroom with my computer, head spinning, searched for lesbian porn, and masturbated to my usual shame-filled completion.
Nobody is better at performing sexual frustration than Kathryn Hahn. Across her work with Joey Soloway – from Afternoon Delight to I Love Dick – Hahn has shown she’s at her sexiest and most emotional in a state of endless want.
It feels like Eve Fletcher was invented for her.
When we meet Eve the only sex in her life is the porn inappropriately played by one of the residents at the nursing home where she works. The rest of the first episode we watch as all her energy goes towards Brendan – making Brendan a goodbye dinner, helping Brendan pack for college, talking to her ex-husband Ted (Josh Hamilton) about Brendan, talking to Brendan about consent, helping Brendan move into his dorm.
And then he’s gone.
She’s been a mom for 18 years. She was a wife for many of those. Then she was an ex-wife. But now she’s just a woman – her status as mother relevant only as the first letter in the acronym MILF. She types this word into Google and pretty soon she’s watching porn appropriately played in the privacy of her own home.
It turns out to be a real Pandora’s box – and by box I mean vagina. Suddenly, sex is all she can think about. She has a full on fantasy about the supermarket employee who offers her an organic popsicle. (Sidenote: This is how hot everyone who works at the Echo Park Lassens is and it’s frankly overwhelming.) She begins heavily flirting with Julian (Owen Teague), the 19-year-old in her class. She throws herself at her coworker, Amanda (Katie Kershaw), after a night of drinks and vaping. And she watches porn. A lot of porn.
For Eve, porn acts as a tool of discovery. She consumes videos with role play and soft kink and lesbianism. After watching a video of a spanking she bends over a kitchen stool and role plays with herself – repeating lines both top and bottom – as she smacks her own ass until it’s red.
As a teenager I only watched lesbian porn. When my YouTube searches of “Girls Kissing” evolved into free porn sites, I guiltily remained in the lesbian category. I’d listen to other boys talk about their masturbation habits – teenage boys really like to talk about their masturbation habits – and wonder why I wasn’t able to do the same transference onto male porn stars as all of them.
I’d watch women have bad lesbian sex and fantasize about being a part of it. I experimented with MFF threesome videos, but that wasn’t it. I wanted to be the girl who practices kissing with her friend and then it leads to more. I wanted to feel my boobs against hers. I wanted to feel her tongue on my nipples and then slide down my body and then – I wanted a pussy.
When I got to college and started having sex – only in my monogamous relationship for the first two years – I switched my porn habits. Now that I knew what it was like to have my penis enter a vagina I tried to get off on videos where that was occurring. I could usually cum, but I didn’t enjoy it.
I started watching POV blowjob videos which filled me with more guilt. It seemed even more dehumanizing than other straight porn options. But there was something about the penis detached from the man that made it work for me. Anytime the man spoke it was ruined.
It was confusing because in real life I hated blowjobs. My first girlfriend gave me three blowjobs over the course of a year and a half. And those three were only because a friend of mine told me it was weird that I went down on her every time we had sex, but she never “returned the favor.”
The first time I enjoyed a blowjob was after I transitioned. I’d been watching a lot of trans woman porn in an attempt to love myself more. Like Eve I was trying to figure out how exactly I could use this body I currently have for my own pleasure.
My girlfriend and I had been experimenting and she asked if she could try going down on me. I said yes but was immediately anxious. I asked if I could put on porn. And I did. I watched a trans woman get sucked off and for the first time I didn’t mind the feeling on myself. Because for the first time I wasn’t a guy getting head, but a woman like the woman in the video, allowing herself to feel pleasure.
We watch Brendan get two blowjobs.
The first happens in episode one. Brendan was having sex with a girl named Becca their entire last semester before he ghosted. He comes onto her at a party and she tells him to fuck off. But the next morning she arrives at his house eager to apologize. She gives him head while he calls her a “dirty fucking slut.”
Like mother, like son, it’s clear that Brendan watches a lot of porn.
But his approach to sex is yet one more way Brendan doesn’t fit in at college. While he begins the semester having empty sex with another girl who throws herself on him, being away from home has him lonely and longing for something more. He meets Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones) who runs a club for students with autistic siblings and Brendan is thrilled to use his half-brother as an excuse to get to know her better.
