My move from the San Francisco Bay Area to New Orleans was a lot of things, but primarily it was a chance to exist in a space where nobody knew who I was.
I’d lived in the same Bay Area city for years, and it was also only an hour from my hometown. I was surrounded by people knew me as a different person, with a different name and gender. It felt like the specter of my old identity haunted all of my relationships; sometimes, someone would slip and use my old name, or I’d see an old acquaintance to whom I hadn’t yet come out. I needed a clean break.
When I first came out as queer in my early 20s I tried dating men, but it never really “worked.” I never felt comfortable. But now I was single, and a woman, and about to be in a brand new, very distant city. So I figured I’d give it another shot - maybe it’d be different?
I opened up my dating apps before I even crossed the state line into Louisiana. And when I got to town, I didn’t waste any time.
I had sex with a man at his apartment late at night. I had sex with a man in the back seat of a hearse in the parking lot of the church at which he was a pastor. I had sex in a hotel room that had been rented specifically for the occasion. I had sex with a wealthy man who owned an incredibly large, luxurious house, in his four-poster California king bed and in his waterfall shower and in his outdoor hot tub.
And at some point during all of this sex, I contracted anal gonorrhea.
After getting the diagnosis, question after question fought for prominence in my confused and scared mind: Had one of them “stealthed” (taken off the condom without my knowledge) me? Was gonorrhea treatable? Was my penis going to rot off? Was I a dirty “slut” getting what I deserved for being so promiscuous? Was I “ruined” for any future partner? Was I going to have to take medication forever? Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my dating life?
Luckily, I wasn’t doing everything on my own. I’d met a few other trans women, and the most important piece of advice they gave — after telling me to buy the lube that will slightly numb your asshole — was to get tested, often, and do the full panel. For some reason, a lot of clinics only test for the most common types of STIs and only do a saliva swab, which won’t always catch everything.
It turned out that the answer to every one of my questions was a resounding no. Well, except the first one. I’ll never know if it was a stealthing, a condom tear, or what. But the rest:
Gonorrhea (at least the anal type that I had) is totally treatable, and because I caught it early, I never even experienced symptoms. It’s a really common infection for people of all genders and sexualities. And I only had to take a few pills, for about a week, and it was all cleared up!
Even if it had been something more serious, all STIs are manageable once diagnosed and treated. And while having sex with multiple partners did put me at risk of contracting an STI, insisting on condom use and getting tested regularly was generally the best I could have done. Having an STI didn’t “ruin” anything, and any partner who’d judge or look down on me if I did have an STI isn’t the kind of partner I’d want anyway.
Now, the last answer to my question, “Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my dating life?” was also “No.” But not because of the STI worries. After giving it a “college try,” I realized I’m just not that into men. So while having anal sex with cisgender men is not in my future — and hopefully neither is getting gonorrhea — regular STI screenings always will be.