Jacob Rostovsky on Transgender Issues – Smart Sex Smart Love

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“When you’re born in the wrong gender, your gender changes, not necessarily your sexuality,” says this week’s guest, transgender activist, Jacob Rostovsky. Jacob, who came out at 13 years old as trans, has been fighting for transgender rights, acceptance and access to affirmative care ever since. Jacob believes there is no one way to be trans, especially when it comes to exploring someone’s transgender and sexual identity. Hear Joe and Jacob talk about trans sex and sexuality – it’s less complicated than you think, and why gender expression is what you go to bed wearing, rather than who you are with.”

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Joe Kort:           Welcome to smart sex smart love. We’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboos and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. I’m dr Joe court. Thanks for tuning in.

Joe Kort:           hello. My guest this week is transgender activists and mental health clinician Jacob Rostovsky. Jacob came out at 13 years old as trans and has been fighting for transgender rights, acceptance and access to affirmative care ever since. Jacob consults and trains fellow clinicians in trans affirmative mental health care and is currently working on a weekend long training for both mental health and medical health providers around affirmative transgender care. Jacob is here to talk about trans affirmative mental health care, how affirmative differs from informative and accepting intersecting identities, how being transgender intersects with all different identities and trans sex and sexuality, that it’s less complicated than you think. Welcome Jacob.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Hi. Thank you for having me.

Joe Kort:           Oh, so glad. I’m so glad to have you. We met in one of my LGBT trainings and um, where was that? What was that in California?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah, that was Los Angeles.

Joe Kort:           Oh, that’s right. Okay. I’m going to be coming back there in January, so that’ll be good. Maybe we can connect and have lunch, but you added so much great stuff to my talk and I realize that you know as much as I, you know, this is such a moving target is as much as you know, there’s even more to know and it’s changing so thank you. I’m so glad you’re here. Most of what I’m glad about is that you’re going to talk about, it’s at some point in this is trans sex and sexuality because I actually went to a full conference with a well known name organization and they got through all the trans issues and never talked about sex. And at the end I said, I can’t believe. And they said you have to give us time. We’re just starting these and it was a few years ago, but I still think, don’t you think there’s not enough talking about sex and sexuality amongst trans?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah, there, there really isn’t. And that’s something that as a mental health clinician with my clients one on one, like that’s what most of our sessions involve is like navigating sex and sexual relationships. Cause that’s just something that as a community we’re dying to talk about.

Joe Kort:           I’m so glad to hear that. And because we’re taught now, I still hear people saying, you know, you have to be careful how you ask the questions and you know, people can get a lot of anxiety in the room and maybe even be, you know, in the therapy room I’m thinking about or even be, um, offended. Is that true or what would you say about that?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Um, I feel that it’s always best to take the client’s lead. Uh, if we’re talking about like therapy. Um, so not so much asking the questions, but creating the space for the client to open up and have them sort of ask the questions or be there to process. But as far as like training, I think people should ask questions. That’s the whole point is to have someone to ask so that they don’t offend someone else.

Joe Kort:           Yes. And that’s what it sounds like you’re doing in your trainings. And maybe you could talk to us about the difference that you talk about being about being a trans affirmative mental health provider and someone who’s just informative and accepting. What’s the difference?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah, so someone who’s like informative and in accepting that someone that’s like, yeah, I, I get it, I’m down. Like that doesn’t make me feel weird or Aloha. I know I have a trans friend. Right. And so they say that they work with trans issues in the room and then the session kind of turns into education for them or they don’t really understand what the client’s talking about or clients spends most of the time having to explain things or someone who’s in affirmative, you know, the client walks in and it’s just, it’s a really great safe, warm, welcoming space. The client spends the time processing things. They could be coming in for something that has nothing to do as being trans. So the client’s like feel comfortable talking about stuff and not having to stop and explain what a term means or to go back and be like, Oh, this is the difference between blah blah, blah. Right? It’s, it’s creating an even playing ground.