Brendan is my nightmare. He’s the exact kind of person I was terrified of becoming and avoided whenever possible. And yet the show never judges him – only his behavior. He’s nuanced and human and Jackson White does a phenomenal job showing that everyone has layers even when it’s not that deep.
If Chloe were my friend, I’d tell her to run away, but watching them together is sort of sweet. She’s self-assured in a way none of the other girls were and Brendan seems to genuinely like her. They really do bond over their siblings. When they flirt it’s cute and when they kiss I found myself rooting for them despite myself.
But then she gives him head. And he does what he always did. He calls her a slut. And he shoves her head down. Unable to breathe she punches him in the crotch and kicks him out of her room. Brendan doesn’t know what he did wrong and Chloe feels the all-too common feeling that a sexual encounter she desired turned into one she very much did not.
Porn freed Eve from the confines of her repressed desire. But it helped shape a brutal entitlement in her son.
It’s not hard to imagine Eve at Chloe’s age. Maybe Brendan learned how to have sex from porn, but he learned how to be a man from his dad. It’s possible that Eve was a confident, sexual young woman, but probably not. She wasn’t just navigating men like Brendan – she married his prototype. No wonder it took until her mid-40s for her to really feel her desires. She was too busy living out Ted’s fantasies to experience her own.
I entered into trans singledom with an enthusiastic fervor.
As I settled into my transition, I felt an ache to explore the seemingly limitless possibilities of pussy-less lesbian sex. I liked my body for the first time – not just how it looked but how it reacted. I’d pinch my nipples until they turned red and feel more pleasure than I had through years of having sex. The first time I had a female orgasm, I not only felt the enjoyment of the moment, but also the rightness. Like I could finally let myself feel good without also feeling bad.
I ended my relationship in part to explore all this on my own. I downloaded dating apps, I met people with anxious excitement, and I even had decent, fun sex with a stranger. But as the initial thrill wore off, the realities of dating as a trans person sank in.
The worst part for me is the not knowing. Sometimes I wish people were more outward in their transphobia. Tinder profiles that say things like “No penises!” or “Not transphobic, just not interested” fill me with a sort of sick glee. It can be comforting to see explicit what you often feel implied.
But, of course, not everyone who doesn’t want to date me is transphobic. I am, after all, a person. And a fun part of being a person is sometimes the people we like don’t like us and there might be a million possible reasons why and it is what it is. Not every rejection is a political statement.
I’m not worried about finding people to love me. And if you’re trans you shouldn’t either. But my biggest frustration since becoming single is this feeling that I’m complicated. If someone really likes me then I’m worth the complication, but if they’re just looking for casual sex they’ll choose someone they know what to do with.
Or, again, this could not be the case. It could be my crazy high standards. Or, it could be something about my personality. Or, it could be my leftover shame around sex closing me off. Or or or or or or. The thing about dating as a trans person is you never really know.
Mrs. Fletcher is far from the first piece of media about a middle aged divorcée discovering her sexuality. In fact, it’s such a trope that people often describe intense feelings of horniness by comparing themselves to that very archetype.
The depth of this show lies in the people around Eve. Brendan is her clearest foil, but Margo is equally important.
While out for drinks as a class – the same drinks outing where Eve and Julian first almost have sex – Margo gets to chatting with Curtis. They’re laughing and dancing and soon Margo is giggling to Eve that she has a crush.
They go out on a date – a coffee in the middle of a mall. It’s the kind of date that’s pointedly casual, that could easily be mistaken for a student-teacher conference. And, her anxiety getting the better of her, that’s what Margo interprets it to be. Curtis reassures her he just wanted to hang out and she laughs and apologizes. And then they have a really nice time.
Margo invites Curtis to a lit magazine party that Wednesday night and he asks if it’s as her date and she says yes. He tells her Wednesdays are tough and she takes the hint.
She’s cold and angry at their next class. She makes no attempt at professionalism. Afterwards she sits in her car brooding and smoking a cigarette. Eve approaches and gets inside.
“This is always what fucking happens,” Margo tells her. “If a straight guy starts getting feelings for a trans girl it’s off to the races and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, bullshit existential crisis of masculinity.”
Eve asks if Margo is sure that’s what’s going on and Margo laughs.
“Oh God this is why I’m a writer, I cannot tell the difference between what’s in my head and what’s out here.”
