“Can I take your shirt off?”
I froze up at the question, looking up at my first boyfriend as we hooked up, terrified. The long silence that followed clearly made us both uncomfortable. I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want him to see my chest. But despite this feeling, I finally nodded, prompting him to pull the shirt off over my head at lightning speed. I burned with discomfort as he ogled and gently fondled the things I couldn’t bring myself to call breasts.
I’d often read about people assigned female at birth having extreme insecurities about their bodies during sex, but this description just didn’t match my own experience. I was very confident, dominating even, in the bedroom from the first time I had sex. I could whip my panties off in a second and have a person worship my genitals without shame or discomfort. But for all my confidence in certain areas, my chest embarrassed me. I couldn’t even look at it in the mirror. Once it was exposed and engaged in a sexual situation, I would dissociate (which isn’t a feel-good sensation to be experiencing during sex).
I later learned that what I was feeling was gender dysphoria, dissonance between the gender I was assigned at birth and the one I identified with. Knowing this and understanding my trans identity made me pause during sex when a partner would ask the shirt question, so I could say, “Actually, no. Keep it on.”
The act of covering up this part of my body was empowering for me and fit into a body positivity movement that I defined for myself. At large, the body positivity movement is anchored in good intentions that can at times trip over inclusivity. For some, encouraging self-love looks like embracing all parts of their body and overcoming discomfort through appreciation, but this isn’t reflective of the experiences many in the trans community identify with. For some, survival relies on concealing and erasing parts of their body.
While I was bold in my request to keep my shirt on sometimes, there were many times when I succumbed to my lover’s seemingly natural inclination to rip my top off during sex.
In my current relationship though things are different. While our relationship has always been so sexually fulfilling and smoothly moving thanks to open, honest communication, it still took me a long time to admit to them how little I cared about them fondling my chest in the bedroom. Like most of our conversations, it went well and they had no negative reaction to my request.
Now whenever we have sex, I usually have my top on through it all. The first few times that I kept it on felt strange because I’d grown accustomed to the pawing and the feelings that came with my boundaries being overstepped, but then it felt good. It felt empowering and affirming to know that, yes, I can have hot sex and the breasts that make me so uncomfortable don’t ever have to be involved!
The shirt gave me the freedom to engage more deeply in sex and feel more empowered in my sexual body. More than anything, it acted as a comforting barrier, protecting the body and gender I no longer identify with from being exposed in such a vulnerable, intimate setting.
I still take my shirt off during sex sometimes to enjoy some nipple stimulation every now and again. But usually, my shirt acts as the only divider between my partner and I…and I’m learning to expel any shame about that. I’m so happy that I can finally have an authentic sexual experience, and truly can’t wait for the day when my breasts are no longer there to limit me in my sex life.