Joe Kort:           Yes and no, that makes sense. It does. And I’m mostly educated therapist and I say mostly because as much as you can be educated, there still has to be some explaining. And I think most LGBT people are open to doing some, but they don’t want to be doing most of it. Correct.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Well, yeah. And then you have to think about like if you have two people in the room of different races, there’s something that they will always have to be that that’s a more visible difference, right? That you’re going to have to educate yourself on. But also we’re all human, right? So it’s a little bit easier to navigate the room or something with race or even different cis-gender genders. But for some reason the trans issue just really stumped people. It, it, it makes them feel like they have to go through different sorts of motions before we can even start the session.

Joe Kort:           Yeah. I think a lot of people, yes. Not the client, right. They want, they really went in my talks. What they say is they really want to do no harm, really very little harm. And they’re worried about that. So then they stumble. And so that’s why these trainings and especially what you’ll be doing is so important. You know, I used to say, uh, I still it, it’s one thing to be LGBT friendly. It’s another thing to be LGBT informed. So it’s exactly what you say, because most therapists, even in psychology today, they checked the box. Yep. I’m a, I’m an affirmative therapist. And I say, no, you’re not. You’re not trained. You didn’t go to any specific classes. You haven’t done workshops. You haven’t read a book. So it’s like you say they’re friendly and they mean well, but they’re not informed. Is that, that’s what you mean, right?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Oh yeah, totally. And the thing is like, I know so many amazing, uh, cis-gender therapists who work with the trans community. And they do such great work. And that’s because they come from a place of being like [inaudible] another client. Yes. I have to understand the differences. So they’d go and they, they go to workshops, they go to trainings. They uh, go above and beyond. Right. It’s not just the man mandated CU box that they’re checking off either.

Joe Kort:           Yes.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah. So it, it’s, it’s a very complicated but yet not so complicated thing to be affirmative.

Joe Kort:           And just for the listeners, can you explain what SIS gender is? It’s C I S gender. Can you explain?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yes, totally. Sorry. I’m so used to saying it all the time. Forgetting that people don’t know. I’m so cisgender. It’s just the lag work for same as like the Latin phrase. So cisgender is born and then the same gender, their whole life or as trans is born and then transitioning to a different gender. So you can kind of think about the comparison as like heterosexual versus homosexual. Um, cisgender versus transgender.

Joe Kort:           I love that. And I, there’s this quote, have you heard this quote you probably did at my workshop, but I didn’t make it a sexual identity is who I go to bed with and gender identity is who I go to bed as. Do you like that?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yes. Oh yeah. I say that one all the time. And sometimes I add, because of the non-binary aspect to the world is sometimes they’ll say, and um, gender expression is what I go to bed wearing. Like your gender identity is, is different. You could be a different expression during the day, right? One day to wear boxers and the next day you could wear a night dress.

Joe Kort:           I love that. So, uh, gender expression is what I’m wearing. Is that what you said? Yeah, when I go to bed with, yeah. Oh, I love it. That’s true. Um, you know, I know this is basic, but I just know some of my listeners were wanting to understand like, they’ll S I’ve heard, I still have people, not just therapists, regular civilians, I’ll call them. They’ll say, you know, can you say, why can’t we say transvestite and what about transsexual? And can you talk about that? Sure.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah, totally. Um, so you can, when you’re talking about people who are trans, uh, considered themselves transsexual or that, and so the main difference between transvestism transgender is that a transvestite is usually a sexually related, uh, identification. So you have a fetish, um, or I don’t really like the word fetish by you. You could have some sort of sexual reactions addressing any opposite gender clothing, and it’s purely for sexual related purposes, whereas transgender, it has nothing to do with sex. It’s who you are as a person. So it’s kind of unfair to consider yourself a sexual fetish, which, you know, uh, sometimes people do fetishize a trans person, but it’s not the person themselves who are fetishizing themselves. Um, so that’s the major difference. And then with transsexualism, we kind of shy away from that term now because in the past it used to mean someone who like had the air quote surgery, right?