Turns out that’s not what was happening. When Curtis said Wednesdays were difficult he meant Wednesdays were difficult because Wednesdays are a weeknight. And yet he still shows up to the party.
If Eve has been denied her sexual freedom as a cis woman, imagine the hurdles the rest of us face. We don’t get to see Margo and Curtis have sex, but this subplot feels so essential to the show because it presents yet another layer of a person denied what Ted and Brendan were given in excess.
And since they’re cute together and since Margo is so easy to root for it also presents the first crack in the audience’s shoulds – does anyone actually give a shit that Margo wants to fuck her adult student? Does anyone even care when she lets her feelings interrupt the class?
I sure didn’t.
Like all good stories, Mrs. Fletcher culminates in a threesome.
Eve decides to throw an impromptu party for herself after changing her last name ten years post-divorce. She isn’t Eve Fletcher. She’s Eve Mackie. It’s a declaration of self. A separation not just from her ex-husband but the person her ex-husband – and the patriarchy – forced her to be.
By this point Eve has not only had one silly drunk kiss with Amanda and a series of wavering flirts with Julian; she also went on a date with her friend’s husband’s boss and had sex with a man she met at Margo’s lit party.
She left the date before it even began. She’s horny, but she’s horny for her own sexuality, not a repeat of past mistakes. She could find another Ted – successful, boring, acceptable. She doesn’t want that.
The hookup was better – but not by much. Once again, the man wanted Eve only for his own fantasies, not hers. She’s left giddy by the recklessness of being with a stranger, but the sex itself was terrible.
Amanda helps Eve set up in the wake of a sprained ankle. Eve makes a self-deprecating comment about throwing herself a party and Amanda shuts this insecurity down. Sitting on the couch Eve apologizes again for kissing her and promises not to kiss her again.
“Well, it’s your party so I think you can kiss whoever you want,” Amanda says deadpan with a smirk confirming actress Katie Kershaw as one of the sexiest people on our TV screens this year.
Everyone in Eve’s social circles comes to the party. It’s a small crowd. Amanda tells Julian she knows he has a crush on Eve. And then she tells Eve she’s taking Julian to get some proper liquor.
By the time they get back everyone else is gone. Amanda knew what she was doing. They take shots. Eve asks if Amanda has her vape and she hands it over with the ease I give cis women poppers. Eve sucks, eyes locked with Amanda. Amanda then hands the vape to Julian.
“You don’t have to,” Eve tells Julian.
“But you can,” Amanda overrules.
Soon they are dancing. And then they are kissing. And then they are fucking.
The scene lasts about five minutes and feels real and specific in the way only a fantasy fulfilled can. When I think about the way Amanda wraps her finger around one of Eve’s wavy curls I’m filled with the same rush of sex that I get when I remember a random detail the day after an encounter of my own.
Julian is 19. Amanda is Eve’s coworker. These things seem worth repeating in that they don’t seem at all worth repeating. Not now. Not during this scene.
By this point, everyone has made their desires and intentions clear. It’s not that there aren’t power dynamics involved. It’s not that there aren’t some concerns, but mostly? It’s really okay.
Mrs. Fletcher is a masterpiece of sex positivity, not because it suggests that sex is always harmless, but because of how smart it is about that harm.
Brendan drives home for an impromptu visit and walks in on the three of them naked in bed. His worldview is shattered. It’s not just that he saw his mom in bed. It’s that he saw her in bed with another woman and his former bully victim.
Brendan has a lot to learn about sex. Society has told him that he deserves everything and he has taken it. He needs to learn to listen to others. He needs to learn that just because he wants something – or someone – doesn’t mean it’s his.
But that isn’t the lesson all of us need to learn. I’m not suggesting that we all – regardless of identity and experience – shouldn’t care deeply about consent. Women, cis and trans, can and do cause harm by abusing sex and power. We all should regularly check in with ourselves and our partners to make sure everyone is safe and taken care of. And there are some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.
I’m simply suggesting – and Mrs. Fletcher is simply suggesting – that for some people the change they need isn’t closing off desire, but letting it free. Some of us grew up thinking everything about our sexuality was wrong. Others still feel that way. There are Brendans and there are Eves and there are many who are both. If we want to build a society with a healthier relationship to sex, it’s equally important to empower some as it is disempower others. And that doesn’t just mean discourage recklessness in teenage cis boys and encourage it in horny middle-aged women. It’s not that simple. It’s far more circumstantial and nuanced. But it’s an important part of the discussion. The simple morality of my adolescent shame does a disservice to us all.
I’m not saying you should have a threesome with a 19-year-old and your coworker. I’m just not saying you shouldn’t.
I loved this programme. I wasn’t prepared for either the amount of ( realistic) sex and fantasies, nor for the gazillion emotion reactions every episode set off. I feel a bit sad that people who most need to see Brendan ( the people who ARE him) probably will never watch it.
Great show. Great essay. 👏👏👏
Oh damn Drew, this is another great essay. Please keep running your reviews directly through your personal experiences for us! Has The New Yorker contacted you yet? Damn.
Reading about other transwomen dealing with adolescence is tricky, but I really like how you describe it. I mean,the experience kinda sucks, but I relate to you even though I’m way older and grew up very differently. I graduated from high school having had one serious(ly scary) relationship due to that fear of masculinity. I hated blowjobs. And now that I’m fully transitioned I’m trying to figure out what’s changed and what kind of sex I want to have now, and who I want to have it with. Hope to keep learning from your example! Thanks Drew!
Thank you!! We really are all trying to figure it out. I think one great thing about being trans (and even just queer) is we’re forced to confront these things in a way that lots of cishet people are not. I think ultimately it leads to us having better sex even if it’s a process to get there.
I watched the first episode and it didn’t really grab me but damnit Drew now I’m gonna try again. Thanks for writing this!
It’s definitely a slow build because in the first episode Eve is so focused on Brendan! The further she gets into her explorations the better the show gets.
Hi, could someone explain how not-wanting pussy-less lesbian sex is a political statement? That part is confusing/struggling to understand the argument.
I could answer your question seriously, but the way you’ve phrased this makes it abundantly clear that you aren’t in a place to be looking at relationships between humans, full of the messy and miraculous as we all are.
I’m not asking you to feign attraction – but feigning a desire for understanding is disingenuous at best, and truly a deliberate dehumanizing attack dressed up as a question.
Sorry if my question comes across poorly, I did not want to dehumanize anyone. I was trying to ask the question using the same words as the writer as I am unsure what terms would be considered offensive or inaccurate.
It’s the bit that says it’s a “political statement” that I am not understanding
I’m not transfeminine myself, but – I don’t think the author was saying that people who don’t have any interest in certain kinds of sex only feel that way for political reasons, just that:
1) A isn’t really feeling any sparks for B as a person
2) A may or may not be feeling sparks for B as a person, and doesn’t really have a problem with trans women, but she’s just not sexually compatible with the way B’s body is configured
and 3) A sees B as less of a woman because she’s trans and thinks it’s kind of fucked up that she’s trying to date real lesbians, who obviously wouldn’t be interested in That if they weren’t being pressured
are all very different, and while the first two aren’t political, the third absolutely is – and if someone’s saying “no penises!” in her Tinder profile instead of just… not interacting with trans women on Tinder, an app where both people need to indicate interest before it lets them talk at all, it’s probably less about setting boundaries to protect her sexual agency and more about getting to tell trans women on Tinder that someone doesn’t like their genitalia. It’s like, if you don’t want to have sex with fat people, you shouldn’t have sex with fat people, but talking about their body parts on your profile is a different kind of problem. You’re kicking people when they’re down.
And just in general, whether or not it’s romantic, it’s hard to tell the difference between people being prejudiced against you and people just not liking you – especially if you know that a lot of people are prejudiced. You always find yourself wondering “would they want to be my friend if I was straight?” or “would they want to date a version of me that didn’t have a disability?”, and as long as there’s even the tiniest chance that it’s not about prejudice, you have to act like it’s definitely not about prejudice, and after a while, it starts to wear on you. That’s the experience that the author is talking about, not knowing if it’s about her as a person or if it’s about the category of difference in a practical way or if it’s about the category of difference in a fucked up way, and that’s… maybe not a universal experience of being a minority of any kind, but definitely a pretty widespread one.
Having specific attractions or preferences is personal. Putting them in writing for public consumption, especially in the context of a society where there is extreme prejudice against certain groups of people, is political.