Jacob Rostovsky:           The sexual reassignment surgery. So you’ve transitioned your sexual organs, but now there’s no one way to really consider yourself transitioning. And some people don’t even go through any medical transition. So it’s not really fair to have a term that doesn’t describe the community anymore. So you really rarely, rarely hear that term. Mostly you’ll hear it as the individuals who have been transitioned for like 25 plus years are above maybe 50, 55 years old. Right. The older members, it’s just how, you know, the queer community or gay communities, some say queer, some say gay. I mean it’s the same thing, but also kind of different.

Joe Kort:           So that’s, that’s helpful to even meet, to hear that transsexual implies, uh, that you’ve had, you know, some surgery or all the surgeries, whereas transgender is under an understanding that that may or may not be. Is that right?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Exactly.

Joe Kort:           Great. That’s helpful for people to hear because people get so confused about it and they also get confused. And you’re going to talk about, and I’m glad to hear you say, talk about intersecting identities or what’s also called intersectional identities. Can you explain that?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Sure. Um, I guess the easiest way to think about it is no matter who you are, you’re not just, you don’t just belong to one community. So if you look at even the basic heterosexual, white, cisgender male, uh, he belongs to the Caucasian, to me, yeah. And the white or white, uh, the cisgender male community, right? So those are already two identities that you have. So you look at the trans community who, um, already as a trans individual, you’re sort of statistically on the lower accepted, lower socioeconomic scale. You have to look at what other communities they belong to. So for example, for me, I am gay male identified. So while I’m trans I’m also gay. And when I navigate my life, it can sometimes be complicated because as I move in and out of my own communities, my identity shifts and sometimes you lose kind of track of who you are or you sometimes don’t belong to any of the intersections, intersections at all.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Right? So if you look at like a, let’s, let’s say a Latina trans woman, statistically the Latino population, Latino population has a hard time accepting the trans community. So by transition transitioning, she’s sort of alienated herself from our own community. And that could be really, really difficult. So you have to consider every part of your identity, um, when it comes to processing and working with the difficulties that attribute your life. Um, interrupt that up on the flip side, cause I was to be really wonderful and culturally enriching and really awesome to belong to a bunch of different identities. Um, but right now in the world we kind of talk about how intersecting identities can present a lot of problems. Hopefully that makes sense. It’s kind of a mouthful, but

Joe Kort:           it’s okay. It’s a hard thing to unpack for people. And I think I’m trying to do it on many of my shows. I, the thing that gets me to understand it the most is when I understand this horrible, a statistic that the highest rate of murder are trans women of color because all each of those intersectional identities are seen as disposable in this country. Right. Being trans, being female, and being a person of color. So then when she’s all one, all of each one of these things, she’s at higher risk.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah. And, um, this quote that I heard a really long time ago, and I wish I remember who said it, but it was at a talk and there was this trans male and he had talked about how he went from being the most ignored demographic in the world. So black woman, um, black, cisgender woman to be in the most feared demographic, a black man. And I thought that was a really interesting way, beautifully poetic way to talk about intersecting identities where it’s like, no matter what, he’s black, uh, which has statistics of its own, but as they navigated through the gender spectrum, the way he was viewed was changed. Um, so I thought that was really eyeopening,

Joe Kort:           very eyeopening. And uh, you know, hopefully as people are listening to this, they’ll think about, you know, their own intersectional identities. I always introduce myself at my talks as I’m white. I’m male, I’m cisgender, I’m Jewish, I’m gay, I’m monosexual, I’m a Detroiter, I’m married, I’m, I’m a sexual abuse survivor. I’m kinky and my pronouns are, he has him and each one of these things has their own privilege or discrimination. And then together they add and together they take away, right? Isn’t that how you see it too?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Oh yeah, totally. Um, there’s just so many layers to unpack of every person. And unfortunately some people, their layers are more visible than others and usually when they’re more visible, it means more target and more negative statistics. So it’s just a world in which, which we live in right now, unfortunately.