If you can understand why it would be dehumanizing to see references to other kinds of physical attributes in a dating profile, this is no different. People have the ability to click through to photos etc. to determine if they might be compatible with someone based on lots of different criteria, without having to announce to the world that they find certain people’s bodies distasteful.
Thanks @chandra <3 – my almost zero sleep brain isn't up to coherent thought today
Thanks for your response. It’s like if someone were to say they didn’t date “x race,” right? Because it would actually reveal their racism.
A follow-up question, is there a difference then between saying “I don’t date transwomen” and “I date transwomen who don’t have a penis”? Is it still a political statement/transphobic or is it just pointing out your sexual preferences? This might not be something you can see in photos and it might not be something a transwoman would be comfortable having out there in the text of her profile.
Again, thanks for taking the time to respond earlier :-)
There’s a lot of nuance in the way that the concept that “genital preference” is nearly always rooted in some form of transphobia. I’d suggest doing some reading around that but just keep in mind that attraction does not exist in a vacuum from societal bias. It’s far more likely that people who talk about having a genital preference are coming from a place of wanting to rationalize being revolted by trans women.
Thanks for your response, having key terminology to look up is very helpful.
Although I plan to read up on it, if I may ask another follow-up question too, that would be great. How would genital preference be classed as transphobic if it is often inherent to a person’s sexuality? Is the suggestion then that we must learn to move past this genital preference? If that is the case, is there a possibility that it becomes a slippery slope where this can be used to enforce heterosexuality in individuals who are homosexual? (I’m assuming there are parallel discussions for gay men and transmen)
I want to believe this is in good faith but I’m struggling to… There’s nothing heterosexual about me as a lesbian being attracted to a trans WOMAN no matter her genitals?? genitals don’t equal gender, that seems pretty basic to understand, there’s no slippery slope
After some reading, I see that the discussion about how genital preference and how it may be used to enforce heterosexuality is on used by transphobes so let me redact that part of my question. I still don’t understand how genital preference would make someone transphobic. I’ll keep reading but if anyone cares to offer an explanation on either side of the debate, it is greatly appreciated
Thank you onetobeamup and teeth for your comments.
Onetobeamup, I redacted my comments about heterosexuality because I’ve since read how this is a line of thought used by transphobes. Your confusion also points out how my own line of thought wasn’t explained very well either.
Teeth – thanks for explaining that, that (along with the other comments) has helped me understand the writer’s statement and the broader discussion. I get the sense that some people write their tinder profiles in such a way to hide their transphobia under the guise of sexual comparability whereas someone who was actually just not sexually compatible wouldn’t write something that would be demeaning to transwomen.
I’m mostly responding to your comment below, but there’s no reply button there.
Yeah, for the people saying obviously demeaning things, it’s generally someone who either wants to be cruel about the sexual incompatibility, or someone who doesn’t care at all about not being cruel.
But I also think it’s a little more complicated, because some things can be unintentionally demeaning, even if not intended that way. Like, there are a lot of things that are okay to feel or do, but that are also really inappropriate to talk about in many public places, including most things related to genitals – for example, if someone talks really loudly on the bus about my period or whatever, that’s going to feel demeaning to me even if they didn’t mean anything by it. But this standard isn’t really applied to trans people’s genitals, because society doesn’t really treat trans people like they have the same right to their private parts being considered private. Society really likes to specifically fixate on what’s in trans people’s pants and reduces them to that all the time, and even people who don’t want to be harmful often don’t realize when talking about trans peoples’ genitals can make trans people feel reduced to their genitals. On top of that, trans people’s genitals are extremely stigmatized, and often regarded as inherently disgusting and obscene, and many trans people don’t like their genitals and wish they had different ones, so… there’s a lot going on here to navigate, and a lot of ways to accidentally hurt people with this topic.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid talking about trans people’s genitals in ways it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about cis people’s genitals, and to express your preferences by talking about the things you do like rather than the things you don’t whenever possible. It’s generally very possible to maintain your sexual boundaries from your own side of the computer instead of airing them publicly in a way that’s going to contribute to someone feeling like everybody thinks they’re gross, and it’s kinder to filter someone out who might’ve been what you were looking for than to try to find out for certain in a way that risks making that person feel dehumanized.