Joe Kort:           So I’m going to ask you some other things of this. So basic, but I just, I get it so much and I want, if you could talk about, this would be great. Why is it, people will say, ask me this, why is it that some people like Chaz bono transitioned and now he identifies as a heterosexual male, but you transitioned and you identify as a gay male. So people get confused. Like, I don’t get it. And if you’re transitioning, why aren’t you to the opposite sex? And can you explain that to you? Yeah,

Jacob Rostovsky:           yeah. Um, that’s great question. And I get all the time. Um, so sex and gender are not the same thing. Um, so we don’t have any research. We just, so sex and gender, uh, aren’t the same thing. And we get confused all the time as humans, but basically the way that I think about it, and there’s no research, so this is all me and my anecdote, but it helps people understand, is that when you’re born, you’re kind of just born heterosexual, gay, BI, whatever. Right? But what happens is when you’re born in the wrong gender, you have to correct your gender. So your sexuality never actually changes. What changes is your outside. So for Chaz, if we look back at Chez, he had always dated women, right? He, um, was with a woman for a really long time. So as female he was a lesbian.

Jacob Rostovsky:           But when he transitioned, he transitioned to male culturally now identified as a heterosexual now. So his sexuality never changed, but his gender did. Whereas for me, I was always, boy crazy. I loved the boys. Um, so that made it even more confusing when I was like, Hmm, something’s weird here. Do I want to be a boy or am I or do I want to be with the boy? So I had to go through a lot of questioning and navigation and then when I realized I was trans, I was like, Oh, I want to be a boy. And I like boys. Right? So my sexuality shifted as my gender identity shifted. But who I was attracted to always kind of stayed the same.

Joe Kort:           Now what about

Jacob Rostovsky:           makes sense?

Joe Kort:           It does. Now I have a trans male therapist and my group practice here at the center for relationship and sexual health. Nick [inaudible]. And he said to me, you also might want to warn some of your clients that when they start hormone therapy, their sexual orient, they may discover a change in their sexual attraction and sexual orientation. Have you heard that?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Oh yeah. That’s the big myth. Especially with trans men that just us from if you gay, that goes to my, um, that goes back sort of to what I’m saying is that quite possibly they always were attracted to a specific gender. It’s just that because they were questioning, you know, their own gender identity, they were confused about whether or not their feelings were because they wanted to be that person or be with that person. So I think what happens is once you start becoming comfortable in your body, your gender, your sexual orientation sort of starts to become settled as well. Now I don’t want to sound binary either. There’s people in this world that change and shifts and explore. I just think that that had always been innate in them as well. They just didn’t really, it’s hard to focus on two things at one time, if that makes sense. Right. And usually when you’re coming to terms with your gender identity is that takes, that takes front stage, you’re settled, then you kind of get to explore other aspects of your identity as well. So I hope that makes it a little bit more, it’s just very confusing concept even for me in general. But, um, I love humans, so rich and full and beautiful. And

Joe Kort:           I think it will be relieving for people to know that you as a trans male, um, are confused about things too, because then it’s not, people don’t feel so horrible. Like I should know a lot of therapists especially feel like they should, you know, one, uh, research, I forget the woman’s name, I wish I’d written it down, but she had basically said that, um, the hormone therapy, a I, by the way, I didn’t know that the fear was testosterone will make you gay. But what she says is hormone therapy will, while its gender aligning you, it will sexually align you. And like you said, your innate, unexamined sexual self will start to, uh, you know, reveal itself. So it’s always been there. That’s not a change. It’s a revelation.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Exactly. And I told, I was, I told my clients and my friends, you know, um, I’m like, listen, you are so awesome and you just took this huge step in your life to transition or come out or whatever that you gotta sort of do the same with your sexuality. Like, if you want to go sleep with that person and that seems uncharacteristic of your sexual preference, great. Go do it. Then you’ll know whether or not, you know, as long as it’s consensual and safe and all that. But yeah, like goats for yourself, go live like that. That’s part of our life experience.

Joe Kort:           So let’s talk about sex. We have five more minutes and I really want to make sure people understand not to exploit it at all, but to understand, like I’ll tell therapists, I know a lot of trans people don’t want to be asked what’s going on down there? That’s a horrible question to ask. We would never go up to a cisgender person and say what’s going on down there? You know? But I do think that as therapists, I S I’ll say things like, as a sex therapist, I might say, how do you use your body for sex? What parts are on limits? What parts are off limits? Can you teach us what, how, how do you talk about that with a trans person?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah. Um, so instead of saying like, what’s going on down there, you know, you can always say like, what’s going on up there? Like,

Joe Kort:           wait, wait, wait, wait. I love that. What’s going on up there? Do you mind? I’ll quote you, but I’m going to use that.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah, totally. Um, it’s like thinking about like what are you thinking about? Like what is the issue? What makes you scared? What makes you fearful? How are you thinking about using your body? Right? And so for some clients when they come into the room, you know, they come in and they’re like, I’ve never had sex with, let’s say, you know, a cisgender male before and I’m scared and I don’t know where to put it. And so you talk about that, but then you also talk about like, so what do you want them to call your various, you know, body parts? What do you want? Like walk me through it. Let’s role play. Because here’s the thing that I tell my clients is if they’re not comfortable discussing it with me, or at least with themselves, then they shouldn’t really be doing it. Right. Because that’s just going to cause a lot of pain, a lot of fear, and it might ruin the experience. And I don’t want sex to me. We’re looking for someone. I want you to go out and do it again and again and again. Um, yeah, it’s, it’s just starting with that basic question, what’s going on up there

Joe Kort:           and how should they be talking about it? Like I had a client once who had a dissociative experience for herself because she hadn’t told her a partner. She didn’t have a sexual health conversation and they had been drinking and never shared that she didn’t want her penis, um, used as a sexual tool in being together and it happened and it was very hard for her. Do you hear stories like that?

Jacob Rostovsky:           Oh yeah, all the time. And you know, it might sound silly, but sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll have clients like right kind of on a piece of paper, like what’s on limits, what’s off limits. I’m like, stick it in her wallet and like, just like a condom or just like some sort of contraception. It takes a minute to put it on whip that no now and be like, okay, listen, this is what’s going to make it comfortable for me. Because if the partner says to you, Oh no, I don’t, that’s a mood kill and maybe we shouldn’t be having sex with that person to gain with. Right? So like, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? They’re going to respect you and have, you’ll have a great time. Or they’ll say no and not have a good time. Like you don’t have sex at all or you never do it to begin with. Then you have this horribly traumatic experience

Joe Kort:           [inaudible]

Jacob Rostovsky:           so it’s getting your client comfortable for talking about their body, which I know sounds really weird because as trans people, even to this day, there’s parts of my body and I’m super uncomfortable about as humans, we’re uncomfortable about parts of our body. But that’s the real difference between an affirming and an informed set or accepting therapists and set talking about sex is really important.

Joe Kort:           And you know, there’s a lot of stuff

Jacob Rostovsky:           because I trans people, we get the wrong sexual education to begin with.

Joe Kort:           Yeah, exactly. I, there’s so much more we could say. We’re probably going to bring you back some time and a half an hour. There’s just not enough time. Tell us Jacob, where people can find you on the internet.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah. Um, my nonprofit is called queer works, so queer works.org. Uh, I’m also on Instagram, Jay rostowski, R. O. S. T. O. V. S. K. Y. um, and you can find me through either one of those. And this was really awesome. I could talk about this all day. So anytime you want. Um, I’m around.

Joe Kort:           Well I hope that may be a, we may even do more projects together and it’s just a really important, uh, and, and um, of strong interest in the therapeutic community and even outside the therapy community. And it’s great that you’re doing it. Thank you so much for being on my show.

Jacob Rostovsky:           Yeah, no problem. And you have a happy young keeper.

Joe Kort:           Oh, thanks. Thanks. You too. Right? You’re Jewish. All right. You too. Thank all right. See ya. Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex smart love. I’m dr Joel court, and you can find me on Joe kort.com that’s J O E K O R t.com. See you next time.

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