I have no idea what it would be like to have a genital preference, so I can’t really say if I think it’s always transphobic (which you asked about elsewhere). I guess I think that if people are repulsed by trans people’s bodies, that’s probably something to try to work on, because that seems to be more about transphobia than about your natural inclinations. When it comes to repulsion about trans women with penises, it usually seems to come from people projecting their feelings about the sexual behavior of cis men living in a patriarchal society onto the physical reality of cis men’s penises, which are just weird little meat tubes and not actually intrinsically connected to that behavior, and then projecting those feelings onto trans women’s penises, which are just different weird little meat tubes that don’t even work the same way. But if someone only really has positive sexual feelings about one type of genital and the other type of genital is just kinda there, that’s probably just how that person is? I think it would be important for that person to be aware of whether they’re expressing that preference in a hurtful way, but I don’t think they need to change how they feel.
Not sure why this article has this headline, since it’s really about the author and not about the show.
I agree. And I was not a fan of the negative statements about boys being ‘aggressive’ and ‘not understanding the word no’. And was confused as how they’re being blamed for not understanding that yes means no sometimes.? Are women not accountable?
In that same vein, this sentence completely lost me: “The thing about boys is that sex is for them and the thing about girls is sex isn’t for them…”..??? Huh?
And forgive me, I know this essay spoke to people transitioning, but as a cis female lesbian what does “the first time I had a female orgasm” mean? Sincerely, I don’t understand.
For me, it was after I started on hormones. Things changed again after I had surgery. Other women may have had a different experience. It’s a big gay world out here.
Great review of the show and weaving in your narrative. Added so much! I loved this show so much and I think much of that is bc it was shot and directed by women. The female gaze in sex is so different than the typical male and hetero gaze we often see. I loved how they shot the sex scenes that were problematic with a more traditional gaze and then flipped the script on everything else. That gaze is how I see the world and feel sexuality and it just makes the show all the sexier!
I totally agree!!
Wow, Drew, I’d never even heard of that show before and now it’s like the great fountain of wisdom! Great piece!
That part about sex being for boys and not for girls really struck me.
A while back there was this article in a magazine called Berlin art parasites or something, where a sex positive,liberated young woman described her affairs and one night stands and behaviors such as Brendan’s mentioned above, and worse took place.
I was really shocked and suprised then, too, because I’d always been of the impression that my straight girl friends had a good ole time, but I started listening closer then and realized that they really didn’t.
Then I reflected back on my own relationships and realized that it wasn’t too uncommon a behavior between women,too. Some women sleeping with women adopt that entitlement on their journey to sexual empowerment.
Which sounds a lot nicer than it is.
I really feel that we need to talk more about consent and how we design that journey and I love how you tied the story of your sister (albeit I felt very sorry for her) into your review of the show and didn’t only leave us with “This was a great show about sexual liberation,yeah!” but, “Consent and keeping your partner safe and the show did that in its exploration,even though the power dynamics were sometimes potentially problematic” was really great!
Oh, and before I forget:
If you, who are reading this are only dropping by to throw shade at the author of this article because of your own transphobic bullshit, feel free to go forth and fuck yourself.
If you want nicer words, I’d like to refer you to @snaelle‘s reply above.
Yeah I think it’s definitely complicated! The conversations we’re starting to have more in our society about consent are deeply important – and I think embracing and celebrating sexual freedom is also important. I love how the show gets into all that! If you end up watching I hope you like it.
Anything with teacher/student (even if both parties are technically adults) is a huge squick for me and I almost closed out because I figured I’d never watch the show. I still might not, but I’m so glad I kept reading. I’ll be turning this over in my head for a while. Thank you.
Kathryn Hahn’s character (Mrs. Fletcher) is a student of an adult education writing class and the 19yo (Julian) is in that same class. It just so happens that he went to school with her son. The only teacher/student romance is between Curtis, a doctor, who is also in the class and Margo who teaches it. I believe both are meant to be in their 40s.
Oh! I missed the distinction between Curtis and Julian. Thanks for this clarification! Moves things much closer to my comfort zone.
you are a wonderful writer! i’m going to give this show a shot now thanks to you!
This review was so compelling, I was convinced to watch the show, binged it in a night, and you were absolutely right.
I am THRILLED! I’m so glad you watched it and liked it!
Can I just add how much I appreciate the folks in this space who support trans people?
I love this show, and I love it even more thanks to your beautiful and powerful words.